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One Other Thing

Ball joint freed

Ball joint freed

Car repairs have been on my list since that last day at work, and Friday is the day I at last submit to the task. Changing the oil should be easy but becomes an hourlong odyssey back and forth to the cheap Chinese tool store down the street. Free oil changes have cost ten bucks in a new oil filter wrench to get off the non-stock filter. (It always seems someone, somewhere, is looking to get paid.) The work is smooth after that, routine and predictable.

The alignment work had a note in light carbonless-paper writing: power strg leaking. The shop could have made an easy sale pushing a new rack and pinion, but they said nothing. I previously removed the wheel for a better look and saw the boot covering the driver’s side rack end torn and loose. (It’s visible at the very top, with a green zip tie around the inner tie rod.) Encouraged by the ease–more or less–of changing the CV axle, I order a new boot, anticipating work that I dare not think quick but at least comprehensible.

The work is smooth. I get to the image above in about fifteen minutes: car raised, wheel off, outer tie rod successfully separated from the steering joint. Wrenching the tie rod loose is a more difficult but I only smash my knuckles once and draw no blood. Everything spins and turns with ease.

Outer rod off, it’s easier to see the boot is wrecked: torn through, little bits flaking off, oiled grime everywhere. The boot I ordered online is the wrong one, but would work.

As with politics, the issue isn’t the issue. Some googling brings to consciousness the suspicion that the boot is just a cover, not a seal itself. A seal inside the steering is leaking, and the true repair is replacing the steering rack. My thinking has not been the clearest this week and the state of play is complicated: car disassembled, undriveable. Fix the boot but ultimately waste twenty bucks with not fixing the problem and negating it when the rack is replaced, but protect the rack in the meantime. Get a boot that fits better.

Twenty-two years ago in August I drove this car new off a West Forth Worth lot. It was mid-afternoon, Texas summer light the flat ocean weighting down the world. The car had no radio so there was only the sound of the road and the A/C. It was cold.

I am staring at a long end and these are never tidy. Do the real fix? Get a newer car? Be noble and go car free? I have no job and have been shepherding cash. Keeping the car going is a key part of the job-free strategy. That I would have to reassess this has been swimming in the subconscious half-light recesses for some time.

The endgame is the beginning of everything after, I recently told someone. This car has fulfilled its role in the American mythos, granting me twenty-two years of freedom. But freedom of a sort. Everything ends. What separates good from bad endings is whether you get to make choices.

I leave the car on the jackstand overnight. Saturday morning I mull over it some more and decide the best now thing: clean up the old boot and put it back on. The spot is tight, barely big enough for my hand, but it pops back on after a few minutes’ try. Turning the rip upwards in the hopes of keeping more road grit out, I secure it with a new hose clamp, spin the nut to the Liquid Paper mark I made, spin the outer rod on, put everything back together. Starts up and rolls backwards like always.

I even got the alignment back. It doesn’t drift at all, though the steering wheel isn’t quite straight on. I got what counted. It isn’t fixed, but it’s good enough.

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