Where I Find Therapeutic Joy in Menial Car Maintenance

There's deep joy in small, menial tasks.

I celebrated daylight savings finally ending by doing some menial-but-fun tasks on my Mazda2, since I finally had after-work hours that weren’t shrouded in darkness. There were a few things I’d been meaning to clean up on the 2, and you know what, I was reminded that this sort of easy automotive work is actually a lot of fun.

I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and headed outside to my garage where ol’ faithful was waiting. My list of to-dos was pretty minor but there were enough of them that all-combined they’d improve my general quality of life while cruising around. I suspect I’m not the only one with outstanding punch-lists like that? Plus, doing a bunch of small, easy things is quite therapeutic. Like folding laundry, or perusing Craigslist for my next potential project car.

Aesthetic Stuff

Where I Find Therapeutic Joy in Menial Car Maintenance
Image: Peter Nelson

For the longest time I had an OEM+ front lip on the 2. I say OEM+ because it’s a factory visual upgrade for some Asian-market front bumpers. They don’t fit perfectly on US-spec bumpers, but well enough, and from a few feet away you don’t notice the slight gap between the bumper and the lip in one or two spots. I’ve actually gone through five of these lips during my ownership; they’ve gotten torn from high SoCal driveways, ripped off on-track at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, and just generally destroyed rolling over shitty SoCal streets. My ride height isn’t even that low!

So I returned to the stock OEM lip, which is more of a bumper protector. But it looks better than nothing, adds a nice little accent, and is held in place much more sturdily. I even went all out and bought genuine, JDM Mazda rivets for it; they’re tough pieces of aluminum, and zip-ties wouldn’t have closed up the gap as well.

This lip doesn’t scrape on SoCal driveways, or pull the bumper down on shitty tarmac. That’s another reason why I went back to OEM; the old lip’s pulling has destroyed some of the bumper hardware, making it saggy.

A Good Dash Wipe-Down

Where I Find Therapeutic Joy in Menial Car Maintenance
Image: Peter Nelson

Several people have told me that I keep my car’s interior cleaner and more organized than the apartments I’ve lived in, and I take a lot of pride in that. Taking fifteen-odd minutes to thoroughly wipe down your dash, center console, steering wheel, and other cheap plastic trim pieces with Armor All wipes really spiffs up the interior, especially in a car that rides so stiff that coffee routinely splashes all over the place. Our Editor Andrew Collins is a big fan of Meguiar’s wipes and others seem to sing praises of 303 Protectant a lot. If you’ve got a favorite dash-wiper, drop us a note in the comments.

A Slightly More-Thorough Vacuuming

Where I Find Therapeutic Joy in Menial Car Maintenance
Nicer lighting than a shot of the vacuum attachment in the hatch. – Image: Peter Nelson

I opened the hatch and went to town with the vacuum, cleaning out the disgusting spare tire well and little crevices throughout the back half of the car. Since I’ve tracked this thing so much, a lot of dirt has built up in small crevices from going off track (it’s a dust storm at Buttonwillow Raceway Park just a few inches off the track), making it impossible to clean it all out in one go.

It seems the tricks is to clean it out, drive the car for a while to shake it out, then repeat. The last mild off I had was in mid-December, which was enough to sprinkle a new coat of the Central Valley’s finest land soot inside my poor old 2’s interior. A bunch of crap had accumulated in the spare tire well, so I focused on that region the most. Plus, I recently pulled the rear seat and spare cover in hopes of hitting the track soon to set some new personal bests, so I figured it oughta at least look a little nice.

A Mild Engine Cleaning

I pulled the car into the setting sun, popped the hood, grabbed a bottle of cleaner, and did some mild wiping-down and scrubbing under the hood. I removed the useless OEM air filter box a while ago, as I’ve had a short-ram intake for years. This revealed some more Buttonwillow buildup, so I scraped and scrubbed it clean. It looks a lot better under the hood now. Not amazing, but generally clean. It’ll be easier to spot potential valve cover leaks, and I like to think heat dissipates easier without the OEM air filter box.

These are mild, minor things. But there’s a lot of joy in taking an hour to tackle them. Now, for the the next month or two, every time I hop in the car I’ll sigh with relief over how clean the interior is. When I replace the oil in the next 2,000-or-so miles, it’ll be a tad cleaner under the hood. When I go up a steep driveway I won’t wince at the sound of my front bumper getting pulled down/off.

Every little bit of maintenance, or just cleaning, ought to be a point of pride for car owners who enjoy doing them. I might not have swapped in a limited-slip differential, did a big-brake kit, or turbocharged it, but I did something that made a difference and made it a nicer place to be.

It’s also more noticeable than most things you can do to a 2; one has to spend an incredibly large sum of time and money to make them even slightly faster.

Peter Nelson

Peter NelsonPeter Nelson has been wrenching on and playing with cars since he started driving them quickly between the cones at Chicagoland autocross events in his late teens. Nowadays, he can be found wringing out his Mazda2 at tracks all over California. His writing background includes Winding Road, Donut Media, and Autolist.com. He's also an avid cyclist and '80s/'90s action film connoisseur. Contact the author here.