QOTD: Do You Fix Other Peoples Cars?

generic civic

Do you fix other people’s cars? I do, but only in certain situations for the right people and the right car.

Case in point, last weekend I found myself working on a 2004 Civic belonging to our friends (who we’ll call Don and Sally). Sally texted me on Thursday:

Can you do something for me?
What is it?
Can you get a drivers side rear door for our Civic?
What’s wrong? I though you just needed an outside handle?
Now the window won’t go up.
Oh. You don’t need a door. Do you want to switch cars for a couple of days?
Is that necessary?
Yes, that’ll help.

So my wife had a coffee with Sally on Friday, and the Focus got traded for the Civic. This is how it arrived, with a nice but temporary duct tape and cardboard solution and no exterior handle.

civic 1200

Bright and early at 7am on Saturday I dived into the back door. Honda did a much better job than Ford at hiding the fasteners, but 5 minutes of YouTube later I knew exactly how to get at them.


Next I had to dig my way back to the exterior door handle, which is apparently the first component to go into the door and requires removal of just about everything else. I checked that I had power to the window switch, so the problem was either the switch or the motor.


By mid morning I was off to the local U-Pick yard. It was scorching sunny and hot, but I did find another black Civic.  Two hours later I was home with a latch, handle, switch, window lifter, and a sunburned neck.

I put the parts in, and before reinstalling the door panel I tested it out: Door opens and closes, Yes! Window down, Yes! Window up, No!

Oh boy. Did I mention I’m a mechanical engineer and not an electrical engineer? After a bit of testing wire continuity and fooling about with a battery and the door lifter I’d removed I concluded the actual problem was with the switches and/or grounding within the front door. I didn’t want to tear into the other door and make another trip to the junkyard, so I washed the Civic while I thought about what to do.

I had power at the rear door, and the ground was supposed to be through the front door but if I could isolate the right wires and run them straight to ground, then the switch in the back seat would work although the driver control would still not function.

So the next step was to map out the window switch, which had 5 terminals. After figuring out what was connected to what in all three positions I concluded if I cut wire 3 and 5, tied them together and grounded it the window would work.

Switch Mapping

My wife looked over my shoulder during this exercise and asked “How can you possibly know that from your drawing?”.  Logic, my dear, either this will work or it’ll set the car on fire and both ways the problem will be solved.

Cut, twist, solder and tape. Window down, Yes. Window up, YESSSS! After taping up the vapor barrier and installing the door panel it was 4pm, too late to start working on my VW. Since I was on a roll and didn’t like the looks of the Civic’s clouded headlights I grabbed my lens restoration kit and spent an hour doing that.

By this point I was too tired to bother taking pictures, but I had a car with four functional doors and four windows that go up and down, cleaned on the outside with clear headlights. Sally got it back Sunday morning, no charge.

I’ve worked on this car before, last year Don and I put a front bumper and headlight on it after Sally clouted something in a parking lot.

1200 front

Somehow I feel called to do this because I can, although my criteria is strict:

  • The car must be worth fixing relative to the cost and complexity of the repair
  • The car owner must be of limited means and limited mechanical ability
  • The repair has to be interesting to me, and can’t take more than a weekend

This was the case here, and there went another day I didn’t work on the VW.

This is how I can serve others, I may be storing up treasures in heaven, but at this rate I’m not driving there in the Beetle. 🙂


My kids have informed me that they’ll have me work on their cars, so that’s something to look forward to in five years or so.  Whose cars do you work on, and why?