When I was a kid, my father and I restored an automobile together. The car was going to be for me, and my dad wanted me to have something I could take pride in. At the time, I wasn't very experienced, so if something stumped me, my dad bailed me out. There were times when I would sit for hours and watch him fix what I muffed up. That meant watching things get taken apart. Sometimes the parts were bent and scratched, and I didn't necessarily want to know about it. Other times, I would go in the house and go to bed. In the morning, everything would be put back together. As I got older and more experienced, things changed. If I got stuck, I had to work it out for myself. That meant that I would do the taking apart, the bending, and the scratching-all of which added to my frustration. Sure, my dad would still help me, but if I quit to go to bed, so would he.
I learned two things from that experience. The first one is that there's nothing on a car that can't be fixed, as long as you're willing to do the work and deal with the frustration, and have the proper tools. The second is that sometimes the best way to avoid the frustration that goes along with the work is to shell out some hard-earned bucks and have an experienced technician to do it for you.
Which brings us to the subject of this article. We had an '85 Corvette with a leaky heater core. (Editor's note: No, not PJ's infamous "Blubonic Plague." The "Plague" is an '84, and about the only thing that doesn't leak is the heater core.) No problem, right? A quick flip through our GM Service Manual led us to believe it was an easy fix; they only dedicated a page to the entire procedure. This will be a piece of cake, we thought. Actually, we knew that it wouldn't be a walk in the park, because we were going to have to remove a ton of stuff to get to the core. But it couldn't be that hard!
Six hours later, we have pulled the entire dash and everything behind it on this pristine, low-mileage '85, deposited about $400 bucks in the ol' Swear Jar, and still hadn't gotten the core out. Unfortunately, this is the case for '84-89 Corvettes. In 1990, The General revised the dash and firewall so that the heater core comes out through the engine compartment, which is considerably easier-and a lot less frustrating!
We're going to show you some of the ups and downs involved and why you should think seriously about leaving this job to the pros. The biggest problem in working on a car like the Corvette is that it's cumbersome. There's absolutely no room to get your hand and a wrench in the same place, at the same time. If you can, you'll find there's no room for leverage. No, it's not an impossible job, but it will take more patience and skill than even the more experienced at-home mechanics have. If you need a heater core in your '84-89 Vette, take my advice and drive it to the nearest dealership, do not pass go, do not collect your $200-better yet, take the $200 and give it (along with a few bills more-it's a six-hour job at most shops) to the technician. You'll be much happier for it.