Last Thursday I drove from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. Early in the trip, I noticed that my manual transmission was getting harder and harder to shift. I would have to use some real muscle to go from 5th to 4th when I needed to climb a hill, or back to 5th on the straightaways. Getting into reverse was a real grind. Seriously … a grind. Shifting into first from a stop was almost impossible. Something was obviously wrong.
I finally stopped at a service station once I got over to I-15. I had done some Googling along the way and had come to the conclusion that my clutch fluid was probably very low. I bought a bottle of DOT-3 and poured some in, only to see it dribble right out the bottom of the clutch master cylinder reservoir. DRAT!
One of the service station mechanics saw it before I did. The plastic nipple that provides the connection between the master cylinder hose and the reservoir itself had snapped off cleanly at the base, leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of the reservoir and causing most of the clutch fluid to leak out. Without any fluid in the reservoir, I had no hydraulic pressure to actually make the clutch … clutch.
Naturally, they didn’t have a replacement clutch reservoir in Beaver, Utah. That would be too easy. I called ahead to a couple of parts stores in Fillmore, and ended up with zip and zip. One of the guys from Fillmore said that the master cylinder reservoir was probably a dealer part, so I called the closest dealer, which was a couple hours ahead of me in Provo.
After keeping me on hold for 10 minutes, the dealer’s “parts guy” said they don’t sell the reservoir by itself. He transferred me to the service department, which kept me on hold for another 15 minutes before telling me I needed to talk to the “car guy.” (He was apparently the “truck guy.”) When I finally got to talk to the “car guy” he told me in no uncertain terms they would have to replace the entire master cylinder assembly at the same time, and quoted me a price (including parts and labor) of $370.
Since it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to get the car fixed on Thursday, I limped into Salt Lake and forgot about the repair until after my interview. Friday afternoon I called around to at least a dozen auto parts stores, junk yards, “pick a part” lots, and so on. Nobody had a replacement reservoir. When I searched online, there were plenty of online dealers that offered a full clutch master cylinder for my type of car, but none of them had the reservoir. The forums for Neon repairs were filled with desperate pleas from shadetree mechanics looking to get their hands on “just the plastic reservoir–not the whole assembly.” I obviously wasn’t the first person who had encountered this particular problem.
My buddy Doran was convinced that we could simply repair the part. So on Saturday, that was exactly what we set out to do. After discussing various possible strategies, we ended up buying a $2.50 brass “hose end” and a $5.00 package of JB Weld. I cleaned out the reservoir thoroughly with detergent and drilled out the bottom to receive the threads of the brass fitting. Once the fitting was threaded in nice and tight, I mixed up some good ol’ JB Weld and coated the seam liberally both inside and out. We put the new-and-improved “robo-nipple” up in the laundry room so the epoxy could cure for a full day.
On Sunday, we pulled the ol’ ox out of the mire and installed the reservoir back into my little car. It was as easy as slipping the barbed nipple back into the tube and then securing the bracket in place with a single nut. I poured some DOT-3 inside and pumped the clutch a bunch of times. When the cap was back in place, the clutch worked just as good as new!
The entire repair cost under eight bucks, and I feel pretty good about cheating the Larry H. Miller estate out of $362. Maybe, if you share this blog post with all of your Facebook friends, I’ll get a good SEO bump and then all of the other thousands of Neon owners with broken clutch reservoir nipples will eventually be able to see how I stuck it to The Man by fixing a poorly designed plastic part.