Six ways to keep your project moving forward even when you can’t wrench

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Blue Crown Spark Plugs in Model A Kyle Smith

I found myself putting in an offer on a new house recently, and with the news of my offer being accepted came the harsh realization that my well-laid plans to accomplish so many automotive projects this winter are now dashed in favor of purging, packing, and moving. Moving a house quickly requires intense preparation prior to moving day, and that means a lot of the things currently in the house are getting shuffled to the garage—a place that was previously my well-organized, everything-has-a-home sanctuary.

The once uncluttered and focused space is now a menagerie of boxes, shelves, and other assorted items awaiting the arrival of a box truck. In the interest of making the move easier, I found storage for all my classics away from home. It’s great for packing but terrible for crossing off anything from the growing to-do-before-spring list I pinned on the garage door.

Luckily, there is still work you can accomplish to keep projects moving forward despite having limited or no access to your project car or bike. Here are a few tips.

Research

books vs youtube for repairs
Mike Bumbeck

I have never chosen reading a shop manual, how-to book, or tutorial over turning wrenches. On the job is traditionally a terrible way to learn, but since I don’t get paid by the hour while working on my own cars I tend to just enjoy the experience of learning on the fly. I’d far rather have my head under the hood than my nose in a book. However, now is the time to do the research and learn exactly what I am planning to do so that when I do have the time to dive into a project, I am more efficient than usual. 

Plan 

Wiring Harness First Draft Plan
This was the first attempt at putting a design on paper. I knew it would be a bit cluttered, but the goal was just to see what all I would need. Kyle Smith

Writing down all the tasks you currently have scribbled on your mental to-do list will help you suss out your priorities much easier. Drawing up a quick plan on what you are going to do and when can create a more efficient process and limit “While I’m in There” syndrome or a stall while waiting for parts. As you plan, you can also lay out a budget and jot down minimal investment projects for times when you have minimal funds.

Knock out roadblocks 

Is there a particular part you are hunting for or a process that you want one particular craftsman to do for you? Now is the time to ruthlessly hunt down parts, materials, or shops for what you are working on. Instead of spending time alone at the workbench, spend that time networking online or chatting with fellow hobbyists at events to find those elusive items you will inevitably need in the future. 

Send off parts 

engine headers
Kyle Smith

If your project is stalled because the car is going into storage off your property or a place where you can’t easily access it, now is a perfect time to remove a few bits and pieces and work on the car piecemeal. For example, the exhaust headers on my Corvair have begun to rust and generally look rough. So, after driving it into a friend’s pole barn where it could ride out the northern Michigan winter, I pulled off the headers (burning my fingers in the process, of course) and sent them to a shop that specializes in ceramic coating. If there is a delay in the process, I am not losing any drive time. I’ll reinstall them when I go to retrieve the car in the spring.

Other examples of piecemeal, time-intensive projects could be having trim re-plated or sending off parts for upholstery work

Save money 

That’s right. No matter what we like to tell our significant others (or even ourselves sometimes), projects cost money. If there is nothing else you can do, there is always the option of consciously setting aside funds to make sure that when you can get to work you aren’t wishing you could afford the parts to do the job. It’s an old joke that you often have time but not money, or money but not time. With a little focus and patience it can stay just that—a joke. 

As tempting as it is, don’t buy parts just yet. Save the money so you will be ready to buy parts when the time comes. If you purchase parts for one particular project but then something else fails, you are potentially broke (or now using credit) while trying to get the car back on the road. Having ready funds allows you to tackle projects as they appear and be better protected against surprise issues, which may vary from even the best-laid plans. 

Organize

Redline rebuild pistons
Ben Woodworth

Do you still have access to the shop but not the project car? If so, it’s time to organize and clean. A clean shop is an efficient shop. Keeping a clean and organized shop is hard, but if I had a nickel for every time I spent the evening cleaning the workbench off to make space for a project just to find it was now too late to start said project, I would probably have a much nicer truck than I do.

Create homes for all your tools, and make them easy to access and return to their designated places. Do the same with any spare parts. Better yet, write up an inventory while you clean and organize. You’ll thank yourself later.

You might be groaning reading through these. I get it. These are not the photo-worthy, brag-to-your-friends parts of a project. However, if you can keep focused and complete the menial tasks like these, the finished product will likely be better for it. It will also make your time with wrench in hand more efficient. Win/win.

Of course, these are just a few tips. If you have one to add be sure to put it in the comments below to help keep other temporarily displaced mechanics on the right path.

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