In my line of work, I’m constantly reminded of my mechanical ignorance. One time on an assignment out in Vegas a guy was showing me a bad cam in a 1960s Hemi, and as he manually rotated the crankshaft he told me to peer in and look for the wiped lobe. “Oh, yeah,” I said, trying to indicate the general area where one might find such an item. “You’ve definitely wiped it. If my eyes don’t deceive me, you’re gonna need a total lobotomy.” I may have been scrutinizing the windshield-wiper motor.
After visiting Jay Leno a couple of years ago, I returned home so embarrassed at my level of ineptitude that I dismantled my sputtering lawn mower in a bid to fix it. By the time I finished, it sounded like a Sopwith Camel in the process of being shot down.
If Jay Leno had this problem, he’d build a new lawn mower, smelting his own ore for the block and crafting the handle from the skids of a surplus military helicopter. The final product would put down 83 hp and be called the Blind Monk, after the sightless holy man who achieved transcendence while jetting the carburetor. If you think that you’re mechanically inclined, rest assured that Leno would make you feel like a medieval dung collector who time-warped onto the Shanghai maglev.
Although I’ll never make my own parts on a 3-D printer, like Leno, I now have a garage and an old vehicle — and thus no excuse for continual mechanical naivete. So when my 1993 Ford Bronco begins bleeding transmission fluid from the back of the transfer case, I decide to do something about it. And by “do something about it,” I mean, “leave it parked while not doing anything about it.”
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I do follow an online tutorial about transfer-case seals. I get as far as the part about needing a specific tool called a seal puller. According to my logic, any job that requires specific tools should be avoided at all costs. I’m not going to buy a massive hydraulic machine with chains hanging off of it just to change a seal. Fortunately, my conception of a seal puller turns out to be influenced by possibly reading too much Jules Verne. I eventually discover that the actual tool looks like a back scratcher and costs $10. So much for that excuse.
Armed with my new back scratcher and what I hope is the proper part, I endeavor to become an expert on transfer-case seals. I read forum discussions on proper protocol. I consult my Chilton’s manual. I watch an eight-minute YouTube video on transfer-case-seal replacement. The video concerns a Chevy Blazer, not a Bronco, but the host blithely acts as though transfer-case seals are all the same. I can only pray that he’s right.
On the appointed afternoon, I put Guns N’ Roses on Pandora and crawl under the truck with ratchet in hand. I unbolt and remove the rear driveshaft, feeling the frisson of excitement that comes from knowing there’s no turning back. Pride alone will now keep me from calling in a mechanic, even if I have to spend the next few years with a front-wheel-drive Bronco.
With Axl wailing his encouragement, I pull the offending seal. Now comes the tricky part. According to the forums, you need to seat the new seal using a rubber hammer and a block of wood with a hole in it, or else it will go in crooked. Except nobody tells you how big this hole should be. It takes three trips to Lowe’s and three drill bits before I’ve got it dialed in. In case you’re wondering, the correct diameter for a homemade Ford seal-pounder-inner is 67 millimeters. I confess that I didn’t know this project would involve so much woodworking.
My wife walks past as I’m bolting on the driveshaft, and she somehow resists throwing herself at me despite my off-the-charts manliness. With everything back together, I top off the fluid and take the truck for a spin. To my great satisfaction and mild amazement, I’ve fixed it.
A few days later, though, it’s leaking coolant. The water pump looks like the culprit. I again go online and find a step-by-step tutorial. There are fifty steps. A special tool is required. This might be beyond what Axl and I can handle. But that’s OK. True mechanical savvy means knowing when it’s time to work and when it’s time to call in the blind monk.