The Car is an Engine

Over the past few weeks I worked on my 2008 Nissan Maxima. While I had changed the spark plugs late in 2015, I never thought about publishing a post on the experience.

I am a Software Engineering Manager and a Programmer. One of the patterns in writing programs is Object Oriented Programming. Almost every book on OOPS starts off with the Car, Vehicle, and Engine analogy. Hence my interest in posting this. Here I am listing a few lessons I learned from fixing my car. Read this keeping Software Engineering in mind and you’ll see a completely different spectrum.

  1. Use the manuals for truth. Use other sources for context. Use a wrench for experience. I rely on the Nissan manual for a Maxima. It contains the absolute truth as seen by the Maxima designers. However, forums like My6thGen have been an unbelievably valuable sources for research. Pictures posted by members have in many cases helped me figure out the orientations. Eric the Car Guy, for me, is the John Carmack of cars. However the best teacher is holding that wrench and getting to work, much like in Programming. This became evident for torque specs, for the angles my fingers could not fit, and the fact that I had to create chimeras out of my limited tools.
  2. Plan, Plan, Prepare, and Execute. Following the manuals and the videos is good but at the end of the day you need the tools, materials, and the parts to get the job done. In many cases I had to order the parts from online stores like Rockauto and Courtesy Parts. That meant shipping and it inturn meant preparing slots of 3-4 hrs over the weekend. This in turn meant I needed to clear weekends off of grocery shopping. It is extremely important to plan the parts, the tools, and fluids into the schedule. Once you have the parts it is time to prepare and this becomes critical. Prepare yourself with the steps that need to be executed before you execute them. Unlike programming an undo or revert generally involves a tow truck and that is painful and expensive. Once we start executing the only way is forward. There is no undo and I cannot stress this enough. This became extremely important when I was replacing the Clockspring/Spiral cable. Since the job involved taking out the air bag on the steering wheel, I had to pay extreme attention to discharging the battery, ensuring I am always electrically grounded, and storing the air bag in a safe place. I ended up researching, planning, and rehearsing for close to 3 days before I even started the job.
  3. Following the earlier point, all the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the surprises. Accept it, and deal with it when they occur. Working on cars, or for that matter software, bring experience. The difference between an newbie (I was) and a pro (I am not yet) is that a pro commits far fewer mistakes than a newbie. A pro will also be able to quickly adjust to surprises that jump at you. One such experience I had was when I was trying to replace the regulator on my driver side window. There was a bolt I had to put back and it was painful to get it into the slot. My fingers wouldn’t reach in, and the socket wouldn’t hold it due to the angle. Worse yet, when the bolt fell into the door assembly it was hard to retrieve it. So the second time the bolt fell into the door chamber I stepped back and had to solve this problem. I tried with a magnet but that wouldn’t work as the door is made of metal. Finally I solved this by using tissue paper. Apparently this is a well known trick, so yeah I reinvented the wheel. It felt good.
  4. Tools. Oh God! Tools. Invest in a good collection. I own a Craftsman set. I then expanded it by buying a few extensions, swivels, spark plug socket, and a few hex bits. The number of times I’ve missed a ratcheting wrench has been fairly limited but I know that when it becomes painful I’ll buy a set. Tools generally make you efficient. As I mentioned in the earlier point, not all tools are manufactured or ready made. Some, like the tissue paper trick, come from experience. Do not be defined by your tools. You can swear by Craftsman or Snap-On but on any given day all they do is turn a bolt only when you use the them.
  5. Contingency plans. Have fun without contingency plans. And then have fun when an event defies you Plan A, Plan B,… Plan Z extended to UTF-8. All the plans you make, including contingency plans, will be shattered. The ones that did not get shattered are the ones you had planned for. Keeping this in mind make sure to think things through. For example when I was changing the CVT fluid, the brand new oil collection pan I bought as Plan A, had its drain hole plugged. Not knowing this I ended up with some fluid on the floor due to the oil overflowing. I had a Plan B and it involved cardboard sheets on the floor. Plan C involved rolls of tissues. What finally happened? The oil was hot and I could not get everything covered in time. Since some of the oil ended up on the floor, I had to find out how to fix the mess. Turns out Kitty litter is an answer. A generous amount of degreaser, and a trip to Walmart to get some Kitty litter fixed the problem. The floor is clean. Had I not made the Plan B and Plan C, I’d have been spending a lot more time cleaning the garage floor.
  6. DIY for best results. I can relate to this as I am a manager. There are too many instances where I was frustrated with the code or the output but at the end of it, if I want something done to my satisfaction I should be ready to do it myself. Else it is a conscious trade-off between priorities. Sometime ago when I was visiting my brother during the Winter, my Maxima had its driver side window just roll down and not roll up. My brother did not have any reasonable tools on hand and didn’t have a garage to work in. So I did the next best thing – took it a mechanic. Two infact. $200 later, I still had a non functioning window. Since I had to drive back I ended up sticking the glass with Gorilla tape and painters tape. The drive back was a nightmare for 10 hrs with the wind howling in my left ear. I can relate to Gollum now. Anyway at the end of it, once I returned home I ordered the parts from Rockauto and fixed it in 1 hr. The correct way. Which loops back to the first point.

I hope this little write up, taken in two contexts, conveys my philosophy in working on cars and in writing code. I’ll conclude this by saying that my brother would rather buy a car someone else can fix easily and is willing to pay the price for it. You know, not everyone wants to be a mechanic and not everyone wants to be a programmer.

 

Credits/Thanks to:

Lameo from work for being a great teacher

My wife for Kitty litter trick

My Son for making me think through every step by explaining it to him

/u/kowalski71

John Carmack for well you know