Saturday is God’s loser’s bracket. It stands at the end of the week, a whole blank page day to finish all the odds and ends you couldn’t during the week because you were too busy earning your bread.
It’s my last chance to get stuff done. No time for sleeping in, no time for cartoons. I hit Saturdays early with a to-do list, oft to the dismay of fun-loving housemates and ambitious shower mildew. And though that list this weekend included catching snatches of the 12 Hours of Sebring on the xBox, I didn’t relax much on Saturday.
I had already scratched off several vitally important items (try to disassemble A/C compressor pulley while still on car, trim goatee) when I headed over to my friend Jason’s house to help him replace the rear brake pads on his 2008 VW Rabbit. I’d changed brake pads before. It would be a piece of cake, an hour at worst, which was good, because the list still held weekly essentials like, “return shirt to Old Navy” and “tighten down spoiler,” which has been rattling like an October candidate. The job took us a little longer.
First, jack up the car. Like most automakers every single automaker on the planet, VW doesn’t give you much space to work with on the reinforced jacking point, so there was no room for a stand and the jack. But since this was a good, name brand jack which doesn’t leak air like the crappy Auto-zone one I carry around in my car (which mysteriously wants for a jack); and since we wouldn’t be crawling under the car to hunt for neat things to crack our skulls, were the car to fall, as happened once to my grandfather (true story); we did what we shouldn’t and left it on the jack.
Remove wheel. Here Volkswagen displays their engineering prowess with lug bolts instead of lug nuts. This was probably where Jason and I began the afternoon-long tradition of rattling off condescending statements in bad German accents. (The wheel stayed nearby so I could sit on seventeen times and let the blood rush back into my lower legs like a herd of flaming, betusked wildlife.)
Remove top caliper bolt. Except that I can’t see said bolt, because it’s in the back. (“Ja, ja, seely American. So fonny,” etc.) Nor can I fit a normal socket wrench back there beside a large amount of LCA. Mini-socket to the rescue! After an extremely embarrassing section of tightening the backwards bolt, we started loosening it, only to find, of course, that it
screwed into a secondary bolt, which was now spinning like a sponsored pundit, and which would need to be held with a standard, open ended wrench, which we didn’t happen to have on hand. God bless Vise-Grips.
Bolt removed, we went to pivot the caliper away from the disc. We got an inch before realizing this method would require disconnecting the brake line. So we went for the lower bolt, too, and took the scenic route. Caliper dismounted.
Now we were moving. We’d be done before you could say Doppelkupplunsgetreibe! Rubber shims on the back of the brake pads. Nifty.
Next we’d simply have to press that itinerant caliper piston back into place, replace those bolts, and badda-boom, or whatever the Germans say. And then I realized I’d forgotten the one tool Jason had asked me to bring: that plate and crank jobber to deal with the piston. But Jason had a c-clamp, so we tried that.
It wasn’t quite big enough, though, and we came in at an angle. Don’t do this. You risk messing with the extremely tight gasket around the piston, which is what seemed to be happening, because that jerk wouldn’t budge. “Pump the brakes, Jason,” I said. “We’ll straighten her out.” I might as well have said “Git r’ done,” because these actions extended the piston to its full length, and it still wouldn’t move.
Thankfully, I don’t live far from Jason, and went home to get the caliper tool, a 13mm wrench, and a 15mm wrench, since even numbers are too mainstream for VW. I got halfway back before I realized I only had the caliper tool. I love driving!
Even under the influence of the $5 tool, the caliper held fast. Jason looked it up on his iPad. I tried things. About this time, Anne, who is my housemate’s girlfriend, and who rents a room from Jason and his wife, returned with the good news that a cute girl I’d asked her about would be at a swing dancing venue later that evening. The caliper
was winning, but so was I.
Focus, man! Concentrate! Jason found out that, contrary to all common sense, the piston needed to turn while being compressed back into the cylinder. I’m not an engineer, so I won’t say mean things about them.
We tried a simul-effort, twisting with a pair of pliers while turning the caliper tool. To no avail. But Autozone had the specialized tool available for deposit and checkout, and I was suddenly very sorry for all the cruel things I’d said about their jack. Jason gave me his cracked-in-half debit card and sent me down the street to pick up the compressor. I love driving!
Equipment in hand, we got back to work. And then stopped. The metal on the piston tool was too thick. With the proper studded cap on the end, the compressor wouldn’t fit between the caliper and the piston, which was still fully extended. We needed
about two millimeters. We didn’t have them.
The end of the piston had two opposing notches (not to be confused with nachos, which I really could have used at that moment), into which the caliper tool’s pegs would fit. As we turned the piston tool, the pegs would turn the notches.
After several failed ideas, I had an epiphany. We just needed the studded plate to be thinner. We could perhaps grip the notches with a piece of pliable rubber or wood instead of the metal. We settled for a chunk of a Cheerios box top, and it actually worked. It was one of those rare moments when explaining something makes you sound like an idiot, but
accomplishing it makes you look like a theoretical physicist.
The rest of the job went with relative quickness. The final score: three hours for wheel one, twenty minutes for wheel two.
It was a job to burn up an afternoon. It’s why this little post is supposed to be 500 words and actually crosses the line with over 1200. But I have no regrets. It was time well spent with a good friend, and we even got to properly illustrate to Jason’s four-year-old how disc brakes worked. Now that we knew.
Now I know how to change the brake pads on a modern Volkswagen. And since I learned over three hours and twenty minutes of pain and frustration, I won’t likely soon forget.
I went home, cleaned up, and went swing dancing with a cute girl, which I won’t likely soon forget either. Thankfully, I still had enough time to scratch “laundry” off the list, so I didn’t smell like brake fluid and aggravation.