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Article: Rigged and Runnin' -- DIY modifications.

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Rigged and Runnin’

People have been modifying their family car since the automotive industries began. No matter what the car, or its condition, somebody will modify something to suit their needs or their artistic interpretation of what their car should be. On occasions, these changes are brilliant and far better than what the designers could have ever thought. However, there are those rigged up and overly engineered home modifications that can leave the original designers and engineers in shock. Not to mention the mechanics that service them.

It’s amazing how the human mind has such an endless imagination to even dream up some of these wild and outlandish contraptions. They are more than just four wheels and transportation to the creators of the masterful works of art. Although at times, some of these wacky rides might appear a bit unorthodox to the onlooker. Art cars for example, don’t follow any technical bulletins or accepted engineering practices that any sane professional mechanic would understand. Safety and performance issues are put aside for the sake of artistry. Whatever looks good is good enough for them. Whether it’s modifying an old car to look like a cow or stretching a limo so far that it can’t possibly turn at an intersection are all in the name of creativity.

Then there are the backyard engineers who are not into the artistic side of the cars anatomy, but are merely after cheap functionality, no matter what it looks like. Sometimes it’s back to nature for spare parts. Logs for bumpers, wood slats for truck beds and fenders made from a sheet of plywood, just to name a few. Maybe it’s the cost of the repairs, or perhaps there are no parts to be found, so the only resource available is what they have on hand.

But, not all of these intrepid designers stick with natural products to modify their rides. Some use whatever is available at their local hardware store. Bathroom faucets for heater controls, PVC pipe made into shifter handles and things like door hinges to hold a gas pedal in place. Of course, there are the “traditional” DIY fixes that everyone has tried at one time or another. You know, duct tape, coat hangers, and bailing wire. But, we can’t leave out those fixes that seem to generate from the household kitchen either. I’ve even seen repairs made using a fork, knife or a spoon from their very own kitchen to supplement the loss of an inside door handle.

There are those more sophisticated modifiers who still leave me gasping. Like the large wheel rims and thin tires, or the lift kits on a family sedan that leave one wondering how much time these folks spend at their local chiropractor. Others, will spend a fortune on things like huge stereo systems or ultra-bright headlights, but never take in account the load they are putting on the electrical system of the car. Then they wonder what could be wrong with their car when they come into a professional repair shop and tell the mechanic, “I burned out four alternators in a row. So, there must be something wrong with the charging system.” Yes, you’re right. There is something wrong, but it’s not the charging system.

To go to even more extremes, there are the aftermarket modifications for the engine computer control systems. There are all kinds of computer programs out there that can modify the factory specifications. Some are for racing applications, some for better towing capabilities, and some are for street performance. With all of these updates and reprogramming for the car’s computer, you better know what you’re doing before downloading them into the vehicle’s data stream. It’s kind of late to find out your car won’t run correctly or not start at all after you’ve installed some back door program from parts unknown.

Maybe some people are thinking things are like they were in the early days of the car computer systems. Back then it was as simple as changing out the chip in the computer, but the chip has been done away with a long time ago. Now it’s a matter of installing a program with new data and information for the computer to interpret. Not as simple as changing a carburetor or putting in a different size cam. These days it’s all about the electronics.

Just the other day a guy called and told me he has this special computer flash program that he bought to modify his diesel engine. “All you’re supposed to do is download this software into the car’s computer, but every time I hook it up it says there is no communication with the car,” he told me, “But, I had it checked at another shop and they said their computer will talk to the car. They told me to call you and see if you can make my stuff work.” Now, I’m not the kind of mechanic who would pass up a challenge, but I think this guy has a problem with his aftermarket device, and it might be wise to go back to the company he bought it from and see if their little gizmo is having some issues. (Seen this before, been there, done that.)

Whether it’s a chain welded onto the car with a padlock attached because the door locks quit, or a computer modification that might end up as a malfunction it all leaves me just shaking my head sometimes. But my all-time favorite rigged up repair has to be the guy who used an old fashion horn button mounted on top of his brake pedal. This guy had two wires hooked to this horn button and taped them to the brake pedal support arm which traveled up to the factory brake light wires. So, when he put his foot on the button and mashed down on the pedal he could apply the brakes and the brake lights at the same time. Crude, but ingenious. That one made me giggle for sure.

I have to admire the people out there who have thought through a problem and found a way to rig up something that gets the job done without heading down to the local repair shop or parts store. However, as a professional mechanic, I can’t justify repairing anything that way. It’s just not the way it’s supposed to be done. Problems are repaired and diagnosed with a factory manual that explains not only how the system works, but the proper procedures to make the appropriate repairs. When it comes to these home grown modifications on the other hand, all bets are off.

Somehow, someway these home grown engineered cars with all their whatchamacallits and thingamajigs still managed to do the one thing the owner was really after, and that’s to keep their rigged up rigs runnin’ down the road. That is, until it messes up, then it’s off to a professional shop to solve the problem. Will there be some new doohickey added onto a car next week or next year that I haven’t seen before? Oh, you can bet there will be.

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