Smoke if ya got ‘em.
A QUICK RECAP
The plan was simple, if not a bit optimistic. Replace Fezzik’s engine one weekend. Drive Fezzik to Overland Expo the following weekend. In hindsight, I should have known better. In retrospect, this was the best possible outcome.
Earlier this week, I shared how Josh and I went Full Pajero on Fezzik. We planned a simple engine swap, with plenty of time leftover for both a birthday party AND test drive trail run in the Superstition Mountains. We ended up spending 40+ hours getting that engine swapped alone.
It was three nights in a row of being up until at LEAST 2AM, culminating in my going to bed four hours before my alarm went off at 6AM on Monday. So you can imagine how I felt at the prospects of spending the very next Saturday pulling the damned engine out again to replace the rear main seal.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to, but I wouldn’t know that until 8AM Saturday morning.
Fezzik ran like a BOSS all week. Idled solid. Always decent oil pressure. Coolant temp just a hair below normal. NO CHECK ENGINE LIGHTS. The transmission even shifted great.
Fezzik had NEVER driven as nice as he did last week.
DRIVEN & AYFKM & CO.
So it was a complete surprise to see smoke start billowing out the back as I checked my rearview to merge back over after passing two Jeeps and a big rig at 80mph, uphill, with the AC running. Chef’s lifted TJ almost completely disappeared in the rearview as I let off the gas and double lane changed all the way to the shoulder and killed the engine.
Coolant temp was fine.
Oil pressure was fine.
I was listening to Justin Gray’s Driven & Co podcast at the time, too. He’s my former boss—and has given me shit for my unreliable “Isuzu” in the past. You might say the moment was absolute perfection, if for that reason alone.
ROADSIDE DIAGNOSIS & TRIAGE
Chef, having had his windows down when Fezzik let loose, said it definitely didn’t smell like transmission fluid. He was pretty sure it was engine oil. And, judging by the dark, brown stuff dripping off the bottom of the truck, and the smell of the dark brown stuff still burning off the exhaust, I agreed.
I called AAA to get the tow truck inbound and bummed a smoke. #triggered
I pulled the dipstick. It looked dry.
Didn’t bring any fluids, because the truck was fixed and running great. Why would I?
The engine was completely dry from every angle, and I didn’t bring any “crawl around on the ground on the side of the highway under a hot truck pissing oil everywhere” clothes with me, so I bummed another smoke and took a sip of the Dad’s Hat rye whisky stashed away in the back.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH TNT TOWING
Flatbed shows up with a new Toyota Highlander on the back. Chef and Angie bail out for camp and Expo. (It was already dark and they still had two hours’ drive ahead of them.)
Turns out the tow truck is owned by TNT out of Prescott. I know that company. Years ago, when my 91 Galant VR4 (195/2000) roached a transfer case en route to the Prescott Rally, TNT picked me up in the flatbed that broke down, resulting in a classic picture of my GVR4 on a flatbed being towed.
(Couldn’t find the picture, so if you’ve got it or find it, please link me in the comments?)
TNT would tow my Galant to the Prescottonian hotel, then tow it all the way back home to Phoenix two days later. How could I forget this company? Haha.
MUSICAL FLATBEDS (DANCING IN THE DARK)
Anyway, the driver asks me if Fezzik is AWD or can be towed in reverse with the rear end up off the ground. I tell him I suspect he can, but I wouldn’t trust that kind of a setup for a 100-mile trip back down into Phoenix.
Marshall (the driver) pulls forward a bit, then unloads the Highlander. Then he backs up to me and loads Fezzik up onto the flatbed. The Highlander owner and I exchange Sedona stories in the dark next to the big Cummins tow truck idling halfway to redline while the PTO is engaged.
It’s after 9PM. He’s been waiting for a tow since 2PM. Poor guy. Electrical issues.
It’s over an hour back to Phoenix, where we drop the Highlander at the dealership where Jim, the owner, says he will be invoking the Lemon Law, as this is his ninth tow in recent months. We leave him there to wait for a taxi home and make the still-30-minutes-without-traffic drive back to my house.
BACK AT THE FORT
Marshall dropped me off back at the fort sometime after midnight. I hopped in the Juke and ran to Quick Trip for five quarts of cheap 10w30.
Fezzik sat on the street under a streetlight. I put on my bright-ass LED headlamp and checked underneath. Hmm. No fresh drips, really.
I popped the hood and pulled the dipstick. Clean as a whistle. Damn.
Added two quarts and checked again. Wiping the dipstick with a crisp, white napkin from the glovebox, it appeared wet, but still didn’t appear up to the ADD mark. So I added two more quarts.
I checked again. NOW it looked like we had oil. I could barely see it, though, it was so clean.
Still no drips under Fezzik, so I decided to start the engine.
Oil pressure came right up. No ticks. No knocks. And no leaks, either?
I drove down to the end of the cul de sac, made a U-turn, and pulled up into the driveway.
Still no leaks.
I crawled into bed exhausted, confused, and generally disappointed.
IT’S GONNA BE ALRIGHT. (I’VE GOT TO MAKE IT ALRIGHT.)
Six hours later, I texted Josh my late night troubleshooting efforts and we agreed I should try limping over to Keith’s Shop of Mitsubishi Wonders (just 10 minutes up the road) and meet him there.
I stopped at QT for caffeine and water on the way. Still no leaks.
Parked in the shade behind the shop, I popped the hood and let the AC fan run to cool things down in preparation for our having to pull the engine in half an hour when Josh arrived.
I listened to Stick Figure’s “Easy Runaway” while I did. “It’s so easy. Easy. It’s gonna be alright. It’s got to be alright.” Not knowing what simple miracle was about to befall me in my darkest hour.
Josh pulls up and immediately crawls under Fezzik.
IT’S NOT THE REAR MAIN
“It’s not the rear main!” He says almost instantly. “Check it out.”
He points to the bracket under the bellhousing intentionally designed to divert oil leaks away from the hot exhaust (you know, to prevent the whole thing burning to the ground). It’s bone dry.
“It’s probably the transmission,” he says. Our first suspect is a 90-degree fitting on the side of the transmission that routes to the trans cooler up front. “When we disconnected the bracket and moved those cooler lines, there’s a chance we cracked that guy loose.”
Four feet of hardline coming off a 90-degree fitting seems plausible, and I’m trying to decide whether or not to be relieved it’s not that we damaged the transmission while struggling to stab the engine last weekend when Josh gets excited.
#FACEPALM (JUST VENTING)
“Dude. You’ve got transmission fluid all over the top of the transmission. It looks like it vented excess fluid. Let’s check the level.”
Now, we TRIPLE checked the level before I drove home Monday morning—at operating temperature, in neutral, after shifting through the gears—but I’ll be damned if we weren’t a full quart high on the transmission.
I pointed out it didn’t SMELL like transmission fluid when it was actively smoking, and Chef was pretty sure it smelled like engine oil.
OH SHIT. THE ENGINE OIL.
Now in broad daylight, we pulled the dipstick, which revealed the engine was over-filled—to the tune of a FULL GALLON of oil. Guess those new seals were working just fine after all.
Note to all the Montero owners out there. If your oil pressure gauge isn’t scary low at idle, something’s probably wrong. Haha.
We made a quick run to the local parts store for fresh Rotella and a WIX filter.
It looked like the previous owner filled the transmission with oil. Or at least, the wrong stuff.
ANOTHER DISASTER AVERTED
And you know what? I think that’s how I’m going to start looking at this truck. “Disaster averted.”
It went 170k on the original timing belt. (That should have been changed at 60k & 120k.)
The sloppy, wheezing engine went almost 200k without catastrophic failure.
And now this. Yeah. I’ve actually got a damn lucky machine on my hands.
I might just be the luckiest Montero owner in the world.
I was home just after 3PM, with good oil and filter on the engine, and the correct, Mitsubishi Diamond SP-III in the transmission.
PS: Five days later, I got rear-ended. Here’s what happened to the Camry that slid for three full seconds before scooping Fezzik up and tossing us into a Honda Accord. And, yes, I was listening to Driven & Co again. (I might have to start listening to that one at the office or something. And never on a plane.)