•Q. I read somewhere that you started out with a garage that people could go to and work on their own cars. I’ve often thought that I would like to start a shade-tree garage where people like myself, who live in apartments, could go to fix their cars and hang out with other like-minded car guys. Any suggestions for where I should start? I’ve been looking for a garage to rent, but I could use any tips you can lend. Thanks.•
TOM: Well, first collect a great big pile of money. Then, if you don’t want to spend the time actually starting your own do-it-yourself garage, just throw a match on it.
RAY: We thought this was a great idea, too, back in the day. We saw ourselves standing around in white lab coats, rocking back and forth on our heels, while all around us people rented our space and our tools and worked on their cars.
TOM: Then, according to the plan, we’d simply roll the wheelbarrows full of money out the door every night and close up.
RAY: It didn’t work out that way. It just wasn’t a sustainable business idea for us, and that was in the era before massive computerization, when the average guy could actually fix his car.
TOM: So I think you should approach this as more of a hobby idea. Start by using Facebook or the Internet to try to identify people in your area who would be interested in tinkering with their cars and hanging out if a facility were available.
RAY: I’d think of it more as a club. You can call it the Rusted Nuts Club. On second thought, make it the Rusted Bolts Club. Then you can brainstorm with your new friends about finding a place you can use once a week or once a month.
TOM: Maybe someone has an outbuilding you guys could use. Or maybe someone knows a guy with a garage who’d be willing to rent it out to you in the evening, when his shop is closed. Of course, you’d have to solve the liability issue, because no insurance company in its right mind would insure this guy’s shop if it included a gang of beer-drinking tinkerers who came in at night to play with the lifts and the acetylene torch.
RAY: If that doesn’t work out, the armed forces maintain “Hobby Shops” on bases around the country where its active and retired personnel can work on their cars.
TOM: Of course, getting access to those shops requires a four-year commitment. But that might be less time than it’d take you to pay off the debt you’d run up by outfitting a garage that fails. Good luck!
•Q. Our mechanic states that the heater in our 2000 Ford Focus sedan is clogged. He says there is nothing he can do, since attempts to unclog it by shooting air through it would cause damage to the whole system if the inside is corroded. Is there a way to put an auxiliary heater vent in the inside of the car? Do you have any suggestions?•
TOM: How ’bout a hibachi?
RAY: No, don’t do that. I’d have to disagree with your mechanic. I think flushing it out is worth trying.
TOM: The easiest thing to do is simply reverse-flush it by hooking a hose up to the heater core and pushing water through in the opposite direction from how it usually runs.
RAY: You also can start by adding a chemical flush to the entire cooling system and, after letting the engine run and the coolant circulate for a while, you can drain that out and then reverse-flush the heater core with clear water.
TOM: Finally, you can blow compressed air through the heater core. You want to follow that up with a flush in case you loosen any crud that could flow into the rest of the cooling system (that’s probably what your mechanic is worried about). But the truth is, as long as you flush the heater core well, you have very little to lose by trying.
RAY: In the worst-case scenario, you damage the heater core and cause it to leak. If that happens, you’ll have to replace it. That’s an expensive pain in the neck, because it’s up under the dashboard. But that’s probably what your mechanic is suggesting that you do now, anyway.
TOM: So why not try the easier, cheaper stuff first? To be honest, we find that flushing a plugged heater core works in only about 40 percent of cases. But that 40 percent of car owners leave the shop feeling happy and “flush” themselves, so we think it’s worth a try. Good luck.
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