But, All The Money I Saved

What did I accomplish this weekend?  My plan was to work on the car.  When I last had my brakes done, the service center gave me a list of what else needed fixed on my 10 yr old, 300k mile car.  One item of note was the valve cover gasket.  It was leaking.  The other items were like $3k of work.  But a gasket, I can handle that.  Unbolt the valve cover, replace gasket, bolt cover back on.  One hour, tops.

That’s all well and good for “normal” cars.  The MX-5 is anything but normal.  Changing a headlight bulb on a normal car is popping the hood, taking out the old bulb and putting in a new one.  Changing a headlight bulb on the MX-5 means jacking up the car and taking the wheels off.  It’s utter bullshit.  So listen to me when I say that if you’re going to change the valve cover gasket on an MX-5, you have to take off the windshield wipers.

I started the project pretty optimistically.  I started with the obvious things.  Take off the spark plug coils.  Ok, I can see the sway bar crossbar needs to come off.  Ok, the rest of the sway bars need to come off as well.  Ok, now the AC hoses are in the way, let’s unbolt those.  How do I even get to these back bolts?  There’s a steel panel that has to come off to get at those bolts.  That means I have to take the cowl off.  Off come the wipers, off comes the cowl.  Off comes another plastic drainage piece.  Still no room to work.  Off comes the windshield wiper motor.  Finally, off comes the center plate blocking the access to the rear bolts.



About this time, I was pretty well pissed off.  Every bolt or nut I take off is one that I have a high probability of dropping into the engine bay, never to be seen again.  Every part I take off is potentially one I could either forget to put back or put back in the wrong order so I have to take it back off again.  While taking a break, I refer to the service quote for my car.  How much am I actually saving for this hassle?  $200.  200 fucking dollars.  There’s no way this job can be done in $200 time.  The gasket itself is like $25.

I finally get everything off and all valve cover bolts loosened and the cover won’t come off.  All the videos I saw online, the cover just pops off.  Not mine.  And you’re discouraged from trying to pry it up, either.  My workaround was to run a nylon zip tie through an unused hole on the corner of the cover and pull up.  With a loud pop, the cover broke free.  Finally, some progress.

The gasket was in poor shape, yes.  It was hard, dry, and brittle when I pulled it out, to the point of splitting multiple times as it got pulled.  Replacing the gasket felt pretty good in comparison.  Despite the difficulty of the work, I feel this should have been done at least once before on this engine.  I added the silicone sealant as I’d seen in videos, which differed from the official service bulletin, but was consistent with the sealant residue left on the engine from the original gasket.  After tightening down all the bolts in the specific order needed, I gave up for the day.  That was four hours of work.

The next day, I got to reassembly.  It went a lot smoother and I made no mistakes while fitting all the pieces back in.  That’s not to say it was easy.  The plastic cowl covering the wiper motor and holding the washer hoses was a real pain in the ass.  I know it’s now not as good as it was before, but it’s livable.  And I was left with one bolt left over.  I purposely did not put it back in because it was in a terrible location and only held a bracket for an electrical connection that I had broken off anyway.  No sense replacing a bracket that can’t hold anything.

My initial startup test didn’t show any leaks.  My post-reassembly drive didn’t show any leaks.  My drive to dinner and back presented some slight oil burning smell, but that could be left over oil from the work.  I didn’t see anything leaking around the cover.  The first spark plug well had a substantial pool of oil in it when I started.  I mopped most of it out, but couldn’t get all of it.

In the end, that was over 6 hours of work.  It would have definitely been worth the $200 to have the dealer install it and not have to worry about possibly doing it wrong, nor getting covered in dirt and oil, nor back pains from stretching and bending over an engine bay for hours.  But I did get to use my tools.  They did their job quite well.

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