Stuffing Large Things Into Small Cars

I’ve been busy since the last time I checked in. Of my ten ideas for growing the business, I’ve tried two. Instead of turning my car in for a van, I got a tow hitch installed. And I’ve tried selling things myself and putting them up for consignment, so I can get a bigger share of the profit. 

When I was in Denmark last year, there were trailers lying around all over the place and most cars had tow hitches. That’s how Europeans get away with having such tiny, fuel efficient cars – all of them are expandable by adding a trailer.

Trailers are great, compared to vans or pickup trucks. You can throw any awful thing in them without concern about upholstery or scratching paint. I decided to get one last week when I realized that this table, found in Parksville for an incredible price with matching chairs that didn’t even need upholstering, would not fit in my tiny hatchback.

I hit up Kahla for her truck, but she couldn’t let me have it that weekend, which is fair enough. I had to come up with something else, and it turns out that you can rent a big covered U-haul trailer for like 20 bucks a day. Compared to the price of renting a truck for the trip up to Parksville – more like $300 – it was an easy choice.

Unfortunately, the trailer hitch guys are hardworking, busy guys who could not drop everything and install my hitch between Thursday when I saw the ad, and Saturday when I could drive up there. I had to wait until the following weekend, and by then the table was sold. Ah! Pain! Suffering! But at least now I have a hitch.

Though I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be car-free or at least car-lite, now that I have a reason to own a car, I’m discovering how much more effective it makes me. Even without the hitch, I can deliver awkwardly shaped items to people who live downtown and don’t own cars. There’s only so much high-end Danish furniture on the island, but there’s plenty of cheap drawers and bookshelves, and plenty of people who need them.

Offering free delivery for small items like that has allowed me to flip $20 items and fill in the cashflow gaps while I wait for larger items – like this incredible Frem Røjle table that I refinished – to sell. It’s standing on consignment at the Fabulous Find downtown.

Technically I’m down by about $700 at the moment, but I have high hopes for the two dressers that I have in the basement now. One is cheap and small, and I can easily make $40 on it by delivering it. The other is a great big teaky thing that needs refinishing, but it will be a beautiful statement piece once it’s done.

I’m sure glad I don’t have to make a profit on this yet! But at least this is a cheaper hobby than motorcycles. 

How to Replace Alternator on a Tercel Wagon

Click here to skip to the tutorial part

I lent my car to my parents this summer, so it wouldn’t sit and rot while I rode my motorcycle instead. It is an old car – it has a few eccentricities. For instance, the first week after I bought the car last year, I lost my key. Since it’s an old Toyota, it isn’t difficult to break the ignition in such a way that you can turn the car on with a screwdriver. Old Toyotas are basically DOS boxes – security is an afterthought.


Soon after that I replaced the key, but the ignition lock slides in and out easily enough. This can be confusing for people who aren’t used to the car. When my mom started complaining that the car occasionally wouldn’t start, I assumed this was the problem. I told her to make sure she turned the lock all the way off, and didn’t leave it in ACC mode, killing the battery overnight. She insisted that she hadn’t done that, and that something was wrong with the car. After a couple weeks of balking, I went over to check it myself.

The car started fine, though I had to jump it off my dad’s car. I drove around the neighborhood, listening for noises and charging the battery. Once in a while, lights would flicker on the dashboard. Suspicious. I went home and parked it, then tried to restart it. Nothing, dead. Sat there stewing for a few seconds, then tried again. It started fine.

At this point I suspected electrical trouble. This article has a few methods for detecting alternator problems – I borrowed my brother’s multimeter and tried a couple of them, but I wasn’t able to prove anything to my satisfaction. So the next day I went to a dealership I used to work at and got a mechanic to run a diagnostic check. For 80 bucks to get a diagnosis of “yep, it’s busted” , I have to recommend that you learn to do electrical diagnosis yourself. But for me it was worth it to be sure that both the alternator and the battery were bad.

The service advisor quoted me $561 for a new alt, battery and installation. When he got to “$245 for the battery, a good one, installed”, my eyes crossed and I squeaked, “Erm, thanks very much but I believe I’ll do the work myself.”

Instead I got both the alternator AND the battery, from Lordco, for $240 total, and was able to do the job in about 2 hours. It wasn’t too tough at all. Here is an illustrated guide, relevant to the 1987 Toyota Tercel FWD Wagon (3AC), and probably every other Toyota of that decade as well.

How to Replace an Alternator on an Old Toyota

First, confirm that the alternator is the problem. You can do tests like the ones described here: Check An Alternator, or take the easy way out and get a tech to look at it.


It’s definitely the alternator, and the battery as well.  Next, acquire parts.


Ouch. Well, could be worse. Ok, battlestations.


If you have a pdf or hard copy of the 1985 4wd Tercel Manual, now is a good time to pull it out. Here is a rather sketchy link to download it. If that doesn’t work and you honestly can’t find it yourself, email me.

Have a look at what the motor looks like before hand, so you know what it should look like when you’re done.


The black motor in the center bottom of the pic is for an aftermarket cruise control. It doesn’t work and isn’t actually connected to the engine, so I ripped it out.

Two bolts hold the alternator in place. This one, the adjusting bolt, needs a 12mm wrench:Adjuster bolt


And this is the pivot bolt, underneath the alt, 14mm.long-bolt-installed1


Take note of the position of that top bolt, as it will help you adjust the new alternator to the correct spot. Don’t clean off the grime. It helps.

Remove the old battery.


Remove the positive terminal wire from the alternator, with a 10mm wrench. Unplug the plug at the back.

Loosen the adjusting bolt and the pivot, put them somewhere safe, and tug the thing out.

Old alternator pics, in case anyone needs them:

And here’s the new one, ready to go in:


When you install it, put the pivot bolt in first. Snug it but don’t tighten. Then put the adjusting bolt in. In my case, the entire engine had sagged, so that the bracket that the adjusting bolt goes through wouldn’t line up with the bolt hole. I put the old battery back in to for a fulcrum, and used a crowbar to lever the whole thing up a few millimeters.

See how it doesn't line up?
See how it doesn’t line up?

Put the belt into its tracks, making sure it’s seated correctly on all three pulleys. Have a buddy use a crowbar to put tension on the alternator so you can tighten the bolt into the correct spot.

Belt in pulleys, no tension
Belt in pulleys, no tension

Crowbar it into place.

I thought the adjusting bolt would have a lock nut on the back, but mine must have gone missing along the way somewhere. Then I stripped the threads in the bolt hole, so I couldn’t tighten it at all. At this point I took a quick break for a trip to Canadian Tire and got a couple of new nuts, bolts and washers.

Before I stripped the old bolt and replaced it.

Plug the plug back in, bolt on the positive terminal, and give it a try.

Installed alternator

My cousin Darren, who is a first year automotive apprentice, says that a good way to check the tension is to try to turn the belt over with your fingers. If it turns all the way over, it’s loose. If it doesn’t turn at all, it’s tight. It should turn about halfway over. However, I am going to take it into a shop to double check my work on Monday, because the engine idle was pretty uneven after I started it back up.

Update: It just needed some spark plugs as well. Running fine now.

Mom and Dad standing ready with the fire extinguisher, before first test start.
Mom and Dad standing ready with the fire extinguisher, before first test start.

Parts needed:

  • 1 battery
  • 1 alternator
  • 1 M8 bolt, nut, and 2 washers

Tools needed;

  • 14mm socket wrench
  • 14mm crescent wrench
  • 12mm socket
  • 12mm crescent
  • 10mm crescent
  • Hammer
  • Crowbar
  • Phone camera, for social media credits
  • Shop manual

Don’t forget to turn your old alternator and battery in for recycling.

Repairing an 87 Toyota Tercel Window

I got this wagon last week. It’s rad. Come for a ride in it and I’ll bore you to death talking about the fuel efficiency (I’m excited). One small problem though, the passenger side window didn’t work.

When I bought it the guy basically told me never to touch it. Obviously I forgot this warning immediately, but it wasn’t a problem since I sit on the driver’s side. But as soon as I had a passenger in it, which didn’t take long, their first instinct was to roll down the window. Hot June, you know. It stayed stuck in position, then fell into the door when someone slammed it. Fortunately the glass wasn’t damaged, but it was stuck real good. In BC where it’s like living in an aquarium for most of the year, it’s a problem. Here’s how I fixed it.


  • Big Philips head
  • Small Philips head
  • Tire lever
  • Degreaser
  • Rag
  • Greaser

The door does not need to be removed from the hinges for this. The main thing we’re going to do is clean the regulator and the rails.

What Do

With thanks to Speed Hero for advice. First step is to remove the door card. There is a screw in door opener cup, one in the door closer cup, and one underneath the armrest. They are all Philips. The one under the armrest is pretty tough.

That’s what it looks like when you start, and that’s how it ought to look when you’re done.

Screws out, cups out, armrest off, carefullly! It’s a million years old so don’t break it.

armrest removed

Bits and stuff
Bits and stuff

handle cup removedarmrest screw

Get that screw also. Remove the regulator handle, (that’s the thing you turn to roll the window up and down). There’s a C-clip holding it on. Get a tiny screwdriver and pry it off, with your hand in the way to catch it because it will go flying all over the place. If it lands in the grass you’ll never find it again.

handle removed


After the screws are removed, the door card is held on only by plastic buttons. Start at the bottom corner and work your way around, making sure to wrap two fingers around each button as you pull it out. You don’t want to be the jerk that rips a 30 year old cardboard door card.

door card back
The white bits around the edge are the buttons.

This is the vapor barrier. If you’re really lucky, you’re the first person ever to take this door apart, and you’ll get to cut away the vapor barrier. Its purpose is to prevent the windows from getting foggy from moisture inside of the door. Tape it back on afterward if you think it’s worth the effort.

vapor barrier

vapor barrier 2

Is this a lot of redundant pictures? Yes. Cause it is easy to take things apart, and tougher to put stuff back together. This is what it looked like when it was together, and I definitely referred to these pictures while reassembling it.

Oh, and keep your screws safe. Important.
Oh, and keep your screws safe. Important.

card and barrier removedThis is annoying, because we have to work through holes in the door.

Through the big one in the lower center you can see the regulator, and through the two on the left side, see the rail. Both of these need to be cleaned as best as you can. After cleaning the regulator, grease it with bearing grease.

Roll it up and down a few times to check the teeth of the gear wheel as well, shown in the triangular hole, top center. Clean those too. Replace them if they’re worn and you’re also a rich mofo who can afford these things.

cleaning supplies

This’ll do for cleaning supplies. Also a toothbrush helps, I stole my roommates’ but you can buy one or whatever.

And then there’s nothing to do but wiggle the window up so it’s sitting on the regulator and snug within the rail on either side of the door. I didn’t notice there were two rails until after I had already gotten the window into it, so it isn’t that tough. Roll the window up and down a couple times to make sure it moves smoothly and it’s going to stay fixed. Then reassemble by reversing the process, and clean the glass after everything is done.

Multiple people told me this was going to be an annoying PITA job that would take all afternoon and tons of swearing, but it honestly wasn’t that tough. Like an hour tops. So good luck.



Don’t forget to leave a callback number, so the next guy knows who to blame.

I’m secretly a race car driver

The morning I turned 16 I waited by the front door for my dad to take me to the license office.

He was surprised, because I hadn’t told him we were going. It never occurred to me that there could be anything in the world more important than me getting my driving licence on the morning of my 16th birthday.

Anxious years followed as I tried to hide the heat of my desire to take the wheel of every car I encountered. If they knew how badly I wanted it they would look at me oddly, and they already looked at me oddly. No one trusts a teenager who tends to stare into space and leave her wallet in the refrigerator.

I volunteered to haul wood one afternoon for a chance to drive the tractor. A trip to the next town to thrift shop, for a chance to drive on the highway. I can’t express my hatred of thrift shopping without obscenity, so I won’t.

There was a conversation with a coworker – a young man who had ridden his motorcycle from California. He’s an MMA fighter now, then he was a clerk at Safeway. 2 weeks later we took a 90 dollar cab ride to some obscure suburb to pick up my new motorcycle so he could drive it home for me.


That first night, he showed me how to work the clutch and shifter, then I drove it straight into the nearest brick wall. Sometimes love hurts. It hurt again a few months later when I laid the bike down at Cattle Point, parked the wreck in my parking spot and didn’t look at it for three more days, when I noticed I had left my gloves on the gas tank.

The thought of not riding didn’t occur to me. I bought a Silverwing. The seller proudly showed off his wife’s baby bump as he handed me the keys. I had no interest in babies. The Silverwing had a stereo. It played Johnny Cash loud enough to make people roll up their windows.


I dated a young man long enough to borrow his mother’s car and take the final road test for my license, then took a job at a German auto dealership, where all I had to do was move beautiful cars around the lot all day.

On such a day, I took one car to the glass shop and met another young man, who followed me back to work, then home. He took me on a date to a racetrack, where I rode in his friends car as it moved at high speed, sideways, all around the course. I had to leave early, so he gave me his car keys. No funny looks, just trust. Bring it back tomorrow, he said. I can catch a ride home.


We drove to Vancouver, Mill Bay, Shawnigan, North Saanich, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Seattle, Hope, Abbotsford, buying horrible cheap wrecks of cars to drive them into the ground. Sometimes none of the cheap wrecks worked, so we took my third motorcycle, an unreliable 300cc Kawasaki. I remember driving two-up over the Malahat in January with snow on the ground, passed by large trucks as my carburetor struggled with the low air pressure, but I don’t remember being cold.

Some weekends we rose at 5:30am to get the race car started and go to the racetrack. He drove; I sometimes drove and rode in every car that would take me.

The young man left the country, but somehow I still get invited to the racetrack. I’m not sure if the racers accept me on my own, or only as the plus-one of their absent friend. But as long as it lasts, I go, and ride in every car I can. Mind the cash box, or volunteer to wrench for a chance to drive a beater in a hill climb.

These boys spend all their money and time on cars. I question my dedication sometimes – I don’t own a car, have not gone into debt for the sake of racing, I’m not even sure what a coilover is. But racing seems to be the focus of my life.

I still have to hide it. If the universe figured out how badly I want to drive in the hill climb, it would find a way to cheat me out of it. Don’t tell anyone.


Get your face out of the eggnog and listen for a minute

The future is coming, and it’s coming in a 3d printed, North American manufactured, computer-driven electric car.

There are two ways this can go, and it’s really up to you. One way is the last-century model. Wait around long enough and GM will start cranking out some ghastly, bug-ridden, fragile POS. They’ll charge you 217 dollars for it, but it will break down every week and repairs, regardless of how minor, will always cost another hundred bucks. Every piece of equipment and software on it will be proprietary (and not very good, as a result), and only certified GM technicians will be allowed to service it, under threat of lawsuit and voiding the warranty.

But if we all pay attention and put in the effort, it can go the other way.

Toyota knows what’s up. They’re championing a new Linux distro – Automotive Grade Linux (AGL). Nissan, Intel, Samsung and some other big names are in on it as well. It’s the smart thing to do – crowd sourced software is cheaper, stronger, and better than anything proprietary, simply because anyone who has a vested interest in using the product has the ability to submit changes to make it be the way they need it. And even if the changes aren’t accepted by the project leaders, that vested developer can still download the code and change it however they want for their own purposes.

3D printers are hip, happening, and getting cheaper every week. And there’s an open source schematic for one that can reproduce itself. The next manufacturing boom isn’t going to come from enslaved Chinese babies. It’s going to be American entrepreneurs, you know, all those guys who got laid off in 2008 and haven’t found steady work yet, printing chassis’ up in their garage.


The final step is the electric motor and power source. Not a new problem, and there are lots of old and new solutions. Pick your favorite and whang it into your 3d printed, Linux powered robot car.

I hear your pain – but Shannon, I LOVE driving! Why would I want a robot to do it for me? Hey, I’m with you, 100%. I spend every spare moment in the summer belting around single-lane backroads on my tiny motorbike. I love driving as much as anyone. But the early adopters aren’t going to be speed freaks like us – it’s going to be people who are Getting Shit Done(tm). Business people who have phone calls to make, code to write, spreadsheets to analyze, and places to go. Time spent in traffic is wasted time when you’re working for a living. Make the car work for you. It’s going to happen either either way, so let’s do it OUR way.



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