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Could be tougher times.... pretending to be a repairman!

Posted by fiddlepogo on Sunday, June 14, 2015

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On the 11th of May, my 1989 Ford Aerostar van refused to start. But it definitely turned over- so it was not the battery, and not the starter.  When the previous car did that, it was a busted timing belt, and for my income and the cars I drive, that means it's time for a tow to the junkyard.  Being a bit of a pessimist, I assumed it was gonna be the same diagnosis.  I'm not a mechanic, but I used to do some elementary car repairs... but that was mostly on 70's era cars when cars were simpler.... and mostly on Toyotas.  This is a FORD, and my single worst experience was changing the starter on my Mom's 1979 Mercury Zephyr.   So I really didn't want to get into working on cars again, especially not since it's parked on the street.   I also partly wanted to wait until the beginning of June when we'd have some money again.  Also, my AAA had expired, so getting it towed to a repair place would have cost enough that I would have less money for the actual repairs.  So I took the bus for a month to get to gigs and do shopping.

At some point, a neighbor saw me get off the bus with my instruments coming home from a gig.  He offered to help me diagnose it.

I was ready to do it on Thursday.  He diagnosed "No spark".... big relief.... that meant it wasn't the timing belt, and wasn't the fuel pump either.... I can do a LITTLE shade tree mechanicking, but dropping a fuel tank to get at the fuel pump is beyond me.  But if it wasn't one of those.... what was it?  I had read it could be several different things.

The neighbor thought it was the ignition coil... so I bought one...$25.  Not too bad.   Took it home, transferred it into its bracket, installed and plugged it in myself and.... no joy.... still wouldn't "catch".

The neighbor was kicking himself because he misdiagnosed it, but I didn't feel so bad... I'd gotten my hands dirty, gained some confidence and I think it reawoke the part of my brain where my shade tree mechanicking skills were buried.  It's been YEARS since I did this kind of thing, but in the past I've changed alternators, batteries, voltage regulators, points in the olden daze,  at least one starter, did Volksy valve adjustments, and a few other things.  And the nature of my shade tree mechanicking is that when you have limited knowledge and test equipment, it's not unusual to replace something that didn't need replacing, but often those kind of things are still cheaper than having a professional do it because of the high price of shop time.

So I got online- that was something I never had in the olden daze.... and my attention was drawn to something called an ignition control module on pre 1996 Ford and Mercury cars.

Ford had had problems with them in a major recall way back when, and they are heat sensitive, and often located on the distributor which is in a hot place right over the engine.  And May was getting hot when it failed.  So it seemed to fit that it could be the culprit.

After my Friday gig, I had done some shopping, and realized I was a fairly short walk from a NAPA Auto parts place where one of the parts guys was friendly, helpful, honest, and close to my age.   So I went in and asked him what he thought about the possibility that it was the ignition control module. Turns out he has a 95 Aerostar that also has a module like that. He said, "That would have been the FIRST thing I tried!".   So I bought one, and a special tool for the screws, and took the bus home.

I was apprehensive.... the part is fragile enough looking that I was afraid I might break it.   I watched a YouTube video about changing it, and they mentioned the danger of losing the screws in the engine... what fun!.  And they said it was necessary to disconnect the battery.  I really dislike messing with batteries, but I did it.

Part of the challenge is working around all the vacuum hoses.... it was hard to get a clear shot at the back screw.

Nevertheless, I managed to remove the old one without losing the screws, then spread the special gel over the metal back plate.... and tried to install it.... it almost went in.... but that little plastic island around the three contacts wouldn't go in!  Then, another curious neighbor stopped by... and I was thinking "Oh no- someone to break my concentration."  But I just talked about what I was doing as I did it, and the next try, it slipped in flush and perfect!

I put in the two screws, plugged in the big plug that goes in that opening on the right.   Then..... the moment of truth....  trying to start it..... turned the key, and this time....

JOY!!!!!   My van is back!!!   Closed up the access panel, took it for a spin.  It cost me about $77 dollars, which isn't all that much these days, and even the ignition coil being replaced was probably a good thing, because the instructions said that bad coils were implicated in the ignition modules failing.  And I mostly did it myself as far as installing the replacement parts... at a time when I though my shade tree mechanic days were over forever.

  Drove to my gig yesterday for the first time in a month, went shopping again, though I hardly needed to.... I'm close to ready to go home, and I get a call from my wife... the floor model air conditioner we use stopped working, and she was overheating.  In a way, we still had A/C.... we have A/C for the whole apartment, but with my wife's fibromyalgia, she can't stand it blowing on her, and with my allergies, I can't stand it blowing in my face at the computer.  So I hurried home.  It wasn't the batteries in the remote control.... it was giving me an error code.... I fiddled with it a bit and got it to work....but when it was time for bed, it was giving me the error code again.  So I looked it up, and evidently the model isn't made anymore, and I was having a hard time finding anything on the particular error code except that it might have something to do with the tank for condensed water. 

So today once it got warm, I started fiddling with it, and I couldn't get it to start and keep running.  Same code.  I took the cap off the drain, and nothing came out.... but then, I realized it didn't just have a cap, it had a cap over a rubber plug.  Pulled the rubber plug, drained the reservoir, closed up the plug, clear the error code by a reset and...... IT WORKS.   Relief.  I thought I was going to have to pay money we don't really have to get the thing serviced. 

Now if my ears would just open up..... the last couple of days the right one opened up, but not today.... Oh well... maybe tomorrow.

The heat is difficult, but it is good news for my allergies, since the last of the tree pollen will then drop and stop annoying me.



6 comments on “Could be tougher times.... pretending to be a repairman!”

Cyndy Says:
Sunday, June 14, 2015 @9:36:20 PM

I'm impressed.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Monday, June 15, 2015 @5:55:33 AM

Sometimes it's just patch, patch, patch, to paraphrase Edward Abbey. Yeah, it must have been hot working on your van since down here some eighty miles south of you it's been 100 plus and a bit humid (for us.) And another thing I thought about--at least I get the delta breeze, the wind coming in from ol' 'Frisco Bay--you don't! You better have some AC.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Monday, June 15, 2015 @7:43:21 AM

Auto diagnosing is a lil mo difficult than tweek'n uh fiddle, huh ? Trial & error can get expensive with auto's ( replacing suspected defective parts til ya find tha cause ) vs. tweek'n tha fiddle. AND, ya don't got bruised knuckles and dirty grimey hand/fingernails after tweekin. :-)

fiddlepogo Says:
Monday, June 15, 2015 @9:30:00 AM

Mo difficult? YES! 1989 Fords are a whole lot more complicated than 70's Toyotas! It would also help if I bought a good multitester and learned how to use it. But my horrible dyscalculic math skills are kind of a hindrance there.
My grandfather who I never got to meet was a small town mechanic, and I must have inherited some of his skills, but I have to say Ozarkian nailed it- I'm really not fond of the bruised/scraped knuckles and dirty grimey hands/fingernails!!! I'm also VERY SLOW when it comes to working on cars... changing whatever it was used to be an all day project. Part of it is just from lack of experience, part of it is just caution.... it could leave me stranded by the side of the road, or maybe even cause an accident if I don't get it right. We HAVE gotten a bit of delta breeze here, but it's VERY rare.... the wind has to blow at just the right angle from the southwest to give us any. Fortunately each part only had two screws attaching it, so each thing I changed didn't take too long- a good thing in the heat.
Trial and error could get expensive, but this time I lucked out... at $77, I don't think a shop could have matched the price.
I'm also pretty good at diagnosing computer problems, and have almost always done my own work. There it's not grimey.... just DUSTY.... and where there is dust, there is pollen, so I have to be kind of desperate to muck around in the insides of a computer anymore.

amwildman Says:
Wednesday, July 1, 2015 @12:25:41 PM

$77 and a bit of your time is a heck of a lot cheaper than a car payment. Glad it worked out!

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, July 2, 2015 @8:28:28 AM

Yeah, that's what I figure... you are going to pay for the privilege of having a car, someway, somehow. If the initial cost was ZERO, and no payments have to be made, minor repairs are not so bad.... well, hopefully they don't happen EVERY SINGLE MONTH!

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