The 9 circles of automotive DIY hell

When Dante wrote The Divine Comedy and Inferno, it was the 14th century. He had no idea that his vision of hell would match up nicely with the one that would develop in garages around the world when people attempted to revive antique technology for their own pleasure. It’s a divine comedy alright; so many of us dump our hard-earned money into projects that bring us brutal stress on the worst days and enlightened joy on the best.

Should you find yourself in a dark place, deep in some project one weekend, think about repenting and reviewing this list of the circles of DIY hell to see just how many hail Enzos you need to say as you clean and organize your wrenches—for fear of spending the rest of eternity stuck in one of these scenarios.

9th circle: Rounded a bolt

The frustration of a slipped wrench, busted knuckles, and rounded shoulders of a bolt is known to those who abandon hope and dive head-first into project car hell. Rounded hardware is a relatively easy fix, but the situation is never pleasurable.

8th circle: Scratched the paint

Scratched the paint

The rounded bolt isn’t always obvious, but a scratch in that fresh paint job is plain to see. When the wrench slips in your sweaty hand and gouges a scar into the metallic flake of your car’s fender for all eternity, you just wish you could go back in time.

7th circle: Drilled a hole too big

Shooting sparks
Yoav Gilad

The project is now moving along swimmingly until it becomes time to mount the new side mirrors. You inspect the bolts and grab the stepped bit from the toolbox. Just a momentary lapse of focus later, and you now have a hole too big in that precious original sheet metal panel. Grab the welder, you’re going to have to patch that back up to make it right.

6th circle: Broke a really expensive part

Broke a really expensive part
Gabe Augustine

The car is going back together nicely after your thorough deconstruction. As you are moving a few parts from the shelf to the workbench to install them, you drop the correct date-coded intake manifold and split the aluminum thermostat neck off. And there’s no more beer in the garage fridge.

5th circle: Melted the factory wiring harness

While troubleshooting the gas gauge that seems to only read full and never empty, you properly remove the negative terminal from the battery before starting work. Good on you! When you reattach it though, smoke pours from under the dashboard. Congrats, your reality check comes in the form of a melted ball of copper and plastic wadded up under the dash. And it’s not even your birthday.

4th circle: Broke a non-replaceable part

broken glass

Your latest project car came from the desert, which means not much rust to battle. However, all the rubber seals are dried to a literal crisp. While replacing everything, it becomes clear the perfect-condition tinted windshield needs to come out. Despite your careful cutting of the weather stripping and proper tool usage, the priceless piece of glass forms cracks right before your eyes. The world is a cruel place.

3rd circle: Screwed up good carb tuning

Sunbeam Tiger carb assembled
Brad Phillips

Your project has been on the road for a few driving seasons, but every time you drive it you get the feeling the carb could be tuned just a little better. You grab your flathead screwdriver and vacuum gauge when you get home and take to turning the adjustment screws. The only problem is that no matter what you do you can’t make it better. The tune just gets worse the more you fiddle with it. Your punishment is a lifetime of chasing a part throttle surge or stumble at throttle tip-in. Nobody’s fault but yours.

2nd circle: Wiped the cam on first startup

It’s taken weeks of careful measurements, perfectly clean assembly, detailed documentation, and planning, but now that beautiful lump of a V-8 you have been toiling over is ready for its first fire-up. The starter spins and the static timing was set perfectly, allowing the engine to light off right away. Ah, that sweet exhaust note…wait, that seems lumpier than the camshaft specs I ordered. Why is the exhaust on cylinder 7 not heating up? That camshaft lobe is gone, friend. Hope the second time building that engine is as much fun as the first.

1st circle: Broke the ez-out in the bolt

In exchange for some untold sin, the worst offenders will be saddled with removing a broken bolt. Except this bolt is really stuck. It laughed in the face of a torch. No penetrating oil could wick up its threads. Drilling out the center doesn’t do anything. You call up the last resort from the depths of the toolbox. The ez-out’s sharp left-hand-threads chomp into the bolt’s center with aggression, and a glimmer of hope appears—the bolt begins to turn! Then, the hardened-beyond-belief ez-out twists and snaps off in the bolt, leaving you with a cluster of metal harder than any drill bit you own. Existence is a living nightmare.

If you can get through these trials, the heavenly feeling of the open road is yours to claim.

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