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Breaking Down

January 22nd, 2008 · No Comments

I’m broke down in this creepy little town that sounds like a bad country song.

It started with a hill, with the realization that, although the gas petal was touching the floor, the van was slowing down. The engine was neither racing nor stalling, just idling. I lifted my foot from the petal and listened to the lilting purr of the engine, but couldn’t decipher anything. So much depends on the sound of an engine. When I reapplied my foot to the gas the van sped up. I watched the spedometer climb to fifty as I crested the hill and wondered if that had really happened and what it meant.

A few hills later it happened again. I called a mechanic a few hundred miles up the road who mentioned air sensors and barometric pressure. I think the check engine light would be on. I call a vendwelling mechanic extraordinaire. He says distributor cap, which doesn’t make any sense to me until I get to a town and stop at a gas station to ask about a parts store. The van doesn’t turn back on. It turns over really fast and good tho. Electricity is not an issue and I don’t think gas is either.

Suddenly the distributor cap makes sense, and I dive under the hood. The parts store is two miles up the road and it closes in an hour. I grab my toolkit and pull off the air filter, fan cover, and some other random plastic stuff that is in the way of getting to anything under the hood. My light seems so dim in the vast darkcold as I hold it up to where I can barely see the distributor behind a mess of hoses. One of those hoses is a big metal bar and it’s right in front of it. Shit!

I grab my Haynes manual and flip to the distributor page. It advises me to remove the engine cover from the inside. I didn’t even know I had one. A quick survey of the situation reveals that the passenger seat is going to have to come out. The parts store closes in twenty minutes. If I’m going to spend the night in this creepy little town I definitely don’t want to have to lock Bro up to keep him out of the engine. Instead I head inside to warm up and study my Haynes.

After a while some mechanical boys come by. They concur about the doghouse, but they call frozen condensation in the feul lines. We put it back together and try jumping it. It doesn’t work.

When the store closes Bro and I play in the snow, chasing imaginary shrew tunnels and randomly pouncing. With senility has come the suspension of disbelief, something like an imagination in Bro, who has always been so pragmatic and boring. It’s cold though, twelve below on the sign, and we get back in the van. I grab a bunch of warm clothes and put on as many as I can, so that I’m wearing three layers of pants, six shirts, a jacket, a coat, a scarf, a hat, and big down gloves.

I circle the parking lot randomly with Bro. Stopping makes me cold. I watch the lighted sign declaring that they have Gas! Groceries! Electronics! Videos and DVDs! And then: 6:38 PM -16 F.

I keep walking.

Tags: Van Living

0 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lizzy // Jan 22, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    My distributor cap got replaced yesterday. Along with the coil wire for it, and the only 2 of my spark plugs that my NJ mechanic (my brother) could reach.

    Our vans are pretty well designed so that we almost have to take them to the shop for some stuff. Or so my brother says.

  • 2 tryingtolearn // Jan 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Wondering if it’s the fuel filter…seen this a lot when I pull over to offer a hand to breakdowns on the highway…

    A:- as a cheap first step replace the distributor cap(and rotor at the same time of course…they commonly come as a set)…you can always check for cracks but hard to see…if it’s been on there for more than 5 years it’s time to replace anyway.

    B: – GM has a fuel injection that is fairly robust as long as it gets clean fuel…very very few people even know they have a fuel filter…usually a ceramic filter which does need changing…have gotten two families going again by simply removing the fuel filter (finding it and getting it out is usually a two..sometimes three knuckle skin job) and blowing backwards through it with the breath…yoga training helps after all…ruins the bouquet of ones breath but ya gotta do what ya gotta do…

    Example: 1 – actually found a pebble in one..the guy had five kids and I think one of them must have put a handful of gravel in his dad’s gas tank…kids are funny…the pebble was EXACTLY the right size to travel down the fuel line and plug the inlet to the fuel filter…which happened going up Rogers Pass in the Rocky mountains…rigged up a gas can with some spare fuel hose to see if it would run (eliminating spark and compression as the other two legs of the three legged stool of Spark, Compression and Fuel…that an engine needs to run). When the engine ran…had narrowed the fault down to the fuel filter… just puckered up and blew it out…with the caution to the Dad to replace said filter ASAP…( I still wonder if he ever did? Adult people are even funnier than little boys sometimes).
    Example # 2 – family with 3 young boys – very hot day in the middle of nowhere…guy seemed really really stressed…hopping around like a nut case…odd I thought…OK – time to pull out the tool box and eliminate things …figure out what works and then focus on what the fault is – 10 year old Ford …didn’t look maintained – had fuel injection …no carb to check float levels on…cranked over on the starter nicely – no joy, lots of (A) Spark when I removed a plug and held it against the block (with insulated pliers, about 10,000 volts) got him to crank it …nice fat spark…(B) Compression…didn’t sound like a busted overhead cam belt (engine cranks REALLY fast due to NO compression)…your van does not have a cam belt…uses a chain and they never (almost never)break so that had eliminated everything but (C) Fuel…took awhile but I found and removed fuel filter…sprayed all over shirt. Blew it out backwards…note blow NOT suck…LOL…got some dirt (use a kleenex to blow into…shows up fine particles)…re-installed and the engine started right up. Followed them for half an hour to make sure they were going to make it …had a very nice card later …usually don’t give out my business card (I was running a little oil company at the time) but wanted them to call my cell if they broke down again…(THEN had a call from their Grandpa…made me weep like a baby …seems the youngest boy in the car had a congenital heart condition and the heat stress could have caused heart failure)…really glad I didn’t drive by like everybody else…I always stop if only to offer a cell phone…unless of course they look overtly dangerous…never had to use my 20 inch pipe wrench to defend myself yet…but then I live in Canada.

  • 3 Tatya // Jan 23, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I love the image of Bro hunting and pouncing on imaginary shrews! Sounds as though, (attempts to bury his water notwithstanding), encroaching senility is being kinder to him than it is to many humans!
    He’s lucky to have you…
    -Tatya

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