The Transmission Job: Part II

Andy's Rebuilt Transmission

When we last left our stalwart Wagon, its original transmission, which I’ve dubbed Alex, had just been swapped for a rebuilt unit, henceforth referred to as Derek.  And Derek wasn’t happy.  He howled and crunched all the way home that night, in his best impression of a straight-cut rally-spec dogbox, even though he was a synchromesh transmission.  He wasn’t fooling anyone.  On top of that, a broken wastegate bolt opened the door for a vacuum leak, and it sounded hilarious, as if Tex Avery had tuned my car.  It really wasn’t too far off from one of those spinning party whistles that your mom threw away when you weren’t looking so she wouldn’t have to pay to see a shrink.

Something was wrong.  Here’s what I did about it, and how I ended up in the hospital.

Now, I had bought Derek from a guy named Kyle, who had done the rebuild himself.  He’s rebuilt several of these, but he’d told me up front that he couldn’t offer the level of guarantee that a dealership or garage would.

As I drove back up to his place on Thursday, Derek complaining the whole time, I was trying to get ready to get mad.  This would be tough, because a) Kyle’s a nice guy, and b) I’m less confrontational than a stoned funeral director.  I ground up the street toward Kyle’s house, easily identifiable by the five Subarus gathered around like stable patients in the ER, exhausted and silent.  Kyle’s work is in high demand.

But I didn’t have to get mad.  As soon as he heard Derek, he agreed to a re-rebuild.  It sounded to him like an output shaft bearing, and he was fully prepared to stand behind his work.  I was a little surprised, since he could have easily claimed I’d installed it incorrectly or abused it since or fed it a tuna sandwich.  He could have said anything, and I wouldn’t have had a legal leg to stand on, since it was a private, cash deal.

Instead, he said, “Yeah, I’ll definitely rebuild it.”  Awesome.  He had sold me Derek, but since I had done the installation myself, he couldn’t warranty that, which was fair.  He offered me the same installation deal as he had for the first time, $300, which I had declined because I love pain, I wanted to learn how to do it and save some money.  Poor as I am, I was ready to take him up on his offer, which was a pretty fantastic deal anyway.

Then he asked if I still had Alex, my old transmission, because he could just rebuild that one instead while I rolled around with Derek.  I did.  In fact, it was bumping around in the wagon’s capacious cargo area behind us.

Kyle wanted to take a look at the wastegate bolt where it had broken off inside the intercooler (which I had unsuccessfully tried to mend with bailing wire and zip-ties), so as he was peering under the hood, I grabbed Alex from the back.

A Subaru 5-speed of that era weighs about 125 lbs.  When I’d bought Derek, Kyle had picked it up and put it in my car, no problem.  I’d lifted both Alex and Derek before, too, so I knew I could handle it.

Pro Tip: the rear output shaft housing can be easily capped with the lid of a standard spray can to keep fluid in and protect the splines.

I was careful not to disturb the yellow PB Blaster lid from its place.

Between me and Kyle’s garage stood a JDM-spec 2001 Impreza 2.5 RS, and it was nearly spotless.  I decided keying it with a transmission would make for a bad day, so I went around into the slightly sloped, leaf-covered lawn.

My first thought when I fell was for my jeans.  I’d just bought that denim, (eagle-eyed readers will catch the GAP bag in last week’s episode) and I didn’t want to ruin it.  Then I noticed a certain numbness in my right hand, and realized that 125 pound Alex had driven his flared output shield deep into my palm, leaving a jagged, quickly gushing, three-inch gash.
Andy's busted hand from rebuilding his transmission
By deep, I mean so deep that I never properly investigated how deep.  I suspect that the PB Blaster cap, which shattered on impact, also helped.  Yes, this was the worst I’d ever hurt myself.  A new record.  I stood up and asked Kyle for something I could use to slow the bleeding.  He hurried to get me some of those awesome disposable blue shop towels.

Now I was in something of an awkward position.  Pain and adrenaline were vying for the forefront of my mind, but I knew I needed to get to the hospital.  Nor could I probably drive there myself, since Derek is a manual transmission.  I didn’t want to trouble Kyle any, since he was in the middle of a work day and the last thing he needed was to deal with a bleeding derp.  “Yeah, I think I’m going to call an ambulance,” I said, trying to keep my voice even and wondering if I should release pressure on my hand to go for my phone.

“Dude, let me drive you,” said Kyle, who had just glimpsed the wound and seemed to feel bad about it.  “North KC Hospital is right down the road.”  I think I offered a halfhearted “You sure?” but I wasn’t going to argue with the man.  But before we set out, he fetched a bigger towel, because we couldn’t get blood on the Ambulance.

See, Kyle knows so much about Subarus because he used to own an STi, but he traded it in for the Ambulance, a 2009 Chevy Trailblazer SS.  It was a bit more practical for his profession and growing family, and every bit as tuneable, if not more.  He’d fitted it with a brilliant custom exhaust for the sound, matte black alloys for the look, and a Holley EFI Hi-Ram manifold and a tune for the feel.  Stock, the TBSS makes 395 hp.  Kyle’s turns out around 550.  He feeds it Mustangs at the drag strip.

Andy's Rebuilt Transmission

Needless to say, we got to the ER faster than any other ambulance might have.  The ride was probably the best medicine I could have had at the time, too, boosting my morale considerably.  It’s mostly what we talked about on the way.

Kyle dropped me off, I got through triage, and then I kept up the American tradition of waiting for four hours before anyone saw me.  Finally an exhausted but friendly nurse practitioner numbed, irrigated, and put my hand back together with 14 stitches.

By some angelic intervention, Alex had missed my tendons and fallen right between my bones, slashing nothing but my soft tissue.  And a nerve.  Most of my ring finger is still numb, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the feeling back.  It makes typing a bit awkward, but I’m getting used to it.  I’ll discuss options with my doctor on Friday when I get the stitches out.

I’m slowly regaining use, and I can even shift again, though Derek finally crapped out for good last week, locking up at about 20 mph.

Andy's Rebuilt Transmission - gears
But thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long.  Just last night, barely a week and a half after the incident, I picked up the Wagon from Kyle’s, Alex 2.0 crouching behind the engine and healthy as can be.

Alex 1.0 had shredded himself.  Kyle counted 13 broken teeth in all.  I’m looking at you, Subaru, and my chin is tucked and I’m shaking my head.  You know better.  Hopefully Alex 2.0 will last much longer.
Andy's bloody shoe from rebuilding his transmission
A week and a half is pretty great turnaround for a one man operation, unplanned as it was.  Kyle even moved his fiance (mazeltov!) from St. Louis somewhere in there.  To wrap things up, I can’t thank Kyle enough, both for making sure I didn’t bleed to death and for rebuilding and replacing a transmission for $800 out the door.  He even threw in a new intercooler to fix the wastegate problem.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a drive.  I need to get lunch…or something…

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