I’m pretty sure the only thing really holding together my old pickup truck is willpower.
Of the many reasons that I want to complete the SuperTruck project is simply that my existing long-range vehicle is starting to feel like it’s on its last legs. The list of little things wrong with it is long, but the results of those things are interesting.
For example, there’s a leak in the fuel tank, but it’s at the top. So, as long as I never actually put in a whole tank of gas, it’s not an issue at all. On the other hand, I have no sense of my fuel economy, because I can’t top off the tank and divide my miles by my fuel used.
It also means that I ran out of gas a couple nights ago. On the freeway.
Oh sure, it wasn’t so bad the FIRST TIME it happened…
I was driving home at night a while back, and realized that my fuel gauge was low. Unfortunately, on this truck, it doesn’t beep or have a light come on or anything. The gauge is just low, and at some point the engine simply stops working. I was west-bound on the divided state Highway 16 when I could feel the power puttering out. Not that big of a deal – using “Pulse-and-Glide”, “driving without brakes”, and having the correct tire pressure, means that inertia is my friend to get me the rest of the way to the gas station.
I coasted UP the exit ramp, made the two right-hand turns to the side road the gas station is on when I saw I would need to make a left into the station, but there was an on-coming car. Hmmm. Just enough time for me to make the left into the station before the other car gets too close… I made the left (uphill) into the station parking lot, only to have the other car tail me in. My truck was slowing down fast, but still had just enough inertia to coast up to just before the first gas pump.
I hopped out and pushed the truck the last foot to reach the gas hose.
The other driver, a friendly middle-aged woman in a Ford Focus, pulled up to the other side of the gas pump. “What’s a matter? Run out of gas?”
Her. “We’ll, you’ve got some luck getting all the way up to right there!”
I put in half a tank, and drove the rest of the way home without anything more adventurous that evening.
Until a couple nights ago. I was driving home. It was cold and dark. I was on the exact same stretch of road, headed the same direction, at the same speed, when the engine started coughing. “Hmm..Well, I’ve done this one before…” I tried the same things again to maximize my momentum and get to the same gas station.
I just ran out too soon. The truck had started stalling JUST A LITTLE bit farther away than when it happened the first time. Which meant I was now stuck on the side of the road, part way up the off-ramp, in the dark, and it was a lot colder than last time as well.
Put on my winter hat, and grabbed a flashlight from the glove box. The gas station was actually only across the street, but it was a LONG walk to go all the way around the chain link fence the separated the freeway from the side-road. And there was such a convenient tree right there. I used my mad climbing skills to take me up over the fence, minding my ankle on the landing. Across the street, I headed into the gas station and asked if they had a jerry can I could borrow. The manager-on-duty was actually very friendly about it, and said it happens all the time. The clerk went to put $5 of pre-pay on one of the pumps, when he looked up and said “Hey, you’re Andrew’s brother.” I glanced at his name-tag, and realized it was Derrick, one of my brother’s friends. Why is it that whenever I do something stupid, somebody always has to recognize me? Jeesh. At least this time, there wouldn’t be a newspaper article about it.
I walked the long way back to the truck, figuring that climbing over an eight-foot fence with only one hand and a hefty bottle of flammable and spillable liquid was a bad idea. Back at the truck, I slipped on my reflective neon green safety vest, and dodged traffic while trying to refill the tank. The jerry can had an unusual nozzle, which required me to hold the flashlight with my mouth, press a button, and hold a lever, simultaneously. All that, and the nozzle was still too short to actually hold open that little tiny metal flap that’s inside the filler port. I grabbed some stiff aluminum wire I use to tie down loads with, and pinned open that flap, and managed to get more gasoline in that tank then on the ground. Even then, the can had such a bad design that it couldn’t be tilted to get more than half the gasoline out!
But it was enough to start the engine, pull around the block, return the borrowed jerry can, get half a tank of gas, and thank Derrick.
That was only a couple of nights ago.
Yesterday, my exhaust system decided to leave me.
I was driving down the road. Heard a “whump” and suddenly the engine was WAY too loud. “Yipes”. I pulled over to inspect the engine compartment and underside of the truck. The diagnosis was pretty easy. The ENTIRE EXHAUST SYSTEM WAS GONE.
The truck has a pretty simple exhaust system, and it already ended just a few inches past the muffler. (A vehicle is only required to have the exhaust come out past the passenger compartment.) Unfortunately, the short pipe that the muffler hanger was on was rather rusty. When I hit a bump in the road, it managed to snap and the leverage of the combined muffler and pipes broke the joint up at the pipe coming off the exhaust manifold.
I pulled a U-turn, grabbed the exhaust off the side of the road, and threw it in the pickup bed. I then (noisily) headed towards the auto parts store that was on the way home. I checked in with one of the guys and had him look up the parts on the computer. After a bit of “You want HOW MUCH for that muffler?”, I decided that all I really needed was some generic pipe, a coupler, and some pipe clamps. “Good luck with that.”, the store clerk said as I mentioned how I intended to reuse most of the existing parts.
I headed (noisily) home. In my garage, I broke out my welder and angle-grinder with cut-off wheel.
The muffler actually wasn’t in such bad shape, other than the tail-pipe from it having completely snapped off. On the other far end of the exhaust system, the pipe wasn’t bad either except the rusted end.
I welded a new tail-pipe to the muffler, and chopped off the bad end of the opposite pipe. At that point, if I could simply remove an existing (read as: rusted beyond all recognition) pipe clamp, it should be pretty easy to weld and clamp a coupler on. I was able to get my cut-off in the right position and remove the clamp. I welded the coupler to the pipe and then slid the whole “new” exhaust system up and under the truck and with a bit of wiggling, was able to get the coupler to meet up and attach with a clamp.
In the back of the truck, I slid under with my welder and helmet and welded the back pipe to an existing u-mount, that it would have just rested on before. There, now no rattling!
In about an hour, and $10 of auto parts I had a working exhaust system again. No, not super-pretty, but serviceable and wouldn’t wake the neighbors.
Well, I guess that’s a pretty long story that could be narrowed down to two things.
1) I really don’t want to sink any more money into this truck. Please, please, please, just hold together until I can get the Diesel/Electric Hybrid going!
And 2) Hey, I got skills!
Driving without an engine skills, tree-climbing-fence-hopping skills, social skills (thanks for the gas Derrick!) thrift skills, welding and cutting skills.
Every once in a while, I’m pretty impressed that I ACTUALLY KNOW how to DO something. Instead of a frustrating “I have no clue how to fix this”, it’s “Hey, I can do this!” I gotta say that’s pretty empowering.
For every time I screw up, I learn something new, I gain a new skill, and I’m prepared for it next time.
If it keeps falling apart, I’m pretty sure I can still hold it all together! !