The Mad Science of Car Repair: Actually, Frankenstein was the Mechanic

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

I have always needed a truck. I am continually in the mountains, I keep a vegetable garden larger than any apartment I’ve lived in, and I got lost trying to find my way out of the horse business. I don’t really need a nice truck, which is great, because I also can’t afford a nice truck.

When Furiosa the F150 came home one nasty February evening, she was not a nice truck. Her front bumper hung to one side, her paint was chipping, her speakers were blown out, her tires were balding, and her transmission made some ominous clunking noises as you shifted down the gears. But her engine ran great, her electrical was solid, and there was no blood on the seats to accompany the missing passenger side door handle. I mean, I still haven’t looked under the bench seat in back, but, hey—engine is solid!

When I backed Furiosa the F150 out of my driveway the next morning to go get her plates, she was still not a nice truck. In fact, she was no longer a mobile truck. It took a full two hours just to get her to become a truck stuck in my driveway, as opposed to a truck stuck with her dented rear end hanging out in the street.

And so it began.

At that point, I had learned everything I knew about car repair in college from a group of secretive metalheads who hung out with a giant rabbit we adopted as a joke but cared for like a tiny domineering child. With YouTube, a straightened paperclip, an eBay account, and a set of screwdrivers, we breathed life into a small fleet of old, janky cars (including a $400 Lincoln towncar limousine we bought from another tribe of metalheads) long after their times had come.

This was not just auto repair the three-to-five of us practiced. This was science in its purest form, carried out in frozen garages and smoky living rooms by people who had conviction and creativity in the absence of a clue or a budget. The immobile hulk in my garage wasn’t just a huge and expensive inconvenience. It was a challenge to my dumpsterbilly cred and an insult to my competence as a mechanic.

By the time I got Furiosa down to the DMV, there was a whole narrative about her resurrection: figuring out the trouble codes; finding a wiring diagram; learning how an automatic transmission works; learning the history of the E4OD transmission and the F-series; finding the part; finding the part from a discount site; finding the YouTube tutorial for replacing the part; figuring out how to get burned transmission fluid out of your (now luxurious) hair.

Also, there was the part where I realized that the component I replaced was the least of my worries. And the part where I got another hundred miles out of that transmission before it started literally smoking.

It occurred me, as I gave up and saved for a new transmission, that crappy truck ownership is a fantastic hobby for someone in the writing business. Storytelling is an essential part of the auto repair process, whether you’re calling in to a radio show or trying to explain to a Ford forum what’s happening when you try to shift it into reverse. Or explaining to the tire place, without crying, how all four of your tires and two of your friend’s horse trailer tires (which you are borrowing) were mysteriously found full of nails on the morning of a competition four hours away. I got a discount for that one.

As I check off the big, expensive, fix-this-or-it’s-not-roadworthy repairs, I find myself looking for more reasons to spend a few days skulking around the driveway glaring at my truck. When done right, even a simple repair job is a good reason to gather your friends and waste half a day on some high quality mad science. A simple bumper repair, for instance, requires at least four hours of staring importantly at your crooked bumper, and then raising your crooked bumper four feet on a jack, and then jumping on a crooked bumper—no, all of us need to jump on the crooked bumper—before giving up, chaining it to that dump truck over there, and throwing her into reverse hard enough to cause a fender unbender.

I am aware that this is an inefficient process. I am aware aware that there are ways to reattach a license plate frame without involving eight different buckets of bolts and a nameless hydraulic tool from the 1930s. I am also aware that maybe dismantling a door in a junkyard is not the most efficient way to get a new passenger side handle.

But I don’t talk about efficiency around Furiosa. Furiosa does not have two fuel tanks and a class IV hitch so we can talk about efficiency in her presence. She’ll eventually get me where I need to be, safe and sound, with my horse in one piece behind me—and if we’re late, there is always a damn good story behind it.

Top image from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Emily Foster graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She has written and published a variety of work ranging from abstract poetry to Supreme Court briefs. She is concerned that if she lists any pets or family members in her biography, it will somehow cause more of them to appear in her home. The Drowning Eyes, her first book, comes out January 12th from Publishing.


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