My Thoughts... Exactly!

Hey, you wanna know what I think?


Yesterday I totaled my fire-engine-red 1991 Chrysler Lebaron Convertible.

I’m a little shaken up today still, but I’m fine. Thanks for your concern. Just a few bloody scratches and grease marks to show.

Like any accident, it could have been prevented if all parties involved had been at their full wits. And you know how they say most accidents happen within 25 miles of home? They couldn’t have been more correct. This happened in my own driveway, in broad daylight.

And you know how they say everything goes into slow motion when it’s happening? Oh my gosh! Right again! This accident took over eight hours.

Friday evening my car dumped out all its radiator fluid at the intersection of State Hwy 56 and Black Mountain Road as I went to pick up my daughter for the weekend. I refilled the radiator and cooling system twice on the way home just to limp there.

After consulting with a local garage in Carlsbad as to the cost of replacing the water pump, I decided to do it myself.

“The water pump isn’t that expensive,” said the guy at the counter at Carlsbad Auto Repair. “Labor will really getcha though. $440 total, plus tax.”


I went next door to Carlsbad Auto Supply… a store that has my devotion for life thanks to the expert help and free advice they always give me. I bought a new water pump for $40.

“I think that’s the car you have to support the engine on, though, since you have to take the motor mount off …” the guy offered as I walked out the door with my new water pump. That was the first caution sign I ignored. I should have pulled over and asked for directions at that point, but I am a man and am therefore genetically predisposed to plummeting ahead with full confidence… in the dark …with no headlights.

From this moment on, it’s best to describe my accident as a seemingly endless succession of careening, skidding, sliding, bumping and bouncing, over-correcting, banged knuckles and grease up to and into my armpits.

And a lot of deer-in-the-headlights staring.

But in slow motion, it goes something like this: remove the various pulleys that keep the serpentine belt in place; remove the tensioner assembly; loosen the alternator; remove the cooling fan assembly that attaches to the radiator so there is room to remove the air conditioner compressor, and then remove the bracket that holds the air conditioner compressor to the engine block so that you can then remove the mounting plate that holds the various pulleys and assemblies you just removed. Loosen the Power Steering pump on the back of the engine so that the power steering pulley will move enough that you can finish removing the mounting plate which has long “legs” that run through 3 plastic housings over the timing belt “chain” which sits directly in front of the water pump.

Remove the passenger-side motor mount after jacking up the engine with a floor-jack, so that you can get the rest of the parts off, and since the darned thing is very seriously in the way.

Now, notice that the water pump has a bracket on top of it—for some stupid reason—that attaches it to the top of the rear intake manifold, which now requires removal of the entire intake manifold, front and rear, and then the thermostat, since one of the bracket screws will not clear the thermostat housing.

This is a good time to walk to the auto parts store and purchase a new set of gaskets for the intake manifold which you weren’t originally expecting to replace, of course. Good thing they are used to seeing Caucasians with black arms and hands. While there, purchase 15mm, 16mm and 18mm sockets, and get an open-ended wrench in each of those sizes since your average tool kit only comes with 13mm, 14mm, 17mm and 19mm, and Lebarons don’t have any nuts or bolts in those sizes! Walk back home again, and keep struggling with the parts, frozen bolts and a thick mixture of grease and degreaser, WD-40, radiator fluid and rusty water in which to lay your bare back and the hair on the back of your head as you struggle with one stubborn bolt between the firewall and the engine block holding the power steering pump solidly in place.

Decide you must purchase a pneumatic impact wrench to power off this one bolt, so go scrub and shower for upwards of a half an hour to make yourself clean enough to drive your wife’s car to Pep Boys, which, as it happens, closes its doors early that night for floor-polishing, so you then drive to Kragen Auto Parts which has their one last customer standing at the register as you jiggle the locked doors from the outside. Watch in exhausted disappointment as the courteous cashier alerts you to the store’s closed status by using the Universal Hand Signal for “we’re closed”: He shakes his head while drawing his index finger like a knife across his throat.

If only he knew what a great idea I thought that was.

Next, go to Wal-mart. They have an automotive department.

It’s next to toys, between fitness and crafts. Buy the only impact ratchet they sell. Marvel that it only costs $28.94 (that little yellow masked Zorro-like character must have flown by recently).

Take it home and try it on the stubborn bolt.


Now, in total fatigue, stand with your newly regrimed hands on your already soiled hips and assess the situation: You have a car whose motor will fall out if you lower the floor jack that supports it. You have pulleys, belts, housings, a distributor (did I mention removing the distributor?), mounting plates, an intake manifold in various pieces, and, I dunno: 150 screws and bolt of various sizes all over the place like a robot yard sale, and you haven’t even been able to remove the one defective part that was your goal to replace.

Did I mention I am not a mechanic? Did I mention I don’t have a manual? Did I mention I don’t have all tools necessary to complete a job such as the one I undertook?

My choice now is to put it back together enough to tow to the auto repair garage with a 5-gallon bucket of parts and bolts and say “Here. Good luck.”

And I just don’t think I will do that. Isn’t there some charitable organization that will take my car running or not?


  1. Oh man! Well, you got me with that opening line!

    What a story, you poor sorry fellow. 🙂

    A month a go coming home from having seen Torrey in Florida I get in my truck (Brenda had driven and parked it at the airport for me… the WRONG airport, that was my mistake… but that’s another story…) okay, when I FINALLY get to my truck and head on out I suddenly notice the temp gauge is PINNED on HOTHOTHOT!!

    I turn the heater on full blast and limp home with the temp gauge just licking the edge of the danger zone.

    I figure the sucker is fried six ways to sunday. Get it to a mechanic to assess damage. Raditor blown… head gaskets OK (!!) but gasket around timing chain cover is leaking and needs to be replaced.

    I was going to take a stab at it myself–we’re only talking about $125 in parts–but then the mechainc tells me the engine has to be pulled and “half of it taken off” to get to this gasket.

    I relented quickly and after reading your story, consider the several hundred dollars I shelled out a great investment!

  2. So??? what’s the follow-up?

    Is this beast still in pieces in your driveway or ?? Don’t keep your readers in such suspense!

  3. Sorry to hear. A disaster which just got worse…

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