Hooniverse Asks: What’re Some Good Tips For Apartment Dwelling Wrenchers?


I don’t mean to brag, but I presently have five cars in my driveway. There are three more in the four-car (or three and a lot of crap) garage as well. Yes, as you have discerned, I am a hoarder. The capacious parking afforded by my home is one of the reasons that I bought the property. My previous house had a much smaller driveway and a creepy little garage that just made me sad everytime I went in it. Now I have a garage with a fridge in it, and that fridge is filled with beer and pie. My life is, on at least one level, pretty complete.
Not everyone is me however, and for many a car enthusiast apartment dwelling is the what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For those folks, doing any sort of maintenance or repair can be an adventure in frustration as they seek out power plugs for trouble lights, or even room to swing a jack! I’ve been there too, and I know a lot of you probably have as well. What we’re looking for today is what you might have learned from just such an experience. What tips can you give to the apartment-dwelling wrenchers in the Hooniverse universe?
Image: Rich Cooley/Northern Virginia Daily

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

45 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What’re Some Good Tips For Apartment Dwelling Wrenchers?”

  1. 0A5599 Avatar

    First choice would be to select a unit with a private garage, but if that is impossible, select a unit with level parking/workspace right outside your apartment. Or become a motorcycle enthusiast and get a ground-level apartment so you can work inside.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      Or find a place with a big freight elevator. I rebuilt a Bultaco in my apartment bedroom on the fifth floor. I moved my bed into the main room to create a studio, laid down OSB over the carpet, and bought a bolt-together steel workbench.

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        For that matter, a big enough freight elevator might also work for car owners, depending on corridor and doorway configuration.

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

          And weight limit.

        2. outback_ute Avatar

          Mr Harrell perhaps!

      2. Mitch Horner Avatar
        Mitch Horner

        I agree with the motorcycle enthusiast option! I rebuilt a Yamaha C3 in the entryway of the college apartment and painted the bodywork on the small outdoor deck.
        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/21dba4e0d3723b8c1abdf8e4eb848148fe98b697de28412420d414d52236dae0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2c9d714b4827b62116d957620d4e48cdfc6618222c8d349b62fdd8b044fc6b8a.jpg .

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

          C3s are totally cool.

  2. 0A5599 Avatar

    A friend worked out a deal with a nearby elderly woman. He cut her lawn in exchange for the half of her two-car garage she wasn’t using. Sometimes she baked cookies when he came over to wrench.

  3. nanoop Avatar

    Pack up all your tools into one or two suitcases, so you can stow them away at home, but have them completely accessible – throw them in the car and drive to a good wrenching spot, or be ready to help out a friend. (This makes them attractive to steal, mind you.)
    Do all analysis and diagnosis you can before you immobilize the car, so you have a good idea how big a job it is. Double or triple bragging times mentioned on the interwebs for your scheduling. Buy all gaskets and crush washers etc. you might encounter on your path, you don’t want to leave the car on stands only because you didn’t get buy another 90cts O-ring.
    Find a spot with -no- passing traffic: the nut will drop, roll into the road, and the oncoming truck will sway and hit the kindergarten because of you.
    Wrenching in public is perceived as offensive already, so – Don’t leave a mark: take all your garbage back, use generous amounts of cardboard and rags to hold your fluids at bay. – Do not drink.
    Get battery-powered lamps that attach to everything, too.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      Was just going to say this, get a good toolbox

  4. neight428 Avatar

    I once chose an apartment complex because it was within walking distance of an auto parts store. This was in a college town though, so people doing things to save money that would otherwise be socially unacceptable wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. This largest job I pulled off there was probably a water pump swap, so nothing major. Once my wrenching exploits were public knowledge, I was a volunteer Mr. Badwrench all over campus. I swapped out more batteries than I could count and even changed a starter in a parking garage on an incline for an extra degree of difficulty. One coed’s father had the temerity to question whether I knew what I was doing tearing apart a Dodge Shadow, I should have asked him if he knew what he was doing sending his only daughter to college in a 10 year old K car.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Same here. I swapped the power steering pump in my ’87 Crown Vic in the apartment parking lot and just walked up to the Pep Boys and Home Depot to get the parts and tools I needed.

  5. J West Avatar
    J West

    Been there in my younger days. I changed a clutch in my apartment parking lot. If your building has extra spaces available, or unassigned parking pick one away from the entrances. If your neighbors walk by your broken car everyday, they will complain. Try to get an out of the way, farthest from entrance spot. And at the end of the day have it looking like a car, don’t leave it on jack stands or in pieces. Put the wheels back on and put all the tools away in the trunk or back in your apartment. Don’t leave the interior of said car looking like a storage shed. If the neighbors see you actually care and trying to be discreet, they are less likely to complain to the manager/board about you.

    1. Lokki Avatar

      Words to live by:
      At the end of the day, have it looking like a car
      It’s a pain but it really eliminates a lot of hassles. If necessary for a bigger job, pull the back seat (before you start so your hands are clean and you aren’t tired) and put it in the apartment. Then you have a lot more storage space in the car – tools in the trunk – and big parts covered by a flat sheet of cardboard and then a blanket in the back seat area. That may not look perfect but a flat blanket looks a lot better than the head of an engine back there, and it beats lugging the head up into the apartment.
      Other tips from experience: doing a job is a PITA unless you can (without stealing it) run an extension cord for electric power to your work space. Not always possible but think about it. Have lots of bottles of water in the car and some throwaway towels as it’s not real good to wander off to get a drink while leaving your expensive tools scattered on the walk. If you elect to ‘refill’ a bottle rather than leave your tools alone, sit in the car on a towel and look around while you ‘whistle’. Store yellow bottles in the trunk for dumping later.
      Next: scheduling – always take Friday off and be ready to start early Friday morning. This gives you three days for the worst-case scenario job and a chance of being fully buttoned up and drinking beer by football time on Sunday. Friday also gives you a day without kibitzers and a day when you can put in 12 straight hours if you want and still get to a parts store the next morning if you need it (FedEx also does Saturday deliveries for ugly surprise situations).

      1. Vairship Avatar

        And don’t get overly ambitious, like removing the entire front axle in a curbside parking space: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f2d3b71f471b084cf6adc1bc2da6ba271b9bcd5dced7c260b40b01bb83ab5413.jpg

    2. Alff Avatar

      Sound advice. I follow a similar approach with home rehabs – do the outside first and keep it looking good. A tidy home attracts fewer building inspectors.

    1. Lokki Avatar

      How can you move if the car isn’t running?

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      The most elaborate answer on the bigger question so far. Makes me wonder: How does the Hooniversariat live? After a couple of years on this blog, I have an idea on the reality behind a few user names. Those who want to, vote:

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        I prefer to maintain the nearly absolute anonymity I’ve cultivated on this site.

        1. Alff Avatar

          Suburban guys are like that.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            First Jay Lamm calls it a Jeep in one of the LeMons videos and now this. It’s not a Suburban. It’s an International Harvester.

          2. Alff Avatar

            You claim to relish anonymity and yet you want to remove the veil of blandness that prevents others from seeing your pickup for what it really is.

          3. mdharrell Avatar

            Anonymity is helped by the fact that since this photo was taken the tailgate has fallen off. Nobody warned me that Corn Binders are vulnerable to rust.

      2. salguod Avatar

        It’s 33/29/38 as of this writing.

  6. P161911 Avatar

    Find one with smooth level parking, get a ground level apartment. Ground level apartment makes rolling tool boxes and jacks out to the car easier. I have only had a couple of terrifying experiences doing essential wrenching at an apartment, both times when I was at my Co-Op job in Kentucky and 500 miles from pretty much anyone I knew. These were cases of “If I screw this up, I won’t have transportation!” Replaces a half-shaft u-joint on my 77 Corvette with no vise or press, just big c-clamps. Replaced the carb on my 79 K-5 Blazer (didn’t want to attempt a rebuild with my limited skills and time). This was pre-digital photography age, so I took photos of ALL the vacuum lines and got them developed at the 1 hour photo place.

  7. Alff Avatar

    Pick an apartment with a pothole in the parking lot – it’s a good way to get rid of used chemicals.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      If you go to the trouble to seek out a complex with a big pothole, also look for a place with derelict cars in the lot. Yours won’t be the only one.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      I thought you were going to say a big pothole you can lay in, in lieu of jackstands.

      1. Alff Avatar

        Good idea. You probably want two potholes.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Just don’t confuse a man shaped pothole and a manhole. Different functions.

  8. Tim Karre Avatar
    Tim Karre

    I found out that oil drip pans are cheap. I found one at Home Depot for $10. I change my oil, recycle it, and toss the pan. Lately I have been trying to find people that want the pan so as not to be too wasteful. Its given me the chance to change my own oil again and save money. Looks like walmart has the deal now too https://goo.gl/b8njmb. Its surprisingly good quality for $10. Just make sure to leave the area cleaner than it was before you started.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      For the cost of oil, filter, and a $10 pan, it’s probably cheaper to use a coupon at an oil change place. I know of one that charges less than 30 bucks and includes a full service car wash.

      1. Tim Karre Avatar
        Tim Karre

        Thats a great deal. I live in Denver and can’t find a place that charges less than $30 for labor when I bring the oil. I have to use full synthetic so supplying my own oil save me a ton of money.

    2. ptschett Avatar

      I started buying oil in the 5-quart jugs, and pouring the used oil into those once the new oil is in the engine. Once all my jugs are full I take them to the city household hazardous waste site, pour ’em into the oil tank and reuse them again.

      1. Tim Karre Avatar
        Tim Karre

        Sure that works if you have a place to store the jugs and pan, but if you don’t its still financially viable to change your own oil.

        1. ptschett Avatar

          Gah. I’ve had a garage so long I don’t even think of what life is like without having one.

  9. ptschett Avatar

    Rent one that comes with a garage.
    Make sure the garage is big enough for your vehicles before you bring home that shiny new crew cab/standard box truck and find out the truck only fits in the garage when the door is open. (You will give me an opportunity for delicious schadenfreude if you’re my neighbor and fail on this step.)

  10. engineerd Avatar

    Work in the rain. I found in my apartment dwelling days that the security/management was incredibly lazy and would only venture out on nice sunny days to look for people to bust. This was probably smart since most people breaking complex rules did so on nice sunny days. Also, make sure your parking spot is not within eyesight of the office.

    1. Dabidoh_Sambone Avatar

      It always rained when I began any lengthy automotive slog, that was the default. Also the day became vastly shorter and the mosquitos far hungrier. Any other day would be great.

  11. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Lots of great, solid advice so far. Not much I can add.
    Make sure you have alternate transportation lined up before you disable your car. Maybe you’ll need to go on a parts run, or there’ll be an emergency, or you can’t get the job done before you have to go back to work or something.
    Don’t do the work where other people need to be, so find a quiet place to work. This goes with being discrete, unobtrusive, inoffensive, and pleasant. Try not to give people easy excuses to hassle you when you’re immobile. Keep the area neat and clean.
    Research the work flow in advance. Try to have a good idea of what operations are required, the tools you might need, the difficulty and time it might take, and what could go wrong. Prepare for the worst case.
    Try to keep your car able to be reassembled and mobile at all times. Sometimes you’ll get rousted. Sometimes you have the wrong part for what’s really broken. It’s good to be able to limp away, if you have to.
    Be prepared to do larger projects one sequence at a time, if you can’t do it all at once. I’ve replaced single shock absorbers, or pairs, when I needed all four, just because of timing or difficulty. Or maybe you can get the brake pads changed, but the bleeding has to wait for next weekend, when you can get a helper.
    Try not to break stuff. Save what you remove, until you’re sure you’ll never need it again.
    Spread out a tarp or cardboard where you’re working, to catch debris and dropped parts and tools. Have something to cushion you if you’re laying on the ground.
    Don’t start anything else later in the afternoon.

  12. Froggmann Avatar

    1. Make sure the vehicle looks operable.
    2. Be courteous to your neighbors. No working past dinnertime, no wrenching pre-dawn and no air tools before 10 AM.
    3. CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. Spilled oil? Clean it up. Spilled coolant? Clean it up. Gunk shower? Clean it up.
    I have swapped rear axles, fuel tanks, and transmissions in carports before. THe only time I got in trouble is when the rear axle I was going to swap out leaked axle oil and one of the corporate big-wigs slipped in it. A day later I had the replacement axle in that truck.
    Air tools? you ask? Yes, 80 CI aluminum CO2 Cylinder + pressure regulator = all day remote air.
    Oh and revving an uncorked V8 at 2AM will result in a call to the cops and a garden hose dousing you. Same goes for blaring Banda music all fucking night while you work on cars. Once again be considerate to your neighbors.

  13. Harry Callahan Avatar
    Harry Callahan

    To avoid being written up for breaking the rules regarding auto repair in the parking lot, I offered to fix the landlord’s, and all my neighbor’s, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. They all became friends, I enjoyed working on their cars, and I earned free reign to wrench whenever I wanted.