Why keep a repair journal?
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
"Alright, everybody — JOURNALS!"
It must've been seventh grade. Mrs. Zarrow began every third-period English class with that phrase ... and I had no idea what to put in it.
"Mr. Deferrari, staring out of the window is not what I asked you to do," she said.
I didn't understand such a concept and understood it less so when Mrs. Zarrow tried to explain that it wasn't a diary. 28 years later, I know the difference — I looked it up last night.
A diary is the "what" of each day, and a journal is both the "what" and "why." The latter is much more profound and probably what she was trying to explain to me.
Well, I don't keep a record of personal ramblings. Discovery of such a device would serve as grounds for my institutionalization. I do, however, find it imperative to keep one for Porsche repairs.
A Porsche's maintenance booklet is like a passport. It serves as proof of where it's been and when, but not much else. There's no story, no detailed account of what exactly what was done to support a service milestone.
So, what? You get the mileage, date and RO number of such-and-such a service and an illegible dealer stamp. Aside from the odd jot concerning what oil and viscosity was used, there little detail other than that the car was serviced.
Receipts? Well, they're better; but vintage Porsches that come with each scrap of carbon-copied paper are few — especially when they're not of the desirable sort or of much value. Factor in a list of owners whose sum surpasses the digits of one's hand, and the title may be the only piece of paper that comes with the thing.
Then, the validity of such documents comes into question; if you're of the bloody-minded ilk.
"Well, how do I know your friends didn't take turns filling in this book with different pens? Maybe your uncle made it look official with a Porsche Service rubber stamp he picked up at a swap meet.
"And don't try to pass off those receipts, either. I know that trick with carbon paper ... I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday."
But find an owner who kept a repair journal, and you've found a voice for that Porsche.
There's no standard outline or structure on how a repair journal should be laid out. But chances are that if someone went through the trouble of penning each service, overhaul or bulb replacement, great care has been taken with that Porsche's upkeep.
The journal keeper needn't be the one servicing their Porsche, either. I've met a few such owners who supplemented the books and paper records with a notebook resplendent in calligraphic blue ink.
Then, there are owners who serviced the car themselves giving you more than just the what; the grease-smeared why, how and where could be in there, too. I prefer to slip off the gloves and put down the words over a smoke and glass of Bordeaux over the din of '70s funk.
The classic "composition book" found in any buck joint is my choice of medium; fits best in the glove box. There's no metal spiral that can snag things and stretch into shapes impossible to reshape. And it doesn't lend itself to carelessness; pages simply can't be torn off cleanly.
In terms of filling it, I've a preference for black extra-fine point Sharpie Permanent Markers. They're bold, complement my penmanship and demand perfect execution of each character. White-out and cross-offs are unacceptable; I'd prefer to take an X-Acto, slice off a page with a mistake and start again.
A typical entry starts with the date followed by great detail of the job performed, the mileage serviced, and if routine in maintenance, the mileage or date of the next service.
No rules for writing entries in these journals; make them as detailed, colorful, or pithy as you like.
Let's take a 993 oil change, for example.
The date is penned to the left of the red margin line. Directly opposite the line begins with the nature of the service — oil change with filter replacement. Next, the brand, grade and quantity of oil followed by the brand of oil filters, the cost and part their numbers. I also include replacement of the 22 x 27 washers and their part numbers, then the mileage the oil and filters were drained and replaced, and the mileage for the next service.
I also note how much oil was needed, where the oil topped off on the dipstick and where the needle read on the oil level gauge. Checking the dipstick against the gauge keeps it in check should it begin to falter.
There's redundancy in mentioning things like part numbers and oil quantity, but I tend to forget what I said and did three minutes ago, so it serves a mnemonic purpose. It's helpful in many ways, though, especially when part numbers supersede.
In between the oil changes are entries containing precisely how much oil was consumed and the mileages between each top-up. Committing these occurrences to paper is reason alone in getting into the habit of keeping a journal — especially important for air-cooled engines like this one.
Entries for oil changes don't all read the same, however. Each contains observations like a new oil leak or torn suspension link bellows, things like this. Others may contain a technique such as using a large pair of channel locks to remove the smaller filter, for example.
Sometimes, I'll include an opinion peppered with trucker talk regarding an engineer's logic or anecdote concerning a repair-inspired thought. Hardly sentences worthy of splicing in between technical rhetoric. Nevertheless, they're good for a laugh if referencing that entry at another time.
Repair journals offer more than keeping track of services and ancillary bits. Insight and knowledge on a repair and how it can be made easier and less time-consuming are important byproducts. This is especially true on unfounded jobs too complex to remember or ones requiring particular tool maneuvers, sequences and the like.
In terms of reference, a journal is invaluable. It's easy enough to keep a mental note on service intervals, but remembering clutch and brake jobs are nearly impossible.
The latter two aren't mileage-specific services, but it's useful to know when and at what mileage these took place for a few reasons other than curiosity. These may include longevity comparisons if using parts from different manufacturers, premature failures or if related parts like hydraulic hoses, master/slave cylinders and such might need replacing during the next service interval.
A Porsche with a journal in its glove box exposes another dimension to its personality, one beyond the physical. That composition book verbalizes intimate details regarding its health, maladies and corrective actions needed.
Every entry is a glimpse into its history — and yours. Dates, mileages and words might evoke memories of such-and-such a service performed a few days before that 1,000-plus mile journey across five states, or some other epic trip.
It's a good habit, this. I suspect many of you who fix the thing yourself have penned volumes. Some have a preference to keep repair journals digitally, but there's a romance of a time forgot when pen is put to paper. It says as much about the author as it does the car.
Buying a Porsche with a repair journal is singular, like finding a previous owner's forgotten mementos stuffed under carpets or seats. A moment of reflection occurs when leafing through it; that machine belonged to someone who took exceptional care of it and here's the proof.
It's in the details of each entry, the structure and penmanship second only to the condition of the car itself. Reading such a thing is a journey through history, a personal account of that Porsche's existence and how the owner fostered its survival.
There's soul in that ink.
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