January 08, 2007


As I mentioned, my weekend was extra full of car-related stuff. If you don't want to read about me being a smelly moron, well, you've picked the wrong day to read Possumblog.

Before I get going on this, I offer you this chance to bail out and go on to something more entertaining. Which is a pretty wide choice. So, go on if you must. Nothing to see here but uncomfortable contortions and flammables.

OKAY--now for all both of you who're left.

Car Repair the Moron Way!

Okay, the problem is that early-year Ford Foci up to about 2001 had a fuel pump design that was made for European fuels, which apparently are much cleaner or something. Which is all well and good for those guys--they pay enough for gasoline, so it darned well better be clean enough to drink. But apparently we don't really care that much, and our filthy fuel has enough solids in it to clog up the pump's fine mesh prefilter. Once this happens, the pump has a harder time pumping (naturally) and eventually, it goes bad. Robbing banks, smoking crack--that kind of thing.

WELL NOW, Ford's solution to this was to offer an extended warranty on the pump, so if you have one of those early ones, they'll replace it with a new pump, free of charge.


Unless you have one built after the cutoff date, in which case you are left to the tender mercies of the service writer at your local friendly Ford dealership's service department. And you will be staring at a $500 repair bill. Oh, sure, there's talk about Ford extending the warranty on these slightly later models, too, but when you have a Focus that has begun exhibiting the classic symptoms of fuel pump expiration (bucking, surging, missing, stalling, backfiring) and said car is driven by a teen with no discernable skills at negotiating emergency situations, one has few choices except to repair said uncooperative car.

One could just break down and give someone five $100 bills, which, it being Christmastime, are nonexistent, or one could, with a modicum of technological know-how and a box full of ancient tools, attempt to save four of those $100 bills along with a $50 bill by purchasing a fuel pump and replacing it one's self. (For the truly hardy amongst you, here is a photo of said pump assembly for your viewing pleasure.)

People like this are called "morons."

I am a moron.

SO, back before Christmas I bought a fuel pump from a guy on eBay (and in one of those things that further cements my position as a moron, I bought one that I KNEW was an interim part number model that has since been superseded by a newer part number, because I am not only a moron, but a cheap moron) and after waiting innumerable days for him to ship me the pump, it finally arrived last week.

During this time, a certain Oldest child of mine would not stop asking about the pump, but I was very patient and longsuffering, and only screamed at her to shut the **&^# up in my head. I also took the opportunity to do the necessary research to figure out how to replace this thing--the Internets are very good for this, and best I could tell, it was somewhat doable by the average guy with some mechanical skill. Or me, even. I also thought I should go ahead and get a repair manual, too, since they have pictures and reviewed-by-a-lawyer descriptions of the various tasks.

Believe it or not, everyone noted that gasoline is dangerous. (As this site notes, the vapor produced by one cup of gasoline has the explosive potential of five pounds of dynamite.) So, despite my slightly comical depiction of this procedure, this crap's deadly if you play with it and it's best to let someone else do it.

Unless you're a cheap moron.

Anyway, Friday night I stopped by the car parts place to get a new fuel filter, figuring I might as well change that out, too, while I was being Mr. Burnie McSplosion, and picked up a little pump to use to syphon the rest of the gas out of the tank.

Saturday morning dawned and despite my intention to get up early and get after it, the lure of a warm bed and a hot woman delayed my progress by several hours, but I finally had to say "ENOUGH OF YOUR LASCIVIOUSNESS!" to Miss Reba and tear myself from her hungry embrace. (Actually, the fact that the kids were all awake and kept coming and bouncing on the bed is really what made me ready to start work, but, hey.)

Downstairs, grabbed my repair manual, backed the cars out onto the driveway and set to work.

First thing you have to do is relieve the fuel line pressure, which you do by pulling the fuel pump fuse and letting the car run itself out of pressurized fuel. There's still gas in the lines, it's just not under pressure.

Then, the jacking up of the rear of the car, which really should come after syphoning the gas out. But since I'd never done this particular type of car before, I didn't understand.

Anyway, up it went, and then the jackstands were set, and, uhhh. Hmm. Still not quite a lot of room under there. Got a block of wood and jacked some more, gaining another inch or so, which made ALL the difference in the WORLD!


Okay, finally, up. And, well, hmm. The repair manual says to take off the rear wheels to have more room. I discounted this idea when I first read it, because I figured there'd be plenty of room. There's not. Taking the wheels off would have been better.

Oh well.

Now then, trying to syphon the gas. Stuck the hose down the tank's gullet, pumped, pumped, pumped.


Withdrew the tube and found out why. The tube's not long enough.


Fiddled around and finally figured I'd go ahead and take a look underneath and see what I could see.

Not much, as it turns out. Add to this a certain discombobulation that comes from looking at things upside down and backwards while supine. I'd crawl around, get lost, crawl back out, OOOOMPH myself up with a mighty sit-up, look at the repair manual, try to figure out what I'd seen underneath, read, read, read, look, then crawl back under, all the while hoping that those giant stout jackstands I had in place weren't in just the wrong place.

Gosh, concrete is hard. And gritty. And I am soft, and dim. Not a great combo, that.

Finally got some sense of direction, found the filler hose connection and fuel filter. Got to thinking about some more things. One thing I'd read on the Internet never mentioned it, but the repair manual made a big deal about having to remove the heat shield from the tank, but this required taking off the exhaust pipe. I didn't want to do this. So I unscrewed the heat shield and just bent it down "out of the way." In quotes because it wasn't much out of the way.

Anyway, unscrewed the clamps on the filler tube, and pulled it out. Snapped the connectors on the fuel filter, and pulled the hose. WHOA!! GASOLINE!

Yeah, I know--who woulda thought that!? Stupid me.

Anyway, the fuel filter was removed from its tiny little niche and duly drained of its flammable cargo, aid aside, and the new one screwed back into the bracket.

Time now to get the gas out of the tank.

I sorta half-remembered that there was only about a quarter of a tank left the last time I drove it--maybe about four gallons or so. I got my big nice vapor-sealing, explosion-proof gas can out of the Large Plastic Playhouse that Only Looks Like a Storage Shed (and for once was glad the can was empty) and positioned it somewhere under the car, then crawled back underneath with my little hand pump again, threading the hose into the now-open filler tube hole into the tank. I heard it splash a bit and knew I'd hit what I was looking for. Now, just a few pumps to prime it and let physics do the rest.

OOMph, ughhh, :: skwik :: skwik :: skwik::skwik :: skwik ::SPLUSH!!::

Yeah, baby! LOVE the syphon. ::dribble:: Hmm. I'd thought I'd gotten the syphon pouring, but maybe not. It had stopped after just a second. Hmm. URPH! :: skwik :: skwik :: skwik :: skwik ::SPLURSH!!::dribble::

Hmm. Well, it LOOKS like it should work. I guessed I maybe had the intake a bit lower than the outlet, but since I was upside down and under a car and in a bind and trying to pump a small hand pump over my head, I just couldn't quite see it.

Well, there CAN'T be that much gas in there--I figured I'd just go ahead and pump it out into the can. Might take a few minutes.

UHHGGHH :: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: Whew. I was trying to keep up a good rhythm, but there was no room to really do a lot, so I took to pushing the pump handle with the bottom of the car and pulling down with my other hand. :: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:

By about minute 10, my arms were really hurting, and I had since adjusted myself so that I was trying to pump the thing with both hands out above my head, except since I was on my back, they weren't really above me, but out beyond my head, sorta. But the effect, had I been standing up, would have been of me acting like I was clapping my hands over my head, over and over again :: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik ::SPURSH :: skwik ::SPURSH:: skwik :: SPURSH:: skwik::

So, you know, really I saved money on a health club membership, too, because this was killing my deltoids and triceps. :: skwik ::SPLOORSHGLUG!!!::


GASOLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!! I'd managed to fill up the five gallon gas can with a mighty stroke of the pump piston, and spilled about five pounds of dynamite out onto the driveway to boot. I scrambled out trying to keep from getting it all in my hair and eyes and on my clothes and such, and did a pretty good job at avoiding it. Mostly.

But here's the deal. There was obviously more gas in the tank than I thought. Time for another gas can. Went and got the two-gallon plastic one, and ONCE MORE clumb underneath the rear of the car and started the pump again. This time the syphon action worked, so I didn't get as much of a workout. And, it finally sounded like I had reached the bottom of the tank. I gave it a few more pumps and rearranged the hose a couple of times, and satisfied myself that I was done.


Smells like gasoline around the ol' homestead.

Now. Time to drop the tank. I thought. Maybe. Again, the repair manual had a LOT of things that it said needed to be disconnected, including the lines to the charcoal canister. Except, well, the pictures didn't look right, and I couldn't tell exactly what it was that I was supposed to disconnect and the canister had some kind of cage over it and I was upside down and backwards and, ehhhhh, hmm.

Maybe I need to go pee.

Went and peed and grabbed a meatball off the stove as I ran by, and noticed the clock said it was 1 o'clock. I had now been at this for nearly three hours, and hadn't really done anything.

Well, this thing's gonna come out, and I'm not taking anything else loose. Undid the tank strap bolt and WHUMP, down it came, very nearly onto my soft cranium. Ooomph. There's still a LOT of gas in there. That's not a good thing. Anyway, the tank slid down and over some, with the flimsy metal heat shield holding it just enough to keep it from falling completely out. Which was a nice thing. I could finally see what all sorts of things I should have disconnected, but no big deal, because the Holy Grail was sitting right there in front of me--the top of the fuel pump!

Now to get it out.

It is held in place by a big blue plastic ring, something like what you'd screw onto a Mason jar, with the top of the fuel pump assembly being the flat disc on the jar. In the repair manual, this ring is big. In real life, it's HUGE. I had thought I could undo it with a pair of slipjoint pliers, but I didn't have a pair THAT HUGE. I tried unscrewing it with my hands, but because I was wedged underneath the rear wheel well with a tire and the sill of the car, any attempts at leverage were quickly rendered useless.

As they say in my line of work (i.e., being a moron) if at first you don't succeed, hit it with a hammer.

Which is exactly what I did--took a plastic-handled nut driver and tap-tap-tapped the handy plastic wings on the retaining ring until it loosened and came free. I'm really smart that way, you know.

Off with the ring, and then the moment of truth. Took the lid off and reeeeeached down into the hole and wow, there SURE is a lot of gasoline down in there! I grabbed the fuel pump and gave it a twist--it's held in place in the tank in a small well with little retaining blivets inside that lock onto some small projections on the pump body. And luckily for me, I DID remember the part in the book about looking and making sure which way the thing came out. It has a swing arm on it that is the fuel level sending float and it can only go back in one way. Turn, click, and carefully pull out the assembly, which is, of course, full of gasoline.

Now then, time for some changing out of hardware. The hose on top of the pump needed to be taken off and put on the new pump. I had tried to do this underneath the car, but it required three hands. Outside on the driveway, it only needed two and maybe a foot. Now then, back to the underside of the car and a puzzle.

The new pump had a little circular screen on the bottom. The old one? Nope. Hmm. I wonder if it's still in the tank. "This will require putting my hand way deep in gasoline!" I said to myself. "But you're a moron, so go ahead."

Sure enough, the little circular screen off the old pump had come adrift, and was sitting at the very bottom of the tank. But I did find it. Whew. I stink of gasoline!

Now, in with the new pump, and I carefully lowered it and its fragile swing arm into the tank and, uhhhh, hmm. Which way did it go? Oh, yeah. Annnnnnd, hmm. Try again. Riiiiight, there! Nope. Hmm. There seems to be a problem. I can't tell--because I don't have the tank all the way out and it sitting on the driveway in the open where I can see into it--exactly where the new pump is supposed to go inside. I tried in vain to feel around and not douse myself with gas again, but it was no use. I had to dip my hand in there again and figure out--by feel--the shape and location of the little well and where the little blivets were that held the pump, and then with the other hand try to line things up close enough to make it twist-lock back into place.

Apparently, God was tired of cautiously watching over me and wanted me to go ahead and get finished, because after that, the pump dropped right into position and clicked into place.

But, you know, I didn't know what God had on His mind, so I had to UNCLICK it and turn it and take it back out again, then put it in and twist and click it AGAIN, just to make SURE I had it in the right place and hadn't maybe by mistake done it wrong. I would like to request that in the future God speak directly to me like he does with Pat Robertson. And to be as specific as possible. "Moron," etc.

SO, all back in place, all that's left is to put the pump lid and rubber seal back in place, and spin on the big Mason jar blue plastic ring!


Held the lid in place, and threaded the ring on. Hmm. That's not right. Off. Try again. Down--ooops--cross-threaded. Off. On. Oops. That's not it either. Off. Turn ring. On, too tight--that's wrong. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Repeat for THIRTY MINUTES!!



For some reason--I guess because the screw threads on the ring were so large and coarse, it would get cross-threaded every single time I put it on. I did and undid it so many times I thought--well, I thought bad thoughts. If the tank was only on the ground in front of me, the ring would have just spun right on, I was sure of it.

FINALLY, I managed to get it on the tank straight, and got the rubber seal in place, and the lid right were it needed to be, and it went on without further muss or fuss. Tapped it tight with my hammer and plastic tool, and it was all ready to put back together.

Threaded the outlet hose back 'round all the wires, gingerly hoisted the tank back up into position, fidgeted around and got the tank straps together and held with their bolt, reinstalled the fuel filter and bracket, tightened up the retaining straps, reinstalled the fuel lines, reinstalled the fuel filler hose, and filled it back up with a couple of gallons of gas. Plugged back in the fuel filter fuse.

Moment of truth time.

It's three o'clock now--fully five hours after I started. Five hours spent on a job that in retrospect really could have been done in only a couple of hours, had I known what needed to be done and not gotten all confused and sore and gassy smelling.

I got Reba to come out and told her to switch on the key while I was underneath--I had just buttoned everything back up, but if I didn't hear that tell-tale buzzing of the pump running, I was going to be in awfully bad shape.

I once more crawled underneath the car--"Okay."


"Turn the key!"



::clik:: BZZZZZT.


All is right with the world!

I had her hit it a few more times to get some gas pumped up to the fuel rail, then I hopped up and cranked it. Cranked right up on the first try. Ran like it should.


Friends, there is nothing quite so relieving as having fixed something that REALLY needed to be fixed.

Turned it back off, put up my tools, got the jackstands out, lowered the car, and did a quick test drive to go get some fresh gas and see how it did. By the way, the two gallons I put in it made it go back up over a quarter of a tank, so I figure I left around a couple in there, even with all my aerobic pumping activity. Turns out it was over half full of gas. Oops.

Anyway, it drove just fine--no missing, bucking, backfiring, chugging, chuffing, or anything else.

I might be a moron for having torn into this, but in the eyes of my wife, I am quite the amazing mechanic and manly man. In the eyes of my eldest daughter, I am quite the maddeningly slow cheapskate who won't let her have ANY freedom, by insisting that the car sit in the garage until he can fix it himself rather than take it somewhere, but luckily one who was able to get if fixed (not that it was really that big of a deal) before school started today so that her life is not further ruined.

Hey, one outta two ain't so bad, I don't guess.

Now then, as for the REST of the weekend...

Posted by Terry Oglesby at January 8, 2007 11:30 AM

I'm really, really grateful that my youngest son's Focus is a 2002.

Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) at January 8, 2007 01:18 PM

But should he ever need help...

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at January 8, 2007 01:20 PM

Sounds like any number of similar adventures in moronitude that I have undertaken throughout my days. Its a pity we're not in the same time zone. I gladly would have come over to assist- or at least offer bad advice and hand in tools.

Odd though that Ford went backwards in their design engineering though. My kid's 92 Escort has the tank under the rear seat and the fuel pump was reachable simply by removing the rear seat cushion and working from above. That sure beat pulling down the tank!

Posted by: Nate at January 8, 2007 02:24 PM

Wow...Terry, you are a brave soul for undertaking that job. Reba should indeed be quite admiring of your resourcefulness and skill in being able to do something like that. (If Oldest has any sense she will wind up marrying a guy with like mechanical aptitude, if she doesn't want to learn such herself.)

Posted by: Stan at January 8, 2007 02:46 PM

Nate, it's a mystery to me, too. It would be so easy to be able to reach in under the seat cushion. The Volvo is similar to your Escort--you just pull up the trunk carpet and the pump is right there.

Oh well.

And Stan, I'm not brave--just a moron.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at January 8, 2007 02:50 PM

How did the boys from the fire depot feel about coming down to hose you clean again?

I can't imagine the divine Miz R. allowed you to wash all that 87 octane down the shower drain.

Posted by: skinnydan at January 8, 2007 03:01 PM

They've gotten used to it.

As for showering, the actual amount of fuel on me was very small. It just stinks a WHOLE lot.

Thankfully, after a nice hot shower and a double handful of Suave Green Apple shampoo, I smelled as fresh as green apple scented gasoline.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at January 8, 2007 03:07 PM

Wow. I didn't know you could get gas in different flavors. Not car fuel, anyway.

Posted by: skinnydan at January 9, 2007 07:37 AM

Oh, sure. Sorta like Jelly Belly jelly beans. My favorite is licorice.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at January 9, 2007 08:02 AM