Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Peek Into the Writer Mind...

My good-natured housemate has bemusedly observed on more than one occasion that it sometimes seems to take an awfully long time for me to accomplish what seems like a fairly straightforward task. I've been thinking about that, and realized I know precisely why. It's really easier to illustrate, than to explain, though. So, if you'll bear with me?

So the starter goes on my beloved twelve-year-old jeep, this week. I ascertain that it's the starter through tricksy diagnostics: It won't start, so I replace the several-months-expired battery, and that doesn't fix it; so then I consult Google, then spend some time lurking on the Jeep-Fixing Fora--yes, they really are plural--which leads me to believe the starter is the real problem. I'm here to tell you, though, those people badly need good tech-writers.

*note to self: must remember to put fresh candles on the Google altar.

Day 1--Since I consider myself a handy, mechanically-inclined sort of a woman, I decide to fix it myself. Also, the webpage I found most closely describing the symptoms said it's surprisingly easy to replace your own starter.

It seems like a good way to get some hands-on experience at something I'm only passingly familiar with--and that always engages my curiosity. I start wondering, at this point, about the etymology of the word "torque." Pretty sure it's Latin. Sounds Latin.

So I gather a mostly-complete socket set from the top of the dryer, the windowsill, my nightstand, the junk-drawer in the kitchen, and the tool chest in the garage, and go out to the driveway.

I pop the hood and spend some time staring at the engine. It occurs to me that this would be a much easier job if all those bits and pieces were clearly labeled. I start mentally composing a friendly and hopefully funny letter suggesting as much to the Jeep People. Back inside to google images for "jeep starters" and I run across an interesting essay about why I need to replace the solenoid, if I'm replacing a starter. More googling. The solenoid on a '95 Jeep Wrangler is apparently attached to the starter itself, so I'm golden. Print the clearest pic. Back outside.

Staring at the engine, identification picture in hand, I have a slowly dawning suspicion that the starter isn't going to be found from topside. Go inside to write draft of less friendly, less funny letter to Jeep People.

Nothing to be done for it. Back out to the driveway and wriggle under the jeep, behind the passenger side tire, to peer up into shadowy interior of engine compartment. Locate what was probably once the starter. At least, the shape is vaguely similar to that in the picture I'm clutching. Consult directions, and realize I was supposed to disconnect the negative terminal of the new battery. Wriggle back out. Spend some moments picking gravel from waistband. Disconnect battery, and spend self-congratulatory moment feeling totally chuffed that I didn't accidentally zap myself. Or run over myself. Or whatever Bad Things happen if one doesn't remember to disconnect the battery.

Crawl back under the Jeep. Stare into engine mass from bottomside, once again. Have brief daydream about being Scotty, aboard the enterprise. Say lots of stuff in terrible accent. "She's givin' us all she's got, Captain!" "I dinna think you should bang on 'er like that, Captain..." (I get to be Captain Kirk, too, now.)

I do manage to disconnect the battery from the starter and solenoid, though. Accomplishment!

Then things begin to deteriorate. The bolts actually holding the starter to the rest of the engine stuff have funny-looking heads. After some experimentation, I discover that a 3/8 hex-head socket will fit over the bolt heads, without obvious slippage. However, when I apply pressure (with a length of pipe slipped over the wrench handle for increased leverage, because those puppies ain't movin') the socket slips, I badly skin most of the knuckles on my right hand, and the bolt itself still hasn't budged. Now I begin mentally composing a caustic letter to the author of the webpage that claims this is "surprisingly easy."

I spend a long moment, then, thinking about Laura Mixon's lecture concerning "unconscious incompetence" and suppress premonitory chill.

No worries. I've got the battery disconnected from the thing, so I can just pick up the actual squiggly-looking socket I need, when I go purchase the new starter. Confident in my eventual triumph, I picture the engine smartly spinning and roaring to life. And off I go to CarQuest.

(Turns out the funny looking bolt heads take a Torx-head socket. I found out from the nice CarQuest guy who looked like he was trying very hard either not to sneeze or not to laugh.) They have to order the starter, but I'm okay with that, actually. I can wait til tomorrow for the inevitable flush of success and accomplishment. I believe in delayed gratification. Besides, I don't have the old starter off, yet, even.

The CarQuest guy tells me to bring the old starter back to them, and they'll refund my "core charge." I raise an eyebrow, because I know what the old starter looks like, and I'm suspicious that the core is actually showing, but agree. 60 bucks is 60 bucks, and who needs a big, filthy paperweight?

The twitchy CarQuest guy can't tell me the etymology of "torque," however. I promise to share it, tomorrow, after I've had a chance to look it up. He seems strangely disinterested.

Home I go, new sockets in hand, and crawl back under the engine. It occurs to me that I've gotten used to gravel down the back of my shirt and pants, which starts me thinking about human adaptivity, which gives me a proto-story idea. I consider stopping to jot notes, but decide to let it percolate a bit more.

So the Torx socket doesn't really want to fit on the bolt head I rounded off. A few sharp raps with a hammer, though, and it pops right on. It can only be a matter of minutes, I figure.

Twenty minutes of swearing and reinjuring my already insulted knuckles, and the bolt head resembles fossilized chewing gum. At this point, I quietly acknowledge to myself that a sane person would seek a Qualified Mechanic Guy. I, however, resolve to stick it out by reminding myself of the eventual sense of accomplishment, and the satisfaction of useful skills gained. Clearly, a bit more research is required, though.

Also, I'm still wondering about the etymology of "torque."

Back inside the house to google torque, because I can't stand not knowing.

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1) - Cite This Source
torque[tawrk] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation, noun, verb, torqued, torqu‧ing.
1.Mechanics. something that produces or tends to produce torsion or rotation; the moment of a force or system of forces tending to cause rotation.
2.Machinery. the measured ability of a rotating element, as of a gear or shaft, to overcome turning resistance.
3.Optics. the rotational effect on plane-polarized light passing through certain liquids or crystals.
4.Also, torc. a collar, necklace, or similar ornament consisting of a twisted narrow band, usually of precious metal, worn esp. by the ancient Gauls and Britons.
–verb (used with object)
5.Machinery. to apply torque to (a nut, bolt, etc.).
6.to cause to rotate or twist.
–verb (used without object)
7.to rotate or twist.

[Origin: 1825–35; L. torquēre to twist; (def. 4) F. torque L. torques torques (torc perh. <>
Yep. Latin. I'm pleased.

Also, it turns out there's another tool you can use, just to remove big friggin' bolts without viable heads.

I'll let you know how it all turns out.


Jen said...


All I can say is...

You're a better person than I am. I wouldn't even DREAM of trying to fix anything on a car.

Then again, I'm completely incompetent at anything car-related other than starting the darn things. And believe you me, you would NOT want me driving one. *s*

Barbara said...

Regarding the adaptivity of humans, I pass along a saying of my husband's grandmother: "You can get used to anything," said the man with the shit in his hat.

Not sure what it says about me that my very first association with 'torque' was the Celtic neck-ornament.

Jen said...

Not sure what it says about me that my very first association with 'torque' was the Celtic neck-ornament.

Mine too. :)

Scriptorius Rex said...

Scenes like that are why I gave up on car repairs a long time ago. I have the uncanny knack of making the easy difficult and the difficult impossible.

Unique said...

Oh, no. You're a 'messy tool' person. I am Soooo disenchanted. It'll take at least a week to recover.

I see you've also discovered why wrenches are called 'knucklebusters'.
Hertz, donut? ;)

samgail said...

Mac I am so sorry to hear about the trouble but it brought back great memories of my Dad our Jeep pickup and starters.....and you made me smile. I hope you can smile about this someday too