Monthly Archives: March 2012

Impulse ahoy!

Sitting in a coffee shop with my co-conspirator T-Spazz. I’ve never been to an open mic night before, and we haven’t even been here an hour, yet I’m sitting here about to buy a cheap ukulele on my cell phone.

I might have a problem.

In which Libosaurus channels her inner mechanic, part 2

I don’t really know how to rate the importance of the items required to work on a car, but I imagine that no matter what scale you use, tools rank fairly high.  Proper tools, sure, that sounds great.  Tools adequate to do the job, also great!  Any tools, really.

Tools were an issue from the get-go on day two of my great automotive adventure.

As you may recall, we left off with removing the center console trim and then intrepidly taking a break.  Spirits were high, the success rate higher, and I had far too much confidence to go ruining it with continuing the project.  It was crucial that I remain overconfident in my meager skills for an evening.  “Why yes,” my intolerable air of smugness seemed to say.  “Yes I CAN remove all the bits of trim from around my shifter and cupholder.  That’s right, all THREE of them.  And the two corresponding screws!”

The first thing to do on Day Two was to remove the two screws that hold the instrument panel in place.  “No problem,” the thought flitted bravely through my impulsive skull. “I have a screwdriver.”

That was a stupid thought.

Thanks to space constraints and the tight angle of approach, my normal phillips screwdriver just couldn’t get purchase on the screw head.  I knew just enough to not keep trying and strip the screw, so I abandoned that tool and toddled back inside for a short, stubby one.

Darn you, tiny screwdriver!

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t help.  The screwdriver was shorter, but not quite shorter enough.  It still didn’t fit in the space available at the angle required.  Why would a screwdriver be the right tool to remove screws?  That’s madness.

Now, I could have removed the rest of the center console and made this easier, but I didn’t want to take that route.  I’m a clever gal with a vast tool collection at my disposal, I was certain I could handle this.  The screws have hex heads, which meant a ratcheting socket wrench would work perfectly, giving me a nice 90 degree angle so I’m not bumping the center console anymore.  Easy peasy!  Back down to the basement, fetch BOTH bags of appropriately sized socket drivers, just in case it is metric not SAE.

Not only was it SAE, I eyeballed the size of the driver spot on, first time.  5/16 fit exactly spot on.  Of course, this renewed the palpable air of smugness, which is a surefire way to invite disaster.

Catastrophe Cat has come to supervise. That's never a good sign.

And it did.  The handle for the wrench was only sized for larger sockets.  The little bitty socket I needed to use wouldn’t fit the handle, and I couldn’t find the other handle that I know must exist… somewhere.  CRAP.  Back downstairs we go to get a regular old wrench, because at this point that is the only tool in my possession that will manage to get a grip on this sucker.

I should note that my good buddy was “assisting” me by providing company and entertainment, and accompanying me on all of these trips to the basement and back.  He was an incredibly good sport about it, and didn’t even mock me for my failure at tools.

The wrench worked a treat, although I only had enough room to turn it about 5 degrees each time. It took a while, but I got both screws loose enough to unscrew them with my fingers.

While I wasn’t watching the time, I estimate that this was at least 45 minutes to remove two screws.  Car 1, libosaurus 0.

Time to pry out that instrument panel! This will no doubt end in tears and broken plastic...

After that, it was relatively smooth sailing.  Prying out the instrument panel was absolutely no trouble at all, it came out easily and with no casualties, plastic or otherwise.

Holy crap, I got it out and no broken anything!

A little bit of instruction reading, unscrewing, tugging, prying, instruction re-reading, aligning, re-re-reading, reassembling, and viola!  New radio and trim installed into the panel.  The only setback was my unreasonable fear of yanking off the AC control knobs, which I’m now over.

My lovely assistant, helping with photographic proof that I did in fact replace my car stereo. Look how shiny!

Catastrophe Cat must thoroughly examine the project from her cardboard fortress before work may proceed.

Soldering the wiring harness was awesomely fun, once I was reminded of how to solder properly.  All the wires were matched up, soldered, and heat shrink tubing applied.  That last was entertaining; we don’t have an appropriately sized heat gun, so I held the wires over the flame of a candle to shrink the tubing.  It felt very old fashioned, like I was melting tallow over a candle or something equally non-mechanical.

This is a highly advanced procedure, okay? Stop questioning me and my methods!

So here I was, my wiring harness fully assembled, my stereo assembled.  It was time to battle those damned screws again.   Out to the car, insert the instrument panel into the space, and…. cursing ensues.

I’d somehow managed to not notice that I’d put the stereo bracket in upside-down, so it didn’t fit.   That’s okay, not a huge setback.  Take it apart, turn it around, screw it all together, and bob’s-your-uncle, its ready to go.

All things considered, this project could have gone far, far worse.  I completed it in two days, with a minimum of screw-ups.  I didn’t have to run out to buy anything unforeseen.  My mishaps were all understandable from lack of experience.  I even watched an instructional video and read the instructions when I was at a loss, instead of just forging blindly ahead.  My car is now equipped with a new stereo!

…Now my only battle is trying not to buy another new one, as it turns out the controls on the one I bought actually suck.  Alas!  At least I now know it is a breeze to install one.

In which Libosaurus channels her inner mechanic, part 1

My vehicle is equipped with only the most outdated, antiquated of technologies for the auditory soothing of the senses, its capacity limited to radio waves and audio CDs.  It might as well only be able to play Edison Cylinders, or have a Victrola mounted to the dash.  Get with the times, 8 year old motorized contraption!  Lasers are not cool enough to be The Future™ anymore.

To upgrade my poor old car from Junky Jalopy to Music Machine, I bought me a brand spanking new stereo with USB input, direct iPod/Pad/Phone control, and a spiffy  multicolored display.  Its purdy.  The bracket and wiring harness arrived in the mail today, which means its time to start installation!

I’ve never done any work on my own car.  Once, I replaced the headlights all on my own,  and that was a Big Deal that I was very proud of.  Even making it to the auto parts store to acquire bulbs was an accomplishment.  I’ve never seen my car naked, stripped of its greasy, crumb-coated, coffee-stained trim.  And yet I am embarking on a project which will involve removing the center console trim AND the entire instrument console from the center of the dash.

Destruction, not construction, has always been my area of expertise.  But for this I would need finesse, patience, a firm yet gentle touch, and a careful following of procedure.  None of these are my strong suits; my tool of choice is a sledgehammer or Sawzall and I don’t have the patience to read instructions fully.  Or at all.

But I’m confident that I can do this just fine.  Know why?

I watched a youtube video on how to do it.


I’m pretty sure the video skips some steps in the removal process, and at the end the stereo is magically back in place.  In the glorious tradition of Chilton Auto Repair Manuals, the implication seems to be that Installation is the Reverse of Removal.  Also, I only watched the video once.   But I’m still pretty sure I can handle this.

My favorite part of the video is where the guy very confidently said:  “I know it sounds like I’m breaking my car but don’t worry – its supposed to sound like that.  And hey, if you mess it up, this trim piece is probably only like $10 anyways, don’t worry about it.”

Right on, man.  Right on.

This wouldn’t be a Bad Idea without the maximum possible number of poorly thought out impulsive acts and distractions.  So an hour before my work day was even over, I skipped out to go begin the process, fetched (some of) my tools, and headed out to the car.  Yup, playing hooky to go work on my car.  Bad.   I then got distracted by the disturbingly filthy windshield that I’ve put off cleaning for 2 weeks now, and just had to take care of that first.  WHAT?!  Don’t look at me like that, it was mandatory.  For serious.

My memories of the video were already fading to dim, dusty reel-too-reel silent films, the mustachioed villain cackling maniacally as he prods at the unseen metal tabs that hold the trim in place. Despite this, I managed to rig up my 3-in-one painter’s tool with tape just like in the video, and jumped in.


Amazingly, the first trim piece came out without an issue. The second piece put up a little more of a fight, and I ended up gouging the plastic.  Luckily, on the inside where it cant be seen – no cosmetic damage, and shockingly no structural damage either.


At this point my cat, who had previously been sitting on the hood watching the whole ordeal with her usual air of detached interest, decided she had better come investigate more thoroughly.


Catastrophe cat disapproves of my piss-poor prying technique.

The third piece – which was pretty much the whole center console – came out easily as well, with a lot of tugging and twisting and worrying bending of the plastic.


I swore I was going to buckle or crack this flimsy plastic, but as you can see I got it out in one piece. The only casualty is the blank cover which flew out and hit me in the forehead, but I can pop that back in.

This tiny amount of success bolstered my confidence enough that it was time for a much needed break; the project has been abandoned at its very early stages in a state of disarray until I have enough time to do the stereo replacement in one fell swoop.  The next step involves removing the switch for the hazard lights, which apparently renders the car undriveable.  I’m not quite crazy enough to do that until I don’t need the car for a few days.