everything old is new again

A New Universal Truth

May 20, 2004
A New Universal Truth

I’ve discovered a new universal truth that I hubristicly call Jeff’s Axiom of Car Repair:

The price of a part is inversely proportional to the time and effort required to replace it.

Wednesday evening while driving home in the rain, my windshield wipers suddenly stopped working coupled with a loud thump. As it was raining, it soon became quite difficult to see where I was going so I pulled over and stopped at the first opportunity. A quick check demonstrated that the wiper arms would be freely moved back and forth by hand so I concluded that the windshield wipers had disconnected the wiper motor. As there was nothing I could do at that particular time and place, I carefully continued on my way home. Luck was with me, the rain slacked off and I arrived home without incident. I broke out my vehicle service manual to see what I had to do to get at the wiper mechanism and made plans to fix it in the problem in the morning.

Thursday morning I got started.

Step one; remove the wiper blade arms. Per the manual, this was supposed to be achieved by sliding out the retaining clip and lifting off the arm. Sounded simple enough and within a five minutes I had the left side wiper arm off. However, the right one was a bit more of a challenge and after fifteen minutes it came free. A quick inspection showed that some corrosion was the culprit so I made a note to clean it before reassembly.

Step two; lift the hood. This was simple and in no time was done.

Step three; remove the cowling which the wiper mechanism and windshield washer jets fit through. After removing the seven visible screws, the cowling was supposed to come right off but it stubbornly refused to budge. After ten minutes of prodding and prying, the cowling shifted every so slightly forward and came free. Underneath the cowling were some slots that the cowling engaged. This minor detail was not disclosed in the service manual so I filed this detail under lessons learned: the service manual is useful but may not contain every important detail. After disconnecting the tubing for the windshield washer from the jets, the cowling was removed and set aside. Looking at the tubing for the windshield washer, I noticed a clip attached to it. Looking back at the cowling I found where this clip used to be attached with sticky tape. I made a note to reattach this clip to its proper place when I put pieces back together.

Step four; remove debris shield. This is a plastic screen that sits under the cowling and is intended to keep leaves and other stuff from getting underneath. This shield was held in place with a few simple clips that I had no problems disengaging. The shield came free without a fight and was set aside with the cowling. I noted a large number of dried leaves underneath where this shield. Another lesson learned to file away: things don’t always work as intended.

The wiper mechanism was now accessible for inspection and my initial guess that the wiper arms had become disconnected was confirmed. Root cause was a nylon bushing that was cracked and allowed the wiper mechanism to pop off the wiper motor. I drove to the local dealership. I went there instead of the local auto parts store because I theorized that this nylon bushing was not a part typically needing replacing and thus might not be normally stocked by the local store. So far this remains only a theory to be proved or disproved at a later time. The dealership’s parts department had no problems retrieving the part from their stock. To be on the safe side, I installed the new bushing at the dealership just in case I ran into problems and damaged it. The bushing was a tight fit but it went together without any problems. A quick test (sans wiper blades) showed that the wiper motor and the wiper mechanism were again working in unison. My cost with tax included was $3.21 plus the 45-minutes driving time to the dealership and back.

Back at home I reversed the order of disassembly to reassemble my vehicle. First the debris shield and cowling. This took a bit longer than it normally should have. First I had to reattach the windshield washer-tubing clip. Second I forgot to make detailed notes on how the windshield washer tubing was routed underneath the cowling. After a few trials and one less error, I had the tubing back in place and cowling reattached. I was in the home stretch, only the wiper blade arms to reattach. As noted, the arms had a bit of corrosion so I cleaned and lubricated them before connecting them. Again the left arm went on without any problems and its retaining clip locked it in place. But again, the right arm proved problematic. Despite cleaning and lubricating, it did not want to go back to where it belonged. After a bit of convincing, it relented to my will and its retaining clip locked it back into place. A final check demonstrated that the repair went as planned and my windshield wipers are back to full operational status. Now it probably will never rain again while I am driving.

Total time to repair, about two and one half hours. Total cost to repair, $3.21 and a bit of cleaning solvent, some adhesive and some lubricating spray all of which I already had on hand. I’ve replaced more expensive parts like batteries and even disc brakes in far less time so my axiom appears to have some validity. Yes, I know that replacing the engine and/or the drive train would involve more time but then again, those are things I would not tackle on my own.

Coda

If I had a repair shop do this repair it would have cost me a lot more, not necessarily in parts (unless they “determined” that I also needed a new wiper motor, radiator hose, belts, battery, …) but the labor cost would have more than tipped the scales against me plus a day of not having use of my vehicle. So in the end, I saved both time and money.

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