Tag Archives: DIY

Homemade Washer Fluid Sucks

It’s 10:54 p.m. and I still haven’t written a post today. The weekend kinda threw me off to where instead of writing these before work I’ve been trying to force them out after work. It has that anxiety of deadlines that I haven’t known since college. Well, maybe a little bit with the Morrowind story I guess.

The stupid post yesterday about my Crisco candles had me thinking about all the other stupid projects I’ve done and since time is limited I think I’ll write about another one of those. It’s not the most riveting stuff but I need to get something out tonight.

One fun thing I’ve noticed with my stupid projects is how quickly things go off the rails where you run into issues. Tiny things you’ve overlooked come back to bite you in the ass, and even if you’ve thought about the issues before hand sometimes it’s simpler to start the project before worrying about tiny things that could dissuade you from continuing. I used to homebrew and would worry about what I’d bottle my wine in before I had brewed a single thing. Worry about stuff like that later is easy and smart to do, but eventually you need to face the problems as they arise.

So, car window washer fluid. Easy right? Yeah, mostly. My entire motivation behind this was my laziness. I hate discovering the our cars are out of window washer fluid which then requires an inconvenient trip to the store. The stuff isn’t expensive really, it’s just a pain to go buy. I should also state my obsession of very clean windows. I spray the window off daily everytime I drive. Even a single day leaves a slight layer of dirt or tree pollen on the car which bothers the hell out of me. Winter is even worse with salt water being sprayed on the car from other vehicles. The water quickly evaporates and leaves an ugly layer of salt dried to the window. The low winter sun usually makes one hell of a glare on it that is unbearable. In short, I clear my car windows daily and go through a ton of fluid in the process. It’d be easier to make it myself. And make it as cheaply as possible obviously.

Starting as simply as possible: water. But it can’t be any water because tap water is hard. It has dissolved minerals which can build up in lines or on the car. This is what murdered my last coffee pot and I was well aware of how shitty hard water was. I wasn’t going to put tap water into my vehicle and ruin the washer system. What about distilled water? That was a good idea but the only obvious source for distilled water was the store. If I had to go buy distilled water from the store it would defeat the convenience factor of not going to the store for washer fluid. If only I could make my own distilled water. Hmm…

That’s easy to do. Sort of. The easiest way I discovered was the dehumidifier; the waste water should be distilled (enough) and was easy to make for cheap. You plug in a dehumidifier, turn it on, and wait a day or two.

Distilled water, some dish soap, and some ammonia. Ammonia also, luckily, depresses the freezing point of water. This should keep me safe for the then upcoming winter. I made my first few bottles in late summer and had zero problems or regrets up until then. But then it went below freezing and things got complicated.

I went outside one chilly morning and tried to spray the window off. I heard the washer motor make its pathetic whine but no fluid came out. Uh oh. Eventually I realized that ammonia, while depressing the freezing point of water, needs to be very concentrated to do so. The stuff I purchased from the store was only like 3% ammonia, and since I had mixed a cup of this to a gallon of water, it wasn’t doing jack shit to the freezing point. And all the fluid in the car was frozen. How was I supposed to thaw that to even add new unfreezing fluid?

Luckily, it was still warm enough during the day to thaw the fluid out. My plan was to figure out something to keep the stuff liquid down to about -40 degrees or so. My first idea was to use antifreeze, but this is cost-prohibitive and I wasn’t sure if that stuff should be used in window fluid. A few internet searches suggested isopropyl alcohol — rubbing alcohol — and ethanol. Regular, good old ethanol. Moonshine. Booze. Vodka. Whatever you want to call it.

I knew rubbing alcohol was kinda expensive but I also knew I couldn’t find pure ethanol cheaply either. High proof booze from the store was way too expensive, and the cheapest way to get ethanol was maybe E85 fuel from a gasoline pump. I could grab an entire gallon of the stuff for only about $2, but was hesitant of putting 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline in my washer fluid reservoir. But now that I think about it, I would only need a small percentage of the stuff in the water, and maybe the tiny bit of gasoline wouldn’t be that bad? It still sounds like a bad idea though. Maybe I’ll test in a junker car later.

I even found some freezing diagrams for isopropyl alcohol and ethanol. Here’s the ethanol one, mostly because I’m running out of time.

As you can see, to reach -40 degrees I’d need a 50/50 mix of water and ethanol, which was really shitty to discover. Maybe I could shoot for a 25% mix of the stuff and have it freeze below -10 or 15 degrees — not the best but it should work for about 95% of the winter.

But where to find the supplies? Luckily we have a Farm and Fleet a half-mile away and they sell all sorts of random chemicals. One time I bought stump remover (potassium nitrate) to make fucking rocket fuel out of. I vaguely recalled seeing gallons of isopropyl alcohol there for sale (for farm animals I think) and sure enough they had it in stock. It was $16 a gallon if I remember correctly; this still isn’t cheap but I could make about 4 gallons of fluid with a 25% mix of the stuff. $4 a gallon isn’t too bad on average.

I was also able to find denatured alcohol at Farm and Fleet. This appeared to be a 50/50 mix of ethanol, the drinkable stuff, with methanol, a poison. This is to stop alcoholics from buying a cheap bottle of moonshine from Farm and Fleet and drinking it. I mean they still can drink it, but I think they’d go blind from it. Methanol is bad stuff. I think I picked up a quart of it for $5. Isopropyl and ethyl alcohol were about the same price overall for my project on a per gallon basis.

And my 25% mixes seemed to work. I took a bunch of rubbing alcohol and dumped it directly into the reservoir to prevent that shit from freezing and that worked nicely. It is entertaining to clean your windows and smell a strong alcohol smell, but hey it works.

To make this story even dumber, I recently tried to restock my supplies. I turned on the dehumidifier ready to get distilled water for my “summer blend,” meaning free of alcohol, but the humidity is so damn low the thing doesn’t even turn on. The lowest setting it has is 35% humidity and anything below that it simply doesn’t turn on. Well shit. I guess I’m waiting for those hot and humid summer days again.

I did have a random idea of turning on our fireplace to get some heat and humidity but this seems like a terrible idea. While methane does burn and make water vapor, it seems like a really roundabout way of making distilled water. Part of my motivation with this project was to cut down on endless plastic bottles and pollution in general, so burning natural gas to make water to then distill down into water sounds ass-backwards.

So while making your own car washer fluid isn’t as easy or as straightforward as making candles from Crisco, it also isn’t very hard. I highly recommend trying it especially if you live in a climate that doesn’t involve bitterly cold temperatures for a third of the year. If you do, stock up on rubbing alcohol in the fall. Or booze.

Crisco Candles are Awesome

I’m a DIYer at heart. I don’t know if this is because I’m insanely curious or if I’m simply cheap. It’s usually more cost effective to do things on your own than to pay others to do it. Think home repair projects, car repair projects, or growing your own food in a garden. Sure these things take time to complete but since you don’t have to pay others for their time it’s usually cheaper. Usually. It also gives me a reason to avoid people in general, which is always a nice perk when you’re an introvert.

A few projects I’ve been doing lately besides the typical car repairs are making my own USB solar charger and making my own vape juice. I’ve also been making my own window washer fluid for my car which has been a total pain in the ass because water apparently freezes when it gets cold out. Huh. I’ve had to figure out what to add to the mix to keep it from freezing. Rubbing alcohol (found at Farm and Fleet in the farming section) and ethanol/methanol also works great. My latest project though: candlemaking. 

Making candles is easy as fuck. You buy wax, buy wicks, melt the wax and let it solidify. The hardest is keeping the wick centered while the candle cools; I’ve made some shitty tool with cut up soda cans to hold the wick. I had purchased a ten pound brick of paraffin wax from Amazon last year and have almost went through the entire thing.

Soy wax is another alternative but seems rather pricey. I did some research on what soy wax actually was and apparently it’s made from soybean oil, the same shit you can buy in a grocery store. Apparently soy wax is simply hydrogenated vegetable oil, and I started wondering how difficult it would be to hydrogenate my own oil. I wouldn’t even have to use soybean oil and could use cheap vegetable or corn oil. Surely this would be the most cost effective way to make candles and I wouldn’t be forced to order wax from Amazon anymore.

Trying to find any information on hydrogenating your own oil was nearly impossible. A ton of websites showed up with information on how to make candles but these just tell you to melt wax into a jar. Duh. Other websites talked about the health effects of eating saturated fats which wasn’t what I was after either. The Wikipedia page on hydrogenation is about as complex as you can imagine and has zero practical information for the would-be home chemist/candle maker.

I found a good YouTube video that explained how to hydrogenate oils. You need oil, a hot plate, and a source of hydrogen. Okay. That’s not too bad. Hydrogen is kinda funky to make but can be done. (Protip: hydrochloric acid and aluminum!) But then he mentioned something about a catalyst for the reaction which was something like iridium or platinum (it was palladium). Platinum? For fucks sake where was I supposed to find platinum? It’s more expensive than gold. This put an end to my plan of hydrogenating my own oil at home; it wasn’t cost effective or easy if I needed precious metal catalysts. I wasn’t about to drop hundreds of dollars to make my own damn candles. Back to the drawing board.

There’s also a bunch of information about fats in general. I’m always amazed at how simple home projects like home brewing and candle making inevitably spiral into full chemistry after awhile.
CRISCO!

If only I could buy hydrogenated oil. Oh wait, you can. It’s called Crisco, a brand of vegetable shortening. It’s solid at room temperature and should work in a candle. I went to the store and bought a giant six-pound tub for like $10. That’s cheaper than Amazon paraffin wax.

I only wanted to do this for the sake of doing it, but little did I know that using Crisco to make candles has almost no downside to it. It’s an edible fat, so I don’t have to worry about getting wax all over cooking pans and pots. Like butter, you can also melt the shit in a microwave. No more melting paraffin wax on the stove which is terrifying when you image dripping liquid wax all over the floor or carpet. Here’s what I did. I took an empty candle jar and cleaned the wax and old wick out of it. I then scooped as much Crisco into the damn thing as I could and microwaved it for two minutes. Bingo, liquid fat. I put the wick into the jar and let it cool. I wasn’t trying to be a total heathen about it so added some apple blossom scent to it along with some green dye. Here’s what it looks like.

And it works beautifully! I mean it’s a candle so it burns and that’s about all there is to it, but there’s literally no downside to making candles from Crisco. It burns cleaner than paraffin wax, it’s cheaper to make, and it’s easier to make. It was a really stupid thing to try and I hate to recommend this seriously to anyone, but if you want to try making your own candles grab some Crisco and give it a shot. It was very fulfilling.

Changing Brakes Sucks: A DIY Guide

Our (shitty) Dodge Caravan has an awful sound coming from the right rear tire. It only happens when you push on the brakes and is a horrific grinding sound. I don’t even need to look to know what it is; the brake pad is totally gone and the metal that the pad is attached to is grinding the fuck up against the brake rotor. This isn’t good and if you go long enough without fixing the problem you can fuck the brake rotor up. And those things are a bit more expensive (and more of a hassle) to replace compared to brake pads.  Even if this wasn’t the case, any sane person would want to fix the brakes sooner rather than later just because it sounds so horrific. You almost don’t want to push on the brakes because of the dreaded sound it’ll make.

We also have an impending winter storm here in northern Illinois. Most forecasts say we’ll get nearly a foot of snow, or at least 8 inches, and that isn’t fun at all. I love to procrastinate as long as I can, but shit, the idea of changing brakes on Sunday or Monday after a foot of snow has fallen sounds terrible. It’ll probably be cold, windy, and all around uncomfortable. If you’ve ever worked on a car before you already know it’s uncomfortable enough: no need to make it worse by doing it in a snow drift.

Better get my ass outside and knock that out. I’ll write a brake changing guide for everyone so they can 1. understand how to change their own brakes and 2. understand the hell I went through.

Find the Correct Parts

First off, you need to find brake pads to actually install. Head down to an Autozone or Advance Auto Parts (or whatever auto parts store you have in your location) and tell them the year, make, and model of your vehicle. Pray to whatever higher power you believe in that the person serving you isn’t braindead and gives you the correct parts. It’s not fun to rip the car apart and then realize that the brake pads aren’t the correct ones. Better have a spare car available if that happens, otherwise you need to put the tire back on, exchange the wrong parts for the correct ones, and then try again if you still have any willpower left.

Bonus points if you can see your brakes through the rim. Take a new one out of the box and see if they’re at least vaguely similar. You can do this is the auto store parking lot.

Jack the Vehicle Up

Find a suitable location to put a jack under the car and bring the tire off the ground. Pray to God that your car isn’t so damn rusty that jacking the car up starts to crack the fucking metal.

Loosen the Lug Nuts

They’re probably so damn tight that you should’ve loosened them before jacking the vehicle off the ground. Shit.

Put Vehicle Back Down, NOW Loosen the Lug Nuts

Now we’re back on track with only a minor fuck up. Get a big fucking wrench or tire iron out and loosen those damn lug nuts. Don’t take them completely off because it having the wheel not attached is a bad idea, but break them loose.

Jack Vehicle Off the Ground (Again)

Just like before. You’re really good at this part now.

Kick the Shit Out of the Tire/Rim to Get It to Come off

If it’s been awhile since you’ve removed a tire (which is probably true if the brake pads are fucking non-existent) it’ll probably be somewhat rusted to the hub itself. So go to town on the thing and hope you don’t injure your foot by kicking it too violently, or have the car fall off the jack. You might have to get creative with the tire iron/pry bar to get it off. If using this technique, do not fuck up the brake caliper!

Look at Stuff

Take a look at the brake caliper and notice what silly design choices your automaker made when designing the car. Does the caliper itself swing up? If so you only need to remove a single bolt. Do you need to remove both bolts and remove the caliper entirely to get the pads? Whatever the case, take a good look, hate yourself and dread the bullshit you’re about to put yourself through.

Get Tools to Remove the Caliper

Take a guess about what you need to take the caliper off, find the tools, and try it. It won’t be the correct socket. Some are regular bolts, metric or imperial (yeah good luck!), some are Allen heads, and some fucking idiot that designed the Chevy Cavalier decided to use Torx Bolts. No fucking joke. This step will take like twenty minutes and I hope your toolbox is either portable/nearby and filled with everything imaginable.

Optional: Go Buy the Correct Tools

If you don’t stock Torx bits in your toolbox, good luck, because you’ll probably have to go buy a set just for this one job. Hope that the stores around you aren’t far away or closed.

Take Caliper Off

Once you get the caliper bolts off, you take the caliper off. As with everything involving cars this is easier said than done depending on what shit you need to deal with. Grab the pry bar/tire iron and start ripping away on the damn thing until it eventually comes off.

Remove and Examine the Brake Pads

Next, you take the old brake pads off. Depending on the design you might be able to take them out of clips or whatever while some are attached to the caliper itself. Dodge decided to attach the outer pad via clips that are nearly impossible to get off. You need to lift and pry on them at the same time which is just asking to get your knuckles busted on something. I think there’s a rule that states that you can’t work on a car without getting injured. It’s impossible.

Also take a look at how fucked up your old pads are and wonder why you never got around to being responsible and fixing the issue earlier.

Push the Caliper Piston Back On

If you have a newer vehicle you might be able to do this by hand, but probably not. Walk back to the toolbox and grab a c-clamp. Hope that it’s big enough. Hope the caliper is designed where a single c-clamp will work. If not, go find/buy another clamp or get creative. Cussing usually helps this step.

Remove Caliper Bolts

These bad boys are meant to float inside the caliper, so you need to lube them up before installing the new pads. You might be able to remove them by hand, but I’ve found I need to reattach the wrench to them and twist the bolts while pushing them out.

Clean the Damn Things and Grease Them

I hosed mine down with some WD-40 so they didn’t look like shit. After this, goop a fuckton of grease on them so they move properly like they’re supposed too. Put them back where you got them from on the caliper. This shouldn’t be too hard because of all the grease on them.

Put the New Pads On

Insert the new pads either into their holders/clips on the rotor or on the caliper. Fuck around with any bullshit clips that the manufacturer decided to have just to fuck your day up. Ponder the simplicity of the job in certain repair manuals that state “installation is the opposite of removal.”

Put the Caliper Back On

This is straight forward. The hardest part is trying to line the fucking thing up. You’ll probably find that it’s difficult to actually get everything back where you removed it from. Maybe hit some things with a hammer/tire iron to get it all installed? I don’t know. Cuss some more, drink another beer, etc. Whatever you need to get ‘er done. You’re almost there…

Tighten Caliper Bolts (But not Too Tight!)

Once again, fuck around trying to get the bolts back in their holes. If you did good on the previous step this might not be so bad. If you still don’t have things precisely lined up you’ll need to fuck around until the bolts actually find the holes.

Tighten them according to their specs, and if you don’t know the specs (like 99% of us) just tighten them to where you feel okay with driving the vehicle. You don’t want to get them too tight because then the next time you change brake pads you’ll find yourself hating your past self for being such a safety-minded, strong-armed asshole. You don’t want them to be too loose because then the caliper could probably fall off.

Put the Tire On

Self-explanatory. Fuck around trying to line the tire up with the hub bolts and all of that. Probably cuss. Cussing should be mandatory for each step here really…

Lug Nuts, Jack, Tighten Lugs

Jesus Christ, you’re almost done. Slap this shit together as quickly as you can so you can be done with it all.

Give Up and Don’t Even Attempt to do the Other Side

I’ve heard you’re supposed to change both sides at the same time, but fuck all of that. The right rear side was making that awful griding sound, I replaced those pads, so I’m fucking done. Who cares?

Drive the Car Wash Your Hands Put Your Tools Away

Put everything back exactly where you found them so when you do get around to doing the other side’s brakes you don’t have to fuck around with finding the tools. If you’re really feeling like a go-getter, maybe find a piece of paper and note what size/types of tools you need to complete the job. I’m not this type of person, but I can dream can’t I?

Wash Your Hands

Your hands are black and covered in supposedly carcinogenic brake dust, dirt, and grime, along with brake grease. Don’t even think about driving the car yet because you’ll make the steering wheel nasty. Walk inside and wash that shit. Take a good five minutes doing so because you’ll need to wash them like six times to get them remotely clean.

Test Drive the Car

Pump the brakes before you drive away! If you’ve pushed the caliper in really far you need to extend it before you drive otherwise you’ll hit the brakes and the car possibly won’t do anything like stop.

Take solace in how quiet the car truly is now. And if it isn’t? Well, another side has fucked up pads so hate your life, go buy more beer, drive off a bridge, or whatever else makes you feel better. If you’re feeling up to it, go buy more pads or set to work on the other side. If everything is okay, jack on the brakes a few times violently to make sure everything works like you need it to in an emergency.

Relax

Congratulations! You’re done! You were productive! You fixed a problem with your car! Try not to think how fundamentally changing the brakes is a 15 minute job and somehow it took you three hours to finish it. The second rule of working on cars is that nothing ever works out in your favor. But you got it done. Good job. Fuck cars.