Thursday, February 7, 2013
University of Dayton "auto-biography" -- Michael Smetana and learning auto mechanics
January 22, 2013
My earliest engineering memories date back to around three years old. Twenty years ago, when I took apart my Little Tikes wheel barrel, my parents knew I was mechanically savvy. Throughout my life I was always found myself fixing bikes, tuning gas RC cars, or tinkering with electronics. I am a very hands-on person, always have been, always will be. My passion for automobiles was most definitely fueled by my monthly subscription to Motor Trend magazine. I loved seeing the latest features and designs every month. I enjoyed reading about comparisons of all makes and models. This past summer when I started hearing a squeak in my car’s brakes I knew I needed to take action. Replacing the brakes on my 2002 Toyota Camry was my introduction into the world of automobile maintenance.
Aside from the occasional flat tire, changing a tail light, or jumping a dead battery I did not have any auto mechanical experience. I have conquered many DIY tasks such as carpentry, changing electrical outlets, and fixing a broken faucet. Now I had the opportunity to prove my worth as an amateur mechanic.
As I do with every life problem, I began with an extensive Google search to help give me direction. This included reading articles on everything from what parts to buy and what tools I needed. It was YouTube of all places that gave me the most help. There were dozens of videos demonstrating how to replace front disc brakes. Regardless if these videos were professionals at dealerships or amateurs in their own home garage, the amount of video content available is simply amazing.
After borrowing a jack and stands from my boss and a trip to the auto parts store I was ready to begin. I raised the car and took off the front wheels. I was surprised how much my little RC car resembled the several ton automobile in front of me. With my laptop by my side I proceeded to take off the calipers and pads.
Once I removed the old dirty rotor I realized this was the point of no return. The high performance ceramic pads and shiny new rotors went in with ease. That is not to say that there were no stumbling blocks. As I began to reattach the calipers I found it did not fit. My initial thought was I had purchased the wrong size brake pad. I had forgotten to use a clamp to release some of the pressure from the caliper. Although a woodworking clamp is slightly unconventional, it got the job done and fit like a glove.
As I took the car off the jack and started the car I was filled with extreme excitement and nervousness. I had pressure in my brake pedal which was a good sign. I felt like an astronaut about to take off as I released the pedal and began to drive around my Oakwood neighborhood. To my astonishment the brakes worked. I kept my speed below 25 mph just to ensure safety.
As I turned back into the alley to return home I began to smell a burning. Upon parking in the garage I noticed a small amount of smoke. I immediately grabbed my laptop and began searching hoping to diagnose the problem. Operationally speaking, the car was able to stop using the brakes and there was no squeaking so I had completed my task. However, I was unable to diagnose my issue.
When one of the wheels was removed, I found the problem staring right at me. Grease. Wrapped up in all of the excitement that I was able to figure out this once mysterious task, I failed to clean the rotors. I never realized that the all metal rotors absorb so much heat when stopping a vehicle, even at low speeds. Although it was just a few smudges from my mechanics gloves, it was enough to start smoking when heated. Luckily I had some brake cleaner and was able to clean the rotors and solve the problem. I had completed my journey, my brakes were brand new.
This was such an amazing project. Although this is a task that is done thousands of times a day around the world, it was a life changing experience for me. It has given me the confidence to do future maintenance such as changing the oil and replacing spark plugs. I am also filled with a sense of pride. Many of my peers could barely use a screw driver let alone attempt something like this. I feel as though I have learned a dying craft. The stereotypical American family with the father working on the car in the family garage is slowly drifting away. I am glad to know that will not be the case in my family’s garage.