My Broke-Down Life

As I limped my truck home at night with no headlights (and towing a trailer), I wondered how exactly does a person with five vehicles get left stranded? It took some doing, that’s for sure, and really I have nobody to blame except myself.

“Although it isn’t the friendliest street driver, I have driven my 1989 Dodge every day, despite the manual valvebody, smoky 5×25 injectors, and solid trans mount.”

Five Vehicles Left: 1989 DODGE… blown freeze plugs, mystery vibration

Although it isn’t the friendliest street driver, I have driven my 1989 Dodge every day, despite the manual valvebody, smoky 5×25 injectors, and solid trans mount. The Dodge was sort of always my back-up vehicle, in case something went awry with whatever I was daily driving. Thanks to a combination of age, corrosion and high boost, one freeze plug started leaking, and then another, and another. Combine the water leak with a mystery vibration that was getting worse and worse, and the truck was parked until I could get some cool billet side plugs, and the transmission could come out. One vehicle down.

Four Vehicles Left: 1971 Nova… severe oil leak

There are oil leaks, and then there are OIL LEAKS. The leak was so bad on my Chevy Nova that if the car was just left sitting, all the oil would leak out of it in a month or so. Why didn’t I fix it? Well, the pan itself was the problem, which was too low, and bonked off the ground numerous times on Los Angeles potholes. It had developed a hairline crack, which then seeped oil on a consistent and regular basis. Fixing it “right” meant pulling the engine and putting a new pan and pick-up on, so like the 1989, the Nova got placed on the back burner. After all, a race car that gets eight mpg isn’t the friendliest daily driver anyways. Which brings us to…

Three Vehicles Left: 1971 Dart… Electrical short, bad tires, suspension issue, water leak

Not long ago, I bought an old Dodge Dart with visions of it becoming a cool cruiser, but there was a problem. Actually there were many. One of the first times I drove it out of the city limits, it promptly responded with the engine dying completely, due to no electrical power. I did the “wiggle test” on all the wires and finally traced it down to a wire coming out of the plug on the firewall. “Not so fast,” said the smug Dart, which then proceeded to pull to the right hard while driving, and leak water out of the timing cover-to-block gasket, which meant half the dang engine would need to be taken apart. Guess what? That meant three vehicles down, and…

Two Vehicles Left: 1997 Dodge Ram 2500… Dead batteries, fuel leak

If you saw “Project Grandpa” in the last issue, you saw another new purchase, a 1997 Dodge that I just couldn’t pass up. The truck was supposed to be in perfect running and driving shape, but just a few days after I got it, the batteries went dead. And I mean dead, dead. The next fun surprise was a fuel leak, which was especially bad when the truck was cold. While it would have been nice if it were a loose filter or something, it looks like it’s the return line for the pump, which would take some time to fix. Time I didn’t have because I needed to jet down to Los Angeles from Northern California. Which meant it was time to move on to…

One Vehicle Left: 1995 Dodge Ram 2500… No overdrive, and…

So every once in a while when the Ram was cold, it would take a while to go into overdrive. It always eventually went in (usually by the time I made it to a freeway onramp) so I just lived with it. Of course, when I decided to head down to Los Angeles, that’s when my intermittent problem became permanent, and the truck would shift First, Second, Third, and that was it. Cruising at 65 mph became a painful 2,500-rpm experience, and of course mileage went way down.

After nearly 800 miles down and back from L.A., that’s when it happened. With the window down, I could smell, yep, fuel! I pulled over, and fuel was gushing from everywhere, I don’t even see how the truck was still running. With only about two exits to go until my exit, I decided to try and make it, and that’s when my headlights flickered and died. Going the last few hundred feet on parking lights, I coasted into a spot in front of my apartment complex with an entire truckload of stuff I needed to unload. But more important than my midnight moving was that vehicle five was down.

No Vehicles Left

So what have I learned from my experience? Hopefully something, because owning five vehicles you can’t drive is horrifying. While I’m tempted by visions of leased common rails dancing in my head, I realize the real problem wasn’t with any of my five vehicles, it was with me. I could have (and should have) gotten all of them fixed when I first found out there was a problem, rather than wait for the perfect time, or part, or putting it off because I could still “sort of” drive them. Maintenance just isn’t optional, as I’ve found out the hard way. Even diesels won’t last forever without some help from their owners. DW

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