Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Project #13--Gear Oil

Most people know they need to change the engine oil.  Smart people change engine oil every 3,000 miles regardless fo what the owner's manual says.  Other's change about every 5,000 miles because they believe the owner's manuals.  Dummies change "every now and then" and idiots never change oil at all.  Dummies and idiots pay the price for their stupidity.  Changing engine oil should be a no-brainer.

Now, let's shift focus to the oil that sits elsewhere in a vehicle.  In a Zuki, a heavy weight gear oil sits out of sight and out of mind in four critical places--the transmission, the transfer case and the front and rear differential.  Each of these complex devices are obviously critical to the function of the Zuki machine.  In contrast to general awareness about changing engine oil, almost no one pays any attention to gear oil, not even most gearheads.  It's a total afterthought for most Zuki owners.  And yet, since the "cases" (as these places are called) are small and take a lot of stress, fresh gear oil is a truly important and vital routine maintenance.

There's only two ways to replace gear oil--do it yourself or pay somebody to do it.  Back in the day, I did it myself--often.  I bought gear oil in five gallon quantities and had all manner of tubing and hand pumps and so forth with which to get new oil into hard-to-reach places.  Next to changing a fuel filter, it's the messiest job imaginable.  It also stinks to high heaven.  The Zuki engineers placed the filler plugs for the tranny and transfer case in almost inaccessible places.  They are danged near impossible to reach and even more impossible to fill without spilling gear oil everywhere.  I've done it enough to be able to say that with 100% certainty!

However, here's the rub.  The only people I know who change gear oil are lube shops such as Jiffy Lube and their competitors.  They generally charge at least $30 per case and some charge $40 per case.  I've even had quotes as high as $49.95 per case.  Ouch, when you start doing the math, you're talking pretty major money here for the four cases in a Zuki.  The lube shops know they've "got ya."  They know it's a messy, stinky job and that no average person will ever attempt it.  So they can charge whatever they want and they know people will pay it.  It's a classic case of legalized highway robbery.

With this Zuki, I really wanted to gear oil changed ASAP.  I needed to know if there was metal shavings in the gear lube and what the old oil looked like.  Had it been changed in the past?  Did it look good?  This information would tell me what kind of conditions I would be facing for the gears in all four cases or boxes as some people call them.  Frankly, I was on pins and needles about it.  If one or more of the cases produced metal shavings or bad oil then my whole attitude would likely change about this vehicle.  I would instantly turn from a cautious owner to an eager seller.

But what to do?  I can't do it myself at this point in my life and I don't want to pay $120-$160 for the job.  Fortunately, I enjoyed some great luck.  There's a clutch shop only 3 blocks from our house.  The guy who runs this place is a real gem--he only does clutch work, nothing else.  Our first experience with him was in November 2008 when the starter when out on the big truck.  We needed that started swapped ASAP to get on the road to Arizona.  I reasoned that this clutch guy would have to work with a lot of starters to get at the clutches.  So, I hoped Monday morning would come and he would do it first thing.  He dropped all his other jobs and had that starter R&R's in less than an hour and only charged us $50!  Later we had him completely redo the clutches for both teh big truck and the Nissan.  His prices were always fair and his turnaround time was measured in hours, not days.  Bring it in the morning, pick it up mid afternoon!

So, naturally, I went over to Clutch World to discuss my dilemma about the gear oil.  Much to my surprise, he says he's charge less than $40 to do them ALL, including the oil AND the labor!  HUH?  I really couldn't believe it but, sure enough, he charged thirty-seven dollars and change for this job.  Plus, he looked at the old oil with the same eyes I would have used.  He looked for metal shavings and other residue and also at the coloration and scent of the oil.  He gave a great big thumbs up about all four boxes and said they were topped off with fresh oil "and good to go."  True to form, I dropped it off at 8 am and picked it up at 10:30.

How good is that?  VERY GOOD!  Idaho Falls still has some great automotive specialty shops like Art's Muffler and Clutch World.  With Oswald's standing by for the whole range of automotive service and with some great specialty shops tucked away here and there around the city, this is a very good place indeed to work on an old Zuki!

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