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Maxim 32: Anything Is Amphibious If You Can Get It Back Out Of The Water

August 4, 2017

Last week at Boy Scout camp, I had a few car issues. Okay, I dumped my Honda Civic into the creek, nose first. My friend Howard Tayler wrote the title of this post for his web comic Schlock Mercenary. I put it to the test.

As I arrived home on Friday night, my broken car sat at the curb waiting for me. I'd been able to drive it from the scene of the crash to the highway. The check engine light had come on. My diagnostic tool couldn't read the codes. (Why did I have a check-engine-reading tool in my car on a camping trip? Don't ask.) It seemed safest to have it towed home.

I got up Saturday morning and headed out to check out the damage. There was a big hole in the bumper. Popping the hood, I could see that the AC condenser was pressed into the radiator. Which in turn was pressed into the fan. My car would run, but not for long if I tried to drive it without repairing it. It certainly wouldn't have made it the 40 miles from Spanish Fork canyon to Pleasant Grove.

I cleared a space in front of my garage, put the front of the car on jack stands and went to work. The first part of any repair is disassembly. It's like peeling an onion. . .and then putting it back together. The bumper, or rather the cowling over the bumper, came off pretty easily. Honestly, most of the rivets were popped from the dip in the creek.

The actual bumper is a big piece of steel that goes across the front of your car. It sort of looks like a curved bow protruding out to protect your car. Mine? It was the piece that pressed the condenser in. It was mostly horseshoe shape. It had done its job and died in the effort. It took the bulk of the impact. It came off surprisingly easily.

Now to the real work. The compressor looks like a miniature radiator. It is supposed to be flat. Mine was more bowl shaped. I didn't remove it yet, though. It was full of freon. I didn't want to remove it until I was ready to refill the AC system. Instead, I swung it out of the way. Kind of like a barn door. I heavily damaged, broken barn door.

Behind the compressor was the actual radiator. It was also mostly bowl shaped. I drained the radiator and got about a pint of fluid. The car takes 1.8 gallons. It had lost a little fluid. Next, I started disconnecting the hoses. There are 6, which wouldn't be a problem if the clamps weren't hidden behind other components. I made a mental note of where each hose and each electrical connection went.

The back of the radiator has two fans. These were pressed up tight against the bent radiator. As I pulled them off, they spun easily, apparently unharmed. Stepping back, I felt pretty confident that disassembly was done. Not too bad considering the possibilities. I needed a new bumper, a new compressor and a new radiator.

Towing my car from the canyon to my house cost $500; $300 to pull it out of the creek and $200 to load it on a truck to my house. Total parts for the fix were going to come in about $400. By the way, don't try this at home. Well, if you are a mechanic, or have a neighbor who is, you can. Taking my car to a shop would have probably run into $1000 or $1200 for parts and labor in addition to towing.

Any job, no matter how small, is an excellent excuse for a new tool.

I almost had everything I needed. I ended up buying a vacuum pump to evacuate the AC system prior to refilling with freon. I also had to buy the freon and some more plastic rivets to attach the bumper cover.

It took a couple of days to get all the parts in. My neighbor and his son came over to help. Cameron, my neighbor's son did a lot of the work on the radiator. Jonathan, his dad did the work on the AC and my part was the body work.

A Honda Civic that is missing the cowling in front looks a lot like a wannabe Mustang. My kids thought it was cool. I lived in fear of catching a rock in that soft aluminum. Tomorrow, I'll put the cowling back on and call the repair complete.

  • One week
  • Two junk yard trips
  • Three trips to the auto parts store
  • 14 Times I wished I'd learned to swear

The best part of the entire process was proving the validity of my friend Howard's Maxim 32. Yep, I got it back out of the water. It proves it was amphibious. I think I may combine that Maxim with #11: Everything is air-droppable at least once, and figure once was enough.

This is the final post to a multiple part story about my misadventures at scout camp. I plan a rare Saturday post tomorrow to include the picture story.

Here are the other parts of the story

I'm Okay. I'm Okay. . .I'm Not Okay (Sliding off the road)

If The Good Lord is Willing And the Creek Don't Rise (Yup, it ended up in the creek)

It's What We Do (Okay, NOW what do I do? I figure out how to get out of it)

Maxim 32: Anything is Amphibious If You Can Get It Back Out Of The Water (a hat tip to my friend Howard Tayler, who wrote the headline)
That Doesn't Go There – The Long Delayed Picture Essay

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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  1. Note for future car & home refrigeration work – there should be a Maxim for “You can do almost anything yourself if you Think, buy the right parts and tools, and Read The Friendly Manual.” And that’s the maker’s Factory Service Manual, not the Haynes or Chilton’s.
    it’s Much Less to buy the full 30# bottle of R-134a one time ($140-ish) than $30 or more per 1-Lb can – it doesn’t go bad. And if you feel brave you can recover what was in there, change out the condenser core, metering orifice tube/screen and Filter Drier, add a little refrigeration oil to make up for the new condenser, then put the old R-134a back in, top off with fresh.
    Make a list of all the refrigeration tools you don’t already have – but wait and watch for a sale, or you find them at a Garage Sale or Pawn & Loan first. Pay retail as the last resort, only when the work can’t wait. Because if the car has a lot of miles the compressor is going to pack it in sooner or later.
    If you have all the tools you can do the whole thing for under $500, versus pay someone $1500 – $2500 to do the work for you. I’ve done the Work Truck compressor twice, and just did the Pontiac TransSport…

    • Yup, the #30 bottle was $125. The bumper was about $60 (new!) The condenser and the radiator were about $90 each. Throw in some antifreeze and some plastic rivets and the parts came to right around $400.

      I did buy an AC 2 stage vac. We had the gear to put coolant in, but without first evacuating the system, it’s not nearly as effective.

      But, parts were about $100 less than the towing fee. I agree that a mechanic would have probably charged $1500-$2500.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. That Doesn’t Go There – The Long Delayed Picture Essay | Rodney M Bliss
  2. It’s What We Do | Rodney M Bliss
  3. If The Good Lord Is Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise | Rodney M Bliss
  4. I’m Okay. I’m Okay. . . I’m Not Okay! | Rodney M Bliss
  5. Best of 2017 #4: Maxim 32: Anything Is Amphibious If You Can Get It Back Out Of The Water | Rodney M Bliss
  6. I’m Going To The Mountains. . .Sorta | Rodney M Bliss

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