15 Patchwork Repairs
Save some cash and keep your car on the road with a few materials you have lying around, a little ingenuity and a bit of elbow grease.
In the military they call it field expedience: making do with the materials and experience at hand to solve a problem — fixing the captain's Humvee with a canteen and length of fence wire, for example. But the term is just as relevant in the civilian world. If you're driving an older car or truck, the application of a little field expedience could just save you a few bucks — maybe more — in the short term.
The classic example of an emergency repair is replacing a broken fan belt with knotted panty hose. We've never seen this fix in action — and could not locate anyone who has. (Actually, we don't know too many women who still wear panty hose.) We have a better suggestion, and it's just one of the ideas gleaned from interviews with veteran car-repair professionals who have seen it all. It springs from that old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
If you are keeping a clunker on the road, make that motto yours. A few basic tools and materials stashed in your vehicle's trunk will greatly enhance your field-expedience success rate. (Even MacGyver had a Swiss Army knife.) When the speedometer in my Toyota T-100 truck rolled over 200,000 miles, I started packing a Cruz Tools EconoKit M1, a tool kit intended for off-road motorcyclists. It has some basic hand tools, including a multitip screwdriver, locking pliers and an adjustable wrench. To this I've added a wire cutter, plastic zip ties, a few feet of mechanic's wire, a small multi-tool and, of course, a roll of duct tape. This kit has saved my bacon on more than one occasion, such as the time I used the wire to reattach an exhaust oxygen sensor on a South Dakota roadside — a repair that got my family back home to Wisconsin after a long family trip.
Please remember to exercise as many safety precautions as possible when attempting any repairs on your vehicle — even the most minor ones. Autos are heavy machines, so chock a tire to keep the car from rolling, take care around belts or other moving parts, and let engines and mufflers cool before touching them. Consult an auto repair manual for any further safety precautions.
Here are 15 patchwork repairs anyone can accomplish:
While generous wraps of duct tape can be used to patch a failed radiator or heater hose temporarily, you need to get a new hose pronto, since the heat will deteriorate the adhesive quickly. A better possible solution than duct tape is a product called Rescue Tape, a self-fusing silicone tape that can withstand pressure to 700 pounds per square inch and temperatures to 500 degrees. At $24.95 for two 12-foot rolls, Rescue Tape is not cheap, but it will probably hold your radiator hose together across, say, Montana, and can be used to fix lots of other things. If the hose has failed close to its end, it may be possible to unclamp the hose, cut that portion off and reattach the remainder. A blown hose usually means a loss of radiator fluid, so remember to top off the cooling system with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water as soon as you can.
Late-model vehicles with a single, serpentine accessory drive belt rarely suffer an outright failure. But if you are driving an older car or truck and an individual fan, power-steering or alternator V-belt fails, forget the panty hose and reach for the Rescue Tape. If you have the remains of the belt, it could be repaired as demonstrated in this video from a Jeep Jamboree event on the Rubicon Trail (http://www.rescuetape.com/videos/jeep-jamboree-3). However, you'll need some hand tools to reinstall the belt.
Try a dab of Soft Scrub cleanser to quiet a squealing serpentine belt, which drives the alternator and other accessories on late-model engines. A pro mechanic told me he puts a few drops on the inside of the belt where it goes around the lowest pulley, and the mild abrasive removes the shiny glaze from the belt. Of course, you do this while the engine is off. Otherwise, this is a dangerous repair.
Hanging Exhaust Pipes
The exhaust pipes of most late-model vehicles are made of stainless or coated steel that resists corrosion, but the fasteners and other components that hold it up can still fail, leaving your muffler dragging on the pavement. The pipes are often hung from the chassis with rubber donuts or straps that can break. You can secure the pipe to this hanger with wire — a piece of coat hanger will do the job. When my Honda CR-V developed an exhaust rattle, it turned out that two of the bolts securing the catalyst heat shield had been corroded by road salt. Rather than buy a new $400 catalyst, I simply secured the end of the shield with a stainless-steel hose clamp. It has worked for two years.
An exhaust pipe that has broken or has a hole in it can often be mended with a beer can and a couple of stainless-steel hose clamps. Cut the ends off the can, and then cut it lengthwise (scissors can cut an aluminum can). Wrap the can around the affected section of pipe, and secure it on each end with the hose clamps. A thicker piece of metal, such as an old license plate, will last longer. This should always be a temporary repair, of course, since any exhaust leak under the car can be dangerous.
A pro told me how he once got home after a brake line failed. When the brake pedal went to the floor, he discovered one of the steel brake lines had failed near a back wheel. He cut the line, bent it over itself, and crimped it tight with a vise grip. This left him with brakes on three wheels and, after topping off the master cylinder to replace the lost fluid, he was able to limp to a shop.
Smearing Windshield Wipers
Wiper blades can often be renewed by scrubbing them with some window cleaner and a rag, or the abrasive side of a kitchen sponge. This removes the oxidation, dirt, oil and dead-bug residue that causes the blades to leave streaks behind.