It had been raining – hard – for more than 24 hours. The ground was a gushy mess. She made the mistake of trying to turn a hybrid Lexus ES around by briefly (or so she thought it would be) driving onto the gushy ground – whereupon the car sank to its rocker panels in said gushy ground, as helpless as Ned Beatty in that scene – you know the one. Now, there are several ways to get a stuck car unstuck – “by the book” and otherwise.
I went with otherwise.
Because the last thing I wanted to do was root around in the muck trying to find the tow hooks – which were down there somewhere . . . like Titanic’s water line, buried far from the sight of man (to say nothing of man’s hands). Not in the pouring rain. Not at 8:30 p.m. Instead, I fired up my 4×4 truck – and grabbed a heavy cushion from the old sofa I keep in my outbuilding. With the truck in Low, I inched it to within inches of the rear end of the Ned Beatty’fied Lexus hybrid. Got out, put that heavy cushion in between the two. You can probably see where I am going with this. Told wife – who is piloting “Ned” – to mash the gas when she hears me toot my horn. Then I gently, gradually, eased the truck forward. At contact, I hit the horn – and she hit the gas. With a little help from behind, the Lexus heaved-to and was shortly free of the muck. No harm done – and no fuss (although some muss). I tell this tale as an example of field-expedient problem solving of automotive debacles. It’s not by the book, maybe – but it works. And isn’t that the thing?
* Heater core end-run –
You’re driving along and begin to notice a sticky, hazy film on the inside of the windshield – and there’s a sticky (and warm and wet) mess burbling up on the passenger side carpet. What’s happened is the heater core’s done sprung a leak. Warm coolant is leaking inside the car – and anti-freeze saturated warm vapors are circulating through the HVAC vents – hence the sticky film on the windshield. The quick fix is the automotive equivalent of tying off an artery. Under the hood, you will find two hoses – smaller in diameter than the main two (upper and lower) radiator hoses at the front of the engine, but still good sized. These are the hoses that carry warm coolant to – and from – the heater core, which is buried deep inside the firewall area (typically). What you want to do is splice these two hoses together – cutting the heater core out of the circulatory loop. Sometimes, you can just cut one and plumb the open end of that hose onto the fitting (at the engine) for the other hose. Or get a little plastic tube of just slightly smaller diameter – and use it to connect the cut ends of both hoses together, using radiator clamps to secure them. Radiator flush n’ fill kits – sold at any auto parts store have exactly the part (the little plastic joiner tube) you’ll be needing. Once done, you can drive the car that way indefinitely. No harm will come – but you will be cold (if it’s winter) because there will be no heat – until you have the heater core repaired/replaced. But, at least you won’t be stuck.
* Fuse shuffle –
Remember the second Terminator movie? There’s a scene near the end where the old model (Arnold) gets trashed by the new model (the liquid metal dude)? You think it’s lights out, but the Arnold Terminator re-routes its circuits and comes back to life just in time to save John Connor. Well, there’s a lesson in that. Let’s say you’re driving along and your car goes lights out – just dies on you. There are many things that might cause this to happen, but one of the things that could have happened that’s (fingers crossed) fixable by the side of the road is a blown fuse for a critical circuit. This is the first thing to check, before you call AAA. If you don’t know where the fuse panel is, find your owner’s manual – it should not only tell you where (someplace near the steering wheel is typical) but also have a diagram showing you the fuse map – which ones go where and what each one protects. Open the little panel and look carefully at each fuse. If the little metal strip embedded in the translucent plastic is burned through (from an overload or power surge) it will be obvious. Most fuse panels will have a little plastic tool that looks like a set of tweezers. Use it to pull the dead fuse. Hopefully, the maker of your car will also have provided a few extra/emergency fuses. Find the right one (by color and by matching the number) and swap it in for the one that fried. Now – fingers crossed – see whether the car will start. If it does, hooray! But even then, get home ASAP – and get the car to a garage as soon as possible thereafter. Because you want to find out why the fuse blew in the first place. This should not happen if everything is working as it ought to. If it does, there’s some underlying problem – and if not fixed, you could end up with a bigger problem than another blown fuse or being stuck by the side of the road. Whatever you do, do not ever substitute a fuse of the wrong amperage – because that’s all you’ve got on hand. Better to hoof it – or get it towed – than to fry it. You can avoid this potential problem by buying a spare for every fuse your car has – they’re available at any auto parts store – and keep them in the glovebox for just-in-case.
* The get-home gimp –
It is summer, it is hot – and your car is beginning to overheat. What to do? There are several things worth trying. First, slow down. But don’t stop. You want to reduce the load on the engine – but you also want good airflow over the radiator (which is how engine heat gets dissipated). Roughly 40-45 MPH in top gear is the sweet spot. If there are hills, try to climb them with as little throttle pressure as possible. And if there are downhill stretches, coast. Put the transmission in neutral (manual or automatic) and let momentum carry you down. The much-reduced load on the engine (which will be just idling) and the airflow over the radiator ought to help lower the temp. Turn off the AC if it is on. This will also lessen the load on the engine, which ought to help it run cooler. Next, turn on the heat – and roll down the windows. That heater core mentioned above? It is basically a mini-radiator. Use it to help transfer heat from the engine (via the cooling system) to … well, you. It won’t be comfortable, but better to be sweaty than stuck. If none of this works and the car is still on the verge of overheating, pull off and shut her down – and let her cool down. Once cooled down, you can gimp forward for another little bit – until it gets close to overheating again. Then, repeat. Bit by bit, you can gimp home – or closer to home. The main thing is to not drive the car in an overheated state – which can and often does lead to catastrophic problems, especially if the engine is made out of aluminum or has alloy cylinder heads.
And not just the engine is affected by overheating. If the engine overheats, the transmission (if it’s automatic) will overheat, too. The quickest way (short of a neutral drop) to kill an automatic transmission is by overheating it – more specifically, by cooking automatic transmssion fluid. Which is cooled by the same system that cools the engine. If the engine is overheating, so is the tranny fluid. Bad, bad news. And even more reason to avoid running an overheating car. Even if it doesn’t actually overheat, if it runs abnormally hot (even for short intervals, as when gimping it home) it’s a very good idea to have the transmission serviced (fresh fluid/filter) as soon as possible thereafter, just in case the old fluid got degraded as a result of being exposed to excessive heat cycling.
Throw it in the Woods?