Fixing the Truck: The I-saw-that-going-different-in-my-head Edition

One of the interesting things about being somewhat proficient at “building stuff” is that people naturally assume I’m also good at anything mechanical, like, say, fixing cars. (And also that I like watching sports… as if that somehow equates with getting shit done around the farm. It does not.) Let me relieve you of both of those delusions. I do not have the attention-span to watch sports, and framing a house is not even close tuning a carburetor or whatever-the-hell kind of stuff you do to those things. (I don’t even know what a carburetor does, but I assume it carbureates shit, so… yeah.)

Here’s the truth… I’m not even necessarily a good “builder” the way master tradesman are. I don’t possess the patience, attention to detail, or ability to ever find a damned pencil when I need one to legitimately be a master a this craft. At the core, I am a problem solver. And, even better, a problem solver with a stubborn streak. I started out building or fixing things through the sheer force of my will, and after doing it enough times I’ve amassed enough knowledge to do it right more times than I do it wrong when it comes to houses.

When it comes to vehicles, I am a complete novice. And yet, I own this beast:


Let me sum up my vehicular knowledge for you:

  1. Don’t put gasoline in your diesel truck.
  2. (Thanks to my grandpa) Plug the engine block heater in when it’s cold. but don’t leave it plugged in or you will have an effing expensive electric bill.
  3. (Thanks to the comments this post.) Diesel trucks do not have spark plugs, they have glow plugs. Which I actually referred to as “glow rods” when talking to my father last week and I actually heard him blink seventeen times over the phone before he corrected me. Plugs. They are glow plugs. Got it, Dad.

However, I love learning new things and being self-sufficient–and I now own a 20 year old truck–which means that I’m about to get a crash course in being a mechanic.

Lesson 1: Broken Tailgate Hinge

This actually isn’t anything that even relates to the engine, but it seemed like a good place to cut my teeth on truck-fixing skills. When I bought the F250, it had a broken tailgate hinge which made loading and unloading materials into the back of the truck an awkward affair.


It’s supposed to look like this…


I did a little googleing and decided this was the kind of thing I could handle on my own… after all, it was basically just removing a couple of bolts and replacing a hinge, right?

Yeeaaaah... that’s what I thought.

Turns out this was basically waging war on twenty years of rust and stubbornness.

So, as I understood it, I just needed to remove the tailgate by unhooking the supports and lifting it off the hinges…


Sounds easy.

Not easy.

First of all, the tools they use to construct and then disassemble automobiles are entirely different than the tools they use to construct and then disassemble houses. Which means I tried to half-ass this project on Saturday, and then finally gave in on Sunday and asked my neighbor if he had bits I could borrow. (One of the 1000 awesome things about my neighbors is that they have the same amount of auto-tools as I have house-tools.)

Let me tell you about the number of ways I tried to remove these stubborn bolts. Oh, actually? Let me show you.

I tried pushing…


I tried praying pulling…


I tried oils, and magic, and heating the damn things with a blowtorch…


For real.

I also tried enlisting at least one Nugget who seemed eager to help…


After all of that, what actually worked was using a piece of metal tubing to add some additional leverage to the allen wrench…


While it was hailing on me…


True story. And god bless the person who invented hoodies. Thanks, October.

I’ll admit, long before this, I actually legitimately thought removing these rusted-on bolts was a lost cause. That’s right, I believed in “can’t”. I’m still not sure what compelled me to keep at it, other than that I figured at least if I stripped the bolts out I’d know that I’d done every possible thing I could to fix this on my own.

And then a miraculous thing happened…

The bolts turned.

Yes, guys, that’s the big thing that happens in this post– and maybe, sometimes, in life–the bolts turned. And I was able to replace the old hinge with the new one.


And then I put the tailgate back on…


And it worked!


I actually fixed something on my truck!

It wasn’t mechanical, or overly complicated, but I’ll tell you what I know after a decade of DIY… this is where it starts.

With a simple thing that was broken, and now it isn’t. Because I fixed it.

And next time I’ll fix something bigger, and I’ll know more. And later I’ll fix another thing, and in the end I’ll be a girl who builds houses and can fix her old diesel truck too.

(I actually drove off into the sunset to meet some friends for dinner a movie after this.)


That’s DIY.

22 Responses

  1. In a word.. PB Blaster. Get a can. Spray liberally. Have a beer. Come back and the stuff comes loose.

    There’s also these cool little impact tools (manual impact) that you hit with a hammer and is often enough to loosen stubborn bolts. Just used one on set screws on brake rotors. One bang with a hammer (carpentry tool) and it came came out.

    1. As a person that has sold auto parts for over 20 years, I second the PB’laster and an impact driver. The PB is on sale this month at our store. Not sure about NAPA stores around you.

  2. A breaker bar, bitch bar, cheater bar, is usually the best way. Those manual impacts that katz mentioned do work, craftman makes a decent affordable one. I have one but hardly ever use it now because the Makita Impact works even better and is a lot faster! (although the manual impact is still nice to have if the fastener is on the verge of being stripped).

  3. The joy of figuring it out (mostly) on your own, without being told how to do it. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it an adventure – even if it is a small adventure like, “The bolt turned”. How cool – loved this post.

    1. This! That moment when you didn’t think you could do it and then you did and it worked and you figured it out all by yourself! Love it!

      I grew up with that whole stupid mentality of “girls don’t do this stuff” drilled into me regarding mechanical/building/computer stuff. The computer part didn’t stick, but the rest did. When confronted with a problem along these lines, find a man to do it for you! *disgust*

      Now that we’ve got our own 1853 farmhouse fixer upper, I’m trying to branch out of my comfort zone…which is pathetically small when it comes to tools. I recently used a “ratchety type thing.” :/ Most of my successes are similar to “The bolt turned”, but…

      “…this is where it starts.

      With a simple thing that was broken, and now it isn’t. Because I fixed it.”

      Loving this blog for encouragement and inspiration! Also, my awesome husband who is always willing to offer advice or demonstrate and helps me find a lighter hammer, but never belittles my efforts or takes over if I don’t want him to. I return the favor on the rare occasions he picks up a sewing needle. 🙂

  4. You will find when working on your truck or any vehicle, Liquid Wrench and a cheater bar for extra leverage will be your best friends. If you don’t end the day with bloody knuckles, you didn’t actually work on your truck.

  5. Good for you! I love that you call yourself a “problem solver.” That is exactly the term that my husband uses for himself. It is amazing what one can do when determined to do it.

  6. Maybe I am showing my age here but do you remember the old commercial with the song that said…”I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan”? You are that woman!

  7. Like someone above mentioned, working on vehicles is the perfect excuse to buy yourself an impact driver. I know you have room for more tools…

    1. The woodworking impacts and an impact to work on vehicles are a tad different. I have a Bosch impact driver – one that’s designed for woodworking – and it’s useless for mechanical work.

      The “hit it with a hammer” impact is just fine for someone who only does occasional mechanical work. Another thing with impacts…. you can strip the fastener faster if you don’t hold the impact driver at a perfect 90. The hand hammered one only shocks the fastener enough to give it a nudge. After one or two hits, it comes loose enough to not need a cheater bar.

      Ask me how I know….

  8. If the end of the world was coming, You’d be one of my top picks to be on my team! You really are an inspiration.

  9. Totally relate. The handle on my 2005 Ford Ranger broke. They wanted $150 to fix it. I bought the part, a socket and ratchet. Watched a video on you tube on how to do it and saved over a $100. Plus every time I use it I have a little voice inside saying “I fixed that!”

  10. I have a 18 year old Chevy K3500 diesel 4×4 truck. It’s my ranch truck and horse hauler. It has just over 112,000 miles (obviously not a lot for a truck that age). However, something breaks on it almost every week. Body and electrical stuff mostly. Here are some of the things I’ve had to deal with… the door light switch went out on the driver’s side so the cab light didn’t come on. The 4-ways would work sometimes, not others. Same with the turn signals. The tailgate latch sticks, and usually only when I really need it to open because I have something really heavy that can’t go over the side. The sensor went out on the coolant jug and the dash warning would always say “Low Coolant” and this required constant checking of the coolant to see if it was really low, or the light was lying again. The inside door handles stopped opening the doors (first one side broke, then other other side.) The power seat adjustment works sometimes, not others. This past weekend, a “short” suddenly started inside the truck wiring that caused my trailer brakes to lock up off and on. The short is happening even when the trailer is not hooked up, so I know it’s not in the truck and not the connection or the trailer. The power mirror quit working. The accessory connectors (formerly known as cigarette lighter sockets) are intermittent as well. I replace the fan clutch because the fan wasn’t working well. And I’ve only had this truck about a year and a half.

    I don’t mind fixing things, there is so much excellent information on Youtube and most parts are not that expensive. Certainly a lot less expensive than paying the mechanic. Also like you, I don’t mind jumping into something and trying to fix it DIY-style. However, I’m at my wits end because it just never stops. As soon as I fix one thing, another two things break.

    Yesterday I was on Carmax and looking for a newer truck. A Toyota Tundra this time. I’ve been beaten, dammit.

    PS. I agree with all the comments about breaker bars, impact drivers/wrenches and break-free or Liquid Wrench. When you have an old vehicle those things are staples.

    1. With that many gremlins on a truck of that age (and some of them intermittent) look at the ground straps on the vehicle. I had that problem once and the ground cable was deteriorated from Midwest winters. Replaced it (at the time I think it was a $5 part) and everything worked once again. My problems, too, were intermittent (the tach would quit, or the turn signals or horn wouldn’t work and then all of a sudden they did…..). You could also have corroded terminals on your battery/grounds at the alternator or between the engine block and the frame or starter. That little bit of knowledge I give you for free. It cost me a few hundred to find it.

      PB Blaster works to free things, but you need real oil (not WD-40) to lubricate stubborn latches – like your tailgate. WD-40 is a water displacer (hence the WD) and not a lubricant. White lithium grease on the door hinges (bet they squeak) and latches doesn’t hurt either. The spray on grease is just fine.

      1. Unfortunately the tailgate latch isn’t in need of lubricant, it is the rod that goes from the handle to the latch, it’s wearing out at the attachment point… same with the turn signal switches, I can feel them getting soft. Like me… LOL. I’m just tired of stuff breaking, but I am pre-approved now for a great rate on a used auto loan so I can get a much newer horse hauler!

    2. PS: Don’t hang a lot of keys from your ignition switch. It wears them out. I simplified my life and have one key for our house…. and the same key for my daughters – including our gates. One house key. One car key. Bliss.

  11. Great title for your next local cable “fix it” show (I’m sure you’ll have one eventually): “As The Bolt Turns”.

    One day I’m sure I’ll read about you rebuilding the engine on that thing complete with pictures of your grease covered face.

    Til then, enjoying the show!

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I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.