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Used Car Refresh, Ch.4

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So far we’ve gone over a comprehensive cleanup, basic mechanical inspection, and cursory tune-up.  Next, a few jobs that take some of the old out of an old car.

Door, trunk, and hood latch & hinge alignment and lubrication

This is pretty self-explanatory.  Make sure that all the doors, hood, trunk, etc. open and close as they should.  The same goes for glovebox lids, center console storage boxes, and fuel filler doors.  If a latch or release cable can be lubed, lube it.  Use Door-Ease or similar waxy lubricant for latches and hinges, and a light grease for cables and linkages.  WD40 is a decent penetrant, but not a good lubricant, so avoid it here.

Adjust anything that needs to be adjusted to make the panels open and close with ease and line up visually.  Open each door and lift it straight up while open to check for wear in the door hinges.  Some cars have replaceable hinge pins and bushings, but on others, you have to replace the entire hinge when it gets worn.

Take the interior door panel off so you can clean, lube, and adjust the door handle and lock linkage and mechanism.  You want the inside and outside door handles and lock levers to work smoothly and have the right amount of free play so they work without giving them a second thought.  Fighting to get out of the car is annoying and embarrassing.

While the door panels are off, inspect any speakers and speaker wiring.  Replace as necessary.

Now is the time to replace any dried-out or missing weatherstripping.  You can also get a little more life out of existing weatherstrips and seals with Shin-Etsu grease from your Honda dealer.  The part number is 08798-9013.  It is specially formulated for rubber parts, and can help eliminate stubborn leaks by softening and rejuvenating weatherstrips.  It is also excellent for lubricating anything that takes a lightweight, non-sticky grease.

Make sure all the drain holes in the door shell are clear of debris and obstruction.

Window regulator cleaning & lubrication

Since you have the interior door panels off, take a look at the window regulators.  Over time, they get gummed up with dried grease and dirt.  That makes it difficult to roll windows up and down, and leads to regulator wear and broken parts.

Remove the regulator as described in your repair manual, and thoroughly clean all tracks and guides with a solvent that will break down the dried-up goo.  Clean every surface that slides or pivots, including the spiral spring on the regulator; anything that can’t be dismantled can be soaked in solvent and worked back and forth to free it up.  Flush with solvent again and wipe down until everything is as clean as you can make it.

Now lubricate all moving parts.  You can use something like white lithium grease, which is very light on the hard parts.  Shin-Etsu grease can be used in the window channels and other rubber parts.  Reassemble everything, adjusting as necessary, and check the action.  At this point your windows should roll up and down easily.  This step does require some effort, but the results are well worth it!

If the vapor barriers (thin plastic sheets) attached to your doors look shabby, cut some new ones out of 6 mil poly sheeting from the hardware store, and stick it to the door with 3M Strip Caulk or similar adhesive.  This will help keep water out of your interior and protect your interior door panels.  You can now replace any broken or missing clips and fasteners on your door panels, and reinstall the panels, armrests, window cranks, and so on.

Seat track adjustment and lubrication

Not much to discuss here, as “adjustment” usually means tightening any loose bolts.  Cleaning and lubrication is easier if you remove the seats from the car, and the rails from the seats.  Clean the old grease and grit out with rag or brush and an appropriate cleaner or solvent.  Dry the parts thoroughly, apply some appropriate grease, and check that the action works smoothly and locks firmly.  Reinstall the rails on the seats, making sure both rails are positioned evenly so that the seat sits correctly in the car.  Bolt the seat tight to the rails and the rails tight to the floor, and again verify that the seats adjust smoothly and lock firmly in place.


Aren’t you glad you cleaned this up back in chapter one?

Pedal box adjustment and lubrication

Get under the dash and check the pedal bushings for excessive wear by moving the pedal from side to side.  Bushings are cheap and easy to replace.  Lube all pivot points with a light grease, and lube the throttle cable and clutch cable if they are exposed.  Set the clutch and brake pedal heights to the factory spec using the measurement and method outlined in your repair manual.  Adjust pedal freeplay, usually via an adjustable master cylinder pushrod.

Take a stiff brush and some soapy water and thoroughly scrub the pedals.  If the rubber pads are worn, get some new ones (they are cheap) to perk up a tired interior, and replace any worn or missing rubber cushions on the pedals, pedal box, or switches.

Heating and ventilation system

Heating and ventilation systems really influence the driving experience, so make sure it works properly.  First make sure there are no offensive smells coming from the system.  These usually indicate either a buildup of mildew or a rodent nest in the car.  Remove whatever you have to to gain access to the mess, and thoroughly clean it out and disinfect.  On some cars you can easily add a screen over the air inlet to prevent animals and debris from entering the HVAC system.

See that the blower motor works on all speeds.  If it doesn’t, there will be procedures for diagnosing it in your repair manual.  If it makes excessive noise, remove it and check for excess play in the bearings, damaged or loose fan, and debris rattling around inside the fan.

Verify that the HVAC controls work as they should.  Many cars use push-pull control cables to operate things like heater valves and air doors.  These cables get stiff over time and can make operating the controls difficult, sometimes requiring so much force that the cable simply bends.  Bent cables can often be straightened, with some practice, or can be replaced with new parts.  Once the kinks are worked out of all the cables, flush them through with an appropriate solvent, dry thoroughly, and lubricate all cables and control levers with a light grease.

One easy trick is to replace the foam rubber gaskets on the air doors and ducts.  It takes a little time, but doesn’t cost much, assuming you use bulk foam rubber from an upholstery supply shop.  The result is air doors that open and close quietly instead of making a harsh and unpleasant “clack!” sound.

Audio system, squeaks and rattles

I’m not an expert, nor even an audiophile, so all I’m covering here is simply making sure that the system is secure and functional.  You don’t need megabucks name-brand wires and connectors to listen to the farm report, but you do need solid, reliable circuitry and parts that don’t rattle around.

Many cars (most Toyotas) use single-DIN or double-DIN radios by default.  That means factory radio brackets will mount almost any aftermarket stereo.  Throw those cheeseball aftermarket install kits in the trash and use the factory brackets.

If you are very lucky, whoever installed the last aftermarket stereo will have simply popped off its trim bezel and bolted the radio in place.  In that case, it will fit very neatly in the factory opening.  If not, they’ll have left that trim ring on the radio and hacked a big hole in your dash to accommodate it, in which case you’re now shopping for a replacement dash panel as well.

If you are luckier still, the last installer will have used a proper adapter harness to connect to the car’s existing radio connector.  Unfortunately, many people simply cut the factory connector off and make a mess of things.  Wire nuts and black electrical tape are indicators of a sloppy, sometimes dangerous, wiring job.

If your wiring has been hacked, the easiest thing to do is to redo each connection with proper soldered telegraph splices.  If you don’t want to solder anything, at least use decent butt connectors.  Whichever method you choose, use heat shrink tubing to neatly insulate every splice, and try to perform all splices so that the wires all end up at about the same length, long enough to easily connect to the radio, but short enough to tuck out of the way.  If you have to route or reroute any wires, do so neatly, so that the wires cannot become pinched or stressed.

While you have the multimeter out, make sure that all the speaker and amplifier wiring through the rest of the car is solid, and repair as necessary.

Even the best audio system will sound terrible if it is drowned out by squeaks and rattles.  Using the palm of your hand or your knuckles, slap or strike different parts of the car’s interior.  You are looking for any part of panel that is loose enough to rattle or buzz or clunk.  You might not find them all without driving the car, but you may find some things that can be tightened down, or cushioned or insulated with foam tape, felt pads, or self-adhesive Velcro strips.

Shifter rebuild

Many cars have shifters that suffer from time and high miles.  Replacing the bushings or bearings in your shifter or shift linkage can tighten up the action and make shifting much more precise.  There will probably be bushings at the shifter and in the linkage at the transmission itself.  Find and replace any worn bushings.  There may be harder bushings available if you prefer a really crisp shifter feel.

Even if you don’t have to replace anything, this is another linkage that will benefit from a cleaning and lubrication.  I’d use a heavier grease here, something similar to wheel bearing grease, as there can be some pretty aggressive pushing and shoving going on.

Next chapter: basic detail procedures.

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