The Doctor Makes House Calls

All old Volkswagens rust: that is an established fact. Last summer I had a great portion of the floorpan replaced, and therefore assumed my car cancer-free. But no. The cancer returned. Like the first round, this cancer traced back to tar-ensconced-styrofoam sound-deadening mats on the floor. Water from wet shoes and leaky water bottles soaked down through these panels and remained trapped against the metal floor. When driving in the rain, water would come up though holes in the floor, making the carpets a veritable swamp.

My little VW has been a de-facto apprenticeship to car doctors. I’ve been in the business long enough that I can at least prepare my patient for surgery. I can’t pick up an angle grinder without grinning. I want to run and jump when I get my hands on a Sawzall (not a good idea, believe me!) Even Rotozips, small as they are, elicit my enthusiasm. Since these tools would provide chemotherapy for my VW’s cancer spot, I took to the job with gusto. Part of me hurt when I cut a gaping hole in my beloved auto. Part of me exulted in the sparks, noise, and smoke.

The idea behind removing automotive cancer is twofold. Rust destroys structural integrity, especially in Volkswagens. Classic VW’s have no chassis or frame. Instead, their strength is derived by bolting a thin metal floorpan assembly to the body. Neither component provides sufficient strength on its own, but together they do quite well. With a rusted floor, the structural integrity of the entire vehicle is undermined. The second problem with rust is leaks. A car body is designed to keep out unwanted wind, rain, bugs and whatever else drivers find distracting. Aside from protecting my car’s strength, I wanted to patch the holes in my floor to keep water out. But instead of little holes, I now had one huge hole. Instead of minor structure damage, I had a big problem.

This restoration process has emphasized one thing: I’m entropy’s right hand man. The photo album of my car starts with a pretty little car, complete and in driving condition. Shortly thereafter, the interior is ripped out. Then fenders and lights go missing. Pan bolts follow, and the car splits in two. Even this isn’t far enough, and the front wheels and steering assembly join the pile of parts. With everything out of the way, grinding and cutting tools remove unremovable parts. When time comes to stitch up the wounds, experts must be called in.

Fortunately, the doctor makes house calls.

I’ve never had surgery of any kind, but I’d guess that a fair bit of prep work precedes most surgeries. What doctor waltzes in and immediately starts hacking away with a scalpel? The same goes for auto work. Measuring, reworking the patch panel, adjusting, wire brushing, it all takes time.

Before coming, the doctor sent a prescription for 20 gauge sheet metal, hammered to fit the hole. The shape I banged out looked pretty good to me… until the doctor arrived.

Once the wound had been cleaned, the doctor donned a face mask, brought his instruments near, and began stitching. And that was it. The smoke cleared, the weld cooled, a beautifully executed repair became visible. Now it’s up to me to apply ointments to the wound. I’ll fill major gaps with auto body sealant, a viscous caulk-like stuff. Next, a coat of POR15, a rust preventative paint, will protect the patch panel from rust. Finally, a layer of rubber undercoating will keep the porcelain-like POR15 from being chipped. Successful application of these ointments will mark the completion of rehab – no physical therapy necessary. Then I can reunite the body and pan. What a joy that’ll be.

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