There come times in your life when you have to make difficult choices. Many times you can see these crossroads on the horizon, gather information about your options, and make an informed decision. Years later, when looking back on the chosen path, one will often smile inside with the satisfaction of knowing that the correct resolution was reached and life was better for it.
Climbing out from underneath my BMW 325, I was recently faced with just such a dilemma. I am in the process of rebuilding the rear subframe with new bushings, shocks, and springs. Normally, this isn’t such a terrible task. (Normally, the fist-sized metal & rubber subframe bushings don’t break off inside the chassis, during the removal process either.) It took me nearly an entire week’s worth of evenings to get the broken bushing out of the chassis. Trying to do the job right, and since the subframe and rear trailing arms were off the car, I decided to give them a quick coat of semi-gloss black paint to freshen up the underbelly a bit. Things were starting to look up.
While I was at it, I decided to plumb in braided stainless steel brake lines in an effort to improve the mushy pedal feel that this car has always had. Unfortunately, when connecting these braided lines to the solid steel lines clipped to the chassis, the rust broke free from one of the hard lines and squirted a pint of DOT 4 brake fluid all over the freshly repainted components I had just spent a week installing. For those unfamiliar with the black magic of brake fluid, it has two defining characteristics: 1) an extremely high boiling point, which makes it resilient to the heat produced in a braking system; and 2) an equally effective role as a paint stripper.
To say that I was not pleased would have been a gross understatement. As I traced the source of the leak, I saw that the line terminated well above the differential in a place easily accessible just a week ago. With everything now back in place, I found myself wishing I were a bit more like Vishnu as I tried to weave my arms through a matrix of brake lines, drive shafts, trailing arms, parking brake cables, and exhaust tubing in order to reach that one elusive fitting. Once reached, it only took 5 seconds to realize that it was seized and a torch would be my only hope in freeing it.
Two more evenings spent heating and cooling. Two more days spent soaking it in penetrating oil. Many, many hours were wasted on this one little fastener. I was faced with a decision: do I keep trying or do I undo all the work I’d just completed and drop the entire rear end of the car to gain access? I made my choice: one more budge. If it doesn’t come off, I will be forced to undo the just done. I took a deep breath, paused, then gave a big heave.
I could not believe my ears. It moved!!! Only 54 more turns with the Vise-Grip and the line was off of the car. I then proceeded to take the faulty line to seemingly every auto parts store in the county to find a replacement section that I could bend like the offending unit. After 2 days, I found the correct pipe in stock at the third Advance Auto store I tried. I bought two.
I carefully bent the new pipe to the best impression of the original I could. After several trials and errors, I finally got it to fit. Slathering the threads and sleeves of the pipe fittings in Anti-Seize paste to prevent the same trouble in another 25 years, I tightened everything up; I then pressure-bled the lines. A good, firm pedal is what I was rewarded with! My car finally felt like the precise German machine I was hoping to bring out with these upgrades and maintenance. All the hard work and frustration had finally paid off.
Unfortunately, that payoff period only lasted a few pedal pumps. Giving a firm foot, it plunged to the floor and I could hear the sound of fluid spraying everywhere. Back up the lift it went. My heart sank as I saw another pint of fresh brake fluid preparing to eat its way through more layers of paint. Another hard line had ruptured due to the unstoppable march of rust; another task to add to this endless project.
Another difficult decision was upon me. Which fork in the three-pronged road shall I take? Do I attack it in the same manner, through the maze of obstacles? Do I unbolt the entire rear of the car again? Or, do I burn the car to the ground and collect the insurance money?
These choices can be so very difficult sometimes.