Adept Ameturs

Looking back on yesterday, it’s incredible to think that just one year ago, we had little to no clue about vehicle maintenance and repairs. Andrew knew more than I did, but I certainly knew the basics. That is: change the oil when the little sticker says to; get the brakes checked when you can’t stand the squealing anymore; and if your headlamp goes out, take it into the dealership. Granted I exaggerate slightly, but honestly I wouldn’t dare doing anything close to my own maintenance aside from vacuuming the carpets. Thats not to say I wasn’t more than eager to learn, but there were few opportunities.

When we bought a 1975 van last year with dreams of driving it around the country we had simultaneously created that perfect opportunity. Our mechanically basic, but recognizably reliable 318 engine has taught us a whole lot in that year. Gone are the days that I’d ever trust someone else to do an oil change. More often than not, I tend to ask myself “can do this ourselves” when faced with an issue. And lately, we’ve been in and out of auto parts places in every large city we’ve been to – it’s almost like we know what we’re doing.

With every new project we take on, I have been building confidence and learning to trust my instincts. While I realize that I might not know everything there is to know about vehicle mechanics, I really do know a ton about this van and I’m finding this usually means we have an edge over someone who’s making a snap decision. So back a couple weeks ago when we had concerns about our alternator we ended up purchasing a spare ‘just in case’. At the time, the attendant was trying to convince us that, based on his tests, the alternator was on the brink of failure. Though, as time went on we were more and more convinced the alternator is just fine. When we were hanging out in Homer, we popped off the engine housing (i.e. dog house – the first term I ever learned on the van) and tightened the belt. Voila, good as new! Plus, it charges better. When the squeal returned after the car wash it was frustrating, but we weren’t overly concerned. If it kept up, which it didn’t, we knew what to do. On our way back through Anchorage we returned the unused alternator and got our $70 back. It felt pretty good.

My feeling has always been to respect the vehicle and it will serve you well – and so far our Firebus has done exactly that. In the 37,000 kms (23,000 miles) of our journey we have never found ourselves stranded, and only one time have we had an unexpected part failure causing an impromptu repair. That’s not to say we haven’t put some money into repairs, but at 36 years old we know there is some unavoidable wear and tear. Generally we have made the transition from more re-active to more proactive. We check oil at every fill up and other fluids on a semi regular basis. We keep an eye on fuel economy and other tell tale signs and symptoms of a potential problem. When we find something wrong, we work towards fixing it. Doing our own repairs has kept things economical with parts have been inexpensive and reasonably easy to source. I’d say that’s all you can ask for really.

I know the van gets a fair bit of face time on here (particularly lately) but she’s 1/3 of the team and I’d say we’re pretty attached.