That feeling when it’s time to Sawzall your engine

Sajeev Mehta

Ever feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel, and only a trade name that’s become a generic term can save your bacon? Remember that time when you just gotta have a Kleenex for your runny nose? Or, depending on where you live, when you need a Coke to go with your fast-food entree? And we must never forget the act of Googling something to solve a mystery, or needing to Xerox and/or Velcro our way to a successful presentation. It’s all harmless at first, until you realize some mainstreamed trade names imply you really got yourself in hot water.

“Sawzall,” in particular, implies a strategy of last resort. But in a good way, as the trademarked name is far catchier than “reciprocating saw.” (Even though the latter is far more descriptive.) The Sawzall name is owned by the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, and I found myself worshipping at its specific altar of push-and-pull, cutting-blade prowess to finish a belt tensioner swap on my engine.

Yes, really, a belt tensioner swap. 

Sajeev Mehta

So here’s the deal. My 1989 Lincoln Continental, a car at which I continue to throw money at for no rational reason, developed an annoying belt chirp at idle. That sound cut right through me, mocking me for all my hard work and for my generous outlays of cash. How can a car this well-restored make THAT awful noise? I feel the same sense of despair when people note its mismatched tires, even though they weren’t an issue until a fresh lick of paint made the ’89 into a true eye-catcher.

Luckily, as with most replacement parts on this glorified Ford Taurus Essex Machine, new-old stock (NOS) parts are dirt cheap—just slap the part number into an eBay search. With $45, and four days of shipping time in which to marinate on my situation, I had a solution in my hands. But on the same day the part arrived, I had a one-two punch of frustratingly unfortunate news. The news itself is irrelevant, as I weathered the storm. In the moment, however, I wanted nothing more than to move past it all with a quick win in the garage. To fix a really annoying problem really quickly. I needed this win, or as Bruce Hornsby once wrote:

I gotta get somethin’ done today
Give a accomplishment a shot
Might not have a full palette to use
But I’m gonna paint with the colors I got

So I whipped out my trusty Milwaukee M12 cordless ratchet to whizz off the belt-tensioner bolt from the Lincoln’s Essex V-6. But no, the Essex Machine had different plans for me, witnessed above in the unfurling bolt that wedged the Milwaukee wrench against the passenger-side strut tower. There was no turning back … literally. I made rapid fire calls/texts to friends seeking advice. The problem was compounded by the fact that the wrench was also lodged into the A/C hard lines, making efforts to reverse the wrench’s orientation a risky proposition that could evacuate all the refrigerant for no good reason. I did not need to make the situation worse.

First I tried other tools with recognizable names, ones we also forget are brand names: a pair of long-reach locking pliers (a.k.a. Vise-grips) on the bolt, but I couldn’t get enough torque on it to overcome the gears inside the trapped Milwaukee wrench. Then I tried a rotary tool (a.k.a. Dremel), but I didn’t have a chance at success, even with the flexible extension wand.

Then a friend recommended a Sawzall, reminding me that Milwaukee makes very long blades for this purpose! I had a fake Sawzall (bought when I was house-rich and cash-poor to quickly address fallen tree limbs in my driveway), so I added one of the generic metal cutting blades (cover photo) and gave it a shot. After removing the Essex Machine’s distributor cap and rotor, the saw blade appeared to line up, suggesting I’d soon get the satisfaction I so deserved.

In a matter of seconds I realized I needed a brand-name metal blade for my knock-off Sawzall. A trip to Home Depot netted a proper Milwaukee Sawzall blade of much higher quality and with several inches of extra length for added maneuverability. I reckon I paid more for this single blade than I did for the entire reciprocating saw, but it decapitated the bolt in fewer than 10 seconds. It became the proverbial hot knife through butter, and it made me feel positively heroic!

Rather than trying to sift through Granger catalogs or bins at the parts store, I realized a factory Ford engine bolt for this rather crucial location was ideal in terms of price, time, and personal sanity. I had two options: Find a dealer that was still sitting on a Ford Essex V-6 belt tensioner bolt or find an Essex Machine in the junkyard and whizz off its bolt (without making the same mistake twice). The latter seemed like a great idea, except that Texas’ summer heat is brutal, and I’d spend more on gas than if I just bought this $10 bolt from a Ford dealer.

So much for saving money at the junkyard. I reached out to our old friend Conner DeKnikker, and he found me three bolts at three different Ford dealerships. While I got hosed on shipping (my fault for not even trying to negotiate amongst them), another five days and $28 brought me the correct bolt to get my Essex V-6 back together again. The bolt’s head looked pretty gnarly when it came out of the box, as I discussed in my Ford Nerd chat group:

And, of course, someone in the chat had to ALL CAPS roast me to ensure I didn’t make the same mistake again. Which I deserved—and I’m ready to be roasted in the comments here, too, as I sometimes don’t learn my lesson the first time ’round. That’s because I initially, foolishly used a socket wrench to install the new bolt/belt tensioner. The air-conditioner lines once again confirmed that my notion was a bad one, and seconds later the proper tool emerged to complete the task. The chat group was elated at my newfound common sense.

Sajeev Mehta

The end result? A successfully spinning set of engine accessories for my little Essex Machine. I almost forgot about the original problem (chirping belt) in my haste to enjoy this moment of un-bungling the situation, but it was indeed dead silent thanks to the new belt tensioner. My quick project with a quick victory was hardly that, but all’s well that ends well.

The car is so silent now I can finally cruise down the street in my Essex Machine, singing the Es-sex-Ma-chine song to the syllabicated rhythm laid down by those famous disco violins in that famous movie. Oh, what a time to be alive!

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Maverick to gain off-road grunt, Porsche boosts 2020–22 Taycans’ efficiency, 1:10 R/C Hoonicorn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *