Saturday, 06 May, 2006

The truck is running

As I predicted last Sunday, I got the truck running today.  I had to call my friend Mike for a little help with one thing, but other than that I managed to do all of the re-assembly work myself and I don't have any parts left over.  The new engine runs very nicely, and the transmission appears to work well, too.  I've only driven it around the block, so I can't say for certain, but it looks like I successfully performed an engine transplant.  Not too bad for a computer geek, huh?

People had strange reactions when I would tell them that I was replacing the engine in my truck.  Most looked at me as though I'd lost my mind; some because they can't understand why I'd go to all that effort for an old "basic transportation" truck, and some (I think) because they don't see me as the mechanic type.  Some people seem impressed and say, "That's so complicated.  I could never do anything like that."  I had a physican--an emergency room trauma surgeon--tell me that.  He can fix broken people, but he doesn't think he could replace an engine.

Replacing the engine was a little bit involved, but it's not terribly complicated.  I took a lot of pictures during the disassembly, and I labeled each wire and hose as I disconnected it.  Every part got a label, and each part's nuts and bolts got a separate little plastic tub with a lid and a label.  All the parts (alternator, starter, air conditioning compressor, radiator, exhaust pipe, etc.) went in the back of the truck and all the plastic tubs got stacked neatly on the work bench.  There was never any doubt where things were or what was what.

As I said last week, I didn't take enough pictures.  I should have taken hundreds of pictures--at least one every time I removed a part, and periodic pictures from different angles.  Pictures that focus how hoses and wires are routed would have been useful.  Close-ups of how brackets and braces are attached would have saved me a lot of time.

That many pictures also would have served as a chronology, although it would have been better to write down each step as I removed things.  I ended up having to take a few things apart multiple times because I put them together in the wrong order.  If I had kept track of the order in which I removed things, I could have re-assembled in reverse order.  It would have saved me time, frustration, and a few skinned knuckles.

Time is a factor.  It took me almost 7 months from the time the truck died until I finished replacing the engine.  However, it really only took me about four weekends.  And not whole weekends, either.  It took about three days to take everything apart and pull the engine and transmission.  It took almost a whole day to get the new engine and transmission back in and bolted down.  It took three or four full days of work for me to put everything back together.  I probably could have finished the project in a month had I worked on it for four weekends straight.  Having done it once, I could probably cut that time in half if I had to do it again.

The hardest thing about replacing the engine myself was getting over the fear of doing it wrong.  Once I got started, and especially after we got everything out of the truck without causing any damage, I realized that this stuff isn't all that tough.  It's just different.  I write computer programs for a living.  They're way more complicated than the drive train of a little pickup truck.  If you take your time, keep good records, and above all pay attention, replacing an engine isn't terribly difficult.  Anybody with average intelligence can do it.

I'm not saying that everybody should do their own auto repairs.  But you shouldn't let fear get in the way of trying something new and different.  If you want to play mechanic, work with wood, build electronic toys, write computer programs, remodel your house, or anything--just do it.  Find the information you need, read, and start experimenting.  You'll enjoy the sense of accomplishment.