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My Adventures with Brenda - Chapter 5

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Case Studies
Throwback to December 2018

If you haven't read the first installments of my Adventures with Brenda so far you can find them here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

It’s fair to say, December was not the time to be working in an unheated garage or outside on your driveway… especially if you live in Lancashire. It was cold, dark, windy and, more often than not, raining. I tried to heat the garage with one of those portable electric fan heaters but since there is no insulation and big gaps beneath the doors which allows wind to come in, unless I was working three inches from the heater, it was just a waste of electricity. I resigned myself to just being cold.

I finally finished the tearing down of Brenda. This means there are no more bits of car still bolted to the old chassis for me to remove - woo hoo! I think (fingers crossed) I have removed the last of the corroded bolts and from here on in, I’ll be mostly reassembling lovely clean, freshly painted bits with brand new shiny bolts that aren’t seized. No more dirt dropping in my eyes, no more disintegrating bolt heads, no more scraping 20 years of oil, grease, dirt and decay away to reach that one last bolt!

The last part of the tear down was the axles. The axles (the bits your wheels attach to) are supposed to be attached to the car via the springs, shock absorbers and swing/link arms. I say 'supposed to be attached' for reasons that will become clear...

I removed the axles by disconnecting everything from the chassis and rolling the axle out with the springs, shocks and link arms still attached thinking that once it’s off the car, I won’t have to work in awkward spaces around the chassis. Once the springs were unbolted from above, one of them simply fell off… strange. The axle has a cup for the base of the spring and two bolts through a spring retainer (a five inch bar) hold the spring in place. The entire bar had rusted away to nothing and only the base and spring rusting themselves together had been keeping it in place. Had the rust failed while the car was driving (a real possibility), the front of the car would’ve simply collapsed…

I was slightly alarmed by this since I had driven Brenda around for a few days before starting working on her but more importantly, the previous owner regularly drove his kids around in her. I’d have thought this would be picked up in an MOT and the retaining bar replaced (they’re £1.64) but apparently not.

I began unbolting everything else and all was going well until I came to unbolt the lower link from the bracket on the chassis. The nut wouldn’t budget so given all my previous experience, I naturally assumed it had seized. I took a closer look as I prepared to utilise our old friend the grinder to remove the nut. It hadn’t seized, the nut and bolt had been welded on. Very strange.

When I examined the bracket properly, it appeared it had corroded so much that the link was no longer secured. To remedy this, someone had tack-welded a washer to what remained of the rusty bracket and then tack-welded the nut and bolt to the washer. A 'tack-weld' is where you have a little pea sized blob of molten metal to hold two bits together before you weld them properly. Tack-welding is generally a temporary thing and is never used (by anyone with common sense) to carry any load. Any weld is also pretty much useless if you try and weld metal to rust. I checked the other side and they’d done the same there too. Had either of these failed (or both!), the axle and wheels would have had nothing holding them in a straight line… what would have happened if this occurred at speed doesn't bear thinking about!

What baffled me most about this was the cheapness of the 'repair'. The person responsible obviously had a welder. All they had to do to do a proper job was buy replacement brackets (£11 each), cut the old ones off (with our old friend the angle grinder!) and weld the new ones on. It would literally have taken an extra 30 minutes. And how on earth this was not picked up on an MOT is beyond me!

You may think this is pretty shocking but the last bit of ‘bodging’ I came across was the most alarming. The the front swivel balls are metal balls that allow your front wheels to turn so you can go around corners. The wheel bolts to the outside and each wheel is supposed to held in place by two thick metal pins that allow it to pivot but remain attached to the car. Such is their importance, these pins are held in place by two bolts each (for safety).

I found that one of the bottom pins had sheared. A previous owner must have known of this as someone had made a 'repair'. Rather than buy a new pin (£19.50 for two) they chose to make a repair by smacking the remnants of the pin with a punch to put little dimples in it (thereby increasing its diameter ever so slightly), then shoving it back into the bearing and hoping that friction would keep it there. A teeny little shard remained from when the pin shearing off and friction was all that was holding the wheel and the pin together while the car bounced down the road. If this failed, which it certainly would have done at some point, one of two things would have happened;

1) Without any warning, the remains of the pin would have fallen into the spinning drive shaft and locked it (and the wheel) completely. If this happened at speed, the car would likely perform an impromptu pirouette in the middle of the road and/or roll over.

2) Without any warning, the teeny little shard could fail or the pin slip slightly. The effect of this would be that the wheel and the car would no longer be attached. The wheel would then be free to go off and do its own thing… like exploring the countryside or wandering off down the road and squashing pedestrians or introduce itself to a new car by ploughing through their windscreen… Landy wheels are quite big and heavy by the way so if they’re moving at speed, they won’t stop until they meet something fairly substantial. Meanwhile, the Landy (being minus one wheel) would become instantly uncontrollable and swerve in the direction of the now absent wheel – possibly into oncoming traffic.

Discovering each of these bodged jobs, I was a tad perturbed and also slightly confused as to why a previous owner had been so incredibly cheap that they’d rather risk their lives than spend a total of £43.14 to safeguard their lives and those of their passengers. They did these bodges and continued to use poor old Brenda. I was also slightly irritated that this has added more things to my list of things I needed to fix or replace. I also cannot weld… nor do I have a welder… reluctantly I loaded both axles into the back of my car and took them to Jim at Leaf Sprung to sort out the brackets for me. The rest I’ll replace myself.
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