Friday night after work I had big plans, plans to head home and do not only my personal taxes but the taxes for Never Done as well! WOOOOHOOOOOO!! PARTY!!!!!! NOT. I had been preparing and organizing documents for weeks and was finally ready to dive in (with similar enthusiasm as someone might have while being drug behind a car). Just as I was getting settled into my computer chair my phone rang (not an uncommon occurrence) it was an old friend of mine, in fact it was none other than the guy who helped me prototype the hood on the Never Done Alero (here's feature video of the car):
After we'd finished with the pleasantries of our conversation I could tell that something was obviously wrong, I asked him what was going on. "Dude I broke my car" he said, "I hit a pot hole and I think my spring came off!". "Holy shit! where are you? I'm on my way" I told him. For those of you who aren't familiar with suspension systems here's a super quick crash course on one portion of a suspension system: You have springs that the vehicle sits on (there are various types) the springs support the entire weight of the vehicle and they store a SHIT LOAD of energy when in their partially compressed state, they allow your tires to bounce up and down independently as the road changes without jarring the passenger compartment of the vehicle over every bump (the shocks however are a BIG part of the ride quality). If you suddenly release the tension on the spring it's going to go BOING!!! Just like a small spring from a mechanical pencil times about 1000! Automotive springs are no joke! They aren't something you should play with if you don't know what you're doing, they can absolutely take your damn head off if they get away from you so my advice is to not follow my example and have a professional do your suspension work for you.
I hopped in the Super Duty and headed to the Autozone parking lot where my friend had limped his car, as I pulled in I saw something very very funny! It was a Pontiac Grand Am with a peculiar stance, it was like a lowrider doing a 3 wheel motion in reverse. Instead of 3 wheels down and one up high in the air he had 3 corners of his Pontiac at stock height and one kissing the pavement! It was AWESOME! It looked like something caused by too many beers, not enough money, a blow torch and a desire to lay it low.
It was immediately obvious that we did in fact have a suspension issue of some kind but exactly what our problem was we didn't yet know. After a quick trip to the garage to grab some tools (Yes, I know that Autozone rents tools but we had our own) it was time to tear into this thing. For our readers in warmer climates please allow me to set the stage for you, it was roughly 20 degrees, it was windy, it was night time, the ground was covered with snow and ice (depending on where you were standing) and I had a damn hole in my boot!
Our first order of business was to get the jack under the front of the car, this wouldn't even being worth mentioning under normal circumstances but in our case the front passenger side of the vehicle was on the ground and the jack was about 1/2" too tall to fit under the car. Not to worry, I was in the company of another man and as you know 2 men will in fact do dumber shit than one man will do on his own. "I'll pick the car up and you slide the jack under" were the next words to come out of my mouth......I'm going to pause for effect here while you ponder the stupidity of my statement and relate it to a man that you know. I walked to the front of the car, I pulled up my pants and widened my footing like a mighty oak tree, I reached for the bottom of the bumper and took in a deep breath of cold evening air, I looked to my friend for the signal and he looked back at me with nothing but support (the look that one man gives to another man right before the accident happens), then he gave the nod. Flashbacks of my power lifting days (15 years ago) were dancing through my head as I let out a powerful groan and began to stand up with the car. I was pulling with all my strength, I was not going to be beaten by a cold hunk of metal. Finally I reached to top of my stance, the front car was up as high as I could stand with it, I was proud and I knew it would be only seconds before I heard the words "got it" from my friends mouth. Just as my eyes were getting ready to leave my skull from the pressure of such strenuous activity I hear my friend say "almost". ALMOST? Are you fucking kidding me? I'm standing here in this cold ass parking lot holding up the entire front end of your car like fuckin Hercules and you still can't get the jack under it? I set the car back on the ground to assess the situation and see about a reevaluation. Well as it turns out he was trying to put the jack under the side of the car that was broken so things were sitting a bit lower on that side of the car. "One more time dude, I only need like an 1/8th of an inch more".
At this point in the story I had another memory come back to me, a memory of a very similar situation from my college days where I blew my back out REALLY BAD picking up the front end of my Lincoln to show a friend how strong I was (there may or may not have been alcohol involved).
Every fiber of my being was telling me "Hey Clint, don't do it dummy!", "That shit's too heavy Clint", "You're going to blow an ass gasket Clint". So because I'm not known for listening to the voice of reason I prepared for another pull on the old Grand Am and I'm proud to say that after a much less manly display and a lot more grunting and groaning and thinking that this might be my last day we successfully got the car on the jack and were able to begin troubleshooting. Sorry for the photo quality, they were taken on my cell phone in between helping turn wrenches and pick up cars.
My friend is no slouch when it comes to turning wrenches so it was only a matter of minutes before we had the car in the air, the tire off and the flashlights going in for a closer look. The first thing we found was that the back of the tire had a nice trench dug into it all the way around the side wall so we knew our issue wasn't going to be deeper than the wheel well. It took about 3 seconds from the time the flashlight hit the wheel well until we had figured out the problem, the spring had SNAPPED! All that tension had to go somewhere and because it couldn't go up it went down, right over the top of the strut assembly and into the sidewall of the tire.
Ahah! We've found the problem, now to get this thing pieced back together QUICKLY so we can get it somewhere warm to work on it before we both freeze to death. I was trying to come up with every redneck trick I could think of, 2x4's, wire, you name it and I probably thought of it. The only problem was that we didn't want to spend money on a temporary fix and we didn't have anything to "rig" this thing back together with. After a little discussion my friend accepted defeat and walked into Autozone to purchase a new spring for his vehicle. I was watching him from the parking lot as the ding dong at the counter was trying to figure out how to enter his vehicle information (you know exactly what I'm talking about) to get him the right part, my mind started to do the car guy "scan all available automotive knowledge" thing and I realized that this grand am was a GM N-Body car just like the Never Done Alero! Shortly after purchasing the Alero new in 2001 I changed the suspension (about a million different times) and for some unknown reason I was still dragging around the factory springs and I knew exactly where they were at! A quick phone call to my supportive girlfriend (be jealous) and the springs were on their way across town. I walked into the Autozone where my very unimpressed friend was still standing answering completely unrelated questions about his vehicle and said "I've got a set of springs, they're on their way across town right now". Both my friend and the ding dong at the counter looked at me like I had a bottle of ketchup growing out of my forehead, how could this guy possibly have such a specific part laying around? Car guy, that's how.
It wasn't long before the springs arrived and we were back in business. I had been dragging these things around for 15 years (they had less than 5,000 miles on them) and it was time for them to find a new home, I told my still bewildered friend that the only contingency was that if he took one he took them all! He happily agreed and we got back to work (he figured he might be needing the rest of them sooner than later!).
When you're working on a car in a garage you don't really consider the mess you're making with your tools and parts and misc things laying all over the place, when you're working on a car in a small Autozone parking lot in the middle of town with cars driving by staring at you and people trying to find parking places it becomes a little more obvious just how much shit is required to be on the floor at one time to perform a simple job and let me tell you it puts a hustle in your step because it's also VERY embarrassing! You feel like you just dropped a bucket of vibrating dildos on the floor in the library and everyone is staring at you while you're trying to haul ass to get them all picked back up so you can get out of there! Between the broken car, my truck and the tools and shit we had on the ground we were taking up 3 of the 7 or 8 available parking spaces, needless to say we were in a hurry to finish.
After fighting with the spring compressor roughly 30 times (they're ALWAYS in the way when you try to reinstall the strut), dropping every nut and bolt a dozen times or so and watching almost everyone in town drive by at least once we were finished! We bolted it all back together and threw the damaged (but still holding air) tire back on and started to lower the jack. For those of you who have worked on cars very much you know that this is an opportune time to mess with your buddy, you wait until the jack is about 1/2 way down, just as they're starting to gain confidence in their repari then you yell BOOOM! and your buddy jumps and shits his pants because he's so worried that he overlooked something and that something is going to go wrong. My anticipation for this moment had been building since before we had the spring back in the car but I'll be damned if my friend wasn't talking the entire time he lowered the car back to the ground, my opportunity had passed so instead I stepped back and looked oddly at the car with my hand in the air cocked over to one side and said "how come it's sitting like this?" It wasn't as funny as the boom thing but he did have to take a few steps back and look before he realized that I was messing with him. I'm happy to report that I haven't gotten another call yet so I'm assuming that the car is still in good working order and I have a whole new appreciation for hot coffee and a seat by the fireplace.