Friday, March 22, 2013

Rusty old Ford

That old Ford car of mine will "never get to heaven," as our old boy scout song went.

I'll be lucky if it will get me to work for another winter.

I shouldn't complain. This car had 124,000 miles on it when we bought it for only $1,200. It now has nearly 160,000.

I was searching the Great Farm Diary trying to find out when we actually bought it. I think it was in the spring of 2009, after our old Mazda finally and very similarly rusted away and had to be junked.

So, if I've driven it for four years for only $1,200, plus a pair of rear strut mounts and some paint, underseal, plugs and plug wires. That's only a little more than $300 a year.

Other people pay as much per month.

Even so, I do hate that I can't keep it decent. The salt we spread on our roads in winter in this part of the world just eats cars away, no matter how careful you are with washing and underseal.

In the Ford's case, the damage had been done before I ever set hands on it. The rust had already reached the flakey stage in quite few places. I tried to slow the rot with red oxide paint, body filler, and underseal, but the chassis is now full of holes where previously it was just flakey.

You can slow the inevitable, but you can't stop it.

These cars don't have a proper frame that could be welded like the Land Rover or the Nissan, both of which have well-patched frames by now. All there is, is a pressed steel sheet that makes up the underside of the car. This is called monocoque or unibody construction, and it's a death knell for cars in New England. The steel panel that makes up both the floor of the car and the chassis is too thin, and now too rotten, to weld, so there's very little that can be done.

In fact, I tend to think that at this point if I were to pay too much attention to the underside of this car with the wire wheel on the angle grinder, the normal preparation for any welding attempt, I'd simply find myself abrading off much of the chassis along with the rust. It would need dozens of small fiddly patches for which no repair panels are available. It would take days, and even then the rust would just continue to eat away at every spot that hadn't been repaired.

The New England rust mites don't just affect the chassis of your car or truck. Suspension parts and brake parts also suffer. These can't be ignored. As long as you check it every once in a while, a chassis can be left to its own devices, until it becomes actually dangerous, but brakes and struts have to be repaired.

I heartily dislike working on cars when it's cold outside. Metal tools are too cold to touch and your fingers lose their feeling. So when the brake lines sprung a leak, a few weeks ago, in the coldest part of winter, I pulled the car in the shop for a diagnosis, but as soon as I saw how rotten the pipes were, I just backed the car out of the shop and right into a parking place and left it for several weeks, trying to forget about it, allowing it to get covered in snow until the weather decided to cooperate.

I knew I'd have to replace all the rear brake lines, which would take at least a half a day. If I was going to spend that long underneath a car in the middle of winter, I at least wanted the outside temperature to be above freezing.

Yesterday, off work for Spring Break, and with the daytime temperatures now in the upper 30s and low 40s, there was no excuse. I cleared the tractor and some other gubbins out of the shop, pulled the Ford in, and took a set of tin snips to the brake lines to see how much needed to be cut away.

This is the result:

Each of these pieces is a stretch of brake line that was almost completely rusted through. Although there was only one actual leak, there would have been others later. All the corner bends were particularly rotten. 

The pipe bending process at the factory is the cause. It affects the paint on the raw pipe, causing it to weaken wherever there's a tight bend. The rust does the rest.

Both rear brake lines would have to be replaced as far forward as the back seats. I set to.

Life wasn't made much easier by the fact that the car was dripping water as well as brake fluid. At one point a drop of cold water hit my trouble light and exploded the bulb, sending glass flying around underneath the car. 


I used a double flaring tool to prepare new pieces of line, and to flare the cut-off ends of the old line to accept the necessary brake line nuts and unions.

Here's the rear driver side union, joining the good section of the old brake line to the brand new section.

Aimee is away for a few days at one of her science conferences, so I was missing my brake bleeding partner. This is a two-person job, and she's fully trained up by now. I tried the one-person improvised method, whereby you run the bleed line into an air-lock made of a couple inches of brake fluid in a can, but as usual the results remained a bit spongy. 

Still, we now have brakes, so the car can be driven, and they can be bled to perfection when Aimee returns. Indeed, in older cars where master cylinder seals are a little weak, sometimes the brakes bleed themselves after a little time driving. 

The total cost of the repair was about $98, most of which went to pay for the flaring and cutting tools, which I didn't have already, and some extra line, nuts, unions, and brake fluid. I have enough to do several more such jobs in the future.

Although I'm tired and a little sore from scrauming* around on the floor all day yesterday, I was pleased with my day's work, since I can now begin to wear out this old Ford again, instead of our more expensive four-wheel drive vehicles which I had been using to get around. 

I don't worry about wearing a thousand dollar Ford out too much. It's hardly an irreplaceable item. I can find another one in a few days if I need to, on Craig's List or in Uncle Henry's. It would take weeks, and big bucks, to find another Land Rover, or an affordable four-wheel drive pick up truck in good nick.

Not only does this save money, it conserves the remaining working life of the pick-em up truck and the Land Rover. 

Now I have to run this old Ford down to Brooks town and get a State Inspection, since the old one expires this month. 

Next week I'll repeat the process, more or less, fixing the emergency brake on the Nissan and then getting a State Inspection for that vehicle too.

Luckily, there's no inspection item for rusty chassis panels. As long as nothing vital is rusted away, no strut mounts or other main mounting points, and as long as there are no jagged edges of metal visible, you can get the sticker.

In other news, we had another big snowstorm Tuesday and Wednesday. About a foot of fine powder fell, blanketing the yard and forcing the freshly sheared sheep back under their heat lamp. 

I took the dogs for a walk, but Flamey balled up with snow, poor pup!

Ernie, for his part, was sleek and snow free.

I guess Australian Shepherd fur is designed for barbies on Bondi Beach, not for New England spring snowstorms!

Maybe Ernie is actually a New English Shepherd, not just an English Shepherd.

*"Scrauming" is a Sheffield and West Yorkshire dialect word for crawling around. Just one of a whole bunch of words I grew up with that are not known to Google Blogger spell-checker. See this old dialect book here.

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