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A lot of work, but something I've always wanted to do -- Fixing up a car for one of my kids

By Andrew Pollack on 07/18/2010 at 10:38 PM EDT

One of the things I've thought about for years and have always wanted to do, is to fix up a car for one of my kids. I'm not sure why, but its just something that I've thought about since they were really small. Of course, daydreams being what they are, the reality is never quite as grand in scale -- the 70's era muscle car turns out to be a 2002 Kia, and instead of an old pole barn to work in, the car is up on ramps in my driveway. Still, I'm really enjoying getting to do the work, being able to do the work, and teaching my daughter a little bit of what goes into making a car go down the road.

Last week, Ari and I went to take a look at a Kia for sale by owner. The Kia was exactly what I had in mind for her first car. It's small, reliable, very simple, not very fast, good on gas, and has an excellent safety record. As you can imagine, any car you buy for $1000 is going to need some work, and this one is no exception. It has over 100,000 miles on it, and hadn't been moved in a year. Most of its problems come from not being used. Cars need to move, not sit. In the time sitting, an alternator belt had gone missing - ostensibly eaten by squirrels. When I checked the car out, it was obvious to me that the alternator itself had rusted solid and would need to be replaced as well. The other big issue is that he'd warned us before we came that it had gotten difficult to shift from "park" into gear. Sometimes that can happen from sitting, but I'd need to see it to be able to guess. When we got there, we couldn't shift it at all, though the car did start right up and the engine sounded great. The oil was clean, without being brand new and the body of the car was in pretty good shape. A little rust in spots, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately, without being able to shift into drive, I couldn't tell if the transmission was any good. We also couldn't run the car for long because without an alternator, the battery was running everything and would drain quickly -- and I also pointed out that the same belt ran the water pump, so I didn't want to have him run the engine temperature up without water circulating properly. In the end, I told him that I was very interested in the car, but needed to see that the transmission was good, so he decided to see what he could do about getting it into gear. I told him it looked to me more like a problem with the shift linkage, but couldn't be sure.

Well, we spoke on Friday and he'd had a friend come out to look at it. They'd taken the linkage off and could put the car in gear by just turning control on the transmission with a wrench. They'd bought the new linkage cable, but hadn't put it on. They offered to include it with the car without changing the price (the cable isn't cheap) and we decided to take the car. On Saturday, I rented a two wheel dolly and towed the Kia home with my Pacifica. For those doing the math, that means I was pushing the envelope a little bit on the towing capacity, but we didn't have any problems. It was a bit tricky putting the car in gear using a crescent wrench up under the hood, but otherwise it was fine.

Today, after Ari and I went to the auto parts store (not really her favorite place, oddly enough) and I got the chance to explain what the parts we were buying actually did, I spent the afternoon replacing the alternator, installing the new belt, testing the water pump and thermostat to make sure the cooling system was working, and getting the old shift linkage cable out. Once I had it out and cut the casing back it was really obvious that it was in bad shape. The inner steel cable was badly frayed and unwound, so clearly that was the issue with shifting.

I hope to finish with the shift linkage tomorrow. In the mean time, I've got the front seats out so I can get under the dash, and that will let me access the carpet to clean out the combination of hay, rabbit hair, chicken feathers, and who knows what else the car is full of (I did mention the guy runs a farm, right?). A little carpet shampoo and a shop-vac will solve that problem, and while the seats are out they'll be much easier to get really clean.

New tires are ordered, and by mid week I should have the car insured, registered, passing it's state inspection, and ready for Ari to practice parallel parking in so she can get her license.

The fun won't stop there though, Coryn should have her own permit in August and next spring I get to do this again! I can't wait. Really.

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