16 December 2007

Gumption trap

Although motorcycling has not featured in my life (I prefer to think
that it's something the future still holds for me), probably my
favourite book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of the
most memorable parts of it concerns the concept of the gumption trap. I
am, I think, adapting the notion slightly, perhaps more than slightly,
but the variation on Pirsig's original resonates every time I work on
something mechanical.

This weekend it was a new radiator in the Subaru. I marvelled at the
ease with which the old one could be removed and the new one slotted in,
with pegs on the underside fitting holes in the bodywork and a bracket
securing the top edge. I noted that the place where the top hose slips
on was, on the old unit, missing some substantial pieces of plastic,
which I suspect made it impossible for the hose to form a seal and
accounted for the loss of coolant that has been plaguing the car for
several months. And then I reconnected everything, replacing the
thermostat housing and screwing it down, and poured in antifreeze and water.

And it came straight out around the thermostat housing. Not in a flood,
but in a steady drip. By now it was dark and very, very cold, so
eventually I placed a bowl under the car and shut up for the night. My
error, of course, had been to fail to seat the thermostat in its
aperture before screwing on the housing, but in my defence I would plead
that it's really unnecessary to place this component underneath the
engine and at the same time to position the car so close to the ground
that it's impossible to get right under it without jacks or ramps or a
pit. So I'd put the thermostat back without forming a seal (the sealing
ring being on the edge of the thermostat: so, not only is it not on top
of the engine block where you can get at it, like an A-series, but
there's now separate gasket!) and bolted down the housing - which I
suppose I could easily have damaged. (I realise while I write that of
course a flat-four doesn't lend itself to components being placed in
easily-reached places like an upright inline 4 does, so I shouldn't
complain too much. But if Subaru copied Porsche, why didn't they go for
air-cooling too?)

So after the half-M it was back under the car, off with the thermostat
housing, put it all back together correctly and now the engine seems to
run at the right temperature and - best of all - the heater works. All
in all, a most satisfying weekend. It will all fall apart again
tomorrow at work, of course.

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