There isn’t much to do. We’re all stuck in our houses. I, for one, am slowly melting into a sad, neglected puddle of ennui. I’m bored! You’re bored! Instead of cursing this garbage pandemic, you should be cursing at your project car.
Go finish it! What else do you have to do?
Wrenching is a great social activity, but let’s face it, a large chunk of that time is spent looking for specific wrenches, taking a break for burritos, getting distracted by something else and having a beer as you stare at the car in total confusion.
I admit that the burritos are non-negotiable, yet there’s a magical place where the tools are exactly where you left them every single time. You also need to stay there until this novel coronavirus is no longer a threat. It’s your home.
If you work best when everything is put away in its appropriate place, group settings can drive you a little insane. As much as you organize things into convenient boxes or keep tools in their factory inserts with specifically-sized indents for each piece, someone else is going to misplace your stuff. Be free, 19-millimeter deep socket! Roll down the street into a pit of no return!
Now that we have to stay at home, there’s only one person to blame for losing parts and tools: yourself. If you don’t have kids or pets to worry about, you don’t even have to pick things up every night. Who’s coming over? No one.
Perhaps the most zen car I have to work on alone is my 1971 Volkswagen 411. The 411 and 412 were the most advanced aircooled cars that Volkswagen ever made, but they’re still mechanically simple compared to anything newer. Mine won’t travel over 30 mph at the moment, leaks oil out one side, occasionally spews fuel out of the carburetor and still overheats. Despite all of this, being able to lay out its engine components and tools in a way that I don’t have to explain to anyone else is deeply satisfying.
The 411’s little engine block only weighs as much as a wet fart, so working on it solo is pretty easy. I should learn how to rebuild carbs! Clean up the engine bay! Fix the valve cover seals! See if the manual transaxle fits! The to-do list is pretty endless on this one.
It’s relaxing to slowly chip away at all of these small jobs without a hard deadline. Rushing to reassemble everything but the engine block so we could race this basket case of a car was an eldritch horror I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Carefully picking apart its most broken bits now is a welcome distraction and a great way to de-stress.
Make a detailed list like the one I keep inside my 411’s engine bay so you can keep track of what you’ve done. There’s no pressure now that every event for months has been indefinitely postponed, but having a visual reminder of the progress you’ve made is encouraging to see.
All of this less stressful alone time is especially great for those of us who have really short tempers. If you were voted Most Likely to Throw an Aircooled Cylinder at Someone’s Face in high school, congrats! No one can hear you scream at whatever you just dropped on your hand. You can kick the fender that just wronged you in a fit of blind rage and not feel immediate shame for doing so where others can see.
Here’s where I remind you that staying out of our stretched-thin medical system is paramount. Take all of the usual safety-first precautions and then some, but most of all, don’t over-work yourself or try anything dumb.
Slipping your jack handle over the end of a wrench for more leverage is better than straining a shoulder muscle. No one’s there to think lesser of you for needing that extra help. Likewise, take the time to safely set your car up on jack stands before working underneath it. You have all the time in the world right now, and taking a wheel well to the skull is a stupid way to end up in the ER.
If you don’t already have a bad idea sitting in your driveway, this is the ideal time to pick one up—from a safe distance, that is. People are still selling the most
cars on places like Craigslist for your time-killing pleasure. Put the trailer back in “bring a trailer,” maintain that six-foot distance from the seller as you negotiate a price, and be sure to bring hand sanitizer and gloves to go pick it up.
This is also the perfect time to take on a project with the cars you normally wouldn’t mess with. Want to crack open your daily driver’s incomprehensible CVT to see how it works and do its expensive service for far cheaper than a shop would charge? Go for it!
I don’t own a single car that doesn’t need some work right now, including my daily driver, which really needs a brake job soon. Getting in a few last laps before our local track closed for a repave made my brake pedal feel like a sponge, especially since my brakes were already worn to hell before that. I regret nothing.
I also just assembled a bicycle in my living room, so no one can say that I don’t have any reliable transportation right now.
Best of all, looking up specific how-tos and anything else you need is a good mental break from our daily news hellscape. The real heroes of these stay-at-home measures—delivery drivers—can bring the parts and tools you need straight to your house. If you have a rare project like my Volkswagen, finding parts for it can be a bit of a search on a good day. Now, what else are you supposed to do? Travel is restricted, but shipping over weird model-specific parts from the Netherlands isn’t.
You have the peace, quiet and lack of distraction of your own space, so take advantage of it. Your soon-to-be-finished automotive projects will thank you.