Running Around At 7 o'clock, Searching For A Crescent Wrench Merchant
– or –
How I, With Great Effort And Personal Expense, Saved $400
Prologue: The Break-In
About a year ago, someone broke in to my car. In the process they popped out the lock cylinder in the driver's door. This was not devastating, but really annoying. The door could still lock, unlock, open, and close. I never use the key anyway, in favor of the remote. In fact, I did not immediately notice the lock cylinder was missing for a day or two. Neither vehicle nor renter's insurance covered it, as it was just under the $500 deductible.
Chapter 1: The Break-Off
Over the weekend, a little over a year after the break-in, as I went to open the door, the handle snapped off. I looked down at the handle in my hand, up at Kim, and back down at the handle with a confused and annoyed look. “This can't be good. This can't be cheap.” Over the weekend, it was not a big deal, as I always let Kim in the car first. She could lean over and open the driver's side door from the inside handle. Last night and today, it was less fun–requiring leaning in through the passenger's side to open the driver's door.
Chapter 2: The Fix
Again, I called around to check on the possibility of a repair and again the quotes were the same. This time, though, I was a lot more apt to do it myself. You see, most of the warranties expired anywhere from, maybe 8 months ago to a couple of years ago. I finally picked up the service manual a while back–something I should have done a while ago, but I was still basking in the glory of a new car that somebody else will fix for free. Replacing the outer handle and lock mechanism really did seem like a simple operation.
I reserved the parts this morning and picked them up at lunch. After work, I sat down and started disassembling the necessary door pieces. The inner panel came off. The waterproof barrier was peeled back. The old cylinder pieces were retrieved and discarded. The outer door handle was–OH CRAP, WHERE IS MY ADJUSTABLE CRESCENT WRENCH?
At this point, I cobble together enough of the door parts so that I can drive. There were no buttons to lock or unlock the door as well as roll down the windows. I was just imagining scenarios–a cop pulls me over and is insistent upon me rolling down the window; a horrible accident occurs, the door is jammed, the car is filling with toxic smoke, and I cannot open the window; etc. Anyway, I pulled on the sharp, jutting-out piece of metal to swing the door closed and hoped I did not have to open a window.
I proceeded to drive to the nice hardware store down the street, Ankeny Hardware. Kim and I stopped there over the weekend and one of the owners was working there and helped us out a lot. He was so nice, I figured this would be my primary hardware store from now on. It was closed. I went to the corporate chain hardware store on Hawthorne. Closed. Where the frag would I be able to find tools at 7:30pm on a weekday? Fred Mayer! Yes, I bought tools at the grocery store–the Portland equivalent of Ralph's.
I ended up getting not only an adjustable crescent wrench, but some pliers and channel lock pliers as well. The only pliers I own are for delicate electronics work and I did not own channel-locks. I figured I might as well go a little overboard. If it turned out the crescent wrench did not work, I really did not want to return to the grocery store to buy more tools.
Fortunately, this forward thinking paid off. Getting the door handle off was a pain in the rear. The crescent wrench would have worked, had there been enough room for good leverage. The purchase of channel-locks was a wonderful thing, as I did not need to finesse proper leverage space, but could simply grab ahold and use brute force to undo the nasty bolts.
Removal (with the proper tools) was easy. Reinstallation of new parts proved to be more difficult. Inside your car door are a lot of rods and levers. These are not terribly complex if you are skilled in mechanics, but they are quite tense. One rod had to be navigated over to the door handle. The other had to go to the lock cylinder. Neither were going to play nice, as they both had a lot of tension behind them. This is where trial and error came into play. This is also where finesse over brute force came into play.
Once installed and tested, reassembling the door was easy. I thought I would do one last set of tests once everything was reassembled, including the buttons on the inside door panel for windows and locks. I almost had a heart attack over the mental images of doing everything all over again when there was a problem locking the doors…until I realized that for this testing, I had the key in the ignition and there are some safety interlock smarts in the car that prevent you from locking the door if the engine is off yet the keys are still in the ignition.
Overall, it was quite successful. I would have a few second thoughts about doing it again, but did end up saving a lot of money and time. The only difference currently is that the door handle is flat black, awaiting some paint detailing, whereas a professional job would have included the paint. The parts for this were about $80, meaning the labor would have been around $400. Considering the whole operation took a few hours, including “oh shit, I don't have the right tool” time, I now think I am in the wrong business.