Saturday, September 15, 2012

Locked Out of the Car With No Lock

As I was hurrying to get my side screens (the removeable door windows) out of the boot (trunk) while preparing to drive home in the heavy rain, I had a little trouble opening the boot. The release latch felt weird, wasn't doing its job, and after working it a few times actually seemed to pull a little further than normal. The boot did open at that point, and as I took the side screens out, I noticed a metal bar along the boot lid opening had come unattached. I was in a hurry, so I closed the boot up and got on my way. Just as it clicked, even amidst all the rush to beat the worst of the storm, a horrifying realization came over me. It was not an evolving series of thoughts, but the entire reality of my next major car problem suddenly appeared in my brain with all the clarity that had been lacking over the last 30 seconds of scrambling.
Transporting a body? Shelly recruited into car repair?
You be the judge.

The blueprint image of the boot latch mechanism that flashed before me showed the release latch handle passing through the rear bulkhead into the boot, connecting at a fulcrum point in the rear corner, where the now-loose rod began and ran over to the boot latch that had clicked in place dutifully. The fulcrum point in the middle had come loose, and there was now no way to unlatch the boot.

There is no lock, but I had managed to lock myself out anyway. I found that I am not the first one who has managed this feat. One solution was to drill a hole through the bottom of the boot, carefully avoiding the gas tank, just in front of the latch in the center.  Once that is done you can reach in with a long screwdriver and push the latch release directly.  I was not excited about drilling into the car, and luckily I had one additional option. The spare tire normally protrudes from the boot into the area behind the seats through a large rectangular cutout.  Normally, the spare is clamped firmly in place with a big bracket tightened against the tire from inside the boot with a wing nut. I have been in the process of fixing this arrangement in my car, and as a result my spare was free to move a little inside the boot.  From behind the seats in the cockpit I pushed the tire as far back and to one side in the boot  as possible. Peering hopefully inside with a flashlight, I was relieved to see that I had a pretty clear view of the boot latch several feet away.
Peering hopefully inside from behind the seats. The target is
just past and to the left of the piece of wood in the picture.
I dug around for several makeshift tools to try this tough operation and began to figure out how to position myself to get enough reach and leverage. I realized the best approach would involve lying on my side on the small battery cover that forms a small ledge behind the seats. I've had this cover off many times and being familiar with its thin construction began to worry about it holding my weight. My daughter would easily be light enough to avoid any problem, but probably not strong enough and with too-short arms.  Shelly was probably just the right combination. Now, my wife loves the car and loves me having fun with it, but is not eager to dive into car repair with me. Still, once I'd described my predicament she agreed to help. For our friends who are aware that she has recently had shoulder surgery, I promise this was not a factor in her condition. I think.

The latch is about 2" long and requires a few pounds of force to release. It could only be reached by a tool 2-3 feet long, while laying on a small metal shelf peering through an 8" slot into the dark boot cavity. To apply enough force the tool needed to be thick, but to be positioned carefully it needed to be light. After trying several wood scraps, I cut a 2x2 down to size with an angled end and Shelly went to work. If you can imagine holding on to one end of a broom handle trying to slide a bag of sugar across the floor with the other end, all while balancing yourself on your side in the dark and reaching around a corner you have the picture of this procedure. It wasn't easy, and it took long enough that a break was necessary after a while, but she got it unlatched. If I did not already have 20 years worth of reasons to love my wife, this one might have been enough on its own. Somehow I don't think Shelly had this type of thing in mind when she said "in sickness and in health" though clearly this car would qualify me for the sickness category.
The area needing repair as I found it. The loose nut is just above
and right of the center of the picture, and the fulcrum point with
dislodged release rod just left and below center. 
Once inside I could see the problem and was relieved that it was a quick fix. A nut holding the fulcrum point together had worked loose and the entire assembly had come apart. It was quick to reassemble, though it is not clear how to prevent the problem in the future. For now I am snugging the nut periodically by hand and I've left the spare out of the boot. I don't have a jack in the car yet anyway so a lot of good a spare would do me.... 

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