I can see clearly now

Nov. 18, 2008

So it wasn’t really working that well. I mean, it moved back and forth, but it didn’t do what it was supposed to do. Especially when I needed it the most. Like when it rains. It left this big streaky-thing exactly where I didn’t need one. And it’s been going on for years. That’s it, I decided. I knew it was time to replace it.

I’m talking about, of course, the rear windshield wiper on my car.

So in the middle of a huge downpour the other week, I head to the big-box store. I finally find the windshield wiper aisle (of course, it had been moved). Now I’m looking for that electronic box that used to be there, you know, the one where you enter in your vehicle and it tells you what size wiper you need. Well, that’s been moved too. Apparently it’s been moved out of the store.

Now, I’m confronted by the “Windshield Wiper Book.” Great. Ok, I think this is the listing, and I’ve narrowed it down to about seven choices. I think. I look up at the wiper display. There’s a lot of empty slots. Great. The rainstorm is now impacting the noise level in the store. I mean, it’s really raining out there.

OK. They seem to be out of every single size wiper blade I need. There’s no 15”, no 22”, and no 19”. And, it’s apparently no longer possible to buy “just the replacement blade.” You have to buy “the whole thing.” Oh great, this is working well.

I find some more blades stashed at the end of the aisle. Well, here’s one size I need. The other one that I really came in for the rear window? I guess I’ll have to improvise. So I buy what has to be the most expensive replacement blade ever. It’s like 18 bucks. It’s advertised as “curved” for “today’s windshields.” It’s made of nuclear grade titanium, and guaranteed to withstand a Class 2 hurricane. It’s bigger than I need, but, hey, bigger is better, right? And besides, it’s all they have.

It’s a complete deluge outside. I decide I’ll go get some gas, that way, I can park my car under their roof, and replace these things, and stay dry in the process. All I had to do was replace the front passenger side blade, and the rear window blade. Well, 20 minutes later, I was still trying to figure out how to get the old wiper blade off the front passenger side. I pressed in every “tab,” pried every “tab” with a screw driver. No luck. At one point, the entire wiper blade was actually off the end of the hook, but unfortunately, the only way it would move was down along the wiper toward the car. I’m going to have to do this the old-fashioned way – I’ll have to break it. To heck with the warranty.

I picked up the pieces that scattered under the car. The gas station attendant must have thought I was crazy.

On to the back window. Thankfully, there actually was a little tab on this one, and the old one came off with no problem, and I proceeded to install the Class 2 hurricane-resistant wiper blade. I’m sure this will fix it.

Test conditions are perfect. It’s raining and I can’t see a thing. It’s dark. I’m soaking wet. I just spent 20 minutes replacing a window wiper. I turn on the switch for the rear window wiper.

It’s a complete failure. The streaky thing is worse, and now the smear has moved to a worse location. It’s like the titanium-infused blade has not even made contact with the window in the “key viewing area.” I drive home, planning my next move.

Several days have passed. I inspect the new blade. I turn on the wiper and watch it try to clean the window. I scientifically verify that indeed, this is not working. As an experiment, I actually cut up a piece of an old wiper blade, and shove the thing between the new wiper blade and the new wiper blade housing, in order to try and create more tension and window contact on the new blade.

Again, it’s a miserable failure.

After careful thought and further examination, I have now determined that the old wiper is not working because the spring in the wiper arm assembly must be worn out. I guess that could happen in 13 years, and I can understand that.

I check “on-line” for my new part. After 27 million “hits,” the closest thing I find for a mid-90’s Subaru replacement rear window wiper arm is some guy on eBay trying to sell his old mid-90’s Subaru rear window wiper arm. It even has a photo. It’s in worse shape than mine.

I order my part that weekend at a local car dealer. They say it will be in next week. They’ll even e-mail me when it comes in. I can’t wait. I’ve been waiting years to finally see out my window. I ask about installation. “Oh, no problem. There should be somebody here.”

The e-mail comes in. My part has arrived. I’m in a good mood. This will be great. I’ll just drive in this Saturday, and we’ll get this done.

I drive in and pick up my part. The service desk is right around the corner, and a fellow gladly says that yes, he’ll take a look and we’ll get this done for you. So I drive my car to the service bay. And the guy comes out with the same tool that I used to break off the front window wiper, only his screwdriver is a lot bigger. After removing the retaining bolt, I say to myself, “we’re only one step away from replacing this worn-out window wiper arm.”

Of course, I thought too soon. It’s stuck. The old window wiper arm is really stuck on there, and it’s not coming off. Even with the big screwdriver. We don’t want to pry too hard here, for fear of breaking more parts. It seems like an awful lot of prying to move a wiper blade arm off of a shaft no more than ¼ inch long. So the guy with the big screwdriver goes to get help.

More help has arrived. This other fellow looks at the situation, and declares that “there is a special tool that is only used for these situations- the windshield wiper arm removal tool.” He tries to describe the tool – apparently a system of clamps, pulleys, hydraulic gears, forced air-induction turbo relays, and a specialized grid of safety shields to protect the car from scratches. Scratches from the big screwdriver you probably need to get the tool to work.

Anyway, my heart sinks as they tell me that yes, the dealer does own such a tool, but since it is Saturday, the trained technician is not in today, and the tool is locked up in the windshield wiper arm removal tool cabinet. Can you come back Monday?

I thank them and head home. Thankfully, it’s not raining.

Send your car repair stories to jdrake@hoodrivernews.com

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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