For as long as I can remember, I’ve admired the way my dad has the ability to create with his hands. Some of my earliest memories involve interacting with his creations. My dad was a carpet layer, and a good one at that. He drove a full-size fan, and it only had seating of the two front captain’s chairs. The rear cargo area of the van was completely covered in carpet that dad installed himself. On the driver’s side of the cargo area was a large tool chest made of plywood and covered in carpet. It housed the tools of the trade when they weren’t in use. Our house featured other handy works of his including a locking gun cabinet and a cedar chest. Even the paddle he spanked us with when we got in trouble was something he’d hand-made.
He wasn’t only good at making things with wood and covering things with carpet. He was also good at repairing cars. Growing up I remember helping my dad make basic repairs like changing tires, spark plugs, and batteries, and also more advanced repairs. I helped him change a U joint and a CV joint. I’ve helped him replace a starter, rotors, and other repairs that I’m not even sure of what they were. There may have been other repairs he didn’t make, but the only one I can recall for certain was when the engine in our Dodge Caravan had to be rebuilt.
There’s no doubt that I owe my skills and confidence making auto repairs to my dad and the times he pulled me out to the driveway to help him turn wrenches.
I mentioned in a previous episode that I don’t mind making mechanical repairs on my cars, but having a car with electrical issues was a worst-case scenario. But now a car with major electrical issues was my reality. Sitting at a figurative card table across from the broker I’d purchased the car from, I went all in on a bluff that I would sue him to get him to take back the car he’d sold me. But he’d called my bluff and had to fold that hand. I said last week that I had three options at this point, but technically I had four.
Option one would be to accept the partial refund and send it back to the broker. I really did not want to take this option in part because it would cause me to lose nearly $3k, but I’d have no car to show for it, and I was bothered by the fact that I’d be returning the car to a guy with no confidence that he wouldn’t dupe some other guy after me.
Option two would be keep the car and sell it. My concern with this option was I would probably not even get as much out of it as I would if I simply returned it to the broker. For me to sell it in good conscience, I would have to disclose all of the electrical issues with the car. I was sure that those issues would devalue the car by $3-$5k. However, I’d be done with the car and could spend the next several months building up my savings again and find an even better car.
Option three would be keep the car and pay a professional to rewire it. As I mentioned last week, I’d already done the research and leg work on this option and only found one person in town even willing to take on the project. He said the cost would be $3k-$4k. With that kind expense, it really wasn’t much more appealing than the first two options. The upside here was that when he was done, I’d have a very sorted, very beautiful MGB GT. It would have cost me more than I expected, but I was confident I’d have the car I’d dreamed of.
The fourth option was to keep the car and rewire it myself. However, how realistic was this option, really? I knew nothing about electronics of any sort, let alone the kind of knowledge that would be needed to pull out all of the wiring from an automobile and rewire it completely from scratch. The only electrical knowledge I had was something I’d learned from my boss in Lubbock. In his twenties he had been a journeyman electrician. So when one of the ballasts from the fluorescent lights in the store would go out, rather than calling an electrician to change the ballast, he would do it himself. This task was actually quite easy and he taught me to do it as well. You simply kill the power to the fixture at the breaker box, cut the three wires connected to the ballast, and match up those exact wires with the new ballast by matching up their colors. It was really that simple. Needless to say, that’s a far cry from what this project would require.
However, the upside is that I could do the job for about $1,500. That would include a new wiring kit, tools I’d need to complete the job, books I’d need to study to gain the knowledge needed to do the job, and other odds and ends. If I could somehow pull it off, I’d have a fully sorted MGB GT, AND I’d have put some sweat equity into the car that would give me genuine pride and satisfaction each time I drove it or someone admired it.
So there you have the four options: return it, sell it, have a professional rewire it, or rewire it myself.
Which option would you choose in this situation?
I chose the fourth option. By the time I reached this decision, I was nearing one of the busiest travel seasons for me, which is typically followed by a heavy season of new business. By the time these two seasons were over, the weather would be changing and I wasn’t confident I’d have enough warm weekends to complete the project. So I decided to use the next several months to read books about automotive electric systems, research which wiring kits would be good candidates for my car, and do as much as I could to prepare myself for the project. I estimated that the project would take me 6-8 weekends to complete, and opted to start the project the first week of February, with a goal to finish it by the end of March.
Perhaps the decision you would make would be different. That is certainly okay. As this season progresses, you’ll learn more about whether or not this was even the right decision for me. But for me, this was not a hard decision to make. If I could use a gambling analogy again, I was taking the option that allowed me to place a bet on myself. I knew that I had the motivation to do the job, the ability to study and understand the information needed to complete the job, and I knew I had the positive mindset required to get me through the difficulties that would certainly arise during the project.
Helping my dad turn wrenches actually prepared me for this task more than I realized at first. When I bought my 1984 Celica GT in the summer of 2009, one of the first purchases I made was the Shop Manual from Clymer. Shop Manuals from Clymer, Haynes, or other publishers are designed to guide a novice mechanic through various car repairs. You can purchase them from your local auto parts store or online book retailers, and these books are broken down into sections like Engine, Cooling System, Fuel Systems, Ignition System, Gearbox, Braking System, Suspension, etc.
The first time I needed to replace the alternator in the Celica, I flipped to the index in the back and learned that process was covered on page 150. Turning to page 150, I found the four-step process to replace the alternator, complete with diagrams and photos. I’ve made other repairs on the car like replacing the radiator, thermostat, clutch master cylinder, clutch slave cylinder, coil, and water pump. Each time the Shop Manual guided me step-by-step through the process. If I ever ran into something I didn’t understand, I found the info I needed on YouTube or on enthusiast forums for the car.
While I was certainly more comfortable working with physical components that bolted on to the car, the truth was, I didn’t have the knowledge to complete any repair on my car without first consulting a book, YouTube video, or forum. When I broke this rewiring project down to its basic challenges and thought about how I’d overcome them, I realized that there was a lot more in common than I first realized.
In fact, the more I researched, the more I similarities I discovered. I found a great little book with very simply illustrations called, “How to Wire Your Streetrod from Start to Finish” that helped me understand the basics of how car electrical systems work. Best of all, I found the Shop Manual equivalent for the MGB electrical system aptly titled, “The Essential Manual MGB Electrical Systems.”
The “Electrical Systems” book was a tremendous tool. It had sections like Basic Electrical Theory, Fusing and Fuses, Starting System, Charging System, Ignition System, Instrumentation, Horn, Fuel Pump, and many others. It had detailed information on the various colored wires in the car, and diagrams showing how each component connected to each other and the system as a whole.
I realized that although this problem wasn’t exactly like other automotive problems I’d faced before, no problem we face is ever exactly like the previous ones we face. After all, if we’ve seen an exact situation before, we don’t typically see it as a problem the second time because we’ve already figured out the solution for it from past experience. But when new challenges present themselves we’ll often find out that they aren’t so dissimilar from previous challenges if we break them down and see how they compare to other challenges we’ve faced.
Once I did that with this challenge, I knew exactly what to do to get started. I was still confident that I’d face unexpected curve balls in my journey, but I wasn’t bothered by those impending curve balls. A wise person once told me that I shouldn’t worry about the things I can control because I can control them and therefore what’s to worry about. They also said I shouldn’t worry about the things I can’t control because I can’t control them and worrying about them won’t do me any good. Therefore, we have nothing to worry about.
And that was my approach here. I studied, researched, put together my game plan, and readied myself for February 1st, confident that the skills, principles, and lessons initially learned in the driveway with my dad, would serve me well as I embarked on this challenge.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 580, “Challenge Accepted.” Next week I share a story about confronting terror. Stuff I Learned Yesterday is part of the Golden Spiral Media podcast network. Join me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, Facebook, or our feedback page.