I’d like to tell you that the first thing I did to my newly acquired van was to replace the interior with purple shag carpet, or to whip out the airbrush and cover both sides of the van with this:
And honestly, you’d probably enjoy this post more if I did.
The reality, though, is that before I can put any time or money into making this old girl look good, I’ve got to make sure she’s running strong. And that’s going to mean a lot of necessary but unglamorous repairs. I realize that, for most people, this isn’t going to be the most fascinating stuff to read about. However, I’m including it all for the sake of completeness–and on the off chance that at some point, somebody out there with a similar predicament might just find it a little bit useful.
The first challenge was the rearview mirror. The previous owner removed it, because he felt that it obstructed his wide-open view during his long trips between New York and South Dakota. He was thoughtful enough to keep the mirror, though. And realizing that, in my reality, having one more way to see behind me in Brooklyn traffic was probably going to be a more pressing issue than missing the occasional stunning view, I decided to re-install the mirror.
I bought a special mirror-gluing kit, figured out where the center of my windshield was, cleaned everything, put the glue on both surfaces, and held it in place for a minute. When I took my hand away, voila–the mirror was mounted. Pleased with my handiwork, I reached up to adjust the newly restored rear view–and popped the mirror right off. Apparently you’re supposed to let the glue dry before you start messing with it like a dipshit. Oops. I made a note to go back to the auto parts store for more glue, and moved on.
Next up was a much bigger problem: The driver’s side seat adjustment lever didn’t work. You could move the seat, but only by crawling down, fishing around under the seat, and manually moving it. This wasn’t an issue for the previous owner, since, as the only guy who drove it, he just put the seat where he wanted it and then left it there. But as someone who was planning on taking the van on tour with my band–which would mean several guys of very different heights taking turns driving in the course of each day–I knew that routine wasn’t gonna fly.
I found the problem right away. Underneath the seat, there are two rails that the seat rides on. Each rail has a spring-loaded catch that holds the seat in place. The catches are connected by a cable, so that when you pull the seat-adjustment lever, both catches come free and you can slide the seat back and forth. The cable had snapped, making the whole lever-catch thing useless. All it needed was a new piece of cable. Simple enough, right?
Not so much. As with so many things automotive, the fix was easy. But actually getting to it sucked. I had to get down in front of the seat, shove both hands into the space under it, and somehow thread a piece of wire through the holes on both catches. The only problem was, the space I had to shove my hands into was about half as high as my hands. After a good hour and a half of banged-up knuckles and twisted wrists, I got the whole mess to work. Good as new, though my hands would need a couple more days to recover.
The last order of business was the spare tire. Being an uptight person, I thought it might be nice to make sure that the whole spare tire assembly was in good condition before I actually needed it. Better to find out here, in my neighborhood on a nice sunny day, than on the side of some muddy road in Indiana in the rain at midnight. But again, that’s just how I think.
This was my first experience with the whole under-the-body spare tire contraption. I don’t know if that’s just a Ford thing, but it’s pretty brilliant. Basically you stick the tire iron into a hole in the bumper, crank it like a screwdriver, and the tire magically descends on a little cable from beneath the van, like one of those awkward flying kids in a production of Peter Pan. It turned out that the tire was fine, but the thingee (I’m pretty sure that’s not what it’s really called) that holds it in place was rusted onto the hub. Unlike the seat, this was not a delicate fix. Nothing like the smell of WD-40 and a few whacks with a hammer to make a man feel like a man again.
While squatting underneath the van, I noticed two more problems. (Ain’t that always the way?) One of the clamps that holds the exhaust pipe had rusted through. And the leaf springs on the rear wheels were starting to peel apart. Those would have to wait. I’d done three fixes, and it was Miller time.
Speaking of the manly arts, I should point out that, if you have a white van, and you plan on spending a hot day crawling around under it and getting all kinds of dirty, an elementary school is a great place to park in front of while you do it. The kids spend a lot of time staring at you. (Probably because, here in fancy Park Slope, Brooklyn, they’re not used to seeing guys in public doing manual labor. Or at least not white ones.) And when the parents see you all sweaty and grease-stained standing next to your open van, they all do that same move where they stare straight ahead while they gently take their kid by the shoulder and guide them to the other side of the sidewalk. Thanks, lady. Nice to meet you too.