Chicken and the Egg: Car Guy or Pack Rat?

If you’re going to work on cars (or houses, or lawnmowers, or anything else for that matter) you end up accumulating spare parts, leftover fasteners, and random tools from almost every project.  At my beleaguered wife’s suggestion, I’ve named this blog after the junk bins on my workbench that always have the right bolt for the project at hand if you rummage through them long enough.  The question is, does working on cars cause me to save this stuff, or does saving this stuff lead me to work on cars more?

A few months back, I noticed a gasoline smell when I got out of my car.  At first I assumed another car had leaked near my parking spot, but after noticing the smell at work and at home I realized it was coming from my car.  I pulled it into the garage after work, expecting to find a cracked hose or rusted line under the car later that night.  With two little girls and my regular household chores to help take care of, I didn’t make it back into the garage until after 9PM.  I poked around the engine compartment for a few moments, finding nothing.  I resigned myself to getting a gasoline-soaked shirt and slid under the car.  I inspected all the fuel lines, starting at the engine, and still found nothing.  It wasn’t until I rolled toward the rear of the car that I saw the source of the leak: the fuel filter canister had rusted through and was dripping gas onto the floor.  I cursed under my breath, because while I had enough fuel line and clamps to at least temporarily patch a torn hose or rusted fuel line, it was now too late to get a replacement filter.  As I lay on my back and stared at the offending part, it started to look familiar.  I crawled out from under the car and started poking through the half-dozen or so boxes of old parts stashed on a shelf in the corner of the garage.  Sure enough, in one of them was a fuel filter that I had bought circa 2004 for a 1996 Firebird that I sold in 2005.  It looked close, so I wiped my hands and hopped online.  Thanks to the miracle of GM parts interchangeability, a V6-powered 1996 Firebird and a V8-powered 2001 Cadillac use the same fuel filter.  A few minutes later (after soaking the rusted line nuts in penetrating oil and a little more swearing), the new filter was on and the leak was gone.

But why had I kept a fuel filter for over six years for a car I no longer owned, including a move from Kentucky to a rented house in Ohio and then to my current house?  Partly because I’m naturally a bit of pack rat, but also because experience had taught me it would probably come in handy at some point.  Anytime I put something together, any “extra” nuts, bolts, and screws get tossed in the magic bolt box.  Any cheap replacement parts (filters and the like) that I don’t use at the moment I typically keep laying around.  While that means I have t-top weatherstripping for a 1987 Monte Carlo somewhere in my garage, it also means I can cobble something back together when it breaks five minutes after the parts store closes, which is always when things decide to fail.  So while the stack of boxes and bins on and above my workbench perpetually grows, maybe being a pack rat is a necessary part of being a car guy.


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