Wednesday, December 29, 2004

1990 Plymouth Horizon, Wrenches in the Snow

A break from the bread baking tutorial. Today it was warm (about 35 fahrenheit) and no precipitation so I thought it would be a good day to tackle what should have been a small chore: tightening the alternator belt on my "go cart", a 1990 Plymouth Horizon.
I bought the car from a coworker for $500 last November. It had been his mother-in-law's and had been sitting in the garage for almost 4 years. I had equivocated about getting a third car, not willing to buy a car for my kids but not comfortable having them driving to the casino to pick me up on nights when they needed to drive somewhere. The"go cart", as my husband calls it, is fun for me. It is too small for teenagers to drive so it is off limits to them. Nobody changes the radio station or leaves their stuff in it. It already looks trashed so I don't have to lock it. There's no place for a mugger to hide in the thing anyway.

It has a good engine and good tires. It starts right up and goes through the snow. After cleaning snow off the minivan, cleaning the Horizon seems like barely lifting a finger. Mice ate through the rubber hoses that open and close the heating system doors so when you turn the fan on you get a mix of heater and defrost and no heat to the floor, but this is not much of a problem because the car is so small. The heater fan has either a low speed or a "jet engine" speed and I have noticed that when I have the lights on and the fan turned up the alternator gauge on the dash is pointing toards the low battery side. I can hear the alternator belt slipping, so it was easy to envision a scenario where I would loosen a bolt, maybe use a prybar to move the alternator and pull the belt tight, and then tighten the bolt again and then voila! no noise and plenty of juice with all accesories running.
Alas. Just because it drives like my old Datsun doesn't mean that working on it is any sort of joy. The alternator was easy enough to see, once you looked under the non-functioning air conditioner. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to touch the alternator because it is jammed between the engine and the front of the engine compartment with the air conditioner on top. The adjusting apparatus, which must have seemed really cool on the drafting table, was a small screw that could be accessed by removing a rubber plug in the engine compartment wall.

Unfortunately the screw and the bracket it was supposed to move were both covered with many years worth of rust. Getting the wrench on to the bolt was tricky, but attempting to turn it was a real leap of faith, as it was impossible to see what was actually turning. When I did manage to get one eye situated to see what was happening, I realized that I was moving the whole bracket, not just the screw. If the whole bracket moves somewhat freely, then what is tensioning the alternator?

Rust never sleeps, but you can loosen it a little with WD-40. Afraid that I would remove too much "friendly rust," I put the tools away. I will send the car off again to Bob Day, a mechanic of the old school who lives over by work. I will tell him to do what needs to be done, removing the whole air conditioning unit if needed. He will take a week and a half to get to it then another week to call me and tell me to come and get it but the price will be right. Meanwhile I will drive the minivan and everyone will have to go back to asking for permission to borrow it.

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