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Hooniverse Asks: What is the least expensive yet best fix you’ve done on a vehicle?

Jeff Glucker December 6, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 40 Comments

Jalopnik’s Raph Orlove posted a story yesterday that detailed how he took some time to fix his Baja Bug. Specifically, Orlove attacked the aging, sagging suspension under his Volkswagen and installed new shocks. The resulting ride change is remarkable, and the fix itself is relatively easy.

That has me thinking about swapping out the shocks under my 1974 Mercedes-Benz 280. The ride, while cruising down the highway, is comfortable but there’s a lot of dive and roll during braking and turning. I’d like to stiffen that all up, and a fresh set of shocks should accomplish just that.

So now I’m wondering, for all you do it yourselfers reading along, what’s your favorite fix you’ve done on a vehicle? To make it more specific, I’d like to narrow it down to relatively inexpensive fixes. It could be akin to the inexpensive fix shown above, where I stopped my fuel line from leaking, or something similar to Orlove’s suspension swap.

  • oldcarjunkie

    I did a $200 make over on my old Triumph Spitfire. Bought it in primer with the ugly impact bumpers. Removed the bumper over-riders. Cost? Less than $10 for six carriage bolts and nuts.
    I did the roller paint on the exterior. Used vinyl paint to spruce up the interior. Rebuild the carb. Fixed some wiring. Replaced a bent pushrod in the engine – something like $5 for a used rod. All in it was right around $200 but I never did improve the seats. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e53fcd7b1cb2c90b9235915b6185d709e0d0cf597749e444648f6179f7e0c89f.jpg

  • Andrew_theS2kBore

    Bought an S2000 with an “exhaust” on it that was made out of a scrap muffler and fence post tubing. Ear-splitting drone at 3-4000rpm… or freeway cruise speed in 6th. $200 for a used stock exhaust and new hangers and gaskets and I could finally enjoy the car.

    On the same car, the rear badge had been replaced with one that lit up inside when the brake was pressed. $6 for an OEM badge and ten seconds with a pair of wire cutters and I could drive at night without wanting to die of shame.

  • neight428

    My ’01 Chevy pickup had the wheezy 4.3L V6 that was value engineered with an uninsulated a/c refrigerant line running directly over the distributor. Long drives in humid weather would kill the engine as condensation dripped on the dizzy. It was still under warranty, and they didn’t figure it out until I brought it in a second time, but the fix was about $0.25 worth of Home Depot pipe insulation.

    Also, reprogramming the WOT shift point to something below what the MSD box had set as a rev limiter is a good idea. That freaked me out the first time I ran up near redline expecting an upshift to merge into fast moving traffic to only get the engine screaming at near peak revs with no acceleration. Lesson there being, if the prior owner gives you a handheld tuner that he played with, just reset to the defaults if that ends up being reasonable for your setup.

  • kogashiwa

    Best bang-for-buck: the little plastic clip that holds the hood prop rod to the bottom of the hood on my IS300 was broken. So open hood and prop rod would be flailing about everywhere. Replaced clip, restored order, peace and harmony. Five bucks

  • My only no-start was 15ft off my driveway, it just shut down and would not come back.
    I was pretty quick with identifying the fuel pump/ECU relay, so I removed it, opened it, tested it, nothing awry. I shrugged and thought it would be a different cause. When I tried to fondle it back into its socket (astronaut style: head on the clutch and feet on the headrest) I realized that the socket was made of cable shoe connectors in a plastic tray with slits, and one connector came off.
    1.5 hours, zero money, and hardly to fix any quicker by a professional (at least according to the hours on the invoice).

    • Troggy

      That’s a similar fix to the one I had to do on a yacht. Myself, my wife and another couple had chartered it to spend a week on the Whitsundays. But the forward head (toilet) wasn’t working, so they wouldn’t let us go out until it was fixed.
      I got sick of watching the day dribble away while various ‘experts’ dug around in the boats internals. That boat charter wasn’t cheap and we weren’t getting anything out of it after all.
      The main ‘electrical panel’ was the tangle of fuseblocks suspended in air by the tension of wires running to them – underneath the aft starboard bunk. The electrician pointed out the fuse block that powered the aft head, and main water pump. But I pointed out that there were three fuses in the block. He turned it over and showed me that there were no wires running to the centre fuse. “Must be a spare fuse” he said. Sure it is.
      When they went topsides for a break, I got my wife to grab my ankles so I could dangle upside-down in the bilge with a torch. Sure enough – two wires were laying there in the grubby water. Some goose had pulled the fuse to inspect it and pushed the wires clean out the back of the block when re-inserting it.
      I slotted the wires back in, carefully re-inserted the fuse, and bingo, forward head working again.
      We got to go out that day. They were kind enough to waive most of the the usual competency tests they normally go through when chartering a bareboat – they figured I could be trusted with it if I knew how to fix it.

      • outback_ute

        “The main ‘electrical panel’ was the tangle of fuseblocks suspended in air by the tension of wires running to them”

        That is best-practice isn’t it, saves weight of screws that might otherwise secure it to something solid.

        • Troggy

          haha yeah sure, saves a bit on the weight of wires too… or maybe it’s a safety feature to guard against people who might try to put a screw through the hull itself.
          I’ve seen some crazy electrical arrangements on boats over the years. Mostly they are cobbled together at sea during arguments with gremlins, then never fixed properly at port (because it works now!)

          • Mostly they are cobbled together at sea during arguments with gremlins, then never fixed properly at port (because it works now!)

            Exactly how 1970ies VW fuse boards came into being, minus the “at sea” .

      • I like how one of the two toilets being broken means that you can’t use the boat but a tangled, dangling mess of wires is just fine.

      • cap’n fast

        best practice i have ever seen on boat electrical is from Miami small craft harbor in the 1970’s. hot bed of boat electrical mods the favorite being stereos. laugh out loud that yeah, the red lead goes to hot and the black lead goes to ground. the frame is ground right? frame of stereo is mounted in what? fiberglass/wood? yes they did.

        • Troggy

          Dear God. Some people who should know better seem to have a very loose grasp of basic electrical theory. I once came across a situation where a tech had accidentally snapped the wire he was running. No worries, he just twitched the wires back together. Without even bothering to strip the insulation first. Still does my head in to think about it.

  • Alff

    Blew the engine in my Alfa. Parts to rebuild came in around $1600. While I was contemplating this I found a wrecked Alfa with a reasonably recent engine rebuild. Got the guy down to $600. Car also had a rebuilt transmission with good syncros, solving another of my car’s problems. Swapped those across and scrapped the carcass, keeping anything usable. Sold some of that stuff, recovering another $150 or so. A few years later I wanted to replace the shocks in the ’54 Ford over a weekend. Found the fronts but nobody local stocked the rears. Turns out KYB specifies the same rear shocks for a 1954 Ford tudor and an ’80s Alfa Spider. Whodathunk? The rears that came with the wreck appeared pretty fresh, so on they went.

  • ricko

    Slid a business card between the dash and the trim to stop an annoying squeek. One of the most satisfying fixes ever!

  • outback_ute

    Had a battery lead that was corroded and wouldn’t reliably pass enough current to start. $2.50 for a new terminal, no more problems

    • Batshitbox

      The starter motor was failing on one of my Scouts. Bought a new one, got under there to replace it, noticed a ground strap was disconnected. Reconnected the ground strap, tuned the key and it cranked like new. Returned the starter motor without ever opening the box.

  • 0A5599

    Wife’s car kept blowing HVAC fuse, for reasons hard to diagnose. Replaced it with a self-resetting circuit breaker of identical amperage and footprint.

    Whatever was causing the overload was apparently momentary, and I never had to look at it again. A $4.99 Autozone part fixed it.

  • Troggy

    This is probably the most dissatisyfying fix ever. Maybe a motorcyclist would understand.

    On this day I had to get up at 4:00am for a 2 hour ride because I was assigned to drive the recovery vehicle at Australian Superbikes. It was my first time working at this track, so I didn’t want to be late.

    So, 4am. it was nearly sleeting, and looked like it wasn’t letting up. It was going to be a miserable ride. The bike was already packed the night before and ready to go. I hit the starter. Nothing. The headlight was on, so I had a functional battery, it had to be a loose wire from the myriads of safety features built into these contraptions. 30 minutes of fiddling around in a slight panic and I found it – the wires from the clutch sensor switch had vibrated loose. Plugged them back in and my GS500F started happily.

    Then I realised that it was still damn near sleeting. Why on earth I didn’t just take one of the the two (dry) cars instead of screwing around with the bike so I could ride on a cold, dark and wet morning is still beyond me.

    I rode anyway. If the bike works, you ride it.

  • I_Borgward

    I called a local junkyard and told them that if they could tow the dead Buick out of my garage, they could have it.

    No car, no problem.

    • Batshitbox

      I got you beat. I drove my SAAB 99 into the junkyard and asked for a receipt to claim a charitable deduction on my taxes. Left it running in the yard. (The transmission was losing bearing pins all over the place.)
      I’d have done the same with my Dodge Spirit, but I had to shut it off to get my bicycle out of the trunk. At least you didn’t need to leave the house.

      • neight428

        Something very “Viking funeral” about that.

      • I_Borgward

        A fellow I know was moving away from New Orleans and hadn’t dealt with getting rid of his scabby old diesel Mercedes. Legend has it that he left it out on the street overnight, running, with the keys in the ignition. When he got up in the morning, it was still there, still running. Sometimes you can’t give them away.

        • Troggy

          I heard another variation of the same story, but that ended with “when he got back in the morning, it was too late. Now there were TWO diesel Mercedes on the street with their engines running…”

          • I_Borgward

            I always heard that as, fellow left his accordion in the back seat of his car, came back to find a window broken out and two accordions!

  • Batshitbox

    Time and parts summed up? Fixes versus upgrades? I can safely say that I’ve never installed an upgrade on an automobile. Not even a radio.

    The 305 TBI in the ’91GMC was knocking on the highway, but only in overdrive. Some internet and repair manual reading turned up a device called the “Knock Detector”, or something. Testing the knock detector involved a special tool and a multimeter. Replacing the knock detector involved a crescent wrench and $12.50, took 5 minutes, once I located the motherfucker. Took me longer to walk to NAPA Auto Parts, frankly. Ran like new.

    1974 Triumph TR7. Ran well, no starter motor but bump started every time. Those twin Solexes were tits perfect. Nothing electrical worked consistently. Smashed it into a wall on Storrow drive in Boston. Fixed my Triumph problem.

    SAAB 99/900 clutch replacement. OMG so much fun! The engines are in back-to-front on these beasts, which makes replacing a belt really freaking awkward every year you own one. But after 100,000 miles or whatever, when you need a new friction plate for your clutch… it’s like flipping a vinyl record over. Pop the cover off, unscrew some shit, put a new pilot bearing in and slide that $100 disc in. Of course, the hood is also back-to-front on a SAAB, so you want to get that out of the way, but they’re also very easy to R&R. My knees never touched the ground.

    Motorcycles. Well, everything’s easy and fun in fixing and upgrading motorcycles, in comparison. Carburetor rebuilds and re-jetting is the most satisfying. They run better, and you get to defy all the emissions standards without consequence. It’s pretty easy, but the fun/time quotient takes a nosedive if you have more than two carbs.

  • Replaced the Crank Position Sensor to bring the 740 back from the dead. $35 bucks and a 10mm socket.

  • GTXcellent

    I’m a cheap SOB with a bad memory – so there are too many vehicle “fixes” that I’ve done over the years to remember.

    But maybe the most satisfying wasn’t necessarily car related. I LOATHE these new EPA compliant no-spill gas cans. They work great for filling vehicles designed to be filled with gas pump – but they are a pain for trying to fill everything I use them for.

    My fix – took an 1 1/4″ plastic p-trap kit – the smaller size usually found in campers and trailer houses. Cut it off just above the bend. Use the reducing washer and it locks in perfectly. I also saved the slip-joint nut. Took an old plastic oil container and cut a circle that fits inside and I have a threaded cap in the other end. I also had some old saved brass bolts and other hardware and was able to make a threaded air vent on the can. Worked so well, my Dad insisted I convert his cans too.

    • dukeisduke

      Ooooh, please post some pictures. I’m happy to still have my two 16-year-old Blitz cans (a 1-gallon and a 2-gallon), even though I’m not using them now (buying Trufuel, so I don’t have put that farging E10 in my lawn equipment). I despise those EPA-compliant cans.

      The only thing wrong with my Blitz cans is that the built-in tether for the snap-down vent caps are broken, but you can find replacement vent caps on eBay.

      • GTXcellent

        I’d love to post some pics – except that the only photo taking device I own is a Canon EOS 35mm.
        It’s a pretty cool fix though, so I might try to see what I can do

    • onrails

      I swear I’ve spilled more gas with the new cans and rebuilt the no-spill valve more times in the few (well, I’m sure more than a few, but it doesn’t feel like they’ve been out that long) years I’ve owned them than I ever vented with the old ones.

  • dukeisduke

    When I owned Previas, the most annoying thing was the click-out-click-in dual cupholders below the radio. The spring-click latch is the failure point, so the cupholder assembly won’t stay latched in when you try to close them, and instead stay out a little bit. The new part from Toyota was less than five dollars. I think I still have one of the latches.

  • bbob

    changed the old crusty radiator on my car with a cheap, probably chinese made replacement.
    looked like it was made from tin foil and recycled plastic, but it was almost free, really simple to replace, and best of all, stopped my car from overheating all the time!

  • Scoutdude

    Well not exactly satisfying my recent car work was changing the oil on the new to us C-Max that had the change oil warning since we purchased it 2 weeks ago. What a pain in the butt. On our old Fusion it had an under tray but there were ports to get to the drain plug and filter. On this the under tray is a piece of fuzzy card board-ish material. So the whole thing had to be dropped and it is about the size of Texas. However it was good to be able to turn off the oil change light. Even that was a pain compared to my older Fords. With them the reset was part of the information center, with this you have to do a GM like pedal dance to do the reset and make sure you hold them down until it says reset complete.

  • My RSX needed a new exhaust, including cat. Factory cat is something like $1,800 and most cat back systems are at least $300. I posted a request on the RSX forum and found a local guy who had upgraded his and had a serviceable factory cat back that I was able to get for $50. After looking at the rusty hardware I paid $75 to the local independent muffler shop to install it. With my work discounts I was able to get a new Magnaflow cat for about $180. So all in about $300, including half the installation, instead of over $2K in parts alone.

  • Tylerd5079

    The passenger rear window switch on my X-Trail was DOA when I bought the vehicle.

    I pulled the switch out, so I could go buy a replacement, and that’s when I noticed that the switch had tabs and could be disassembled.

    When I separated the parts, I noticed a metal ball loose in the housing.

    Turns out, the switches work by rolling metal a ball along lever until the end of the lever reaches a contact. Somehow, one of the balls had worked its way loose. I pushed it into a position that matched the other one, and put everything back together. The switch works to this day, and the fix cost nothing and took five minutes.

    http://www.clarks-garage.com/graphics/window_switch_dis_1.jpg

    This is pretty close to what the switch looked like.

    • cap’n fast

      I have real respect for any one who repairs a component instead of R&R. i have found it to be a bunch more satisfying(still loving the hell out of spell checker) to actually fix the damn thing than just replace it. a bit of institutional scab picking to find out why it failed in the first place and the next thing you know is you have learned something. best day at work, ever!

      • Tylerd5079

        Exactly.

        If a part is broken, why not take it apart, and try to fix it?

        If you can’t, no harm, no foul, just buy a new one. If you can, great! You’ve saved a couple bucks, and as you mentioned, likely learned something in the process!

    • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

      Good on ya!

      The ultimate in conservation is not being wasteful, which is one reason I like salvage yards.

      Even if I can’t prevent a recurring problem from happening, again, at least I’ll know what it is and how to put it right for a while longer.

      There are times you can’t get around an engineering flaw.

  • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

    Actually, mine’s on a car I currently own, and which I did back in April, I think.

    The car is a 2008 Lexus LS 460 L, and being a LWB machine, it has some goodies most of the SWB versions lack. One of these is air suspension (not all LWB models have it, but it’s much more common).

    When I test drove this car in October of ’16, I thought it rode rather harshly for a flagship luxury sedan. I even remarked to my wife, who was with me on the extended test drive, “this suspension switch on the console is hooked up to only the light on the dash…it does nothing, otherwise”. Regardless, it was clean, quick, had the equipment I wanted and colors I liked. A check for $18,995 later, and it’s mine.

    Eventually, I got a fake Techstream, and notice an error code. Hmph, lookit that, the RR damper circuit isn’t reporting. Oh, and that makes the suspension default to ’17’ in its damping curve.

    That curve runs from ‘1’ to ’17’, and if there’s a problem, it reverts to max damping for self-preservation’s sake. Well…that’s why it rides like a brick.

    Turns out, you can’t access the top of the struts on this machine via the trunk…ooooh, no, remove the entire rear seat.

    I’m poking around back there, replace an actuator (the strut adjuster) with an ebay one, $20 vs. $125, and no difference per the fakestream. This is why I picked up a used suspension computer…and those two words, in combination, still bother me a little bit…also on ebay. Was $80 vs. $1,500.

    Swap ’em out, realize I have a performance computer versus regular one, but meh, this should tell me if it’s the computer.

    Same. Damned. Problem.

    This is getting old. It hits me to check voltages at one of the front ones, which are easier to access. Oh, five volts, 5.1 volts, ground, 5.1 volts. Okay, I know what they should be, lemme check the RR one.

    Zero, zero, no continuity, and zero. Hey, this wire feels kinda loose…where does it go? I dig a little bit and sure enough, it’s not connected to the harness which goes up the transmission tunnel.

    “Click”, and I have voltage. Yep, the actuator spins like it should.

    Before I put all anything back in place, I take it for a drive, and OH! THIS is what it’s supposed to ride like!

    I pack it in for the day, and put everything back together the next morning. It turns out, the ‘repair’ which would likely have cost me a couple grand at a dealer cost $0 to fix. I’ll resell the computer on ebay, but I’m keeping the actuator, just in case.

    Plus, I’ve torn apart the inside of a high-end Lexus without introducing any squeaks or rattles!

  • JayP

    Sorry got the late entry…
    Working on my MGB for autox, I read about using high viscosity fluids in the lever shocks to increase the stiffness. The valves were on their way out so I was up to try anything. Used STP oil treatment which was $5 or something. Worked perfect





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