For many of us, the path to automotive self-sufficiency ultimately begins with a lot of stress. Something serious has gone wrong with the car or truck, we need it running pretty damn quick (it’s probably the daily driver), and we just can’t bear to spend that kind of money having a shop do the work. What do we do?
If you’re like me, you call up a buddy or two you met through a car forum, explain the problem, and between the small handful of friends you can get together, sum up enough collective confidence to do something stupid like yank the engine and rebuild it because there’s no way you’re dropping a grand on a head gasket replacement at the local dealership.
Years later, you’re daily driving a fully built monster. You know pretty much everything about it, and with the exception of a few items, you’ve either personally installed everything or stood right next to a good friend who brought it over from the workbench. Things are going well. You recognize there was a time when you were a little worried about working on the complex air pump under the hood. Doing it yourself meant rookie maneuvers. It was all new and you were all-in on getting more for your money. Next thing you know, it’s not that you’re worried about how much it will cost or whether or not you’ll be able to do what needs done. You’re just worried this project will mean more time fighting with the damn thing.
This afternoon, when my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law took off to hang out with friends, I hopped in Rocinante the Fun Cooker to run a couple errands. Since successfully replacing the O2 sensor last weekend, my little Pajero has been running positively awesome for a 25 year-old, 100hp truck.
He starts right up, he hardly smokes (haha), and he accelerates more crisply than ever before. I’m thinking he might even pass emissions this week – only 6 months late!
I get on the loop 101 eastbound, headed to my old buddy John’s house to drop a couple things off first. Winding the carburetted 2.6 out to 4 grand on the tach, I grab fifth gear and ease into traffic at a couple MPH above the speed limit. A couple minutes later, I glance down at the speedo to make sure I’m not going too slow – a strange thing you do when you’re in the 100HP club like I am – and I notice the battery and brake lights are lit in the cluster. As they say on Reddit, dafuq?
A quick check of the voltmeter shows I’ve got right at 12VDC, down from the usual 14+. Back to the dummy lights, now I notice the temp gauge is 7/8 of the way to redline. OMGONOEZ. Knowing the Mitsubishi G54B is notorious for cracking heads when it overheats – and I’m usually low on coolant anyway due to a worn out heater core in the dash I haven’t gotten around to bypassing yet – I start to really worry. Fortunately, I’m less than 2 miles from John’s place.
Exiting the highway, I pop the hood for additional airflow. I cranked the heater, but there was no hot air – a very bad sign. I can hear something hissing under the hood, but see no steam – things aren’t looking very good at all. The last thing I need on a Sunday afternoon is catastrophic engine failure in my daily driver. I’m only a mile from John’s so I take it easy. Temperature gauge is holding steady just shy of redline, volts are still right at 12, engine sounds and seems to be running fine, and I don’t smell anything hot. I might just dodge a bullet today, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.
Get to John’s, pop the hood, and see my radiator cap doing its job – venting excess pressure. I don’t have the textbook steam cloud, but it’s obviously the radiator cap. Might as well hang out for a bit while this thing cools. Figure I’ll top off the radiator before leaving, maybe pick up a new radiator cap on the way home. A little under an hour later, John and I go out to have a look.
I’ll be damned. The alternator/fan belt has shredded and come off. There’s no damaged hoses. There’s no obvious signs of pending disaster. The old belt – I knew I should have replaced when I put the engine back together last year – cracked, chunked, and bailed. Nothing was wrong with my alternator. I just lost the belt. Nothing was wrong with my cooling fan. I just lost the belt.
John ran me to the parts store where I picked up a US$6.00 belt. Back at his house, John grabbed me a 12MM socket, ratchet, and screwdriver. New belt was installed and tight inside of 15 minutes. Then we topped off the radiator with the hose. (Yeah, I know I should use distilled water, but you do what you gotta do, and considering I’ve got a constant leak, I wasn’t about to waste the coolant.) We let the engine heat up, the thermostat opened, hot coolant started flowing through the radiator, and we buttoned it all up. I was back on the road to get dog food and stuff to make curry for dinner.
I literally walked in the door, filled the dog’s bowl, set stuff up for dinner, and stepped into the office to share this story before the girls get home. (As they would show up 15 minutes later and my 17 month old daughter would learn a valuable lesson about reaching into the dog’s bowl while the dog is eating. I would have to delay posting this until the following day.)
. . .
As I was driving around town after my bout with unscheduled maintenance, I got to thinking. There was a time when this sort of thing would have spelled disaster. It would have meant freaking out and stopping immediately, somewhere without friends, tools, and help. It would have meant calling roadside service and waiting two hours for a tow, and not being able to do the things my family was counting on me to do. It would have been a giant effing mess – and probably meant I’d miss work in the morning.
Instead, it was an hour with a good friend, joking about past shenanigans, and less than half an hour just fixing the problem with my truck. Yeah, it was “just a thrown belt,” but for some people, there’s nothing “just” about anything like this. What is very likely a serious and scary problem to most people turned out to be little more than a speedbump in my afternoon.
We’ve all done so much with our vehicles, it’s easy to get caught up in all the big things we still want to do, or all the major problems we have to solve. I don’t think we really appreciate just how friggin’ awesome it is to be a gearhead enough. So, something to think about.
What about you? What was the last annoying little repair you had to do that didn’t really mess up your day?