Who knew that a battery cable could make a check engine light go off?

I found out I had a broken battery cable about a year ago while working out of town in St. Pete. My battery had died and I was stranded 2 hours away from home in the wee hours of the morning with plans on staying in town to work that whole weekend so I needed to get back up and running. I haven’t had AAA in years. Didn’t have a need for them anymore since my car had proven to be quite reliable. I knew they came out to charge up a person’s battery so I ordered their service online on my phone and called them for a service call right afterwards. Within an hour, they were there. I showed the service tech my digital card as proof of membership and he let me know that my battery was way past due for a replacement. Years past due, actually.

Old battery terminal.The warning signs were there but I ignored them (something I don’t do anymore). I managed to get charged back up and on my way to someplace private to sleep (I always sleep in my car when working out of town). He advised me to get a new battery ASAP. I took his word for it but when I shut my car off again, it died again. It managed to start back up after some patience and that’s when I proceeded to park myself in the lot of an Advanced Auto Parts store. I slept there and waited for them to open. When they did, I got my new battery and the employee who swapped it out showed me the broken terminal. He suggested a universal terminal as a replacement and I bought one but never used it.

Fast forward to the present. At the time, I wasn’t anywhere near as knowledgeable about car repair as I am now. Just like the warning signs of my battery failing, I also ignored having to replace the battery terminal. Since I’ve started doing my own car repairs, it’s been on my list of things to do and for a couple of weeks, finding a replacement part for something so simple was a huge chore. The universal terminal? While doing my research, I discovered that there was no way it was gonna work on my car. It required cutting the cables and then crimping them which required an expensive tool that wasn’t available to be rented. Further research showed that terminals that are sold online and in stores just wouldn’t get the job done either. Nothing fit right. Nothing was simple and I knew from the way the original cables were setup that there had to be a simple solution out there.

While buying parts for other repairs online, I discovered the official Ford parts site. I mainly use it to get the right part numbers and for parts identification. For instance, Ford calls it a negative battery cable. Other sites call it a ground strap. Ford uses part numbers 14301 and WC-95829 for the same damn part. Other sites use 4F1Z14301AA and other numbers. Shit can get confusing but I found the exact part I needed. I didn’t order it from Ford directly because the price was too high. I bought mine from Rock Auto for 15 bucks less (total was $26 and some change). Same Motorcraft part at a fraction of the cost. It pays to shop around.

It became something that had to be replaced with urgency because when doing certain auto repairs, you gotta disconnect the negative cable. While doing so, where it was only broken in one place before, it was now broken in two. A year ago, I didn’t spend much of any time under the hood of my car. How long that terminal was actually broken is a mystery. Did the AAA guy do it? Did the Advance Auto Parts guy do it so he could sell me a part? I don’t put anything past anyone but at the end of the day, it’s up to me to make sure work is done properly on my car if I ain’t the one fixing it. I didn’t supervise their work so I put all the blame on myself.

Let’s say my shit was cracked the way it was a year ago while at the parts store. There are those people who definitely take advantage of other people’s stupidity and my car knowledge was next to nothing when it came to any type of repair. I was sold a piece of shit of a part that accomplished nothing and required the use of other items to be useful. Let’s say the employee wasn’t taking me for a ride and sold the thing to me, thinking it was what I needed. What’s that say about their competency and the usefulness of what they sell? For my car, there was only one part that was gonna work and none of the usual parts stores sold it. It was an OEM part. Nothing else would work and no one thought to suggest it. They’re either dumb or smart. Dumb by not knowing or smart by knowing but sensing your ignorance and selling you on some bullshit.

New battery terminal.Don’t get taken to the cleaners by some of these joints. That universal part wasn’t expensive but it was still a waste of money and I wasted time when, in the end, I had to discover for myself what I needed to get the job done. The so-called experts were expertly useless. The part didn’t cost much, didn’t take long to get to me, and installed in less than 10 minutes with absolutely no problems or mess of any kind. If you ever have to deal with replacing a terminal, find out what you can about the OEM part as well as what’s sold in stores. DON’T just go by what’s sold in stores! DON’T let a repair shop do it for you (unless you wanna do that). Anyone can replace a battery terminal. Even a kid. Well, a tall kid…

When the second crack occurred, it didn’t dawn on me that it could cause my check engine light to go off because my car was still starting and running fine with no decrease in fuel economy. I thought it was something else. Perhaps the occasional misfire that would clear itself. Well, today is when I swapped cables and when I started the car up afterwards, the check engine light wasn’t on anymore. I’ve come to learn that so many things can make that light go off. This time, a bad battery terminal was the culprit. I’ve even heard of gas caps and engine additives causing problems. I don’t have a code reader but it might be something worth looking into investing in. I don’t really trust what parts store and dealership employees tell me anymore. If what they say makes perfect sense, I’ll soak it in but if I detect bullshit, which is usually the case, I’ll let their information flow around rather than into me. I’ve learned more on my own than from any person face-to-face. The internet is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. Use it to save time and money.

My car is now filled with fresh fluids and my baby loves me for it.

My baby is my car, not a girl or a child. It all started with new brake fluid when I did the master cylinder. Before that, I did an oil change. Full synth is how I roll since I do towing. Yesterday was the power steering and transmission fluid. Lastly, today was the antifreeze. And you know what? There’s a sense of accomplishment since I did it all by myself. Saved some time in most cases. Saved a shitload of money, that’s for damn sure. And as I always say, I learned some new skills. Knowledge is power.

Another reason for doing things yourself? Specifically when it comes to car repair and maintenance? You know the quality of the work and you know what parts are being installed. That’s invaluable. Yesterday was a huge task because I was gonna be messing around with one of the most important and expensive parts of a car: the transmission. You fuck that up, you’re pretty much fucked because replacing one is a bitch in the money and decision department. If it’s worth it, you do it if the car has enough personal value. If the price is higher than the cost of buying another A and B car, then fuck it.

My plan for the day was to exchange the power steering and transmission fluid and replace the tranny filter and gasket. You notice I’m using the word ‘exchange’ instead of ‘flush.’ They’re two completely different things and we’ll discuss them as this article goes on. The main thing I needed for these tasks was transmission fluid. Lots of it. Not just for the tranny but also for the power steering. That’s right, depending on your car, you add tranny fluid to the power steering, not power steering fluid. It’s a common mistake. Doing my research, I found out that my owner’s manual tells me exactly what fluids to use and in what capacities. Don’t deviate from that no matter what anyone tells you and you’ll hear and read a lot of absolute bullshit from many sources. Stick with what the people who built the car in the first place are telling you and you can’t go wrong in this department. It’s like people who put premium unleaded gas in a car that takes regular and they think it makes a positive difference when it actually does nothing or does worse for the car. Fucking idiots. Don’t be an idiot.

My car uses Mercon V. Not Dex/Merc. Not Mercon VI. Not Type F. Mercon fucking V and that’s it! I cleaned out two Walmarts of 20 quarts worth of Super Tech. In case you’re wondering about Super Tech quality, it’s the exact same shit as the brand names but a lot cheaper. It’s like buying TG Lee milk at Walmart. The brand name is expensive. Store brand is far cheaper and it’s the same exact product. All you’re paying extra for is a name and a marketing gimmick when it comes to the bottle. Going off topic, I buy my milk at Aldi and Sav-A-Lot now. For a while, a gallon of skim was less than 3 bucks. With milk prices on the rise, at either store it’s still a buck less than the big name grocery stores. Same shit, much lower price.

Power steering flush.I bought 20 quarts because I knew I was gonna need excess for the exchange. Whatever I didn’t use, I could take it back for a refund. Online videos and forums have misinformation when it comes to fluid flushing and exchanging. Some procedures aren’t universal. Searching for info in regards to my specific car didn’t yield much of anything useful and a service manual wasn’t much help either. When you flush, you only remove fluids from the lines using gravity. There’ll still be old fluid left in the system when you reconnect everything to add new fluid. That wasn’t an option for me because it doesn’t make logical sense to do that. Why mix old with new when you can go all new? That’s like building a 2014 house using 1914 construction material. I needed all new because my power steering fluid color was black. Since I’ve owned my car, I’ve never replaced that fluid before so this was long overdue. When you exchange fluid, you replace everything. You flush out the old using gravity and force out the rest using the car when you start the engine.

Forums will mention the turkey baster method but that’s a complete waste of time and effort. A power steering fluid exchange is fairly simple. For my car, I had to follow the hoses to figure out which one to disconnect. Nowhere online or in a manual does it state the direction of flow for the fluid. Going back even further, not all Ford Tauruses in my model generation are the same. On some, the thinner or top hose in front of the radiator is the power steering return line (That’s what one service manual states). On my 2004, it’s the larger and bottom one and you disconnect it on the driver’s side. When I removed it, fluid leaked out but not much. Not nearly enough. It’s advised not to start the engine because you could damage the pump. I call bullshit because the only way to get all that old fluid out is to do just that: start the engine with the hose disconnected and turn the steering wheel all the way side to side until nothing is left. You’ll feel the difference in the wheel because it’ll turn without you needing to apply much force.

Like I said, all cars are different. This is what I had to do since I did it alone. With a partner, one person can turn the wheels while the other adds fluid and keeps an eye on the color of the fluid draining out. When it’s new, oh no, you’re not done yet. I reconnected the line and then came the bleeding process which also has bad info online. Videos I saw don’t mention at all to top off the power steering reservoir. They don’t even mention keeping the car started. They just say keep the car off and turn the wheel until no more air bubbles are coming out. That’s only half right. If you don’t top off the fluid, air just comes right back in when you start the car. You have to keep just enough fluid in the reservoir so that it’s circulating above the lines. Below the lines means more air is getting in. I did it the wrong way (car on and off while turning the wheels and not topping off the fluid) but logic kicked in. Applying smarts, I got the job done quicker and the right way.

Transmission_filter change and fluid flush.
It should’ve taken about 30 minutes but because of the bad info I was using, it took about an hour. Really simple job. Didn’t need to go buy any extra tools either. Since the car was already jacked up off the ground and I was in a Mercon V mood, I took on the task of replacing the transmission filter, gasket, and fluid. It also seemed simple enough but it was very messy and I ran into a completely unexpected roadblock: one of the pan bolt heads was rounded off and I didn’t have anything at my disposal that could remove it. I was fucking pissed off because what was an easy ass day of auto repair turned into yet another time-waster. I went online for solutions but none of them were worth much of shit. Lube, spray, torch, heat…all that is mostly bullshit. What you need is a tool and I know one had to exist because this wasn’t a new problem that suddenly came into being.

My research once again took me to Harbor Freight. How’d I get there? I rode my bike. Wouldn’t you know it, it was windy as hell at the time but that’s okay. I bought a nut and bolt extractor set from them. I could only hope it would get the job done. I wasn’t about to add old fluid to new and jack the car down just to drive over there. Fuck that shit. If I was gonna do it, I was gonna do it right. No half-assing. No bullshit. Yet it was total bullshit that the last shop mechanic overtorqued the bolt head and created that fucking problem. Remember when I said earlier that you know the quality of the work when you do it yourself? This is exactly what I’m referring to.

The moment of truth arrived. I had used up over an hour to go get the new tools. Hell, I used up about that amount of time using everything at my disposal to get that bolt off before that. I used the new tool and…IT FUCKING WORKED! Dark skies became clear at that moment and I could continue right where I left off. My car doesn’t have a tranny drain plug. I don’t know why that’s not mandatory on every fucking car because it would make life so much easier for everyone. Siphoning out the fluid from the top didn’t do much because a hose can’t really get in deep enough. Removing the pan is a huge mess. A fucking HUGE mess. No way around it. And it was worse in my case because of the stripped bolt.

Once I got the pan off, I was surprised at how clean it was. The magnet didn’t really have much of any particles on it. The fluid color was definitely ready for a change but it wasn’t anything like the power steering fluid. Everything was relatively clean and that’s a good sign of a healthy transmission. My car has a reusable gasket so I just left that on there since it was still in good shape. I had already bought a new filter and gasket from Advance Auto Parts (AAP) online. I guess the new gasket will be sitting around because I won’t need to pop open that tranny pan again for a long time. I hadn’t done anything to the transmission in several years and I based that on the fluid color and car performance.

You’d think taking off the old filter and putting on the new one would be a breeze. It’s not. There’s a light green plastic ring seal around where it connects to the car. It stayed on the car when I took off the old filter. I thought I could just take it off the new one and pop the new filter in with the old seal still attached but it wouldn’t budge from the new filter. I had to use a small screwdriver to pry out the old seal. You wanna do that delicately so you don’t scrape up any of the metal parts inside the transmission but you don’t have much choice because of the design flaw. With the new filter on, it was just a matter of reversing the process. Easy peasy even with the stripped bolt. You don’t wanna overtighten the bolts. It doesn’t take much to strip the threads. Mine had several bolts that way and I’ve since ordered some new OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) bolts to swap out the stripped ones with new ones at a later time. Car doesn’t leak so it’s not a huge sense of urgency but you don’t wanna ignore that if you come across that problem. Don’t bother going to a hardware store trying to match things up. Just get the OEM part when it comes to something like a tranny bolt. It’s too important of a part to go the cheap route.

With everything back together and fluid added, it was time for the fluid exchange. It was really easy. The power steering direction of flow is from driver’s side to passenger and I thought it’d be the same for the tranny. Boy was I wrong. When I removed the hose from the wrong side, shit squirted everywhere when I started the car. It added to the puddle of fluid I already had. The tranny direction of flow is from passenger side to driver and the return line is just above the power steering line. A service manual overcomplicates the process by making you use a special tool to remove a metal return line from the tranny and then attaching a hose to direct the flow. All that shit ain’t necessary. Once you remove the line, some old fluid will come out but not tons of it. After starting your car to force more out, all you have to do is keep filling up the tranny with fluid until you see new fluid come out. You wanna stop your car when the outgoing fluid starts sputtering out and refill as necessary.

A flush is simply dropping the pan and/or the return line and letting gravity do the work. That’s good for letting out over a gallon of old fluid but my car’s tranny holds over 3 gallons. See the difference? A proper exchange uses a start/stop method. Disconnect the return line from the radiator. Fill up the tranny with fluid. Start the car. Let the old fluid stream out until it starts spitting. Stop the car. Refill. Repeat until you see new fluid coming out. Reconnect the return line and you’re almost done. It’s important to have a visual on the fluid stream. Same for the power steering and the reservoir because in that case, you wanna be able to see the air bubbles and prevent the fluid from overflowing from the reservoir as you turn the wheels because doing so forces air out of the lines and fluid out of the rack.

All I had left to do was refill the transmission to spec and that was that. I had a big mess to clean but mission accomplished. I felt the difference during the test drive. In my last article, I wrote about replacing a seal on the engine. The old seal was causing rough idle and other related problems from a cold start. Since a coldfront had passed through, I can inform you that the seal was the cure for all of my car’s ailments. I thought I’d have to wait months for another cold morning but I’m glad I did the repair when I did because I got to find out what I needed to find out. As for the test drive, the tranny was shifting noticeably smoother than before. Now, the car overall sounds quieter and feels more gentle than before.

Old and new degas bottles.
I did have to do some driving to get the tranny fluid circulating in real world conditions. I drove soft at first and kept checking the dipstick and refilling as needed until the fluid level was in the crosshatch when hot and parked. Very aggressive and fast driving felt so good after the exchange. An auto shop will only do a flush unless you specifically request an exchange which will cost you a lot more. You don’t know for sure if they’ll really exchange it even when you ask and pay for that because they can mix old with new either way and you’ll never know the difference when checking the fluid. The only way to know for sure is to either do it yourself or use an honest mechanic. Do it the right way. Don’t flush. Exchange. Why do repair shops promote flushing? The real reason? Because you’ll have to go back to them for another one sooner since you still have old fluid in the car that will degrade at a much faster rate than all new. See how that works? For them, not you.

Today was the day I did a coolant exchange (today being the 17th but it’s after midnight on the 18th as I type this). That has to be done in stages. Repair shops will loosen the petcock (weird ass name for the drain plug) and let the coolant fall from the radiator and refill from there. That’s a general flush. An exchange gets the coolant from the heater core as well. You do the first drain. Refill with water. Drive the car with the heat on full blast with the heat blowing from just the front vents. That’s how you get the rest of the old coolant out. You can repeat that a couple of times like I did. I had errands to run and it was kinda cool out so it worked out well for me. It’d be miserable to do that on a hot day so if you’re gonna do it, make sure the weather is appropriate.

You do the first drain when the car is cold, as in not started at all yet for the day. The remaining ones, it’s recommended to let the car cool off but I have a high tolerance for heat so I didn’t wait. The hot water didn’t bother me in the slightest. It was the type of heat I like to shower in but that’s just me. You always wanna have the radiator cap off when draining. While I was at it, I went ahead and bought a new degas bottle (a screwy ass name for the coolant reservoir) because my old one was done. It wasn’t leaking but it was so discolored that I couldn’t see anything that was going on inside of it. It was past time for a replacement and if it was ever gonna happen, today was the day. I saved some bucks with AAP again using a promo code. Saved even more because my credit card gives me cash back. And I saved even more on top of that using Ebates.com to get some more cash back.

Broken petcock.
Replacing the bottle was very easy. I had done enough draining and it was time for the final fill. With most of the old stuff out, since the heater core will still have a lot of water in it, it’s recommended to put in a full gallon of antifreeze and then follow it up with a 50/50 mix to top off. I used 50/50 all the way for now because I still have to drive the car to get everything circulating properly and when that happens, the level will drop off during hot and cold cycles. You just refill accordingly until the coolant level stays within spec. My coolant wasn’t in bad shape or anything. No rust or particles. No bad thermostat. And I had heat blowing from the vents. It was just time to put in some new coolant and I got a new degas bottle in the process. I don’t recommend just starting your car and letting it idle to heat up during the process. All that does is primarily waste gas and you could be using that waiting time for other things. The car will heat up quicker in motion and I’m sure you’d rather be putting that gas to use. This is a very simple process best done when the weather is cool and you have errands to run.

As if the stripped tranny bolt wasn’t a big enough problem, I encountered another. The petcock is made of plastic and only needs to be hand tightened. Use a socket to get it off if need be but from there on out, HAND TIGHTEN ONLY! You get so used to using tools that you forget that plastic isn’t metal. The damn petcock head broke off when I was putting it back on with a socket when I was on my last drain. I was getting furious, thinking the coolant would only leak out from now on and I’d have to ride my bike again to a parts store for a replacement and use up even more of my precious time. I was at the end point and then this shit happened. I went online to see if there was a replacement part that I could get right away. There was. I then had to see if I could fill my radiator up with water so I could do one more water-only drain instead of pouring in antifreeze and wasting it with another drain. The radiator didn’t leak so I was good to drive to pick up the part. I was relieved and at the same time it gave me an opportunity to get more coolant out of the system.

I thought getting the broken petcock off would be difficult but I have to assume the OEM part was designed in case this type of emergency ever happened, it could still be removed. The screw portion accepts a hex wrench. The bolt head does too so I was good to go. The replacement doesn’t have that feature but it’s made of harder plastic and there’s no doubt that it’s made only to be tightened by hand. That’s a good feature. The OEM part is in the shape of a bolt and can easily mislead anyone. The hand-tighten-only feature should’ve been combined with the backup hex wrench feature. Just sayin’.

New degas bottle installed with coolant.Disposal of all this fluid can be an issue. When you know you’re gonna tackle this job, keep plenty of empty gallon jugs in anticipation. You can take it all to your local hazardous waste recycling dump for free (free here in Orlando at least) or drop off the tranny and power steering fluid at an auto parts store. They won’t take coolant. Some cities allow coolant to be flushed down the toilet or drain. Don’t be a dumb ass and do that stupid shit. In no way is that healthy for anyone or anything. That shit gets into lakes and ponds that we swim in and drink from and gets into the fish that we eat and soil that we grow fruits and veggies from. Use your head and dispose of this shit properly.

You wanna overbuy antifreeze too. What you don’t use, keep your receipt and return it for a refund. Check your owner’s manual to see what type to use and how much your car’s capacity is. I bought 3 gallons of antifreeze and that’s why I bought those 20 quarts of Mercon V. I used them all to get the job done. The most important thing is that the job got done right. A car with fresh fluids is a happy car. Let’s examine the cost of all this minus tools and incidentals like the stripped tranny bolt and broken petcock. We’re talking antifreeze and tranny fluid, filter, and gasket. Altogether for labor and a true fluid exchange, not a flush, I can imagine the price would be more than $500 and that’s not an exaggeration. A lot of that cost is from overly expensive fluids and parts.

One quart of Super Tech Mercon V? $4.27. Brand name or OEM? Between 7 and 8 bucks. And you wouldn’t know for sure if they were using the proper transmission fluid. One gallon of 50/50 antifreeze? With the discounts I use, less than 8 bucks. Brand name (and they wouldn’t use 50/50)? Around 15 smacks. And you still wouldn’t know if they were using the right shit. And like I said before, you wouldn’t even know if they were doing a real exchange or a half-assed flush. The coolant exchange was very simple. The tranny fluid exchange (just the fluid, not the filter and gasket) is simpler than you might think. The power steering would be the hardest and most time-consuming but even it can be simple provided you have proper instructions specific to your car.

Nut and bolt extractor set.My total cost? Around $200. The degas bottle was around $40. It’d cost twice as much or more at a shop. The tranny filter and gasket were $20. We’re talking over 3 times as much at a shop. What could you do with all that extra money? I’ll tell you exactly what you can do: go buy a nut and bolt extractor set. Regular and deep socket. It’s a critical set of tools to have. I never had a need for anything like it until yesterday. I’m letting you know from my experience that you don’t wanna get caught by surprise by a rounded-off bolt head. Be prepared in advance by having that set readily available in your tool box right now! You can thank me later. And definitely check out Harbor Freight for tools and other things. Ever since I started shopping there, I haven’t been disappointed with my purchases. Another piece of advice is to start your repairs as soon as daylight hits or as early as possible in the day because when surprises happen (bad ones, not good ones), you don’t wanna be reinstalling your valance (an unfamiliar term for what you might call a skid plate) in the darkness like I had to. Don’t be intimidated by the valance. It’s very easy to take on and off.

One recent car repair was a severe pain in the ass. The other was a pleasant poke.

And when I say pain in the ass, I mean a fucking time-consuming pain deep inside my asshole. That pain would be my master cylinder. I’m pretty sure my original one was OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and it started leaking. Wasn’t a big leak. Just a very small puddle was visible on my driveway after parking it overnight. I think I discovered it when my car was moved and I saw the puddle. At first, I thought it was water because brake fluid is clear and not thick. It even felt like water on my fingers and had no smell. My braking performance wasn’t affected at all either, so I had no reason to think much of it. Just in case though, I rechecked under my car on another day and the exact same size and shape puddle was there. That wasn’t a coincidence.

My car doesn’t leak. Never has. This would be my very first one. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t think it was anything serious at first. This discovery was a few weeks ago, mind you. After seeing the puddle again and again, I started deducing what it could be. The area that it was in only had one fluid that could possibly leak and have that color. When I looked around the master cylinder, indeed it was leaking between the cylinder and brake booster. At the time, I had no idea what the terms were for those parts. After some online research, the final conclusion was that I had a bad master cylinder. It was time to buy my parts to do the job. I looked at several online videos about the repair and even having viewed them, I made some mistakes that I should’ve been able to avoid.

My first mistake was buying a remanufactured master cylinder. It was recommended not to buy one. It’s recommended to always buy this part brand new because the reman parts are problematic for a variety of reasons. I neglected to heed that advice and bought a reman part. Mistake two was when I started taking things apart. I bought a siphon pump and a set of wrenches from Walmeezy. That’s all I thought I needed to do the job but boy was I wrong. This was avoidable because the videos I watched suggested another type of wrench: a flare nut wrench for easy removal of the brake lines. Not only did I not have that tool, I had never even heard of it. My memory wasn’t recalling what I saw in the vids.

Mistake three was not having deep enough sockets or a long enough socket drive to even reach the nuts that held the cylinder onto the booster. It’s one thing to have the right size but another thing to have the right depth. Mistake four was one that nothing online told me about or was truthful about after digging further. I bought a reman cylinder without the reservoir. I was gonna use my old one but I’ll be god damned if getting that reservoir off wasn’t a son of a bitch of a time-waster. So let’s go back. I bought some tools but didn’t buy enough of the right ones. While trying to take the cylinder off, that’s how this all got discovered. I put everything back together to go get the tools I needed.

I bought the reman from Advanced Auto Parts online using a promo code to save money. It was a Cardone model. Never really had problems with their parts until now but it was my own fault for not buying it new. Another issue was when I removed the brake lines from the cylinder, I let air into the system. More on that debacle later. The next immediate problem I came to face was where to get the tools I needed at an affordable price with high-quality. A flare nut wrench and deep sockets aren’t something you’re gonna find at a Walmart. The usual places like home improvement and auto parts stores would be too expensive. There was one option that I had never explored before and that was Harbor Freight.

I went into one for the first time just to look around a few days before starting the repair. Never crossed my mind to buy anything from them. I was just curious as to what they sold because I passed the place by all the time and it looked like the type of place I’d shop. I went back to them and they had everything I needed at the right price. Quality felt good too. I know how it is to buy tools made of cheap metal but theirs felt like they’d hold up. I also needed extension bars but I had already bought them at Walmart. Now I had my tools and I had to wait another day to restart the repair. Let’s go back again. Removing the brake lines from the cylinder with a regular wrench isn’t advised because, at least on my car, the nuts are made of soft metal and can get rounded off easily. Plus it makes the process take longer with having to remove and refit the wrench. If you’re gonna do brakes, get a flare nut wrench set. SAE and metric. Just get them both to be on the safe side. They don’t cost much.

Another day had come (this all happened in the middle of last week) and I was ready to start again. Things were going great and quite easy now that I had everything I needed. That is until I had to get that reservoir off. The siphon pump was used to pump out the old fluid. I was easily able to get the cylinder off but the reservoir wasn’t so fucking easy. The first thing was to get those fucking roller pins off. Those are the things that make the reservoir firmly attach to the cylinder like screws and, motherfucker, that shit was pissing me off. Nowhere online said anything about those fucking things. Later on, when doing research on how to get them off, some forums said they just slip right out. Fucking bullshit! I had to get a hammer and a large screw to hammer the fucking things out because they weren’t budging any other way.

The second part was removing the reservoir completely from the cylinder. Forums said it just lifts right out easily. Fucking bullshit! I had to pry that thing off with a flathead screwdriver and I was concerned about cracking or breaking it with the amount of force that was necessary to remove it. Let me go ahead and get this shit out of the way for you right now. Let me give you some fucking advice that you’d better fucking use if you’re gonna tackle this kind of job: buy a brand new master cylinder with the reservoir ALREADY ATTACHED! It still won’t cost you much more and it’ll save you so much fucking time and frustration. The new ones come that way by default, I believe.

Just when I thought I was done, just when I had reattached everything…the reman cylinder was leaking even worse than the OEM. I’m talking leaking like torrential rain every time I applied the brakes. I was like, “What the fuck?” I had no choice but to buy a new part online immediately and go pick it up while driving with super soft brakes. I wasn’t about to fuck around with that reservoir again to put the OEM part back on. Fuck that shit. The car still stopped with the bad part but I had to sink the pedal all the way to the floor to come to a complete stop and the stopping distance was significantly extended. Once I had my new part and 2 big bottles of brake fluid, I did it all again and thought I was done. New part wasn’t leaking at all but I felt that I was missing something. I recalled something in a video I saw about bleeding the cylinder. Then I read the instructions that came with it and it is a step that has to be taken.

So I took everything apart AGAIN and bled the damn thing. Put the shit back together AGAIN and thought I was done but there was yet another step to take. Now I had to bleed the brakes. I did that to my front brakes with the reman part attached but with that process being a complete waste of effort, I had to do it again but this time I started with the rear brakes which is the proper procedure. The rear of the car opposite the cylinder to be more specific but since it was only me, I had to do the driver’s side because it’s all I had time for. In anticipation of that, I went to Home Depot during the tool run to buy some clear hose to fit over the bleeder valves so I could see the air and fluid to know my progress. I had a lot of air in the system to say the least.

Used a shitload of brake fluid during the bleeding process of both the cylinder and the brakes. That one wheel that I did was enough for now because I had no more leaks and my braking performance was back to normal. You’ll likely have to jack your car up to gain access to the bleeder valves. When the reman cylinder was on the car, I discovered that one of mine on the front wheels was rounded off. I bought a new pair during the tool run for later replacement when I do a full bleed. With the new cylinder attached and during that bleeding, I discovered my rear drum brake wheel cylinder was leaking. My intention has always been to replace the rear brakes completely anyway. That was my first time getting a good look at them so I gotta do the wheel cylinders along with the springs and shoes on both sides. And yes, I already went ahead and bought the tools for it. All I need is the parts but that’ll come at a later date.

When I do it, I’m gonna need a second person for the 4-wheel bleeding process. Finding someone who’s available when I am and who can follow instructions is gonna be the hardest part. When replacing the master cylinder in your car, just remember to have all the right tools, buy the part brand spanking new with the reservoir attached, have plenty of brake fluid available, bleed the part before attaching it and then the brakes when you’re done. Another thing is, if you’re doing it yourself for the first time like I did, know that it’s a dirty fucking job. Shit is gonna leak and shit might even spray. Have plenty of disposable gloves, shop towels, newspaper, and something(s) to catch dripping fluid with. One person even suggested using kitty litter to absorb any big puddles that get on your driveway. I’ve since returned the reman part for a refund.

Because it was such a dirty job for me, I don’t have any pictures. It took me a while to do and I tried to do as much as I could when the sun was up. Took me fucking days because of other responsibilities but if I had all the shit I needed together and a partner for the brake bleeding, it’d only take about an hour tops. Repair shops wanted over $300 for the job. My cost with tools and everything? Around $150. I saved money yet I didn’t save time but I gained experience. I consider my new tools as an investment for future projects like the one I did today that was much cleaner and simpler. For about a year and a half now when it’s cold outside and sometimes when it’s hot, my car has been hesitating and stuttering during starts and idling rough at stops and low speeds. It was really annoying having the feeling that my car was gonna stall or stop and at times, it didn’t turn over right away when it was really cold out.

It was something I should’ve taken care of a long time ago but never had the time and it was only an intermittent problem that mainly occurred in winter. I didn’t think about it during hot months which are most months here in Florida. When bleeding my brakes during the master cylinder replacement, whenever I stepped on the pedal, the problem persisted to a higher degree. My plan was to start fixing that particular problem part by part, starting with some deduction and research and fixing the simplest thing first which was a seal for what’s called the Intake Manifold Runner Control (IMRC). It does exactly its namesake and seals a specific vacuum leak. I bought it at the dealership to make sure I was getting a proper OEM part and it didn’t cost much.

The Ford Parts website helped me get the part number so the cashier knew exactly what I needed. I searched for my symptoms and found a solution on a Ford Taurus forum that gave really good details on how to replace the seal. Turns out I’m not the only one with the problems I described. It seemed like a simple enough job but I didn’t have the right tools. Removing the IMRC required an internal star wrench which I had a set handy from my previous tool run. I knew I needed that tool because I bought a small mirror from Big Lots to look behind the part to see what I needed to remove it because it wasn’t clearly evident right away. It felt like a screwdriver job because the bolts have rounded heads but feeling inside of them wasn’t making anything clear to me. The mirror did.

Cabin air filter.

I had my part. I had my tools. Next up was to change out the seal. Removing the cowl to gain access to the bolts was easy enough but when I did, I discovered something that was in desperate need of replacement. Something that’s supposed to be replaced on practically an annual basis but I hadn’t replaced it in several years: the cabin air filter. I had it replaced once back when I bought my car in ’06. You better believe that filter looked like shit when I removed it. All kinds of shit was in that general area. Since I already had the cowl removed, I figured I’d go ahead and knock out two jobs instead of one. I went online, did some research on the proper cabin air filter part, and went to buy a new one at O’Reilly along with some weatherstrip tape because the stuff that was on the cowl was falling apart and not sticking anymore.

I opted for a Fram carbon filter instead of one made of particle material. Research suggests carbon is better suited for my exterior environment which in turn is better for my cabin interior. For the longest time there was always a gassy smell that came through my vents when I put the fan on. Now I know what contributed to that. The filter cost less than 20 bucks and I ain’t gonna have to worry about that again for a while so it was money well spent. It solves a problem I had that I gave up on a solution for. Before putting it in, I used my Dyson to suck out all the leaves, feathers, and other crap that was in the vicinity of the filter placement. I was actually gonna buy a cheaper filter because the O’Reilly site said the Fram was smaller than OEM specs but I compared the cheaper one (which had proper specs) to the Fram and they were the same size. I told them fools they need to update their website.

Once back home, I finished the job at hand. No, I didn’t drive to get the new filter without putting the old filter back on in case you’re wondering but I did leave the cowl off. Replacing the seal is easy and you don’t even have to remove the IMRC wire attachment. Just loosen and remove the bolts and the part falls off by itself. Remove the old seal, slide on the new one, reverse steps for everything, and that’s it. My old seal was in bad shape. Originally yellow, now blackish and brittle. The new one is completely black and more flexible and sturdy. To find out if the seal replacement did anything for my problems, I started up my car and it was the difference between night and day. No hesitation. No stuttering. No rough idle. No stalling. I pressed the brake pedal many times and none of my prior symptoms existed. I restarted the car a few times. All was fine. I waited for the car to cool off and restarted again. All was still fine. I drove the car to test things out further. All was still very fine.

Intake manifold runner control gasket.Luckily, this was the type of seal that didn’t cost much and was very easy to replace but who knew something like that could cause so many problems? I damn sure didn’t but I was willing to take steps to find out. My first step was a good one in this case. And that cabin air filter is on my radar for future replacement. I fixed a problem that had been plaguing me for a long time and the fix was simple. That doesn’t happen often. Total cost for parts? About $35 for the seal, filter, and tape. Total cost at a repair shop, including a diagnosis for the seal? I’d say at minimum $100. For what I fixed today, I came out very green in the time and money department. Wouldn’t even take 20 minutes to do with everything already in hand.

There’s still more I have to do on my car like the drum brakes and some fluid flushes but it’s all a part of routine maintenance. I know it ain’t always gonna be as easy as that seal and filter but I’m up for the challenge. I’ll bet anything that a repair shop would’ve taken my ass to the cleaners with a mockup of bullshit repairs instead of recommending something as simple as a $10 seal. They’ve tried to do it to me in the past but I’m a smarter person now when it comes to car repairs. I’d say I’m becoming quite the mechanic at this point. We need to get basic car repair on the curriculum in schools. The skills I’m learning at my age, because I’ve chosen to learn them, are invaluable. Imagine what they could do for a kid.