Sunday, May 16, 2010

Camree, camra

So the Camry needs a new fuel tank, and a new driver side ABS speed sensor or wire or both. This last according to the on board diagnostic system. I already ordered the new tank -- cost $200 online -- and it will come before Friday. The speed sensor needs another diagnostic test, a basic logic-problem switcheroo where you switch the suspect one with what should be a working sensor from the other side and see if the fault code stays with the bad sensor, meaning it is the sensor and not the wire that connects the sensor to the ABS computer.

New speed sensors are $113 -- ridiculous for an item that is no more complicated, really, than a magnetic door switch you might find on a household alarm system. A ten-dollar item, at most. But there ought to be a '97 Camry in one of our local salvage yards, or another model year close enough, and if I can find said scrap Camry, I can probably get two for $20, since each car will have two easily accessible on the front end.

So the full price for the final complete Camry, on the road, not counting registration and tax which you'd have to pay for any car, will be less than $4,600, counting the $210 interest the credit union charges us on the $3,500, eighteen-month loan. Assuming I don't find anything else to fix.

That makes me fairly content with the deal. Turns out that Camry's are easy to work on, too. Lots of room, not so many tight places, simple organization of equipment. I should have known -- I had an '87 or '88 Toyota two-wheel drive truck years ago and it was easily the best vehicle, and most useful, I ever owned. I sold it to pay for my first year of college, which was a good trade, but I've never had a more reliable vehicle.

This car is in better condition than Aimee's truck was in when I first met her those 7 years ago. It even still has the manufacturers original double-electrode spark plugs. Not one but two electrodes per plug, to get a good quality spark for easy starting, redundancy, reliability.

Crafty, those Japanese.

I expect we'll get at least seven years out of it, then.

Ownership costs of less than $800 per year. Ridiculously cheap. I'm not quite ready to declare victory over the vehicle-industrial system yet, but it seems like we might be on the outskirts of Berlin at least.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the truck also needed some work. It had developed that grinding noise that front discs make when they're worn down beyond their safe wear point. Which surprised me because I had inspected these pads only last fall before the truck got its most recent state inspection, and they were still fat and good for many thousands of miles. But Aimee hates truck noises, and I hate replacing expensive rotors on old trucks that don't need expensive rotors, just to pass safety inspection.

So, after we finished tinkering with the Camry fuel tank (that would be the "royal we" -- herself doesn't deign to work with mechanical devices, even though she finds them incredibly frustrating and would therefore gain great psychological benefit from knowing, and being able to do, more), we tore down the front brakes on the truck.

Where we found a stuck spring-and-plunger device that had meant only one pad was doing most of the work of stopping the truck, and so that pad had worn out earlier. The cause, of course, was the rust that this truck has everywhere, on almost all equipment. And the rust, of course, is why it's not worth rebuilding that engine, which after all, just has a head gasket leak, not a particularly fatal engine problem.

This plunger will need to be drilled out and replaced, or I will need to get a whole plunger and caliper mounting assembly from a salvage yard. Problem is, this is not the kind of part that salvage yard guys have a name for, so I'll have to go myself.

Which is not really a problem, since salvage yards are fun for me. I think of them as great cheap outdoor parts warehouses, cornucopias of cost savings. And I still need a tire for the Ford, another item that will be cheaper at a scrapyard. And it would be good to have a spare set of rims for the Camry, to carry the steel-studded snow tires we use here in Maine in the winter.

Funny, isn't it, how most of us have to suffer so much to pay for the vehicles we drive, though. It's a permanent chicken-egg problem that comes with middle-class, white-collar work. You have to have the vehicle to drive to work, but you have to have work to pay for the vehicle. You're expected by the standards of your position in society to have a respectable vehicle. Show up in a grungy old Land Rover, or worse, a VW microbus, and people will judge you, even though either type is eminently repairable and can be kept running for generations. But most of us pay $200, $300, or $400 a month for the privilege of owing a nice $20,000, $25,000 or $30,000 middle-class car that will run for ten years at most without problems, and more likely just five or seven, plus the interest, plus the $600 of insurance and about the same in taxes a year. So a middle-class vehicle that won't shame you at your middle-class workplace might easily cost $6,000 or $7,000 a year, before you've put even a gallon of gas in it. Which is more than 10% of the average household income in the USA.

And many families have two or three such vehicles.

And no-one who holds down one of these normal middle class jobs has the time to learn how to fix their own vehicles, or has the time to fix it even if they know how, to get out of the trap. I only have the time because college professors get a lot of free time in the summer, and I only know how because I was a blue-collar, working-class mechanic long before I was a white-collar, middle-class college professor. But even we pay for this time in spades in the term time. If I started dismantling either of our other two vehicles on a Saturday morning during term time, and for some reason couldn't get it back together before Monday morning, there'd be hell to pay around here.

I wasn't joking when I referenced the vehicle-industrial system. It's actually a form of insidious low-grade slavery, whereby millions of human beings are laboring long hours at tedious paper-pushing jobs to make the money to pay for the stupid and gas-guzzling vehicles that get them to their tedious paper-pushing jobs.

I'm perfectly content to spend another day in the Great Farm sun today puttering with the ABS system on this Camry, if it means we have a chance, and a good one at that, to escape ten- or twenty-percent slavery for seven years, or at least reduce it to five per cent or less for eighteen months. That's not a hard trade at all. Just another contribution to my project to have all our debts and this house paid off before retirement.

Before early retirement, if I have my best druthers. I get a gratuity and a 1/3 RAF pension at age 60. That ought to allow me to reduce my workload at least, if not retire outright.

And if, by futzing here and there with the truck and the Ford too, rather than writing either of them off, I can keep each going for a few years yet, and have a third vehicle around here on standby for whenever we need it, I can probably use those facts too, to help keep us out of the system.

Being free and independent of the system, so we can chart our own course, grow our own food in the Great Farm soil, in the Great Farm sun, look after our own house and belongings, make our own decisions, when we want to make them, and not be slaves, ten- or twenty-percent, or otherwise, to the system, to The Man.

That's the goal here.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

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