Tactical Assault Compact Sedan

We are weird when it comes to being car consumers. When Jennifer and I started dating, I was driving my first car which was the 1983 Honda Civic Wagon that my parents had bought new, and Jennifer was driving a 1993 Ford Taurus. I wrecked the Civic and wound up buying another one almost just like it. The ‘new’ Civic was also a 1983 model, but it was in far better shape, and was an attractive silver instead of the metallic brown that my parents had passed down. We wanted to get out from under the payment on the Taurus before it was worth less than what we owed on it, so we sold it and purchased Jennifer a 1982 Datsun 280ZX 2+2. Her dad thought we were crazy. Heck, half the people we knew thought we were crazy. They may have been right, but we were having fun.

I wound up getting a 1982 Civic hatchback by a weird twist of events, which after some modifications, was running so hot that I couldn’t keep it in head gaskets any longer, so I swapped the motor out for a 1.8-liter from a 1979 Accord. It received a Weber carburetor, cowl induction hood scoop, and a very abbreviated exhaust system. It breathed fire, sounded like an angry hornet, and would spin the tires at 60-mph. The Wagon got put on the back burner when its clutch started slipping and the CV joints started clicking. I knew the syncros were worn and the rings were starting to leak, and I intended to do the work, but couldn’t at the time. It was joined by the hatchback for reasons that I can’t recall right now. We had other things going on and I couldn’t really give them the attention they needed at the time.

The Hondas eventually left my life. Jennifer’s 280 got T-boned by some idiot driving a brown Buick in the rain with no lights. We bought a 1991 BMW 318i convertible off the credit union’s repo lot. That car had 250,000-miles on it when we brought it home, and we put in excess of 100,000 additional miles on it before we passed it on. Shortly before we got rid of the BMW, we were shopping for something a little less used, that would be practical for our family. We wanted something with four doors that had more leg room in the back than our convertible. We wanted something with some pep. Understated looks would be good, with overstated gear under the sheet metal.

I was working at the Ford dealership at the time, and some guy had just traded in his 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V in on a new pickup. It was black. I’ve always hated black cars. This is the little, unassuming Sentra body with the tuned version of the Altima’s engine shoehorned in, mated to a six-speed close ratio gearbox. I saw a technician driving it across the lot. It even had the optional Brembo four-piston brake calipers! So, I asked about it. The used car manager quoted me a price that was allegedly 10% over what they had in it. The mileage was low enough that it still had factory warranty, and the price was low enough that we could afford it. We consolidated some old credit card debt into the loan. I decided I could live with black.

Originally, I vowed to never fall behind on maintenance and always use synthetic fluids, and make this car last forever. That was before all of the accidents. We had most of the body damage fixed, but had an emergency come up that we wound up using insurance money on instead of bodywork. The car still ran good and we had just barely had to do anything mechanical in the 100,000-miles we’d had it. And just before the 150,000-mile mark, the engine blew.

As it turns out, Nissan had had problems with the ‘pre cat’ on this particular engine. In an attempt to make good even better, they had mounted an exhaust catalyst in the exhaust manifold, with the thought of it getting to temperature faster, thus increasing efficiency. Since this was the tuned-up version of the engine, the computer is programmed to run the fuel/air mix a little richer, thus the exhaust will pop and backfire from time to time. When it was popping into this forward-mounted catalyst, some particles of ceramic were blown back into the combustion chamber, and destroyed the rings in short order. I located the necessary parts to rebuild the engine in our driveway, committed a week off from my work, and borrowed Grandpa’s pickup.


Everything came apart more easily than I was afraid it would, even if I did have to borrow an air compressor and impact wrench from a neighbor, who just seemed tickled that I’d ask to borrow such things from a total stranger.


The timing marks were a mystery that I eventually unraveled, but there was some head-scratching first. It seems that not even the fanbois in the Sentra forums can make much sense out of them.


That little sprocket with the chain on it is the balance shaft. I pulled that out and didn’t reinstall it. The Sentra kids on the internet say that it robs power and doesn’t help much with anything. I haven’t missed it.


You might be a car guy (or gal) if this is a familiar sight. The weather was beautiful for most of the week.


Not only are the main caps fully girdled, but the whole engine is glued together with gray silicone. There are literally like three or four actual gaskets in total under the hood. I was dubious, but it hasn’t leaked since the rebuild, so I guess it really does work.


I honed out the cylinders, but nothing was in need of machining. Thank God! The head gasket came off cleanly enough that I probably could have reused it.


The shop manuals say to separate the head and intake manifold. I didn’t find this to be necessary, so they stayed mated up.


Teen Bot helped. I think he got bored at times, but it was a very educational experience for him. He thought reinstalling the pistons with the new rings and bearings was interesting.


I said it would take a week, and it took a week. That’s the first time that has ever happened to me on any project. The car now has around 10,000 miles since the rebuild. It has more power now than it ever had before. There are a couple of things it still needs including a motor mount insert, a new radiator, and a muffler. With the many hours behind the wheel and many miles traveled in various cars with nothing but straight pipe, I finally actually got pulled over for the lack of muffler a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Jennifer called me and said that the car had done something strange. There was a pop, and an acrid smell, and the dash lights all went out for just a second. Hmmmm… She brought the car back and I poked around at it. Apparently, the alternator had gone out. This is a close-up of the side of the alternator, and you can see the stator windings inside of the case:


Toward the right, you can see the wire is reddish and coppery in color like it’s supposed to be. Toward the left, it’s blackish and burned looking because it’s all burned up. That’s not good. The local parts houses could order an alternator to fit for around $200.00, but we found one online for more like $50.00. It hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve been hooking the trickle charger to the battery overnight until I have the replacement part in hand. Jennifer called me again this morning to tell me that she was stranded with a car that would not run.

I arranged to borrow a spare car from my parents, retrieved Jennifer, pulled the battery, dropped Jennifer off at work and the battery at the auto parts store to have it charged on their commercial charger. My friend Sean called and offered to come and help (God bless him). We ultimately got the battery back, replaced the terminals which were badly corroded, and reinstalled it into the car. Upon arrival back at the house, I figured out what the most recent problem was. If you hook your trickle charger to your car battery, but mistakenly bump the control switch to “6V”, that battery will never charge. *facepalm* I figured I’d see the replacement alternator by now, but I’m nearly certain I’ll have it by this weekend. At any rate, the drama is getting a little old.

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7 thoughts on “Tactical Assault Compact Sedan

  1. Heh. Ya know, there’s all manner of romantic comedies that could come out of days like this. Or a Sitcom or two. LOL

    Seriously, though, you can always give me a call (or email, I get email on my phone at all hours of the day) if you ever need anything. And I’ve found that junkyards can be some good places to pick up used (but tested!) parts for pretty cheap. A $25 alternator may last you a couple of months, or it may last you 20 years (alternators are funny that way), but it’ll get you back on the road while waiting for the backup to arrive.

    • If I could write up my life as a story, I’d be a better blogger. 😛

      There are some amazing salvage yards in your direction too. One of the first trips that Jennifer and I took together was to the DFW, and we stopped at a salvage yard to get a rear windshield for aforementioned Civic Wagon. The original died in a tragic accident involving aging lift struts and big speaker boxes. Oh, to be young again!

      • My first car got broken into when I was stationed out at Pearl Harbor…I was out on a weekend, stopped off at a beach to take pics. Apparently this beach was on the wrong side of the non-existent tracks. They jammed a screwdriver into the passenger-side lock, popped the lock cylinder out, which unlocked the car. They made off with a gym bag of rusty tools, and about $30 in spare change. After a brief word with my insurance company (the repairs weren’t as much as my deductible, so they didn’t even report it for me), I started calling around to various auto shops (I’m not a mechanic…not much of anything, really, but definitely not an auto mechanic…I could probably do the work, but would need to spend some quality time with Google first)…cheapest quote I got was $250, to replace both door locks, trunk lock, and ignition (apparently Ford Escort locks are only sold in bundle kits). My last call was to the junkyard. Yep, they had a ’94 Escort. Yep, I could get the lock cylinder. They only took cash, and I had to wear close-toed shoes. First part, no problem, it was only $10. Second part caused me some concern, as it was in Hawaii and its effin HOT there. But a couple of hours, lots of sweat, some choice cursewords (“turdburger” is a fav of mine), a really nice gouge in my thumb from sweaty paws slipping while trying to get the clip that locks the cylinder in place installed, and I had the door panel disassembled, the cylinder swapped out, the latch mechanism reconnected, and everything put back in place. The only problem was I could not open the door from the outside with my key, and I was too lazy (read: poor) to call a locksmith to re-key the cylinder, which would have involved re-removing the cylinder for the guy, or paying exorbitant fees to have him remove it. $10 well-spent!

    • That’s the truth! Although, sometimes I wonder if I’d have been better off learning how to make money instead of how to work on cars, and just pay some garage to do the dirty work…

  2. I did the radiator on my truck about a year ago. It’s a knuckle-busting foul-mouthed pain in the ass, and ate up an entire Saturday in my garage – in January. Did I mention my garage has no doors? And it was January?

    That said, the replacement lifetime-guaranteed radiator was about $130 shipped from radiatorbarn.com, and six or eight hours of my time on an otherwise empty Saturday is a far sight cheaper than six hours in the mechanic’s shop.

    • ZOMG! A radiator to fit the Tactical Assault Compact Sedan is only $90 after shipping from them. I see myself placing an order. Thanks for the tip.

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