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Huge gap between theory and practice

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FromEditorsDesk TonyI went to high school a few years ago, back when you didn’t have to sign up for special programs just to learn practical skills. 

Our school system offered classes in auto mechanics, skills that would be handy even if you didn’t end up in the field. So it was with those classes and my own sense of adventure that I went to do some long-overdue work on my truck.

In a nutshell, I needed to replace the coil packs, which have taken the place of points in the ignition system. These coils attach directly to the spark plugs, so I changed them out as well.

There was quite a bit of time between my classes and now, so obviously the technology has changed. With this in mind, I availed myself of another new piece of technology that could be helpful: YouTube.

While in high school, we had to rely on repair manuals and instruction. Online videos can take the place of that, so I watched three different videos on this particular type of repair, which were readily available.

So I took a day, assembled all the tools I needed — 8mm socket and wrench, 5/8-inch spark plug socket, six spark plugs gapped to .30, six coil packs (which is another story altogether), and some screwdrivers — and set to.

Watching the videos gave me a sense of calm, since the mechanic(s) made it look so very easy; none of the videos took longer than 12 minutes.

I’m smart enough to know about editing, but nothing prepared me for what came next.

• Coil Pack 1, rear engine driver’s side. Total time: 1  1/2 hours.

You read that right. Come to find out, the video didn’t account for age of parts, dirt, any number of things. In order to remove the coil you had to push a red tab to release the wiring harness, remove the 8mm bolt, remove the coil, remove the spark plug, and reverse the process.

You also had to remove the wiring harness to the fuel pump, the locking lever of which was “conveniently” placed underneath, which chubby fingers have a difficult time finding.

Then, removing the coil harness required moving a locking tab and “gently” removing the harness. Plastic gets brittle when repeatedly heated, so the harness didn’t release easily, and it couldn’t be forced or it would break.

The coil should then require a little wiggling and then pop out, except when it doesn’t and it just moves back and forth. So with the help of channel locks, it finally came out, revealing the spark plug. Since the hole was underneath part of the air intake vents, I had to find the exact combination of extensions so the wrench would fit and remove it. Turning the wrench was fun, too, since a nearby cover had a sharp edge and continually chewed my arm up.

My dad always told me the sign of a job done well was blood, so there’s that.

• Coil Pack 2, middle driver’s side. Total time: 45 minutes.

You knew it had to happen. Those brittle clips did what brittle clip do, and broke. The only upside was I was able to figure out a way to remove them easier, so the rest weren’t so bad. However, it required the use of something else my father taught me: the Words of Power. In a nutshell, dirty words. Naughty words. Words that got Little Ralphie a LifeBuoy mint.

I also needed to remove the hose for the PCV valve, which was really the only part of the project that went like the video.

• Coil Pack 3, front driver’s side, 35-40 minutes. Harness removed easily; coil pack removed too easily, mostly because half of the rubber boot connecting the pack and the spark plug remained on the plug. 

The video didn’t say anything about that. It took about three different sets of needle nose pliers to get that out.

• Coil Packs 4-6, passenger’s side, 45-ish minutes.

After the trial by fire on the other side, the work on this side went relatively smoothly, except for needing a special u-joint extension for the last one, which was conveniently placed underneath the metal heater hoses.

The replacement was a success, and the truck is humming along; there are two lessons as well.

The first is that schools that teach mechanical skills, along with problem-solving techniques, give children and later adults a leg up.

The second, one that’s more important, is that just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean you’re getting the full story. It will make things easier and you will gain greater understand by doing more research. It does remain a good starting point, though.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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