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Sat., March 14, 2009, midnight

Nine years ago, Jeff Caplan was working on a 1980 five-series BMW and needed to fix the odometer.

“Every speedometer shop I contacted said the same thing, ‘You have to send it in. We don’t sell parts,’ ” said Caplan, who lives in Newport News, Va.

“All I needed was a small plastic part to fix it.”

Caplan figured out how to fix it himself, then started his own business – Odometer Gears at www.odometergears. com – which fashions odometer gears, windshield wiper gears, and headlight and seat parts for European and domestic cars.

Caplan answered a few questions about the mechanics of a car’s odometer.

Question: What makes an odometer work?

Answer: There are three types of odometers, from oldest to newest: cable, electronic and digital. A cable is being turned from a gear in the transmission which turns the speedometer and the odometer. On an electronic unit, a magnetic pickup is sending a signal to the unit along with 12 volts to run the needle and the odometer.

To fix a broken unit, most are very simple.

The broken gears are usually found on the side of the speedometer; swap the broken ones out for new ones gets you running again. Each speedometer has special small tricks that make a difference when you are changing the gears.

Our Web site has all the details; when a customer can’t figure it out, we are always near the phone to help at any hour.

Q: What makes an odometer break?

A: The units we directly work on have original gears made from a soft material that degrades with the oil they use for lubricant.

Some gears were hard plastic and some were soft rubber in each unit. After about eight to 12 years, one or more gears fail from the oil and heat of the sun. We use a hard plastic with graphite mixed in for self-lubrication. The new material is also good with petroleum-based lubricants so they should last forever.

Q: What about today’s odometers?

A: They are digital and look great but you can’t work on them without breaking the software codes.

The tooling is out there but very expensive. We don’t get into them. The two older styles are easy for the average owner to fix.

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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