Corner Wrench: Repair hacks you won’t find in the shop manual

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When trying to repair your own vehicle with your own money it can be very frustrating when you hit the roadblock of having to replace a large assembly just because no one offers the small part you actually need. Worse yet, that assembly may no longer be available for older vehicles, and you’d be surprised at how quickly certain carmakers will drop components on vehicles as young as 5 or 6 years old. But if it’s a winter beater or a second car, you might want to tackle the problem with some hacks.

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Heater system blend (duct) doors are mostly serviced only with a heater box assembly, for example. So for the lack of a cheap door repair kit, you may be faced with shelling out $700 or much more for a new part. Used units may be available, but salvage yards usually price their parts at half the cost of new and will also take into account the amount of time it takes to remove the unit from a wreck. In the case of a heater box, that can push the price even higher as complete dash removal is required. But what use is a vehicle when you can’t warm the passenger cabin, or set the air controls to defrost the windshield? If the door that’s causing the trouble is still in place, you can lock it into a neutral position between floor and defrost settings with a couple of well-placed screws. You won’t be able to adjust it, but at least it will be safe to drive. For a temperature control door, you can set it to full heat for winter with the same hack, then switch it back to cooler air in the spring. If the doors are electrically operated, pull the plug on the actuator.

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When engine drive belt pulleys fail, it’s usually caused by a bearing fault and while most pulleys are relatively cheap, the ones attached to tensioner units can get pricey. Just about any external bearing on a vehicle will have its maker’s name and ID number stamped on it. So if you can press out the bearing you can usually get a replacement for a fraction of the cost of the pulley. The same applies to AC compressor and alternator bearings.

But how can you hack an automotive computer? A big surprise to many DIY techs comes when they discover that some simple function like turn signals or power door locks have their controls funnelled through a computer module. Certain Ram pick-up truck owners are finding this out when they trace some mysterious exterior light or wiper problems to an under-hood fuse block equipped with circuit boards. These units seldom run under $1,000 new, if they are available at all. But equipped with some wiring schematics and some patience, you may be able to reroute the wiring around the problem area with what techs refer to as the overlay method. It might seem like a lot of trouble, but it beats scrapping a vehicle.

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