September 16, 2003

Tonight on the way home from work I decided to stop by and see if I could finish off the brakes on Wilson. I stopped by Auto Barn and picked up two more rear axle grease seals. I learned from the list that there isn’t much grease in there on the IRS suspension, so it’s likely it doesn’t have the same shim/O-ring combo that the swing-axle cars do. I also picked up some Mobil1 synthetic axle grease. After I took off the wheel hub again, I chipped out the old seal (well, it was really the new seal I had put in the other day), then put some grease on my finger and smeared it in the bearings and repeated this until it looked pretty full. I turned the axle a little bit and it mashed around in there pretty good. I put the new seal in, and this time I used the old seal as a buffer between the hammer and the new seal, which drove the seal in a lot better than just the hammer, and seated it nice and deep. After that, I bled the brakes all around, and decided to try to drive Wilson home for the night. Tomorrow I have to bring the Jetta to get inspected before work, and so I thought I’d just pick it up on my way through. I got a few miles down the road and decided to stop for some Arizona Green Tea to enhance the whole Zen of Wilson, and when I got back in the car it wouldn’t start. I panicked and thought, “oh great… is this what I’m going to be dealing with now? the car won’t start and who knows what’s wrong. It’s got to be something electrical, but it could be anything!” Of course, I didn’t let Wilson know how upset I was with it. I started thinking, what if this happened somewhere else and I couldn’t get home? What would I do? How do you start an automatic if, say, the battery dies? I remembered that after a long hot trip, sometimes the starter relay won’t click over. So I got out and hit the side of the relay lightly with a wrench. Still wouldn’t start. Could it be the neutral safety switch? I had power, just no starter motor. Here I was thinking I could’ve actually driven this car home before I went through it all again. What was I thinking? I called AAA to get a flatbed. They said it would be twenty minutes before the towing company would call me back to give me an estimate of when they could come pick me up. I called my wife, and then my mother-in-law to tell her I’d be coming back, so please keep the pathway to the garage open.

By this time I had also taken everything out of the back of the car to look in the engine compartment for a loose connection. I checked the fuses for a burnt fuse. Nothing. Eventually the panic subsided and I resolved myself to my failure, and actually started thinking for a few minutes. Has to be the starter. When I put the car into park, there had been a clunk, as if the transmission had moved. Could that have jarred the starter gear out of the torque converter gear? I decided to get under the car to see if I could tell if something mechanical had come loose. I didn’t have a flashlight, so I felt around. Nothing loose mechanically, at least as far as I could feel. Then I started feeling if maybe one of the wires on the starter was loose, and felt a wire with an open end. It was a slotted connector that fit onto something. I went into the gas station, bought a flashlight and went back out to check where this wire came from. It was the top wire from the starter. I put it back on, put the transmission in neutral and he started up. I called AAA to cancel the tow, and went back to the in-laws, as I had gotten a call that I left the Jetta interior light on when I was looking for the tire gauge. I was tempted to bring Wilson back home, but I figured enough adventure for one night. Besides, I noticed that my other headlight low beam was out. Guess I’ll have to pick up another one at the auto parts store next time I’m there. I think I’ll also go through the whole car again checking for loose bolts & wires, and maybe finally get around to replacing the master cylinder. Brakes are still a little mushy, at least the first time I pump them. After the first pump, they feel fine. Still, the first pump will stop the car, but I don’t want to leave it like that. I also noticed I had a taillight out, but the brake lights work, as do the directionals.

Apart from the minor breakdown (mental and physical), damn if this wasn’t fun. Just tooling around in an aircooled car, dim lights glowing from the dash, sound of the engine racing away behind me. The car feels quite heavy, and solid. The steering seems to wander a little, or it has a little more play than I’m used to, but I think that’s normal. I’ll have to ask the VW guy when I go to get Wilson inspected. Fun night. Time for bed. I really need to stop taking things so seriously, and start looking at life as more of an adventure.<