Adventures in wrenching – An admission of ineptitude

I’d much rather be driving my cars than working on them. To be brutally honest, I only own my own tools and twirl them at my car in order to avoid forking out bundles of cash which I could be spending on fuel. Or old car brochures, probably.
In recent times, though, I’ve become increasingly selective on which jobs I’ll gamely tackle myself – I’m not especially keen on suspension or driveshaft jobs, for example, but will happily take on most underhood stuff, including timing belts and the like. I genuinely relish, though, jobs like the one that unfolds after the jump – principally because they offer so much gain for so little.

My old Audi has recently been beset with a fault to both front windows. Initially, the left front would go down just fine, but needed a little helping tug to bring it back up again. Lately, though, the driver’s side went one louder – it would go down just fine….and then stayed down, and required removal of the door trim to go in and resurrect the glass. It tended to occur at the worst possible moments, such as when freshly arrived at airport parking ahead of a flight to Slovenia that leaves in an hour’s time.
Anyway, peeking around on the dark side of the door trim revealed lots of crappy bits of green plastic in places that they clearly shouldn’t have been. I soon realised that the plastic brackets – that guide the window carriages along the window rails – had become brittle over 2 years of up and down action. Their failure was causing the glass not to be held level on the window carriage, and it was was jamming at the beginning of the upstroke. The first good news was that replacement brackets could be sourced for £2.50 each on eBay, and the second bit of good news was that the repair job didn’t seem beyond my ken.

B5 Audi A4 doors come apart very easily. Once the door trim panel is off (five screws), the window frame, glass, regulator and motor come off as a single assembly – only four bolts and two press studs are involved. There then comes a little juggling and balancing if you’re not methodical enough to brace things properly, but everything you need access to is there in plain view.
The plastic brackets are a friction fit onto the window carriages – and this is where I bumped into obstacle number one. Although I’m quite lavishly equipped with hand tools, my workshop doesn’t have a vice or space for a workbench. I used a variety of different means to attempt to mate the bracket with its carriage companion, bracing it on a Black & Decker Workmate and bashing the two components with various heavy objects until – inevitably – I broke a bracket.

With one of the two new brackets now broken, all progress therefore stopped until a replacement arrived. With nothing to hold the window glass in place, I plugged the big gaping hole in the side of my car with a plastic seat cover and masking tape. It then sat, dejected until the new new bracket arrived in just three days later.
This time, I resolved to take the brackets and the carriages around to my Dad’s workshop, where he had tools suited to combining the two components in a rather more gentle, precise manner than beating them with hammers. Within seconds of looking at the task in hand, Dad pointed out that – rather than struggle with such a tight fit, why not simply file the male section down a little to loosen the fit with the female. To underline how much more competent my Dad is where matters of workshop efficiency are concerned, it then transpired that I’d managed not to bring the replacement brackets with me anyway. A call to my wife revealed them to be 11 miles away, where Nicola had retrieved them from our neighbours’ drive, onto which they had fallen after I absent mindedly drove off with them sitting on the roof.

Nevertheless, I filed the metal carriages down appropriately – an operation that took all of 30 seconds a piece – and then drove home to finish the job. The flat receiving bits of each carriage slipped neatly into each bracket, but I applied a little super glue to ensure they locked solidly in place. Two minutes later, the glass was securely mounted in the carriages, the mechanism’s stroke tested to its full travel in both directions and the anti-trap feature recalibrated. Now all I needed to do was reassemble the door – a simple job with just four bolts for the frame assembly, two press studs and then five screws for the door trim. I’d be done within ten minutes, wouldn’t I?
When it got dark, and I was hopelessly trying to grasp a torch between shoulder and cheek while aligning the door frame with both hands, I realised that I had underperformed once again. The heavy module that I had been sweating over proved incredibly easy to remove, but required microscopic precision to reinstall, being somehow too short and wide and simultaneously too tall and narrow to lock into its correct place. And then, after – I don’t know, breathing or something, it moved a nanometer to the left, and fell into place. Four bolts, five screws and two press studs later – and with the moon glowing brightly overhead – I was done.

All’s well that ends well, then? Well, not quite. In the process of removing the door trim and then refitting it on multiple occasions, I managed to break another plastic component – the one that supports the bent metal rod that sticks up to show that the door is unlocked. So that means I no longer have a little sticky-out doohickey that pops down when I activate the central locking. Hey – in the quest to make omelettes, eggs are gonna be broken.
So come on, make me feel better. In the comments section below, ‘fess up to that little, easy job you tackled – that turned out to be a right frickin’ pain.
(Images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2018)

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14 responses to “Adventures in wrenching – An admission of ineptitude”

  1. peugeotdude505 Avatar

    This is the sort of job that I now dread.

  2. outback_ute Avatar

    The access to the window and mechanism is amazing compared to all the cars I’ve dealt with that had a sheet of metal (with some access holes) in the way. My old Mitsubishi had a worn plastic ‘bush’ around a guide rod on the driver’s door (not surprising with 200k+ miles), but being manual windows wasn’t a show-stopper, aka didn’t need/get attention.
    I can think of a couple. Years ago on a visit to my parents I swapped a radiator (was due for a flush, had a re-cored one) only to find the filler neck to top tank join was weeping. Rear engined car so not easy to swap – 45 min before I could start on the 3hr drive home.
    A worse one was ignoring a noisy water pump when busy before leaving for a driving holiday. The inevitable happened (catastrophic failure) in the middle of nowhere and I discovered the pulley was a press-fit not a bolt-on like an older/normal car. Basically took a day for what would have been a half hour job with access to a shop press.

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    I dread anything that requires removing interior trim– especially on the dash. It always seems that because it was designed in a way to hide fasteners, removal and reassembly is ridiculously complex, usually involves being upside down in the floorboards at some point, and invariably results in some critical plastic clip breaking. I’ve been putting off the repair of a temperature sensor behind the dash of my E28 for weeks now.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      About 20 years ago there was an Australian truck manufacturer who built 4×4 medium duty trucks that purposely had all dash fasteners easily accessible just to make field repairs or maintenance easier. They correctly thought that people working a long way from anywhere would compromise and have visible screw heads etc.
      At least these days the procedure to remove stuff is more documented than it used to be, so that you may be able to find out about something you would otherwise break.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        Every time I embark on such a project, I miss my Jeep CJ-7. It was ridiculously (and wonderfully) spartan.

  4. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    Replacing the brake rotors on the ’86 Hyundai race car. Should be easy, right? Pull off the wheel, remove the caliper, pop off the rotor. Simple.
    Not so. The Hyundai uses a captured rotor, meaning it’s located behind the hub and wheel bearing. Abd to remove the bearing requires some special tool that is NLA. Wound up just replacing the entire hub and spindle assembly with a different one that had a new rotor and bearings installed. Though to be fair, that was only because I discovered that one of the lugs got broken at the track…

    1. Alff Avatar

      “…’86 Hyundai race car”.
      It’s fair to say you volunteered for more than an average share of mechanical misery.

  5. nanoop Avatar

    The window lifter in a Ford Focus mk1 is based on wiring that’s wound around a 2″ plastic drum. That drum broke, so I aptly ordered a new wire kit, holding the window with a sawed-off broom.
    Those kits are cheap, but after my third try I gave up alreadyand had a workshop do it for a prestigious amount of money.

  6. theskitter Avatar

    Perhaps enough time has passed now to realize:
    We don’t swap components of a window assembly.
    We swap window assemblies.
    Source: Do you know how angry you have to get at a tensioned Honda cable assembly to pull it back into place with a new motor when you could have had the junkyard track and cable for $3 more?

    1. Alff Avatar

      Or, in haiku…
      We should know by now
      When electric window fails
      Replace assembly

  7. Sjalabais Avatar

    I grew up in a hopelessly impractical academic household. Fixing holes in bikes was the peak of self-involved mechanical skills. Listing all the crap I broke and/or did wrong, especially when listening to people I thought knew their stuff in pre-YouTubian times, would be way too much here. As an immediate result, I have developed a decent tolerance for things that don’t work, cough.

    1. Alff Avatar

      “Fixing holes in bikes” sounds pretty involved. How did the holes get there in the first place?

  8. Vineyard Choy Avatar
    Vineyard Choy

    I wrench with a running headlamp, freeing up my shoulders and ear.

  9. Owl Avatar

    My old Citroen CX had exactly the same problem at less than 3 years old. That was 1990. I’ve hated anything to do with doors ever since for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to explain – but I have two cars now with locks that dont work so I’m going to have to get round to it.
    One’s been underperforming for a year….No, wait. Maybe I don’t need to be bothered after all