Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Tribute To My Dad: Fixing Our Van

This is a blog post I wrote on Melanie's blog in February 2009 but since I have my own now I thought I'd copy it over to mine.

There is always a first. And true to that saying here I am breaking into my wife's blog to finally post a thought that has been on my heart for many years.

Let me set the stage. This one particular chain of events all started last week when we bought a new van. Even though we weren’t expecting any major repairs coming up with our new van (2004 Chevy Venture) we knew there was going to be some minor upkeep.

One of the first things I noticed when taking it for a spin was that the windshield wipers would not retract completely when turning them off. Apparently (so I found out later) this was a quite common occurrence with that kind of vehicle and I gladly accepted the challenge of getting to the bottom of this.

A day later I took some time to poke my head under the hood and wanted to see what the actual cause was. My suspicion was (and a mechanic at Canadian Tire echoed my suspicions) that there was something wrong with the wiper motor. However, once I looked at it more closely I realized that it was actually the mechanism between the motor and the wipers that withdraws the wipers completely, called the wiper parking gears that was to blame.

Before I can continue I have to go into some greater detail of how Chevrolet decided to engineer the wiper mechanism. First thing you’ll see when turning on the wipers on is that they come up just about 6 inches from where they were “parked” and then continue doing their job always returning to their “un-parked” position until you turn them off when they return all the way down to their parked position. The way the mechanical aspect works is via the above mentioned wiper parking gears. This is what the mechanism looks like:

Once I removed the mechanism I noticed that on my part the little spring holding the rocker arm in its proper position had been broken off. When parking the wipers the motor actually reverses its direction and this rocker arm catches on a metal tab and activates the cam sandwiched between the metal plates. This increases the angle of the wipers and pulls them back all the way down to their parked position; pretty genius, when it works.

So back to why I’m writing this entry. Many positive things in my life I attribute to my dad and his wisdom. One particular pearl he taught me is that nothing is impossible if you set your heart to it and are persistent enough even when the situation seems hopeless.

I don’t know when I learned this particular and very valuable lesson from my dad. I don’t think he ever sat me down and taught me with those words but instead I think it came with years of observing him using his creativity to fix things, invent tools that would make his job easier and having the endurance to keep going until he found a solution to a particular challenge. Of course he taught me how to weld, cut trees, fix motorcycles, build roofs or even plant a garden, but he also taught me more subtle lessons, the most valuable ones any father could teach his son and the ones I’m most grateful for. Those are the lessons that will be passed on to the next generation and to the generations after that and become his legacy.

Anyways, I called GM to find out how much a replacement mechanism would cost and was shocked to hear that it was gonna be almost $200 bucks so I called a used parts shop and they had one for about $70 which was still a lot considering that on the part I ended up buying from them the little rocker arm and spring were heavily used and quite loose but I picked it up anyways just in case I couldn’t find any other way to fix the one that was broken.

Here is a picture of where the parking mechanism belongs: It is mounted on top of the wiper motor and then the arm which goes to the wipers attaches to that mechanism. The motor turns the parking mechanism clockwise which creates a back and forth motion via the arms that go to the wipers. These arms are called the wiper transmission (I just found that out a couple of days ago). Oh yeah, I should mention that I have never taken apart a wiper mechanism before, had no idea how it all worked so if I accidentally get some descriptions wrong that would be the reason why. But for the most part I think I figured out how it all works together to make the wipers work.

So here I was racking my brain on how to replace that little spring (see the 3rd picture). Not only was that little rocker arm less than an inch in length, but one of the first thing that happened when trying to “fix” it, the little arm came off so now I had to figure out how to re-create the spring as well as figure out how to make some sort of holding mechanism that keeps the arm and spring in its place. That was two days ago.

Today, Melanie left with our son to go for a visit with his grand parents in Halifax for a few days and I figured it would be a great opportunity to spend some quality time in my shop taking on this challenge. After having taken the part off the motor and went digging through the garbage to find the little rocker arm because I had thrown it out a couple of days ago (I wasn’t planning on fixing the broken part but rather simply replacing it). I started by welding a little angle bracket to the bottom of the wiper parking mechanism to hold the little rocker arm into place.

Now came the challenge of the spring because it had to hold the rocker arm in a very specific position so that it would catch the tab when shutting off the wipers. Here’s a picture of how the rocker arm is supposed to catch on the tab to engage the oval cam, extending the arm and parking the wipers:

But before I could get to replace the spring I ran into another problem. When welding the angle bracket, I melted a washer that held the whole mechanism together. So I figured I might as well take it apart completely and give it a good clean with a wire brush. This is what it looked like before…

…and after the cleaning:

After I put it all together I wound the spring around the rocker arm; this took a good 20 minutes or so.

I put it all together and it worked like a charm but it made a little clicking noise because of the spring in the middle picture above so I decided I wanted to clip it off but what I did not realize was that the little rocker arm was made out of aluminum and was not very strong. Because of the pressure I put on the rocker arm, just before I thought I was done for the night, it snapped in half and I was ready to throw the whole assembly into the garbage and declare the night a waste of time and or at least a partial failure. But because I did have fun so far I decided to keep going. This is what it looked like after I put it together but just before I broke the rocker arm:

I remember the many times I’d watch my dad trying to fix something just to be surprised by some other mechanical misfortune. But he always kept going when that happened and didn’t give up until he conquered that problem so I decided, since I had no other obligations, to continue as well and see what I could do about the broken rocker arm that now looked like this:

Off I went to my box of scrap metal to find a piece that was exactly 2mm thick and stronger than the cheap cast aluminum. I found a piece and traced it using the old broken rocker arm and then cut it out with the angle grinder and bench grinder.

Here was the replacement for the broken rocker arm but I still had to put it all together, re-do the spring and secure it with the washer that I had partially melted before. After it was all back together I simply had to install it on the wiper motor, put on the cover and I had successfully completed my mission.

After having spent many hours in the shop I can proudly say that I successfully fixed my old wiper parking mechanism and will be able to return the one I bought at the used car parts place. I did have to ask myself the question though: Was it worth it all just to save $70 bucks? The answer is unequoviqually "Yes, it definitely was"! Overall I probably earned/saved $15 bucks an hour for my time in the shop but it wasn’t about the money anyways, it was about the challenge and proving my dad right in that YES, anything is possible when you set your heart to it. But having saved the $70 bucks will come in handy since I can now go buy myself a tool or something else for my shop. I don’t know yet what it will be but I’m sure I will find something quite easily once I walk through the doors of Princess Auto or Canadian tire…
Dad, it is because of your persistence, patience and positive outlook on challenges like these that I dared to tackle this particular repair problem. I will always look up to you, admire you and thank God for having brought me into your family. I could go on for a lot longer, telling of all the wisdom you have taught me, but instead I will use your gentle kindness as an example to instill the same wisdom, kindness and patience into my own son so that maybe one day he will be able to look on a challenge and say: Nothing is impossible when you set your heart to and don’t give up. Dad, I love you.

After over 2 years, the mechanism is still working as it's supposed to


About 4-5 hours



mel said...

i would be lying if i told you read this. i didn't the first time and i didn;t this time

ha!! i love you and your details!

Shannon said...

If Mel hadn't made that comment, I probably would've skimmed this without any guilt, made my comment and gone on with my day BUT after seeing that Melanie didn't read this whole post, I felt obligated to! hahaha, thanks Mel! ;) I am sure we would have long, boring, never-ending conversations if we ever ended up in the same room for very long… I too am very descriptive. I'm sure Jeremy and Mel could discuss the same things in short syllables, having their conversation last 1/10th of the time, and over cookies or something, no doubt ;) You guys rock! Love the tribute to your Dad!

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