Firsts are always interesting. What makes them particularly interesting is the gap in knowledge. It brings pain and frustration but also an amazing sense of accomplishment when it's done.
My 1991 Mazda B2000 bakkie (pick up)'s brakes were squealing. This represented an opportunity to do them myself. I knew it was the back ones because well that's where the sound was coming from. This, even if I have to say so myself was an exceptional work of diagnosis. The bakkie has drums and shoes in the back. I had no idea how complex this would be.
so one fateful Saturday morning I came out with my tools and began the 8 hour adventure. There was some breaks in between but this was hellish. If you don't know, there are a few springs inside the drum in this brake system. Removing this springs and putting them back on was so hard for someone has ever done before.
The worst part is when I was done 4 hours, I realised that I had put the hand brake cable on the wrong side. It rubbed against the drum as the bakkie was moving, making a terrible sound. I had to spent another 4 hours to correct it hence 8 hours.
Changing the back brake pads on my Honda civic. Up until then I only knew that you have to press the brake piston back into the caliper in order to put in new pads. As it turns out, on Hondas you don't press but instead screw them in like a bottle cap. It was an interesting 40 minutes to figure this out. Thanks Google for YouTube.
Changing an oil filter on a 2001 corolla. Among my tools is an oil filter ranch but mine just to teach me lesson is slightly bigger than the corolla's filter. I rushed to Midas (car spares store) and bought a chain ranch. As it turns out just to keep things interesting Toyota decided that the best place for the oil filter on their 1.3 2E engine is just right under the exhaust manifold. I'm not a big guy but I doubt even Trump with his tiny hands can remove it. At the end I had to wrap the chain ranch around the filter, then put the normal ranch on top of that and as they say Bob is your uncle. Now it takes 4 - 5 minutes to remove, that day it took me all afternoon.
The corolla being an over achiever decided to later give me new problems. The left CV boot was torn and as a result from dust and whatever the left CV joint was making a knocking sound. The current wisdom is it's always better to change them in pairs. After having struggled remove the CV joint from the drive shafts for 4 days, a Mechanic friend of mine let me in on a secret that for this specific car they do not come out. They should but they don't. You have to grind and chisel them off. I could have used this information on the first day. It 30 minutes to remove them and put new ones.
Pain and struggling is a gap in knowledge. Once that gap has been filled through pain and frustration and struggling life is a breeze.
My 30th year was quite a car year. One of the best gifts was being entered for a super car experience. The two grand which is the one I was on, you get to do one practice lap and two full on laps in one super car. The four grand package you get two super cars and the seven grand package you get all of them. How many is all of them you ask, well five is the extraordinary answer to that question.
When I say five, it's more like ten because there was two of each model. There was two Ferrari 430 spiders, Nissan GTRs, lamborghini gallardos and 4 Arial Atoms. I don't know if I should classify Atoms as super cars though. The Atoms you could only have a ride along with a professional driver. The professional drivers would then take you through a track while they simulate racing.
It was a difficult choice. The Atoms were immediately out when I found out you don't get to drive them. The dream of my face being stretched around and bugs flying into my mouth like Jeremy Clarkson was dead. So that left the Ferraris, the Nissans and Lamborghinis. I thought long and hard. I know nothing corners like a GTR but it's a Nissan. If I was buying I would buy it, but I only get to drive one. So it was a street fight between a Ferrari and a Lambo. Ferraris are great but they represent an air of pretenticiousness, They are driven by people who trying to keep their mileage low so they can keep their prices high. So that left the Lambo, bright yellow, black wheels.
My turn came, I walked around it, taking it in as it purred quietly. Prrr Prrr Prrr prrr, I remember thinking that's almost silent. I strapped in and the professional race driver started explaining changing up with the paddles and the general workings of the car but I remember non of it. The door slammed shut. This was it. Foot off the brake, lightly on the accelerator and it was off.
I was directed to stop at the start line for the photographer to take a picture. The light was green and the instructor was softly going power! power! power! I obliged and it roared. Before long I was at the corner, He went brake, then power power power. It was amazing how it just pulled into the corner. In a blink of an eye or what felt like it, it was doing over 200kph. I nearly drove it off the road for the second I glanced down to try to see what speed I was doing. Anyway, two laps of it was like a minute, I soon had to pit and hand it over to someone else. I gave it a little rev to say bye. Luckily I had to pay an arm and a leg for a video of it.
Friday morning I was just minding my own business when I stumbled on an ad with a heading AMG Test Drive Weekend. On closer look turns out you can fill in some details and book a test drive for any AMG model or so they said. Being in Bloemfontein I knew that, that would be way too good to be true. The submit button constantly ended up with error so I went back and selected the call back option. Within 2 minutes I got a call from Mercedes-Benz head office asking me a few questions, one of which was which model would you like to test drive. I replied with my favourite car that Mercedes makes, S65 AMG sedan. I know, you would expect me to want something more edgy like the GT or the SLS but no, my favourite car Merc makes is the S65 sedan.
The lady confidently tells me no, they book the cars, it will be there. This was because I expressed my doubts that, that car would be in Bloemfontein for test driving. She then said she would organise with the dealership, John Williams, to have the test drive. Kabelo, a sales rep from John Williams contacted me, we made an appointment. Little did I know that the appointment is clearly more of a guideline as it was completely ignored. I ended up waiting more than an hour. It's like going to the doctor, it's always an issue if you are late but if you are on time you will wait at least 40 minutes to see the doctor. That was only my second disappointment because as I suspected John Williams didn't have the S65 AMG but it's much younger cousin, the C63 AMG S.
As you can see I'm using the term younger very loosely. I sat next to the technical expert as he took me through the car. I get mesmerized by these cars to the point where the basics escape me but more about that later. He takes it out puts it through it's paces, show you what it's like when it pulls, brakes, etc. Nothing like when the launch control throws it off the start line or at least that's what it feels like.
Then comes my turn. He pulls off to the side of the road and we switch. Now I would like to think I know a little bit about cars and Mercs in particular. For some reason That I cannot for the life of me explain, I want to adjust the seat the way I would in my Civic. I know in Merc the controls are on the door, they are in the shape of a seat for goodness sake. So I had to have something I know pointed out to me. The car was easy to drive, once it was going. It quickly reached the 150 kmh that the expert had limited it to. Naturally that didn't feel fast because my Civic can easily do that. I guess it makes sense to limit it in public test drives open to anyone to make sure we don't get ourselves into trouble.
Slowing it down to a set of traffic lights was effortless. I then made my second mistake that I for some reason always have to do at least ones in an automatic car. I brought it to a stand still with my left foot. Yep, you have guessed, my muscle memory was looking for a clutch. I bet if I had it for a bit longer though I would quickly adapt. It was also my first time I was in a car that has that self parking technology. It was quite cool to see it pull itself into a bay with very little input from the driver. It's a great car and I would buy it without hesitation. I do wonder what the S65 AMG is like...
Now the whole experience would have been perfect if it wasn't for the lady sales rep that took upon herself to come shout the technical expert about how long he is taking while we, the clients, are in the car. She was so entitled, so rude to him. I don't know how long he was expected to show off a car like this. I still wanted to see the engine and boot space but she was already insisting in putting the next clients in. When I buy my Merc, it will be from John Williams because before that very moment I have had great experiences there. But it certainly won't be from her. The most unprofessional display of disrespect for a coworker I have witnessed in a long time, completely ruined a great experience.
A couple of months after my 30th birthday something impossible happened. Well maybe not impossible since it did happen, improbable. I was requested to put on decent shirt and go for a drive. As I followed directions, it started to dawn on me that we were heading for John Williams, our local mercedes benz dealership. This was exciting indeed, you could by quiet demeanor. I should probably mention that my excited face is exactly the same as my regular face.
I had previously visited the very same dealership for tour. A Sales manager whose name escapes me treated me very well. I roamed about taking pictures in all the cars that interested me. I can't remember all of them but the SLK 320 and S600 come to mind. This was pretty special since the S class is my favorite of Merc range, especially it's more powerful variants e.g the AMGs. I learned some things like when you have an S class you can't possibly be expected to do something so mundane as closing your door, you just sort of ease them in and they find their own way. The day ended with this sales manager handing me a few magnetic stickers themed with Merc history.
Upon arrival at John williams I filled in a form, had my drivers license copied and handed keys. The treatment from the sales person was positively great. It was akin to walking into a store where you can clearly afford nothing but not judged by sales people. It was refreshing. We walked out to the parking, unescorted which added to the refreshing pile. I pressed the key and a pearly white C 220 W205, with a full AMG kit blinked. I got into the drivers seat, adjusted all the accessories which in a Merc could be a while. Below is what this beauty looks like.
Now, although I knew the theory of driving an automatic car, I had never actually driven one. I put it into drive, removed my foot from the break, it rolled forward silently and the earth stood still. I couldn't believe it. I get followed around in a supermarket. John Williams was gonna let us drive a brand new car out the gate without supervision.
The steering well was soft, the car a silent cocoon. I went down the main street pushing it a bit. Then slammed the break because my muscle memory was trying to change gear. The car was doing about a 100 kmh but it came to a hold. I would have expected to get jerked forward but no, rather I found myself in a schizophrenic mix of comfort and abrupt stop.
I took it on the highway. it handled beautifully. I took it to town. I had known about the stop and start technology but it still caught me by surprise when it died at the robot (traffic lights). Even more impress was it would start and go faster than the next car driver would put his car into gear. The other thing I found interesting was the air con remained on while the engine was off for the stop and starts. I drove it back and to my utter shock was greeted with the two strangest words, "back already?". I thought "Damn, I could have doing a few more rounds".
Anyway, This car impressed me wholly. I found myself wondering what more could I want? The C class is one of lower level models, how much more improvement can the upper models be on this? This is perfection? Boy was I wrong, as I found out when I drove the CLS 500 but that's a story for another time.
If your sedan is a bit older, you probably have a dirty rear third brake light. There is no way of reaching that I know of. No amount of googling seems to help either. Most people, or shall I say most sane people would probably let this go. I just could not. It drove me crazy each time I looked at it. Especially if one spends a great deal of time washing the car, it's just there mocking you like some kind of dirt Achilles. If like a normal Human being you haven't noticed this area of your car below is what it looks like.
So for this weekend's war I decided I shall show it, it's heel. For some unknown reason Honda decided they would make good cars, which means the war was long. It would be rough, tough, there would be some wailing and gnashing of teeth. Luckily my trusty assistant was on hand to provide moral support.
1st Battle: I had to remove the bottom rear seat. This is achieved by pulling it from the clips that hold it in front. Then undo the bolt that holds it to the car. Then pull the seat off and out of the car.
2nd Battle: I had to remove the side panels of the rear top seat. This required undoing the bolts that hold it on the bottom, then slide it upwards. I had to repeat the procedure on the other side as well. I then had to open the boot pull the latches that hold the back top seat let it fall forward.
3rd Battle: I had to remove the c pillar panels. come to think of it, I don't know if this is what they are called by, they are panels on the c pillar, so lets go with that. They are held by the most annoying things inside cars, clips. removing clips without a proper tool without breaking them is a mission. luckily a desert fork with a mysteriously missing middle tine (shhhh I broke it off with a long nose pliers.) works pretty well to remove them. The smart ones among you will notice the air bag mechanisms that sit behind the panels. I guess Honda wasn't lying, there are air bags bag there, better not pop them.
4th Battle: I now get to the business end, removing the rear deck panel. This is black cover the speakers sit in. It also houses the menace that is the rear third brake light. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sweet, sweet relief is at hand. It's held by yet more clips. to remove them I had to actually get inside the boot. There might be an easier way but anytime you can work laying down, seize the opportunity I always say. It also has a couple of clips in front. Then it comes off. Finally Victory...
Now the rear third brake light is clean, Dobby is free.
Were you ever your father’s tool boy? I was. At 6 or 7 years there was nothing I wanted more than undoing a bolt or two but my wrenching was limited to “bring a 6, bring a 17, bring a cloth”. I hated that, I felt so useless. However, I was always present and watched attentively.
My earliest memory of this was when he was changing brake kits on one my favourite cars of his. The 1975 Mazda B1600 short base, a very sun kissed beige with the shiniest chrome front bumper you have ever seen. The column shift that’s ever pointing upwards, the horizontal speedometer, metal dash with a bench vinyl seat that never ends. I loved this car. It was bought for R1000.00 in the 80s.
It had a personality this car. One day it would be perfect and the following day it would be bleeding all its brake fluid all over its tyres. Even when it wasn’t leaking you never really knew if brakes would be there until you actually use them. The look on passengers when my father starts pumping the brake pedal was always priceless. On day in the middle of the night just went off. As usual my father starts pumping the brakes to stop. The uneven road surface feedback from the butt was the only clue that we were no longer on the road. When it finally came to a stop the lights went back on, with absolutely no clue why they went off to begin with.
One day while transporting bricks it just started speeding up. My father had to apply brakes to keep it in check mind you it had all drum brakes. To avoid overheating the breaks, my father stopped and removed the accelerator cable from the throttle body. He put it in gear and it started speeding again. Another day it’s bonnet would not open, worked fine the day before just not the following day. This car was hilarious. You literally had no idea which new problems will it manifest or just for kicks, old ones you thought you fixed.
I was sad when it was sold for R3000.00. Not because of the amount but because I thought I would own it someday. I still miss it. If you are not that into cars and don’t know what it looks like, check out the image below, just imagine it beige and narrower tyres.
However, I digress. I wanted to discuss how I would have loved to work on this car but never got the chance. I would have loved to change tyres, unplug a battery anything. I don’t know if the lack of something makes you want it more because I love working on cars to this day. Every bolt I undo is a tiny hexagonal victory. It fills me with untold pleasure. I don’t know if I would have felt the same had I been allowed to work on cars back then or not. There is no telling.