Saturday, July 15, 2017

Enough frustration for one day

Installing new brake pads made me ambitions. "There are other maintenance issues I could take care of myself. Yeah!" So I ordered shock absorbers, spark plugs and a serpentine belt. I consulted my service manual and watched some videos. I was informed. I was ready. I was eager.

First on the list, replacing the serpentine belt. Move the radiator overflow tank aside. Remove the air filter, mass air flow sensor and ducting. Use a 15mm wrench to lever the belt tensioner aside and slip the belt off of it. Wiggle the belt off the various pulleys and pull it out. Done. Inspect the belt. Hmmmm, it had a little life in it but it was good to change it now. Go to the box of parts and...

Lesson Number One when ordering parts: Make sure they're actually in the box before starting work.

The new serpentine belt wasn't in the box. I checked the packing slip. The belt hadn't been included. I went online and reviewed my order. Oh. The belt is shipping separately from a different warehouse. It's supposed to arrive Monday.

So, put the old belt back on.

Lesson Number One when (re)installing a serpentine belt on a Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana: You can't really see what you're doing. Is the belt around the correct pulley down there? Is it looped the right direction? Is it properly aligned? Why is there so much slack? I scooted under the van to check what was going on. I got things going the right way on the bottom set of pulleys, but, of course, I couldn't reach the top part of the belt from there. And if I let go of the bottom part, the belt wanted to go somewhere other than the correct way.

"Forrest! Can you give me a hand for a minute?" He could, and a couple of seconds later we had the belt reinstalled.

Okay, the serpentine belt would have to wait. But I could change the spark plugs.

Changing plugs on a van is a royal pain in the ass rather inconvenient. The engine is set back, or the cab is set forward. Or both. Anyway, it's not just a matter of opening the hood. One way to get to the spark plugs is to remove the engine cover that's under the dash and between the seats. In order to remove it you need to disassemble part of the dash. And it helps to remove the seats (or, in my case, a seat and a refrigerator). And in order to have enough working room, the drink holder/storage bin assembly should be removed from the engine cover.

I got this far, with all the bolts and clips unfastened, yet the cover wouldn't budge. I consulted the manual and videos again. Yup, I'd done everything right, but the cover refused to move. I pried at it a little. Nothing.

Then I had a very important thought: If this is going to be hard to get off, it could be hard (or harder) to get back on. Properly. The first time. Without leaks. Without fumes. So I cleaned everything up and put it all back together.

According to my manual, there's another way to access the spark plugs. Jack up the front of the van, remove the wheels, then remove the inner fender liner. Ten bolts on each side. Then the side of the engine and the plugs are right there smiling at you. (Supposedly. The manual hadn't said anything about the engine cover not budging, so I'm a bit skeptical about this method, too.) If the Rolling Steel Tent's spark plugs had ever been replaced during its pre-nomadic life, perhaps this is the way it was done. Because I don't think the engine cover has moved since the van left the factory in Missouri ten years ago.

I haven't tried the through-the-fenders method yet. I was sweaty, dirty, pissed off and tired. I'll need to jack up the front and remove the tires when I replace the shock absorbers, so I'll do the spark plugs then. And I'll do the shocks after the serpentine belt is here. Monday. Later. MaƱana. Right now I'm going to shower, have lunch, take a nap and find my mental happy place. It had better not be under the engine cover.


  1. Not being a mechanic but can read and watch enough to do most general maintenance on my vehicles, THIS POST sounds identical to the stuff I go through almost every time. "Murphy" is standing nearby as I try to work laughing his ass off.

  2. Oh Alan...I laughed til I snorted!!! Maybe one day you'll look back on that blog entry & be able to snort as well.