Complicated Fix

Hello brilliant mechanics of Car Talk nation,
I am looking for great stories to feature on a project I’m working on about Auto Parts. I am a lover of cars but don’t really know the difference between a carburetor and a crank shaft. I am looking for stories that have some legs to them, and I’m wondering if there are any issues you’ve come across in your years in the business that typically present themselves as one thing and wind up being another. I have covered a lot of the typical fixes (alternator, muffler, spark plugs, ignition coils, etc), and now I’m looking for something new. What is a crazy car problem and solution that you’ve come across? I’m trying to illustrate how complicated the process of diagnosing/fixing car problems can be. Any help would be greatly appreciated, and I’m sure you all have a wealth of info on the subject.

This scenario…… has been played out so many times and it is difficult for me not to laugh when someone is seen with that plug in there hand and a troubled look on their face.

Oh yeah. Stand by. The brilliant mechanics will be along shortly.

Dan, in order to write with any degree of credibility about the auto business, please get a rudimentary knowledge of how the business works, and what parts and resources go into making cars. Every good author does this. Arthur Hailey did just that in the sixties when he wrote the novel “Wheels”.

There are many good books in the library and much free info on the internet.

I find the best spy stories are written by persons who actually were spies (John Le Carre) or worked close to intelligence.

Once you’ve done that we’ll be glad to tell you many ionteresting stories.

I was exaggerating when I say I don’t know the difference between a carburetor and crank shaft. I just said that because they both start with the letter ‘c’. Really appreciate any help you’re able to lend. Thanks very much.

Rod – your link doesn’t work. Can you update?

Maybe this time.

Well no. I checked it and cut and paste doesn’t seem to pick up the page there.

Well, if -Extra Ford parts- is searched on page one of the hits ‘auto repair comics’ will take you to the story regarding the assembly line plastic plug that seals off the dipstick hole on Ford automatic transmission. The first time the pan is dropped, out falls what appears to be a fishing float. When the transmission was built the dipstick tube was left out, to be installed after then transmission was mated to the engine in the vehicle. The dipstick hole was plugged with the plastic bauble which got pushed down into the transmission pan by the dipstick tube when it was installed. The DIYers drop the pan and find the part and wonder what they have broken and carry the piece to the parts house for identification. The older countermen laugh and toss it in the trash and send them on their way but if the only counter help are the uninitiated a long and troubling conversation might result. It is hard not to laugh when I walk into a McParts store and see someone standing in line with the plug in their hand.

I will share with you a couple of my shop teachers experiences while driving through Africa on missionary missions.

The typical using panty hose as a replacement for an alternator belt.
Fording a stream after the motor died using the starter motor while in gear.
Making a rotor out of a cork and a paper clip.
Hope it is what you are thinking.

This one doesn’t count because nothing was ever really “fixed.” But the weirdest thing I ever had going on (though I have way less experience & time in on cars than many others on these boards) was on a 91 Escort. It was a 5 speed, and at around 190K miles it started popping out of 5th gear on the highway.

This is no big mystery really. It was probably that the 5th gear synchronizer was worn out.

Weird thing 1 is that it would only pop out of gear on one particular stretch of highway - and no other. It didn’t matter if the car was hot or cold or the weather was hot or cold or the speed was 60 or 65 or 70…Nothing else mattered. It was just one specific stretch of highway.

I just kept driving it & popping it back in or running it in 4th. At some point, though I can’t remember how long afterward, the thermostat stuck open. It was winter & I didn’t have much time so I parked it for a while & drove a back up car.

Weird thing 2 is that it sat for about a month and I finally got around to replacing the thermostat. After I did that it never popped out of 5th gear again. Winter, spring, summer, fall, any stretch of highway. It was still fine at about 210K when I gave it to my niece who moved away. The car eventually did meet its demise though I never got a clear report on why.

The only think I could ever figure is that the transmission stayed too cool. But that doesn’t really work as an explanation since it was popping out of gear even before the thermostat stuck open, and its also a manual so its not as if the gear oil is running through the radiator.

The things that keep coming to my mind usually involve a simple cause that was misdiagnosed by guessing and then followed by a parade of parts but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.

I’ll have to think back on this but the one about the VW that randomly shut down comes to mind. This involved a car that would instantly die at times but only at the same time of day and only on the same spot on the freeway.

Cigroller’s Escort problem is a weird one I do admit. :slight_smile:

Not sure if this is the kind of stuff you are looking for or not since there was no real resolution, but here goes:

When I was 17 years old, I had an S-10 Blazer that randomly decided it didn’t like its ECM fuse any more, and would blow every single new one I would install, rendering the vehicle undriveable. I spent three or four days trying to track down the electrical short causing this issue, and never did find it. I finally figured out that I could get it to hold an ECM fuse if I unplugged the oil pressure sending unit, so I traced those wires and found nothing wrong. Voltage and ground checked out good. Replaced the wiring harness, plugged it in, still blew fuses. Replaced the sending unit, plugged it in, still blew fuses. Then I gave up and learned to live with the oil pressure gauge reading zero and the check gauges light glowing at me.

These are great, folks. Keep them coming. Thanks very much for your help with this. I am trying to show how fixing cars is like solving a puzzle or playing chess. There are surprises and misdirections, and for people who love cars, there is nothing better than the chase of solving a complicated problem. Thanks again.

Visit any Ford dealer garage and take a look at the reapirs in progress on any 6.0 & 6.4 diesel heavy pickup.
Sometimes I’d swear there’s a space shuttle disassembled under there somewhere for all the hundreds of parts layed strategically about the work area.
You may even see the entire truck cab lifted off the frame on a hoist.

All for a leaky dollar o-ring or two.

I found a problem on an 87 Olds Cutlass Ciera about 20 years ago after it had been to several dealers for repair. The answer was usually the same: no problems noted. The vehicle would run fine for an hour or so and then it would begin to buck and shake until the engine died. One dealer replaced the entire ignition system trying to fix the problem. The engine was the 3.8 and it ran perfectly except for this one anomaly.

I bought the car for my wife because my friend was willing to part with it for a deal. My wife drove it for a few months without any problem. It then started to have the same misfire and engine dying as before except that it was only taking about 20 minutes or so of driving to cause the problem. It would not restart until the engine cooled down. I heard the snapping and popping of the ignition as the engine turned over. I waited until it got dark then I ran the engine until it began to shake from the engine misfire. I had the car in a darkened garage with the hood up. It looked like the 4th of July with all the fireworks going on under the hood. I also noticed a tiny drip from the end of one of the coolant hoses so I left the Olds in the garage until morning.

The next day I warmed the engine up again and opened the hood when the engine started to misfire. The leaking coolant was dripping on the hot exhaust and causing a fine mist to coat the engine. This coating was the problem as it rendered the distributor virtually useless. I quickly changed the cap and the engine fired right back up and ran perfectly. I then pulled the hose and found a tiny hole in the bottom of the coolant hose. I cut off a couple of inches from the hose and put the hose back on. The car ran perfectly until we sold it a couple of years later. I had never seen a problem like this before or since.

You might find a knowlegable mechanic on here but you will get many kooky ideas also!!

One that came to mind, and I’m not the one to discover the root cause, involved some VWs many years ago.

Some VW owners had manual transmission equipped models that if left in gear would take off on their own due to the starter motor engaging the engine even when no one was operating the car.
I’ve seen several of them with front end damage due to this and in one case a lady called the cops to report her car stolen. It was found almost a block away against a utility pole and apparently had a running start because it was slightly downhill from her house to the pole.

The cause was due to a faulty radio antenna cable grommet and rainfall. In certain situations with heavy rainfall some water would get past the fender washer, run down the cable, seep past the inner fender cable grommet, and get into the fuse box wiring which was behind the kick panel near the left knee. The water would short the starter motor wiring out and off she would go if left in gear without the park brake being applied. Or at least until the battery ran down, the starter motor burnt up, the the car plowed into something; or a combination of the three… :slight_smile:

Hope that one helps and I’ve got a few more if needed.

EllyEllis…I’m quite sure that your comment was not directed at me since the problem that occured was not kooky at all. If you have any mechanical abilities at all then you know what was occurring. A little graphite sprinkled on the top of a distributor cap or several swipes with a pencil will have the same affect as coolant mist. The mist was evaporating after a while and everything returned to normal. I didn’t need a CEL or fancy equipment to solve a problem that numerous dealer mechanics failed to detect. I think out of the box…way out of the box.

Naw, but on any subject. you get many far out answers to your questions.