Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Last Bus Home of Doom

There's an iconic moment from cinema when Indiana Jones just slides underneath a descending door and then, while the door is still coming down, he reaches back and grabs the hat that he had dropped.

On Friday night I didn't cut such a dashing figure.

I was waiting in the wind and the rain for the last bus home. The driver didn't see me and didn't stop because he was following so closely behind one of the very many buses to the picturesque village of "Sorry Not In Service". I sprinted after the bus waving crazily and caught up with it when it got to a queue of traffic at the roundabout – I was now soaked, red in the face and completely out of breath. There was, of course, a waist high fence to stop pedestrians from straying onto the road so even though the bus opened its doors I couldn't step on board. As a younger man I think I could have vaulted the barrier like a pommel horse, if I was even drunker than I was I might have tried. Instead I made an ungainly clamber, one leg at a time, over the barrier and dropped my hat in the gutter. I picked the sodden hat up and got on the bus which was crowded with people who had watched my hopeless escapade.

Richard "inaction hero" B

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Christmas Starts Here

If you've got anything irreplaceable that evokes fond childhood memories, you should throw it on a fire right now, otherwise you'll end up spending your time like I did this weekend.

My family does have some idiosyncrasies, and you're best introduced to them with these two phrases:
"If it ain't broke it needs improving." and,
"How many Bolingbrokes does it take to change a lightbulb? All of them, one to change it, the rest to try to fix the old one."

This weekend it was time for the traditional annual mending of the fairy lights. The fairy lights came from Woolworths, they cost 7 and 6 and were given to us by a dear family friend in 1967 or 1968. Each of the 20 lights had a vivid coloured plastic shade and a screw-in bulb. They don't have a 3 pin plug, instead they go into a bayonet light fitting (For my American readers, this is the UK equivalent of an Edison Screw).

By the 80s the lights were too dangerous and unreliable to carry on with. Each of the iconic plastic shades and the obscure mains connection was grafted on to a new string of fairy lights. The new set had state of the art capless bulbs which were (then) easy to replace.

This year too many of the (now) irreplaceable bulbs have failed, but neither my mum nor I can bear to throw the lights away. The problem with grafting the shades onto a new string of lights is that modern ones have much larger numbers of individual LEDs much more closely spaced. I found a set of 100 bright white LEDs with a construction that I could modify. I first shortened it to 58 lights and then removed every 2nd and 3rd light. I spliced and re-insulated these 80 connections, and fixed the 20 original shades to the remaining lights with tiny cable ties.

I was at the pillar drill for at least half an hour and I listened to 3 albums just while I was insulating solder joints. But I have made a working replica (mockery?) of my favourite Christmas lights.

Richard "R.E.M.E" B

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


I'm not sure that I'd recognise a pair, but there's definitely such a thing as "fuck-me shoes". Analogously I've heard a young woman who was familiar with the term describe one of my colleagues as having a "punch-me face".

I don't know how common the term is, but in engineering a big nut with a huge torque setting is sometimes called the "Jesus nut". I understood that it was because you say "Jesus!" when it finally comes undone.

At the weekend the two terms became muddled. I was working on the same car that tried to bite my finger off at the beginning of the year. I was standing on the brake pedal while the owner was straining against the front hub nut with a long breaker bar. He went red in the face and started shaking before it was eventually freed. Despite my instruction on the traditional exclamation he said the wrong thing when it gave way. He said "Fuck me! That was tight" and the idea of a "fuck-me" nut was born.

The most frightening fuck-me of the day was on the ball joint at the top of the upright. It was on the bench and we had a scissors-type splitter on it. We braced the upright with a scaffold pole and tightened the splitter until we were sure we would strip the threads rather than break that taper. We then started investigating ways that we might be able to strike the taper with a hammer. While we were turning it over on the bench the taper gave way with a loud bang and a violent jolt. My friend was holding it at the time, but he was completely uninjured! Guess what he said?

Richard "Fuck Me!" B

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Renault Clio 197 Suspension Strut Removal

Can I take the front suspension strut out of my Clio 197 at home? The answer is "Yes, I just did it, but you need some weird and wonderful tools".

Give up and pay a garage to do it if, in addition to a normal toolkit you can't lay your hands on all of these:

  • Wiper arm puller
  • 32 mm socket and a good sized breaker bar.
  • Large torque wrench (280Nm)
  • Large ball joint splitter
  • 16mm spanner (an adjustable will do)
  • 3/8 Whitworth ring spanner or 18mm if you have some kind of metric fetish.
  • Torx star drive bits
  • 12mm hex bit
  • 4 Axle stands
The first job is to pull off the wiper arms. No honestly! You're dropping a major suspension component out of the bottom of the car. Start with the windscreen wipers.

Then you can pop off the scuttle cover. There are two plastic plugs with a screwdriver slot, the rest of it just prises off.

Then you can take off the top-mount cover.

I would advise you to soak the 3 top-mount bolts in penetrating fluid at this stage and then make sure you can turn them. They will be heavily corroded if your scuttle drains have blocked (which is a traditional fault on the Clio Mk. 3)

With the road wheel off the car it is quite easy to push the centre cap out. It comes outward away from the car.

The 32 mm socket will fit down the centre bore of the road wheel so you can undo the hub nut with the car on the ground and somebody pressing the brake pedal firmly. It will be done up tight, this is the archetypal "Jesus nut" and you should exclaim "Jesus!" when you crack it. Just undo it half a turn at this stage,

It is now time to jack the car. Don't work under a car on a jack - put it on stands. You need the front of the car a reasonable distance off the ground so I strongly recommend that you put it on 4 stands to keep it level. 2 under the front subframe, 2 on the rear jacking points.

The brake caliper is held on with two bolts with 12mm hex key heads. Don't leave the caliper dangling on the brake hose. Support it on a precarious pile of tool boxes and bits of wood.

You can now take the brake disc off. Once the wheel is off it is only attached by two tiny star drive screws and years of corrosion. Take out the screws and encourage it away from the car with a heavy hammer.

The front suspension is perfectly mundane in that it has a bottom wishbone and a Macphearson strut. It is unusual in that the strut is linked to the wishbone and the entire hub-carrier assembly is attached to the strut on a pair of pivots. It is only the hub-carrier assembly that steers.

There are 4 ball joints to split:
  1. The track rod end (screwed into the knuckle on the hub carrier assembly)
  2. The drop link (Anti roll bar link) (screwed into a bracket on the strut just below the spring)
  3. The anti rotation link (it looks just like the drop link but goes horizontally and screws into the strut near the bottom)
  4. The bottom ball joint (links the wishbone to the strut)
Some of these have 17mm nuts, some are 3/8 Whitworth, and some are 19mm. The anti rotation link has a star drive in the shaft so you can stop it from turning, you have to reach through the middle of the 3/8 Whitworth ring spanner with the star drive key.

Apparently owning a ball joint splitter this small means that I'm a homosexual, but I used a Fischer Price My First Splitter Laser 3525 with great success for the track rod ends.

I also own the more manly Laser 2708 which I had intended to use for the bottom ball joint. The jaws are 19mm apart. As best as I could measure the diameter of the taper amongst all the grime and the rubber boot you need a 22.5mm gap between the jaws. Some splitters have a 22mm gap, so perhaps one of these would just fit.  I opened mine out to 23mm with a file and did manage to split the bottom ball joint with it - and one stout blow from a sledgehammer.

The strut is still attached to the car by:
  • The anti-lock brake cable
  • The driveshaft
  • The top mount
You have to take the entire wheel arch liner out. There are three flimsy self tapping screws and several "fir tree" plastic plugs that you prise out. I bet you destroy at least one of each. The connector for the cable is clipped to the inner wing.

Undo the hub nut and push the drive shaft splines out of the hub. I had a "universal" hub puller and it was nowhere near big enough. Thankfully a friend had lent me a large three jaw puller. I didn't measure the diameter of the hub but it's not small!

You now support the weight of the strut and wrestle it out of the car while your apprentice undoes the three top mount bolts.


The torque wrench is to do the hub nut up again afterwards.

In our case we were changing the pivot at the bottom of the hub carrier assembly. There's a pinch bolt that attaches the bottom half of the strut to the stanchion. The bottom half of the strut is in two parts and held together by three bolts. The teeny tiny pinch bolt that holds the strut to the bottom of the hub carrier assembly (the bit that steers) has a 4.5mm hex key (WTF?) and was impossible to remove intact. The top pivot is a large ball joint and was challenging and frightening to split. We couldn't change the pivot ourselves. It ended up in an 18 tonne hydraulic press and was reluctant to leave.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018


I'm never particularly impressed with them, but last week I was deeply disappointed with the general public. On my way to work there was a large traffic jam caused by a broken down vehicle. The queue had tailed back to the roundabout and caused gridlock, I think there must have been about a hundred cars involved. When I eventually got to the head of the queue I dismounted, offered assistance (without jump leads or a booster I couldn't have re-started the car) and pushed the stricken car out of the way.

How many other people stopped and helped? Not fucking one!

Richard "you haven't just let me down, you've let yourselves down" B

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


My motorbike is trying to kill me. The last set of rear brake pads lasted less than a year and the anti-rattle clips are now misshapen. I changed the pads, put the new ones in crooked and destroyed them when I put the brake on. I cut those ones out and put another set in more carefully. The brakes were wonderfully effective and the bike passed its MOT. Within a few days the brake felt awful again and I was horrified to discover that one of the (two) bolts that hold the calliper on was missing. I thought it was so dangerous that I actually came to work in a car one day last week.

Maybe I didn't torque it up correctly, but I don't think that's the explanation. I think something is out of shape and I was tightening it up pad to rotor, not calliper to swing arm. I've got a new bolt and while I'm frightened that the same thing is going to happen I can't be bothered to take a torque wrench to the back of my bike every time I leave the house. That's fine I thought. I've got a little tube of anti-sabotage lacquer, that'll make it obvious if the bolt is working loose. Of course it's so old that it's gone off. So old in fact that the company that makes it hasn't even existed for nearly three years, and all google tells you about it is what products it has been replaced by.

In other news: I was very disappointed that it wasn't international double-entendre day last week. A young buxom woman was getting out of my car while trying to carry two bags of hot food and four large soft drinks all jammed into one of those compressed-cardboard carries that fast-food places give you. "Do you want a hand?" "I might" she said "These are large and a bit wobbly."

Richard "I'll say" B