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Never give up.

January 17, 2011

How many times can you work on one thing before it begins to drive you completely insane? Good thing I never gave up.

Pictured above is the hydraulic slave cylinder that I installed in my car this past year.  I like to talk about how anyone can fix their car if they really want to, but this repair job was definitely a pain.  Especially because I had to do it in ninety degree weather down here in Florida.

One of my previous posts concerned my clutch, so I’ll catch you up on what I was talking about.  The clutch is what connects the flywheel of the engine to the transmission or transaxle input shaft.  This is how a manual transmission switches gears.  In a car with an automatic transmission, a torque converter does the job, so the driver doesn’t have to operate an extra pedal.  But that’s getting ahead of things.

Anyway, when I first began having troubles with this, I thought I was done for.  I tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion first.  (It keeps me from being disappointed later.)  The initial issue was that I couldn’t shift gears.  Rather than shift, the gears would simply grind.  I discovered later that it was a good sign; it meant that I didn’t have to replace my actual clutch, which can be a very expensive job.  Something else was wrong.

Rather than take it right to a shop, I resolved to find out how to fix it myself.  It was out of pure necessity; my car is paid off, and I cannot afford to buy another one.  With the help of a friend, and the long-distance coaching from my dad, I got started.

I was on the phone with dad one day, and I had just followed my brake line from the clutch master cylinder to the slave cylinder, which was actually rather easy to locate.

I had my wrench out, and I was on the phone with my dad.

“See that rubber boot?” Dad said.

(You can see it for yourself if you scroll up and examine the photo.)

I told him, “Yeah, I see it.”

“Pull it aside.  Underneath that is a metal arm that pumps fluid.”

Before I continue, I want to pass on a small warning: Although you may look absolutely silly in safety glasses, you really ought to wear them.

I didn’t know it, but my slave cylinder was shot, and the boot that Dad was talking about was not actually supposed to move aside.  The fact that it did move, said a lot about the state of the slave cylinder, and suggested that my dad knew it was shot, despite being twelve hundred miles away.

The boot slipped easily off the main part of the cylinder.  Fluid immediately spewed from the leak and landed in and around my eyes.  This is not a fun experience.  Remember what I said about safety glasses.

After I washed out my eyes and cursed a lot (not completely in that order), I got back to work.  At least I knew what was wrong; now I had to figure out how to fix it.

I established that I would have to get a new slave cylinder, take out the brake line, install the new slave, and bleed the line, ensuring that no air pockets got into the system.  (If air pockets get into the system, it won’t work properly.  One air pocket in a brake line, for example, can completely disable the brakes at the worst possible time.)

This was probably one of the most frustrating jobs I’ve ever done on my car, mainly because I went into it with next to no knowledge about the clutch system.  I learned as I went.  It was also difficult because I don’t have much of a work space; I have a parking lot in front of my building.

The job took quite a while, mostly because I was working a lot, and had limited time to put toward the car.  I rode my bike to work, and took to calling my car a ‘stereo system on wheels.’

I knew there was no way I could afford a new car, let alone a used one, so I had no choice.  I had to keep going.

It was like putting together puzzle pieces.  Taking the brake line off first was the best way to get the new part in, but then getting the brake line back in was twice as difficult.

Finally, the new slave cylinder was in, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of myself than I was on that day.  Until my buddy and I bled the system, and the car continued to be inoperative.

It turned out that the clutch master cylinder was also shot.  Go figure!

In the end, I had to have a trusted mechanic install the master cylinder; I was running out of time.  I had to have my car by mid-August, and I knew I wasn’t going to have it finished by then.  There’s not enough time in the day.

Although I was disappointed that I ended up taking it to someone anyway, I was still proud that I had installed the slave cylinder.

It is true that anyone can work on their car if they really want to . . . But you have to really want to.

It’s a good thing I don’t give up.

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