QOTD: What's The Worst Home Mechanic Mishap You've Ever Seen?

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
qotd what s the worst home mechanic mishap you ve ever seen

I’d like to think I was hurrying because I had a date, but an honest reassessment of my frantic reassembly of my first car was likely spurred by a need to get to work. I’m sure that after my misadventure, my fuel-soaked clothing and fouled undershorts conspired to keep me from working at the donut shop for a day or so.

Those of us not privileged enough to afford a mechanic have all done it: the cheap, likely unsafe repair meant only to get a car back on the road until time and/or funds allow a proper fix. Some call it a kludge, others redneck or ghetto engineering — depending on which stereotype you find more distasteful — but it’s all part of owning a car on a budget.

Back to my stories, I’ve done plenty of stupid things, like driving on a temporary spare for six months, wiring a muffler back on with a coat hanger, or getting knocked over by something heavy in my garage and onto a five gallon pail of waste oil, which ruined both my clothes and my driveway. Still, the big one could have been much worse.

It was my first car, a gloriously brown 1985 Nissan Maxima, and my dad and I were trying to keep ahead of the various electronic funkiness that came with its early digital dashboard. The fuel gauge never worked properly, leading to the occasional long walk with a red can. I was tired of it. We decided to replace the fuel gauge sending unit, which — naturally — is inside the fuel tank.

Dad was an enthusiastic mechanic — if never a professional one. We always had some sort of project in the garage, typically a British car of some sort or a vintage Datsun, and most weekends throughout my childhood included some garage time. He and I tackled the Maxima with some enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, access to the fuel tank in the Max was below the rear seat, which for whatever reason was unusually difficult to remove. We managed to raise the lower cushion, but the seatback could only be pried out of the way under significant tension. I held the seat up, straining against some hidden bolts, while dad put his hands down into the full tank of fuel to switch out the sending unit.

I also held the old-style “safety” shop lamp so we could see our progress.

Unfortunately, the effort required in holding the seat was too much, or dad moved and dislodged the seat. Either way, the seat moved, knocking the lamp out of my hand, which crashed and broke right next to the open fuel tank aperture.

How the gasoline fumes didn’t ignite is a question I’ll never be able to answer, but that was one seriously terrifying moment.

For inspiration and laughs, head over to Reddit, specifically r/JustRolledIntoTheShop and r/ThereIFixedIt, which are a wonderland of shoddy work and misplaced ingenuity. However, I want to hear your stories. What stupidity have you wrought upon a helpless auto?

[Images: Accord, By Shah rukh khan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Maxima, © Chris Tonn]

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  • -Nate -Nate on Jan 27, 2017

    In my late teens I bought a 1963 Chevy II four door sedan, the DPO was the original owner and God alone knows why he'd plugged the PCV valve with a bit of wood . Resulting in oil leaking out of every joint so I drove it to the local coin-op spray wash , jacked it up with a scissors jack using the cross member and washed it Hospital clean . Got back in and drove off the jack who's now extended 3/8" screw punched a nice round hole in the oil pan . Removed this and puttered it two blocks home and removed the oil pan, got the welder @ work to fix it the next day . I love reading these stories, almost everyone has at least one . I too don't trust other Mechanics because at the very least they're working against the clock, a thing I refuse to do . -Nate

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Jan 31, 2017

    Repaired several engines that the owners overhauled/rebuilt themselves. They did not know that crankshaft bearings come in different sizes, both inside and outside dimensions. Had some car owners want me to correct wiring that they had disconnected. For free. Apparently because I knew how to do it and had the workshop manual. Could not get them to understand that this is a pay for service business. Similar to other tales, a car audio shop managed to drill a hole through the ECM on a,then rare, Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi was willing to sell a new ECM for about $3000 in today's money (this was 20 years ago). The audio shop was relieved when a used one was found for $1000

  • MaintenanceCosts I was reading, bobbing my head along, thinking "$5000 and whatever it costs to throw in a 1.8 gasser and we have a winner," and then you have to harsh my mellow by sharing the seller's delusions of grandeur.
  • MaintenanceCosts They can't keep selling through the current hodgepodge mess of desperate or disreputable dealers. Somehow the sales model has to change. Whether they become the Don Quixote that tilts at the franchise-law windmill to sell direct, or they cut a deal to get into another OEM's dealer network, something has to change.They've always been able to engineer competitive cars when they want to, but they haven't had a reasonable way to sell them since the Chrysler tie-up ended.
  • Sgeffe There’s a guy on YouTube who owns several Oldsmobile Diesel-equipped vehicles, including an A-Body with the 4.3 V6. Might be the Chevy.IIRC, Adam Wade on the “Rare Classic Cars” channel stated that this engine was also available in 1985 only in the redesigned C-Bodies (98 Regency, Electra, DeVille/Fleetwood).
  • Tassos It's a GREAT value, but what, if any, profit will GM make from this vehicle? When it prices it at only $30k, while the much smaller and much CRAPPIER FIAT 500E goes for OVER $40k????
  • Tassos The consumers (not the "market") DO trust EVs, but those that are superior and well-priced,THey buy millions of TESLAS and very few copies of all the other dozens and dozens of LEGACY BEVs.Makes sense to me. None of these experienced makers have YET succeeded to design and build a better Tesla, that is ALSO PRICED COMPETITIVELY.
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