The Hapless Mechanic – Pt. 73

So we come out of IHOP after breakfast this morning and Gene points at our car and exclaims, “you have a flat tire!” Even a mechanically-challenged person like me could tell that he was right; the driver’s side rear tire was as flat as one of the pancakes I’d just consumed. The cause was obvious: we’d apparently picked up a nail on the way out of the neighborhood, something I had long before figured was inevitable given the amount of ongoing construction.

It took me a couple of minutes to remember how to drop the spare from under the car, while Gene pulled out the jack and related tools. While I was retrieving the spare, he broke loose the lug nuts. We jacked up the car and I began to remove the wheel. Five nuts came loose without a hitch. The sixth didn’t. In fact, after a couple of rotations, it refused to budge.

I’m not sure what I’d done if I’d been by myself, as I’ve never experienced this problem before. Fortunately, Gene is an experienced mechanic and he immediately knew the only logical solution. “Break it.” Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that’s right up my avenue of expertise, but rarely have I gotten instructions to do it. So I put my back into it and snapped the stud. It was pretty obvious that when the tire had been mounted, the mechanic had gotten too aggressive with the air wrench and stripped the stud, and breaking it was the only way to remove the wheel.

One broken stud meant a more complicated repair than just a flat tire, but it wasn’t a disaster. But my mechanical adventures never end so cleanly, and it was about that time that the car gently but resolutely fell backwards off the jack, something that is never A Good Thing. Happily, we were all out of the way and no one was injured, if you don’t count the lug nut that I had re-affixed to the wheel while I was breaking off the damaged one. When we jacked up the car again, I found that it, too, was stripped. <em>Snap.</em> We’re now down to four functioning lug nuts, and that’s pretty much as far down that path as you want to go.

My initial plan was to take the car to a repair shop, but I ran across this video on removing a broken lug nut stud and this one on replacing a stud. The process seemed quite straightforward, and so I decided just to try it myself. In retrospect, I should have just hit myself in the head with a ball-peen hammer.

I drove — gingerly, if one can actually do that — to the nearest of the approximately 8,000 auto parts stores we have in Midland, and bought a couple of lug nuts, studs, and some Liquid Wrench. I returned home – still gingerly – and parked in the garage. The first order of business was to put on some good mechanicking music, so I hooked up the iPod and fired up some of Tommy Castro’s blues.

I removed the wheel and immediately discovered why I had not chosen wisely. The videos linked above show a nicely disassembled wheel, sans brake drum. What it obviously didn’t show was the agony that was associated with removing a stuck brake drum in order to replace the studs. I tapped and sprayed, sprayed and tapped, uttered a few incantations over the rusted axle flange, and tapped some more. The drum was still as tight as a, well, drum. So I resorted to the last thing you really want to do in a case like this: I set the car on fire.

No, not really. I called for help. I dialed Gene’s cell number to see if he had any tips for getting the drum loose. He started asking a bunch of questions about whether I had done this or that to that or this, and not only didn’t I know the answers, I didn’t even recognize the questions. At that point, I figured the best thing to do was re-assemble everything and fall back to my original plan: pay someone who knows what they’re doing and has the tools to do it with. But, being the all-around good guy and good friend that he is, he insisted on loading up his tools and coming over for an in-home consultation.

Long story shortened. Even Gene’s tools and expertise couldn’t loosen the stuck brake drum (it’s too big for his puller), so we reluctantly agreed to give up the quest (it bothered him more than it did me). I’ve been putting off having the brakes on the Durango serviced, and this will give me an excuse to kill two birds with one impact wrench.

And, of course, this being a holiday weekend, I’ll have to wait until next week to get everything back in order. Still, it’s all fixable and nobody got hurt, and that makes for a successful mechanic experience in my sad history. What I’m worried about most of all now is what the term “stripping a stud” is going to do to the Gazette’s search engine traffic, IYKWIM.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, folks!