Thursday, December 08, 2005


With no crisis at home last night, thoughts drifted over dinner on what should be done to consume the evening. There would be nearly three hours to kill. That's long enough for a movie, and it would be well deserved, given the spate of must-do-it-now tasks that have consumed my waking time for the past week or two. Time for a fun job.

My new car (it's new to me) arrived with the front bumper hanging not quite right with hastily applied bailing wire. It was my bailing wire and tools, though someone else performed the task. The car is in the garage already, and this task doesn't require the engine to cool first, so the task can start right away. One thing that makes the task potentially fun is that though it has been on my TO DO list for some time (really, it would have been more comfortable to do this task in August or September than wait until chilly December), the job was never really very high on the priority list. It isn't a safety issue, it's cosmetic - at least, that was the theory.

Now it should be noted that all the really successful car repair tasks have required that some injury is exacted. It's best if blood is drawn. It helps, too, if some muscles or other are in agony for days. That's my experience. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but frequently, if there was no injury, then the repair will require more attention soon. So it is that complete success can be reported due to the chunk of flesh gouged out of my left thumb. Oh, happy day.

So it may be perhaps surprising, but this task was begun with some giddy anticipation. This kind of activity is really quite enjoyable, more or less. A fun job indeed.

The first step was to inspect the damage. After a cursory inspection, it was concluded that to do a better job, the bailing wire needs to be cut. This was done with some reluctance. Cutting it means that the car is no longer drivable, and it has been in use as my commuting vehicle for about a week now. However, my previous car still runs, though it requires considerable repair also. One of the things it needs is a cabin heater blower, so there is little heat, and it is December in Michigan, after all. Still, it is available should this task remain unfinished before bedtime. So with as much courage as could be mustered, the wire was cut. The wedding bells are now audible, my marriage to this job is consummated.

The bumpers on this 2000 Saturn SL are really a fairly thin plastic veneer covering the somewhat more substantial impact point. The idea appears to be to use cheap and easily replaceable parts that will absorb impact energy. The main absorbing material is styrofoam. In an real accident, this bumper will need to be replaced (that is, if the car isn't totaled). So the up side is that replacement won't cost that much. The down side is that any little fender bender may require full replacement. It is not a five mile per hour bumper. This may be news. The US law requiring that bumpers be able to survive five mile per hour impacts was passed with much fanfare. However, it was rescinded without much fanfare. As a guess, most people probably think that a mild impact won't cause any damage to their vehicles.

With the wire cut, the right side of the bumper hung mostly to the floor. There were four plastic screws holding the bumper up in the middle of the car, and they were removed in just a few seconds. The rear bumper was recently fixed, which uses the same sort of fasteners, so my experience accelerated this task. With these removed, the whole right side of the bumper was on the floor. This exposed the styrofoam impact material. Though there is evidence of a front impact, it appears that it was minor, and the impact material is intact and fully functional. It is good to know this. Were it compromised, it would have to be replaced. This is a safety issue, after all. The plastic veneer is not, though it may be aerodynamic and aesthetic. This information might not have made it to me if someone else performed the job.

A further inspection of the veneer shows that it there used to be four plastic screws holding it to the vehicle on the underside. Also on the underside are three attachment points with bolts. There were also four plastic screws holding the right side on, and a metal plate with two bolts securing it to the frame. The plate is gone, along with the bolts. They might have been torn from the vehicle. Yet, the front damage was so slight, that it is possible that the plate was removed manually. Most of the screw holes have been torn through, so even if the screws were available, they wouldn't work. There is also a large tear in the plastic of the right wheel well. The only usable connection is the center underside bolt. Everything else will require a jury rigging somehow.

The center bolt was easy to remove and secure. A jack was used to prop up the bumper while the rest of the task proceeded. The emerging strategy was to cut small holes with a drill, and use bailing wire to tie it to whatever is handy. This worked quite well. A couple of attempts had to be retried, as bailing wire becomes somewhat brittle when twisted too much. Several new techniques were explored, with varying degrees of success. The large tear was repaired with four stitches of wire, for example. These stitches in the inside of the wheel well are the only really visible uses of bailing wire. The job mostly looks professional. Most of the repairs appear to be at least as secure as the original fasteners. The bumper was quite snugly attached on the right side. The missing metal plate wasn't replaced, so this was the most worrisome part. All in all, a good job, with a total cost of $0.00.

The total task exceeded the available time by an hour. That just means that bed time was pushed back by that much. This was worth it, as the job was finished, leading to some satisfaction. Besides, it would be available for the morning commute, and the thick frost on the other car would not have to be scraped off. Yet, there still was a lingering negative feeling, which took a few minutes to identify. And my wife is entirely to be blamed for it. On multiple occasions after finishing such a task, she would complain with a litany of other tasks that went undone. It was as if my time was wasted on this task instead of others. Demoralizing doesn't cover this attitude. Even though this behavior was stopped entirely over a year ago, the long term damage is done. It was the gift that keeps on giving. Here's the real damage. Rather than perform this task which gives me real pleasure, and which turns out to be vital to the running of the house, i'm often so depressed, i'd rather do nothing of value so that i'm not wasting my time, not doing some other task. Feh. There are many fun things one could be doing at any given time in life, and you are missing most of them.

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