Fasten your seat belts, we are in for some do-it-yourself turbulence on the old `space shuttle'

JANET'S WORLD

January 07, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

If you own an older vehicle, such as the space shuttle, you can expect to replace parts more frequently.

Note: By the words "space shuttle," I am referring to my 1999 minivan, which has sustained one $2,500 altercation with an eight-point buck, and one $5,000 whack by a driver who failed to look past a snow bank. Since these collisions, the minivan has developed a few unexplained rattles and tremors, yet it continues valiantly on its scheduled missions; hence its nickname.

Recently, the space shuttle required a replacement passenger seat belt. My first stop was a parts-chain outlet on U.S. 40.

The clerk checked the computer and delivered the dreaded news. "You're going to have to go to the dealer for that," he said.

"The dealer?" I whined. "That's going to cost me a fortune!"

"I'm sorry," he said, "but how did you ever rip your seat belt, anyway?"

I didn't want to get into it then, nor do I now, because it was the result of an entirely preventable error in judgment, which is the new phrase for "Man, was I stupid." But the Janet's World column is primarily about public service, and so here is a clever and revealing riddle:

Q: How long does it take for a puppy to chew through the passenger seat belt?

A: As long as it takes to mail a letter in the Woodstock Post Office.

So I stood, disconsolate, considering the irony of how the cost of replacing the seat belt at the dealership likely would exceed the price of the puppy.

I think that in America we have this subtle prejudice: Somehow a new car deserves dealership service, just as a baby deserves regular visits to the pediatrician. After a few years, we start trying to pound out our vehicle's dents ourselves, much the way we start asking our friends, "Hey, have a look at this rash, what do you think it is?" The reality is that older vehicles, like older people, often need prompt professional attention.

Naturally, my spouse decided to fix the space shuttle himself.

First, we went to purchase a Torx bit for a wrench, to remove the seat belt. We own so many wrenches, bits and power tools we could film a do-it-yourself series for YouTube, but of course we did not have the Torx type. We had to buy a set of assorted Torxes for $29.99.

Next -- thanks to the personal shopping of a friend's husband who owns an auto-parts salvage yard -- a new-old seat belt was procured, in a fashionable complementary color, for the bargain price of $20. You may have powerful friends in politics and entertainment, but you probably have to do your own shopping in a junkyard. Not in Janet's World.

The next weekend, I attended a holiday open house -- which is always a good way to assist with car repairs -- while my husband worked on the van in the driveway. Fasten your seat belts, we are in for some do-it-yourself turbulence.

While I was gone, the first Torx bit sheared off, as did the second. My husband removed the front passenger seat to make room to work but snapped a bolt in the floor of the car. He tried to drill it out, but the drill bit broke off in what remained of the bolt.

We ended up driving the van to a neighborhood auto repair shop, where at least the junkyard seat belt would be used.

Four hundred and eighty-nine dollars later, we have a working passenger seat belt. The good news is that apparently some elements of the old space shuttle are rock-solid; the technician had to use a blowtorch for more than two hours to remove the bolts.

Now the vehicle's heater is making a rhythmic ticking sound.

"Do you think it's a bomb?" I asked my husband hopefully.

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