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Lost Art of Adjustment

It is the end of December and as we are winding down 2017 I’m doing my best to manage the shop, my family and my life.  I have been thinking about all of the complex problems that we had to solve this year and was trying to pick one to talk about.  In the last month I encountered one of the most difficult BMW problems I have ever seen, but to tell you the truth I do not have the energy to explain it this year, so I’ll have to save that for next year!  I then thought about writing a puff piece on winter driving, yet I have written similar articles and did not feel like doing it again for now.  Then, as I sat contemplating what I was going to write about,  a long time customer walked through the door and asked me if I could take a look at his clutch pedal. 

A week earlier the customer had brought in his 1990 Nissan pickup because the clutch pedal was going all the way to the floor and would not come up.  We checked to see if there was a leak from the the clutch master cylinder or slave cylinder but there were no external leaks.  We then bleed the clutch system ( master cylinder, slave cylinder and clutch damper) to see if there was air in the system.  There was a small amount of air in the system but after bleeding it out the clutch was still malfunctioning. We then surmised that the seals in the master cylinder and slave cylinder were worn and should be replaced. We replaced both components, bleed and adjusted the pedal.  This solved the problem and we sent our customer on his way.  

A few days later my customer stopped in, he said the peddle was working but did not feel like it did before.  Before he was done talking I already knew how to solve his problem.  I have a tremendously capable staff, yet I knew this was a job for me.  Most of the time these days I only work on the cars with the aid of a computer, but every once in a while we will have a situation that needs my “ancient” experience.  

Twenty five years ago we used to adjust valves, points, spark plugs,  brakes, belts, clutches and the list goes on. I do not want to say that we have stopped adjusting components on cars completely but the moderzanation of automotive components has greatly decreased the need for manual adjustment. 

As I walked to my tool box I grabbed a fifteen mm wrench  as I visualized myself performing the adjustment.  I opened the driver door and placed my body on the floor of the car next to the foot pedals.  I found the clutch master cylinder adjustment rod and loosened the lock nut. I adjusted the rod until it was just touching the pedal and the end of the clutch master cylinder piston. I  then backed the adjustment rod off 1 mm. I then made sure there was 1 inch of free play ( 1 inch of free movement in the pedal before the clutch would engage) and test drove the car.  I had the customer get in the car and feel the pedal. He exclaimed “that's how it used to feel”. 

As I test drove the car the clutch pedal felt perfect. It’s interesting because I had only moved the adjustment rod about 2 mm. Final adjustments are more about feel then instructions.   It made me reflect on my early days in the business.  It was not uncommon for a customer to come back after a few days to do a final (settling in) adjustment. I want to thank all my readers and hope you all have a wonderful holiday season.

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