Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Car Talk

posted Wed, 07 Jul 2004

How useful is this? Here’s what the “Hayne’s Automotive Repair Manual” tells me about replacing the speakers in my car.

1. Remove the front door trim panel (see Chapter 11).
2. Remove the speaker retaining screws/nuts. Unplug the electrical connector and remove the speaker (see illustration).
3. Installation is the reverse of removal.

Gee, thanks, guys. This project will be no trouble at all.


My usual strategy when I suspect there is something wrong with my car is to turn up the volume on the radio. It’s amazing how many weird noises miraculously heal themselves if you ignore them long enough.

Unfortunately, this technique does not work when the speakers themselves are the problem. It’s not that I demand such high-quality audio in my car – it is, after all, a ’93 Toyota without a CD player – but I don’t like to have the bass buzzing. If I move the balance more to treble, I hear all sorts of interesting things – like the harmonica parts in Willie and Waylon’s Greatest Hits – that I usually don’t hear, but it does compromise the overall quality of the music a bit. (Is the harmonica a great instrument or what? It is a sign of true genius to be able to play one, I am convinced.)

So I am forced to install new speakers. How hard can it be? That is one of those questions that usually precedes my undertaking a project for which I am completely unqualified. Cutting my own hair? How hard can it be? High school dropouts become stylists. Yeah. I wore a baseball hat for a month after that experience.

But in this case, I think it is something I could do – if given the proper instructions. Which is what you might think would be the function of an instruction manual. But you would be wrong. Here’s the first glaring error I have discovered. My car has front and rear speakers. Explain to me how I am supposed to replace the rear speakers following the detailed instructions above? I checked – the rear speakers are nowhere near the front trim panel.

Not that I even have the new speakers. I’m not sure what to buy. I mean, I know I need to get speakers that are like the ones I want to replace, but I don’t know the naming and sizing convention for these things and toyota.com is NO help. I have tried to find the specs for the speakers so I can search autozone.com and other auto parts websites to find the best price before I buy the speakers, but toyota.com won’t tell me what I need.

It’s bad enough that these Japanese cars are made for tiny Japanese hands. With my Chevette, I changed my own belts and changed the oil and did a bunch of other things my dad made me learn how to do. That car was made for big American hands. But with the Toyota, it doesn’t matter that I am willing to change my own oil – I can’t get to the filter. This is all a big conspiracy by the Japanese to get even for WWII (kind of like SAP is Germany’s revenge), but it’s too late to regret not getting an American car as my dad advised me to do and not just because his brothers own a Chrysler dealership. Well, not too late to regret, but too late to do anything about it. This car is paid for and it better last me another ten years.

I don’t mind fixing things. It’s my thrifty Slovak nature. My people do not pay other people to do things they could do themselves, especially when those things cost hundreds of dollars. I get a lot of satisfaction from fixing things around my house – a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get at work. Efforts = results at home. That doesn’t always happen on the job.

Even if I have to pay someone to fix something at home – rewire an outlet, re-key a lock – I can be pretty sure if he has done the job properly or not. But with cars, mechanics see a woman coming and think, “Aha! THAT’S how I’ll pay for that new big-screen TV!” At home, I know what’s broken and what needs to be done to repair it; I just don’t have the knowledge,access or tools to do it myself. With the car, all I can do is identify the symptoms and hope that the mechanic makes the proper diagnosis. They don’t always get it right.

Last year, my car wasn’t starting easily. Harpo was pretty sure it was the starter and so was my friend Patricia, who has two Harleys and knows this sort of stuff. But when I took the car to Sears, the attendant rolled his eyes when I told him I needed a new starter. “You need a tuneup,” he said. “We don’t do those.” I protested that it was the starter, but he looked at me with disdain. Sears charges $400 to replace a starter, by the way.

When I took the car to a tune-up place, they said, “It’s your starter.” They bothered to look under the hood, which the Sears guy had not done. They replaced the starter for $238. Ha.

But I usually don’t trust car mechanics. If they don’t fix the problem the first time, they will tell you that you have a new problem and that one will cost another $500. They know you are desperate and can’t fix it yourself because you don’t have the equipment to lift the engine block out of the car.

And the Haynes people are in collusion with the car manufacturers. “We’ll give them just enough information to get into trouble – and then they’ll really be at the mercy of the mechanic!”

My next car is going to be a bicycle.

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