So The Wife’s car needed an oil change, so I decided to do it myself. She’s driving a 2000 Dodge Caravan now, so we went to Autozone and picked up the oil we need, a new oil filter, and a new air filter as well, since we haven’t changed that since getting the van a year and a half ago. I changed clothes (from nice vintage overalls to rattier, “work” overalls, if you must know), and went down to do the work.

Ninety minutes later, The Wife left for Valvoline to have them do the work.

First, it took me a bizarrely long time to figure out the best way to get the van jacked up. I wonder if Dodge doesn’t want people mucking around underneath the vehicles, because it was a chore getting the thing up in the air. The jack itself was no problem, but finding appropriate spots to put the jack stands? That was hard. But I figured it out.

Then I had to look for the oil filter. The first thing I noticed when I lifted the hood is how compact everything is under there; Dodge didn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room for things like hands, tools, and whatnot. And I saw no oil filter, which meant that I was clearly going to have to access it from underneath. Swell. And sure enough, when I looked for it, there it was. OK. Fine. Filter location, check; oil pan, check; drain plug…ah, there it is. Facing the rear of the vehicle, of course. That’s logical. Why would I want to be able to see the part I’m loosening? And why wouldn’t I want to lie down there trying to visualize which way is “tightening” and which way is “loosening”, because my angle is reverse? Ugh.

Anyway, out came the adjustable wrench, which I secured onto the drain plug. And then…nothing. The wrench slipped, but no budging of the plug. Try again, and nothing. Again, and nothing. More slipping of the wrench, then nothing, then nothing again, then slipping of the wrench. At this point I realize that if I keep this up, I’m going to round off the head of the plug, and put away the wrench. Out come the regular wrenches.

Hmmmm…it’s not a 1/2″ nut. Neither is it a 9/16″ nut. I don’t have a 17/32″ wrench, so now I grabbed my sockets. Turns out I don’t own a 17/32″ socket either, which is fine, because it’s at this point that I’m starting to wonder if those clever demons at Dodge used metric nuts and such. Sure enough, it’s a 12-mm hex head on the drain plug. I’ve got metric sockets, so I’m back in business!

Except…not so much. The thing is on so tight that my ratchet won’t budge it. At all. No matter what angle I tried. Pushing, pulling, swearing at it, uttering curses in Elvish, Entish, and all the tongues of Men. Nada. Now, I only have a small ratchet (a bigger one’s been on my “Buy one someday” list for a while, but I tend to wait to strike items from that list until I find a real need for it — so on Monday, Hello, Bigger Ratchet!), so I tried thinking of ways to get more torque off the thing. At work I’d grab a spare piece of pipe and stick it over the thing, but I don’t carry pipe around in my car, so I used my large locking pliers. And yes, this generated sufficient torque on the ratchet to…strip the gears inside the ratchet head. (So on Monday, Hello, Bigger Ratchet and Adapter for all my sockets!)

At this point, I decided that I’d best give up on the oil change for now. I do have metric wrenches, but they’re smallish, and if the thing was torqued down that tightly, I didn’t want to risk stripping the thing. But anyway…ugh. I hate when I can’t do something I’m generically capable of doing. Makes me crazy.

So then we thought, “At least we can get the air filter changed.” Not exactly famous as last words go, but they should be.

It’s my view that the air filter should be the easiest thing on a car to change. It should be only slightly more difficult to change an air filter than to check one’s oil or refill the wiper fluid. And on every car I’ve ever owned, that’s been the case: either undo a couple of bolts or a couple of clips, lift the lid, pop the old filter out and the new one in, replace lid, refasten, lather, rinse, repeat. No fuss, no muss. A person whose only tool is a butter knife should be able to change an air filter.

This belief of mine, however, is not shared by the folks at Dodge, because their air filter is not even visible when you lift the hood. After poking around the visible parts of the engine for a while, and looking in the owner’s manual where the engine diagram doesn’t even indicate the existence of an air filter and whose section in the Maintenance chapter dealing with the air filter simply says “For optimum performance and gas mileage, regularly change the air filter”, we ended up Googling the bloody thing. Turns out that the air filter on this vehicle is down in the bowels of the engine, and to get at it you literally have to remove a big black plastic box-thing that has three hoses running into and out of it. But do you remove the hoses entirely? Just loosen the clamps so the thing swings up and out? And even though the site we Googled said to “remove the bolt fastening this box to the front of the vehicle”, there were no such bolts!

So we gave up on that, too. Double UGH!!!

Thus The Wife went off to Valvoline, and I went upstairs to change out of my now-dirty overalls which were dirty despite the fact that I accomplished zero completed tasks whilst wearing them. She got home an hour or so later, and told me that the boys at the Valvoline joint had a hard time with the drain plug too, which makes me feel better because they get to go down into a pit below the vehicle and stand up to work at it, as opposed to lying on the ground with my head under the car like I’d been. Luckily the plug isn’t stripped, so I should be able to make another go at this thing next time the oil needs changed. (The van needs changes a lot more often than my car, because not only is her car the main one we use for virtually any family outing, but her drive to work is three or four times what mine is.)

As for the air filter? Well, as I noted, this was the first time we changed it since we acquired the thing. So: have you ever had that horrible fantasy where you’re getting work done on your car and while you’re standing there the mechanic pulls something out and yells “Hey Frank, check this out!” and brings over his mechanic buddy to look at the thing he’s pulled out of your car and laugh at it while you try to hide from the guys who already know you’re there because you’ve been talking to them? Yeah, The Wife had that experience.

I have no idea when that air filter was changed last, but apparently it was completely black. And some of the material had been chewed away…but the unidentifiable critter that had literally been living inside it. There were the remnants of a nest and stuff. I’m assuming it was a mouse or rat, but hey, who knows. It could have been a chupacabra or the last remnants of Joan Rivers’s soul, for all I know.

The Wife also reported that the Valvoline guys didn’t do the kind of “hard sell” that they usually like to do, such as telling you your battery is “marginal” (which they told me seven years ago, and my battery is still starting my car today) or telling you that you really really really oughta run some kind of Dr. Halladay’s Secret Engine Elixir through your car to clean it out and purge it of impurities and restore life to tired ball-joints. The lesson here, I suppose, is this: if you have to go to a Quick Lube type of place, go late in the day, preferably within a half hour of closing, so that all the guys want to do is get you in and get you out.

Anyway. That’s the tale. Dodge Caravan 2, Handyman Blogger 0. The rematch has been scheduled, but will likely not sell out in time to life the local blackout.

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5 Responses to Frustration….

  1. Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness says:

    First of all you should have known better. You and I are THINKERS and we are just not good at this kind of mechanical stuff. I have accepted that I don't have the spacial reasoning skills to fully understand the workings of your moter veHICKLES.

  2. SK Waller says:

    What a pain!

    I hate when I can't do something that's supposed to be simple, but the manufacturer has made difficult. Thanks to my paternal genes I'm mechanically capable and can fix a lot of things.

    But have you noticed, there's always that one b**** screw that strips out?

  3. Call me Paul says:

    It's getting harder and harder for car owners to perform their own routine maintenance on their vehicles. I feel for you. Your drain plug problem was certainly the fault of whomever last did an oil change on that vehicle. They aren't supposed to use their air ratchets to tighten the drain plug, but they all do.

  4. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Yeah, I figured it was an air ratchet or something like that. I know it's a time saver and all, but you'd think they'd be careful about using that degree of torque on a fitting whose stripping would result in a more expensive and time-consuming repair job.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh, man.
    I'm really hoping you blocked the wheels and had the van on a jack stand or two and not on just the jack while you were working!
    If not, I'm very happy you got out of the job, no matter how unsuccessful it was, in one piece and unscathed.
    People get in real trouble doing that…

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