Confessions from a (idiot) home mechanic

OIL 2Last week I bought a new car.  The old one, a Honda Orthia wagon is still running well but with over 210,000km it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.  After shopping around on I decided on a Subaru Outback wagon.  It runs great.  It’s probably the nicest car we’ve ever owned.  Anyway whenever I buy a new vehicle I like to give it an oil and filter change.  That way I know when to track the next one (besides that I also like getting my hands dirty from time to time, and it’s a pleasant change from the rigours of day-to-day pastoral ministry). So I pick up the oil and filter from our local automotive store, jack the car up and crawl underneath to find the sump.

I was surprised how easy it was to get to.  And would you know it – the filter was in easy reach too!  My Subaru approval ratings were rapidly on the rise.  I unscrewed the sump plug and out poured the oil into the pan.  I did wonder however, why the oil was looking so red (first clue for idiot home mechanics: engine oil never looks red even if it was changed yesterday.) Had the last owner changed it that recently?  And it was looking a little watery.  That’s pretty high viscosity, I thought.  O well, must be one of those high performance synthetic oils.  Next step was to change the oil filter, which was a piece of cake because it stuck out the side of the sump (2nd clue for idiot home mechanics: engine oil filters always come out the side of the crankcase where the pump is).

The next step is to pour the new engine oil into the motor.  So I lift the bonnet (or hood for you Americans), found the oil filler cap and poured in about 3 and 1/2 litres of oil.  I always leave half a litre for topping up to the right level of the dipstick.  I pull out the dipstick to check the level.  That’s looking a little high, I thought.  Oh well, it will drop when I run the motor and fill the new oil filter.  I start the motor, the oil light goes off – we’re all OK.

It seems.

Time to pull out the jack and the axle stands and move it out of the garage.  So I put my foot on the brake, move it into drive, and guess what happens?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  That’s weird, I thought.  Is this some kind of strange Subaru trick?  You change the oil and the computer trips something?  I tried again.  Nothing.  Except there was a strange buzzing noise coming from the behind the dash.  That DEFINITELY doesn’t sound right.

I had two choices at this point: 1) call the nearest Subaru dealer and ask what on earth happened, or 2) do a google search for an answer.  I choose number two.  It’s quicker and less embarrassing if I’ve muffed up.

I typed in, “changed oil on Subaru Outback and now it won’t engage in drive”.  The first hit took me to a forum and there was the answer from a guy in Albuquerque New Mexico:

Looks like you drained the transmission, then added oil to the crankcase – oil went in the right place, but you took oil out of the wrong place. You need to drain the engine oil (it’s waaaaay overfilled which will cause the oil to foam, etc.) – the transmission is very low on fluid, which is why it isn’t working properly… as for damage, the engine is fine, and as long as you didn’t drive around, the transmission is probably ok as well. You really don’t want to drive it until you fix this. (the oil pan is further forward – under the engine, rather than the transmission )

Whoops.  What an idiot.

Now I have to fix my mistake.  I’m back behind the counter at the automotive store.  This time it’s 5 litres of new transmission oil, a new transmission oil filter (you shouldn’t put the old one back on), a special flexi-neck funnel to pour the new transmission oil into the small (and recessed) transmission oil filler tube, another 4 litres of engine oil (since the last lot is now mixed with the dirty oil in the motor).  Oh – and a BIGGER oil pan since I now have to drain around 8 litres of oil out of the motor instead of the usual 4.  Three hours and $135.00 later (on top of the $71.00 I already spent) the car is running and the oil levels are back to normal.

The joke is definitely on me.   I should have known better – especially with that red oil and position of the sump.  Must be spending too much time at the desk.  But at least now I know what to do next time 🙂




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