Watch out for those Marvel Zombies. They’ll make you laugh like your favorite sitcom.

army_of_darkness_13My introduction to Marvel Zombies (MZ) started at a Megacon several years ago when I used to attend regularly. My first and only issue was Dead Days. I most likely bought it for chump change compared to the cover price of 5 bucks. No way I would’ve ever paid anywhere near that much for it even when it was first released. That’s way too much money for a fucking comic book that still has advertisements in it. At the time, I didn’t really know shit about MZ. I saw the comic, probably for sale on the super-cheap, thought it might be something completely different from what I’ve ever read before, and indeed it was. It can be read as a stand-alone (something you don’t wanna do) but what I also didn’t know was that it was a snippet into a larger story.

Publication order and chronology/read order are two completely different things. The zombies first appear in Ultimate Fantastic Four (FF) #21. By itself, that storyline really ain’t nothin’ special but it was the beginning of something that would go on to be legend. Dead Days by itself was incredibly funny and well-written and that’s to be expected from Robert Kirkman. He’s a damn good writer. After reading it, I let the comic sit in a short box for years (because I didn’t have any long boxes at the time) before I decided to revisit the zombies to get the full story from start to finish and that required some research because I would say online forums and answer sites aren’t that reliable. They all say something different. The Pirate Bay (that’s right, THAT Pirate Bay) had the most reliable read order list. No, you don’t start with Ultimate FF. You don’t even start with MZ vs. Army of Darkness (AoD). Or even the first MZ limited series. Surprise! You actually start with Army of Darkness #13. Who knew?

marvel_zombies_vs_army_of_darknessI’ve learned that sometimes it helps to let big stories play themselves out before jumping onboard because the industry likes to publish shit later on to fill in holes or to capitalize on a book’s popularity after its initial run is complete. Reading MZ in publication order would be convoluted as hell (don’t do it) so I’m glad I was years late to the party. Some comics I had the physical copy of. Others, I downloaded. AoD #13 is essential reading in the fact that if you don’t read it, you’d be wondering what Ash has to do with anything. If you’re not an AoD fan, you won’t get much out of reading the comic as a stand-alone. It ain’t that good of a read to be honest but it does lead directly into MZ vs. AoD.

marvel_zombies_dead_daysAsh’s involvement is question one as you start reading and that involvement only has relevance with this crossover. Outside of that, he doesn’t matter. Question two is how the whole thing got started to begin with and that does get answered further into the storyline. There’s a third question but I’ll dig into that later on. I bought a hard copy of MZ vs. AoD from an online comic shop and lemme tell ya, that book is entertaining as hell! I don’t say that about too many comics but that one has definitely earned it. It’s written by John Layman. He’s good. You start reading Dead Days after reading several pages into chapter 2 of MZ vs. AoD. The two comics are directly related. If you read one, you’ve gotta read the other. There’s so much good stuff in both books. It’s not even the excessive gore that makes the books awesome. It’s the writing, plain and simple. Reed Richards, Doctor Doom, and Henry Pym in particular but Doc Doom’s characterization was what really stuck out. Layman took him to the extreme of his arrogance. All of the art for both books was appropriate and a good fit for the material. There is a trend in almost all of the MZ books where for a few pages, a different artist would take over. Why they did that, I have no idea.

ultimate_fantastic_four_23One thing I noticed while reading these was how underpowered the characters from zombie Earth (2149) were compared to those in the regular Marvel Universe (616). Hulk and Black Bolt being the two that stuck out most. Black Bolt can destroy planets with his voice yet he gets infected somehow? Let’s fast forward to Ultimate FF where 2149 Hulk gets owned by Ultimate Thing. Not just owned but pwned! Such a thing (no pun intended) could never happen in 616. That lead me to conclude that there was a reason the zombie plague spread so fast (which was explained) and did so much damage in that world: these characters simply aren’t as powerful as those in the 616. You do have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to that one aspect. You really do, especially when you start reading MZ2.

marvel_zombies_evil_evolutionWhat are Marvel Apes, you ask? They’re another book that’s essential to the storyline. You don’t have to read all of the Marvel Apes comics. Just Evil Evolution which continues the main story, answers more questions, and summarizes events from the other Marvel Apes comics (which is why you don’t have to read them all). And you know what? The writing quality by Karl Kesel was on par with the other books although it was poorly edited with many grammatical errors. Those errors aside, it was still a high-quality, entertaining read. I bet you’re wondering, by this point, where does Ultimate FF fit into all of this? NOW is when you’d read issues 21-23.

How important is it? Very. Not only do you see an example of the underpowered Hulk pwnage that I was talking about earlier (and let’s not forget how well 616 Grimm fared against 616 Hulk in FF #535) but it leads directly into MZ1 which I managed to get the oversized hardcover in near mint condition on half.com for 4 bucks. Man, I was ecstatic about that shit. That book culminates in one of the most absolutely absurd things you’ll ever see in any comic book. Massively over the top and completely unexpected but that’s what makes it great. You thought the likes of Hulk and Thor were underpowered, well my dear reader, you ain’t seen jack shit yet! Trust me on that. It’s from the same creative team as MZ vs. AoD so you know it’s good.

marvel_zombies_5Oh no, the saga ain’t over. You switch on over to Ultimate FF 30-32 to see a possibly overpowered Ultimate Dr. Doom dispatch some zombies. One thing that was never talked about in any of these stories is the differences in power levels of each universe’s version of a character but if you’re paying attention, you can see it for yourself which is good enough, I guess. Everything so far has been a must-read but Ultimate FF 30-32 isn’t. You can skip it if you want unless you’re a fan of the Ultimate series or you want it for completeness’ sake. I bought volumes 5 and 6 of the trade paperbacks online because they were much cheaper than buying the individual issues. Plus I like Mark Millar. The Namor and President Thor stories were decent although written for a less mature audience. Like Doc Doom, they sure made Ultimate Namor pretty damn strong. But you can check that out for yourself. It’s not called the Ultimate universe for nothing. For the rest of the storyline, I read it digitally. I even bought a tablet primarily to read comic books on it. A 10.1 inch is sufficient for comics reading. Any size lower and you’ll be straining your eyes and constantly resizing pages. I got a cheap Chinese Android one (a chablet) that works perfectly fine although I’m still waiting for tablet sizes to get into the 13-15 inch range. I’m patient.

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Next in line was Black Panther 27-30. It is related to events at the end of MZ1 and it’s a fun ride but it’s not vital to the storyline. I’d say read it anyway. You won’t regret it. What is vital is MZ2. It picks up where MZ1 left off and it’s from the same creative team. You’d think by now the story would be getting long in the tooth but it doesn’t. A particular characterization I can’t mention (because I don’t wanna give too much away) is done so well in parody that you can’t help but laugh at their dialogue. I can’t think of anything to compare it to. It was unique to say the least. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in any comic is within the pages of MZ2 and the image you see below is a tease. When you read it and if you’re not busting a gut when you get to the end of that page, you need fucking therapy! One thing you’ll definitely start realizing is why that entire universe was so easy to become fully infected. I mean, Dark Phoenix is supposed to be boss, ain’t she? Ain’t she? You’ll see.

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MZ Return is the next read and it wraps everything up nice and neat and explains pretty much everything. It doesn’t have the level of humor of most of the comics before it but it’s an essential read that basically concludes the story of the original MZ universe. It follows the classic technique of ending a story where it began. You really don’t have to read anything MZ related beyond these stories but you know you’re going to. I’d highly recommend getting the essential comics from AoD #13 to MZ2. You won’t get bored.

Going forward into MZ3, you could say it’s a continuation of the other books but for the most part it just begins a new series of books featuring A.R.M.O.R. characters from our 616 Marvel Universe (yep, that includes Howard the fucking Duck) and some from the original MZ universe. What’s good about it? It portrays Machine Man as a total bad-ass, I’ll give them credit there. You’ve never seen that character used like this before. And if you’re into robosexuality, you might get your kicks out of seeing Jocasta’s shiny lady parts. What straight male doesn’t? The main story here is about keeping the zombie plague out of the 616 and finding a cure for it if it ever did. MZ3 is less humorous and becomes mostly serious when you get to MZ4. Power differences become evident once again.

MZ5 is completely skippable along with MZ Supreme. MZ5 is mostly a bunch of connected one-shots showing an A.R.M.O.R. team (featuring your favorite Marvel talking duck) collecting samples of different strains of zombieism from different universes in an attempt to find a cure to prevent zombieism from ever becoming a threat to the 616. Now, how come 2149 never thought of any of this? One story even shows zombieism in the real world. Yeah, the world where you lose a quarter tank of gas by just idling in traffic. Where hot chicks have selective hearing. Where ER wait times are displayed on highway billboards. THAT real world. Does the name Superboy Prime mean anything to you? The story was ridiculous and probably should’ve used actors instead of art (probably would’ve been good if they tried that) but it had a good ending.

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MZ Supreme is a stand-alone story with the original Squadron Supreme and showcases its own form of zombieism. I didn’t do too much research into these before reading them because I didn’t wanna spoil anything for myself. I went in thinking it was gonna be a story set in the Supreme Power universe. I’m here to tell you if you’re thinking the same thing that it in no way, shape, or form takes place there. The best thing to come out of the Supreme book was a character named Pioneer: a female who survived going toe-to-toe with zombie Hyperion. Most notably, she didn’t back down from his ass even after he did something we’ve seen in other comics like what Colossus did to a train in Ultimate X-Men #10. The crazy bitch put up her dukes against him and was ready to fight. It would seem that the story takes place during the Avengers Initiative and she’s repping her state but it’s a shame that it seems this is her only appearance in a comic book. Even after seeing what Hyperion had done to the team she was with, there was no turning tail on her part. Perhaps there was more power to her than what was on display in her brief appearance. Wonder Woman-level power perhaps? Maxima maybe? Time will tell if we’ll ever see her again.

MZ Destroy is the last big story and is more of a continuation of MZ5 because it features A.R.M.O.R. and the duck again trying to stop another form of zombieism. It’s like World War II alternative history Marvel Universe style. I recommend MZ Destroy because the writing quality is much better than the other A.R.M.O.R. tales and it does have surprises similar to the way they were presented in Ultimate Power (another recommended read). There are many other MZ tie-in comics with Deadpool probably being the most significant one (and I do have his story arc sitting on my hard drive) but I’m not much of a fan of that character and what happens in it isn’t anything important to the progression of the storyline. I’ll read it and some of the other tie-ins someday but they’re not on my list of priorities.

Remember that I mentioned that there was a third question about these books? What’s the origin of the original zombie strain? It seems to be the most dangerous one but where did it come from or who created it? With such a powerful infection, and after seeing what it did in the Earth 2149 and Z universes, I think Marvel should bring it back and treat it with utmost seriousness in the 616 universe. It should have higher stakes than in MZ3 which should be treated as a precursor to a future, bigger, company-wide crossover. It could be the next event comic. It could be as big as something like Annihilation which was a huge, epic story. I’m okay with them going the slapstick route too; to maintain the flavor of the first parts of the series.

ultimate_fantastic_four_31I feel the zombie strain chose the 2149 universe because it knew it’d be an easy takeover. By saying this, I’m saying that it’s sentient. I can’t talk too much more about that without spoiling your reading but the books do mention how the virus prefers hosts with superpowers and that part made sense. The 2149 universe may have similar characters to other universes but they’re weak and that’s why they not only got chosen but also why they got fucked up so quick. The number one reason they got chosen, in my opinion, is because they had a dimensional portal. To spread itself to other universes, the plague would need backdoor access to them. It certainly would’ve failed if it came full-frontal to the 616 or Ultimate universes looking for a portal but with 2149 characters being so weak, it could gain access to theirs with ease. And if it managed to succeed in infecting 616 or Ultimate, characters with those power levels would’ve made the plague all but unstoppable when it came to infecting other universes. 2149 characters didn’t get the job done for it. Could the whole thing have been an experiment? When the plague got to 616, it didn’t go far. With the Ultimate universe characters being even more powerful than 616, the plague did even less damage. As you read the series, like any virus, it mutates. That mutation is what could contribute to the creation of that big story I’d like to see.

Why wouldn’t Marvel do it? Because they’d just undo the damage like they did with Spider-Man/Mephisto and Magneto/Xorn, for example. Such a plague would certainly kill popular characters and ravage other planets BUT…remember that A.R.M.O.R. was seeking a cure. Just keep that in mind. If the plague has a creator, couldn’t it send the plague elsewhere, like the Shi’ar Empire or other worlds with suitable hosts instead of straight to Earth? I suppose it could but Shi’ar and Skrull couldn’t stop Avengers and X-Men. You know what? I think it’s way past time for a Marvel Zombies What If. I’d really like to see an in-universe story bringing back the original plague but I’d also be happy with a good What If. A few of them actually. One wouldn’t be enough. Anyway, you’ll have your own questions as you read these stories. Get to it and prepare for some hysteria. Once you start reading, you’ll have a hard time stopping. The original MZ universe stories really are that good.

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.