CC Cohort Ralf K shot this the other day in Tukwila, WA. He asks: “WTF, major repair job at train station parking lot? Somebody doesn’t have AAA?”
So where’s the most unusual or awkward place you’ve repaired a car?
I changed the tranny in my Opel in my front yard.
Wife was thrilled.
I had to replace a timing belt in my chevette on the third floor of a parkade
I can’t imagine Sound Transit being too happy about that or letting it go for very long at all.
I’m trying to figure out exactly what they’ve got going on. It looks like the brakes are apart but it also looks like they are disconnecting some of the suspension while the vehicle is still supported by it, not a great idea. I can’t imagine that link needs to come free to do the brakes.
Since I did the mobile auto repair business for several years I’ve done lots of things in parking lots and other places. I did an engine in the back parking lot of a paint store. Rear axle in an apartment complex parking lot. Lots of various things like starters, alternators, brakes, timing belts, tune ups and the like in places from office parking lots to construction sites.
One time I was in an office parking lot working on the brakes that were in a very sad state, when someone came walking by and commented on the fact how gutsy theifs are today stealing tires in the broad daylight. Never mind the fact that my Van is sitting there with my company name and phone number on the side.
Heading into Yosemite national park from the Northern entrance Dad’s 198? Chevy C Class G chassis Motor home’s fuel tank decided to not pass anymore fuel .
We lurched to a halt in a nice wide spot way up the side of a canyon, really spectacular view .
It took me an hour or two to get us going again, we walked around a bit and looked down at the tiny little people, cars and animals .
I cannot recommend this park highly enough .
I could fill pages of random breakdowns, being the mechanic means on Road Rallies etc. you’re always in demand .
One time in Tenn. I was the raggedy dirty/greasy Poboy working on a dilapidated Dodge one ton service truck overloaded with vintage theater sound equipments in July, in a roadside rest area, all the Bubbas in their late model (1990’s) cars looking on at our Ghetto rig with California plates and offering help, money, food, something to drink etc., etc. endlessly ~ they were all so nice, I was mortified ~ my idiot Brother always claims his vehicles are ready and I always get stuck repairing them in the middle of nowhere .
I don’t mind it so much when no one is _looking_ or trying to give me money……
The lower ball joint on my ’92 Saab 900 failed catastrophically shortly after exiting Yosemite at the south entrance. The axle was pulled out of the transmission in the process. I worked in the park at the time, so I had it towed back to my housing area, borrowed some tools, and fixed it there. This was kind of against the rules, so I had to be sneaky about it. While waiting for the parts I had it rigged to look as though nothing was amiss(that is, like the wheel was still attached).
I also highly recommend the park. I miss it every day.
I was lucky that day, only one or two cars passed by and I could see them coming .
This thread has opened the floodgates of strange repairs all over the darn place .
Engine swap in a Tri-Five in a college parking lot during a holiday break. Christmas 1979, Westchester County, NY.
December, 1968 – I believe it may have been xmas eve, as it was on a Tuesday, on a Target parking lot, in snow, sub-freezing temperatures, changing out a generator. Target sold car parts back then.
Why? To avoid having to drive back and costing me gas(?) to get the core charge of 5 bucks!
Very quickly, my friend and I got quite sick for the duration of winter school vacation. That cold – or whatever it was I caught – lasted into mid-January.
I suppose a close second was Wifey and I changing a battery in her 2002 CR-V around 6 years ago on a rainy night on our local Walmart parking lot for the same core charge reason!
I never learn, but at least we didn’t get sick…
This is not me making repairs on a car, but one that I saw not too long ago. Parked at the Torrey Pines Gliderport parking lot to head down to Black’s Beach. There was a guy underneath a 97-99 Nissan Maxima up on jackstands in the lumpy, dirt parking lot. My first thought was “Interesting place to change your oil”. But no, he wasn’t changing his oil. He was doing a fluid and filter change on the transmission!!!!
In my ’80 F-150, it seemed I was always having adjustment issues with my clutch. It was a contraption of connecting rods from the clutch pedal all the way to the pressure plate fork, and every connection was worn and wallowed out; Ford changed to hydraulic a few years later. Simply had to slide under the truck, then readjust the double-nut on the rod pushing the pressure plate fork, then my clutch pedal would have the proper “feel”.
Well, one day I’m riding along, not happy with the play in the clutch pedal, and pull into a mall and go behind the stores, pull up perpendicular to the curb, then drive up on it, to give me a little more space to work under the truck. I only needed a few minutes. Just as I slide under and start wrenching, lo and behold if mall security doesn’t pull up. Tells me in no uncertain terms that I cannot work on my truck in the parking lot. I explain, while looking out from under the truck, that it’ll only be a minute or two. He replies that if I don’t get in the truck and leave IMMEDIATELY, the cops will be called. The truck was still driveable, so I left. But I harbored ill will towards that security officer for some time afterwards….
I can understand their point, but some security staff are unreasonable and take their authority far too seriously. They forget that person they’re throwing out is probably a loyal customer at the mall and should receive assistance instead of threats. My employer is a contractor that regularly works at malls. In my experience, subcontracted security staff are less reasonable and accommodating than security employees.
If anyone else were to experience this, the remedy is to complain directly to the mall. Responsible malls take their customer’s experience seriously and usually do not tolerate rude or threatening staff.
Nothing worse than a Barney Fife mall cop.
I refer to the mall cops as “beggin strips”
Not nice I know but, my ex used to manage a store at the mall in Ogden UT. Security were real jerks
Should have told him you dropped your keys in the engine compartment while checking oil and was trying to retrieve them.
I would have told him to call the cops. Buy the time that arrived you would be done and gone.
And people wonder why so many of us avoid malls, and prefer to shop online…
I’ve done a few, but the ones that come to mind are pulling the engine and doing a clutch on a VW bus, ’62, aircooled of course, in rest area and pulling a head to deal with problems after a broken rocker arm in a Simca 1204 I had long ago. In a rest area. With no spare headgasket, just some permatex. Got me home though.
I changed a crankshaft in a 292 V8. In the chassis in a 1964 Ford Pickup on New Year’s day,outside in high teen low 20 degree weather. I was young and foolish, wouldn’t think of doing that today. LOL.
I replaced a radiator hose on a Model A on the street in front of a small town auto parts store. The car overheated about 30 miles into the 100 mile trip home from where I bought it. It didn’t help because everything under the hood was soaked and I couldn’t get it restarted. At least we had another car so we could get home, borrow a truck and trailer and go back to get it. A very long day.
On my back in the gravel lot of a gas station in Eagle River, AK, with my Morris Mini’s rear wheels on borrowed concrete blocks (gravel too loose for jack stands). Rubber gas line had split at the clamp; had to slice it, plug the outlet (with a stick), trim the hose and refit clamp. Periodic squirts of gas in face, constant downpour of rain from about belt down. My first Mini fix! Of many … over ten years or so. But neither of them ever broke down where some help was not at hand, unlike both Volvos! So guess which marque I regard as most reliable …
Not long after I bought my ’86 Jetta in ’91, I was on my way from SoCal to Washington State when around Sacramento a loud axle knock started, pulled into an auto parts store parking lot. A balance weight in the right drive axle started to come apart and slipped up onto the inner CV boot and ripped it apart throwing out all the moly lube grease, which stinks and stains everything it touches.
I found a universal split boot and grease, jacked the car up with it’s factory scissors jack and put the spare under the lifted wheel for a little more safety. The boot didn’t fit well, used duct tape and zip ties to wrap it up good and grease tight. Used more zip ties to secure the balance weight and hold it together, it was steel with a rubber insert, sort of like a crankshaft damper. This got me going, I was covered in that nasty foul smelling grease for the next 600 miles up to Washington. Eventually I had the weight cut off with an air chisel and installed a proper factory VW axle boot. Only a few MK2 VW’s used this weight, replacement axles come without it, didn’t seem to make any difference on how the car drove with it removed, but it sure made a mess when it came apart!
Had the same problem on my 1992 turbo diesel Jetta. Luckily it didn’t take out the cv boots and I was able to get it off with my angle grinder. The stink from the rubber lasted for days in the garage.
Rebuilt the Holly 750 4bbl on my Olds 455 (in a Fleetwood) in a motel bathroom in Kenora, Ontario. The rest of the car was in the parking lot.
The wife was slightly alarmed to wake up and find what looked like an important piece of our car in five pieces in the sink.
Another fun time was right after I had the clutch tube welded on my ’66 VW Fastback, 3 of us were on PCH in bumper to bumper traffic when I noticed the fuel gauge moving towards empty. I pulled to the shoulder, gas was pouring out the rear of the car. The welder’s torch had gotten too close to the fuel line and made it rock hard, and it slipped off the copper fuel line from the floor pan. I slid under the gasoline waterfall and shoved it back on as far as it would go (no clamp). Was on empty and covered in gas, got back in traffic until I found a gas station. The brain surgeon at the pump (this was before self serve) first tugged at my rear license plate, looking for the filler. I got out, lifted the hood, removed the cap and pointed at the fill hole. Got back in, pump’s running, hood lifted, fuel gauge stuck on empty, got out to see him with the gas nozzle shoved in the hood catch hole with gas pouring out onto the ground and filling up my spare tire well.
And supposedly the reason why Oregon won’t allow us to fill our vehicles is because either we don’t know how or safety. I don’t get it.
Thinly-veiled welfare for stoned high school dropouts, just like Jersey.
And the reason I refuse to buy gas in Jersey.
Gas can cost the same but is usually less in Portland compared to Vancouver, so it doesn’t save me money to fill up in Washington. And at least the stoned high school drop outs have a job, right? I see it as a win-win for everyone involved, but I prefer to fill myself.
I like squeezing in that last few cents to make it a whole dollar amount instead of 26.99 and getting back a penny, plus I like topping off on trips because that means an extra hour of travel compared to when it first clicks off.
My friend put dune buggy fenders, wheels, and tires on his VW in the parking lot of our barracks at the Naval Hospital in Long Beach, CA in the 70’s.
Car rich (even though it’s a Chevy, but an expensive Chevy), cash poor. Plus it’s a gas guzzler which costs even more money.
Or, a tire thief who’s upgraded from cinder blocks and forgot his jack?…
My ’90 Jetta had a wire break at the connector for the fuel rail on my way home from work one day. My commute at the time was 40 miles of middle of nowhere. I coasted as far off this little county road as I could get. As I was under the hood trying to find the problem, the farmer across the road walked out to see what was going on. He helped me push the car into the end of his driveway, got an extension cord and a soldering gun from his garage, and I did the repair at the end of his driveway.
Changed a timing gear set on a “73 Econoline in a closed (as in “out of business”) gas station lot. On a Sunday morning.
Attempted timing chain/gear replacement on a friend’s beater ’69 Eldorado in a laundromat parking lot in Columbus, Ohio. Got it disassembled, but something held up the job (money??) a little too long and the car got impounded. Last I ever saw the car. Fortunately the friend wasn’t upset with me!
Making a new distributor coil contact out of a can somewhere in the Coast Range out of Timber,OR for a 1950 6 cyl Chevrolet 3100 PU.
Or replacing a fuel pump in the middle of Alberta along the side of the road in my ’67 Dodge Camper Special in the middle of the vacation.
I saw my neighbor’s SUV with jackstands on one side and it turned out it wasn’t anything he was doing at all — someone had stolen two of his wheels/tires.
I have also seen this, or I presume I did based on the police talking to the owner (witness?). It surprised me because you’d think the criminals would simply use cheap jacks and nothing more, but they left three perfectly good jackstands. Spend money to make money safety conscious criminals I guess!
Well, the jackstands may themselves have been stolen, and there’s a qualitative difference between stolen property you can fence (full-size SUV tires and alloys apparently being in this category) and ones you can’t.
In this case, they only took the wheels on the side of the truck facing away from the street, presumably so they wouldn’t be spotted in the act.
I once saw a Tahoe whose wheels had been stolen, but the kicker is the perps left the car supported on a couple of (severely sagging) plastic milk crates! Granted, this was in South Central Los Angeles.
My most recent, coming up to an intersection in my 71 F100 and realizing that the transmission linkage (3 on the tree) is locked up and I can’t shift. I let the truck roll backwards, over a short curb up on to the sidewalk, so I can hop out, open the hood, unjam the linkage and get back in before it rolls too far back, while my son sits in the passenger seat. It was good fortune that there were no cars or other objects behind me.
The alternator and the home-brew hydraulic system on my other F100, which I use for plowing the driveway, gave out right before a big snow storm, on a very cold night. It took several hours, back and forth from the garage to the truck, hands frozen and dirty, body soaked with sweat, working feverishly to get it going, thwarted at every turn by feeble old parts and layers of rust, dirt, and grease.
In days past, I did some repairs of my own vehicles and those of friends in apartment complex parking lots, working furtively to avoid detection. The most interesting was a small hole in the plastic gas tank of my VW Golf-I ran it very low on fuel, then parked it on the steepest hill I could find in the apartment complex to get the gas out of the way, crawled under it, un-chocked, working quickly to apply epoxy to the crack, hoping the car didn’t roll back on me.
Several parking lot repairs, with a memorable one being a Chevette owned by an old girlfriend-she left my house late, on a cold, dark and stormy night, then called me an hour later to say her car had crapped out. She parked it outside the fence of an impound lot, of all places. I picked her up, diagnosed the problem, then had to get the part and install it first thing in the morning, frigid fingers and all, charge up the battery with my car while I worked, and get it out of there quickly because it was in the way, and the employees were being unfriendly.
My current car lost traction on a slick, busy road in the NYC area, spun and and slid off the shoulder, coming to rest against a tree. The impact damaged the hood latch and some plastic underneath but did not trigger the airbag. I got it turned around, pointed back toward the road, and had to get underneath, without the assistance of a jack, parked on a slope, in the roadside gravel, singed by the hot head pipes, to remove the damaged parts and secure the hood with my shoelaces, amid the constant roar of cars and trucks whizzing by. Repairs complete, ready to go, the engine stalled-it was low on fuel and the slope was sufficient to move what was left beyond the reach of the pickup. A samaritan drove my wife to a gas station, my son and I stayed with the car, and a local police officer on his way home from work stopped to help. He called the state police because they had jurisdiction over that road, and stayed with us until they arrived. The officers, after my wife came back with fuel, blocked a lane of busy traffic for us so we could get going again. I was concerned that the police might want to give me a ticket, perhaps for driving too fast for conditions, but they seemed content to send me on my way.
On a hot Saturday afternoon in August 1978, I had to coast my ’72 Audi Super-90 wagon to the side of I-40, in the rough end of Knoxville Tennessee.
Popped my distributor-cap and found the tip of my genuine Bosch ignition-points snapped off. Walked a couple miles to a greasy-spoon and found a cab-driver to take me to the closest auto-parts store, then bring me back to my car so I could install my new set of aftermarket VW ignition-points. Cab-fare cost more than the repair, which took about 5 minutes!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Borrowed a utility trailer and didn’t put in a pin to secure the trailer hitch locking lever. The trailer tongue popped off when I hit a rough spot in the road, luckily the safety chains caught the errant trailer by swinging the now unlocked hitch lever straight up into the gas tank puncturing it with a nearly full tank of gas. After a hasty stop to pick up some ribbon epoxy and threading a self tapping screw in the hole in the parts store parking lot, I made it home.
The REAL fun was brazing up the hole in the tank!
One more comes to mind. While I was in college I worked as a gas pumper at a service area along the Garden State Parkway in NJ. A guy came in, having driven too far on a flat tire, rim completely destroyed and digging into the asphalt-the car was on the exit ramp. A co-worker and I came up with the genius idea to jack up the vehicle with a floor jack and drive the car to the service bay, about 300 yards, on the wheels of the jack. The little metal wheels spun furiously, skipping over cracks and crushing small stones and bits of broken glass-their bearings and axles must have gotten very hot. Our plan worked, but I can only imagine the owner of the car suing our employer for damages had the car come off the jack on that short and scary ride. In retrospect, we should have jacked the car up and put the spare on where the driver stopped, but driving on the jack seemed a good idea at the time.
Mythbusters had a good show a few years ago about alternative spares: logs, tires filled with straw, etc. Driving on the jack itself is inspired, though.
I’ve had my share of road-side repairs, but no really major ones.
A few come to mind to share, though:
High school best friend’s ’65 Mustang (sedan, 302, auto) had a rear brake line break while we were in Spartanburg, SC hooning around. The only tool we had between us was a pair of slip-joint pliers, which I used to twist the line back and forth until it broke. I then curled the line over itself several times, and we gingerly made our way back to his house.
Same friend’s sister’s ’70s Corolla – the upper radiator hose burst as we were on our way back to his house from a run into town. Far from any gas stations, and lacking any tools or water, we used our socks to wrap the burst area, which held enough remaining coolant in to get us home.
I had both the brakes and clutch cable go out on my ’64 Beetle (separate failures). I was able to fix the brakes in the parking lot (leaking wheel cylinder), but I had to use ‘The Procedure’ from the Idiot Manual to get home without shifting. I also replaced the front wheel bearings in the parking lot of our quadplex, so it was up on stands for about a week as I worked on it after work each day.
More recently (well, still over ten years ago), I had the (rear, thankfully) u-joint go out in the old ’69 F-100. Called my wife and told her what tools to bring me, and what part to stop and buy on the way. Fixed that roadside – no need to jack up the truck, as there was plenty of room to slide underneath on an old blanket.
Oh, I also did a full engine rebuild on my ’71 VW van in the parking lot at the apartment building we lived at early in our marriage. The widowed owner of the building was in the unit directly downstairs from us and had poor health – I’m not sure she even knew I was doing the work back there.
One more. I bought my brother’s old ’85 Cougar from him for $100, and replaced the blown head gaskets and fixed a few other things before selling it for maybe $800. It was on stands for about two weeks, and the owner of the quadplex was very understanding while I worked on it.
These stories are way too good. Helped a friend change out the U-joint on the driveshaft of his ’62 Bel-Air, which had had the good sense to go out right in front of Wallace Hall at Iowa State in the Fall of ’70. Rear end was already jacked up, in the style of the time, so getting underneath to replace was quite easy. Best part was entertaining the comments of all the Ford Vs. Chevy warriors as they cruised by. But we made it to the football game!
In the later ‘seventies my friend gave his son his early Econoline panel van. The son, eager and determined, decided that the six needed to be replaced by a 351 Cleveland 8 that he turned up, somewhere. The swap took place over several months, in the dead of winter, in the pine-needle-strewn dirt yard of a summer cottage my friend rented, in Monponsett, MA. Much sweating and cussing took place; knuckles were busted; unanticipated difficulties were overcome. Hell, the whole operation was unanticipated, and apparently not much researched. But determination won the day. I don’t know how long that van lasted; I’d moved on not long after.
I was on a cross country trip, on the return leg from Big Sur back to Clearwater FL in my $475 1980 Subaru GL 4WD wagon. It blew a heater hose on I40 near Gallup NM while I was passing through and since the water didn’t hit anything hot, I saw no steam and so I drove until it was REALLY overheated and it just sputtered and stopped. Oil smoke was pooring out of the dipstick and breathers–unbelievable how hot that engine was. AMAZINGLY, it actually started after I let it cool down and filled the engine with water. I made it to the next exit to a reservation gas station that had nothing automotive repair related, just gifts and such. I was standing there looking really rough, next to this wreck of a car and this retired gent walks up from his RV and asks me what the issue is. Turns out that he has a length of 5/8″ hose so I change it and then I did something that I had never done before or since—I drained the burnt, black oil into a hole in the ground behind the reservation station and refilled it with fresh oil. I felt bad about it, but I had no other options. That car went on to serve faithfully for many more miles—really amazing how it did’t pop a head gasket or seize the engine when it got that hot.
Not really a repair, I suppose, but I had to change a flat in the driveway of an extremely ritzy mansion after taking a large piece of scrap metal through a tire. Narrow two-lane road, late night, nowhere else to pull off, so I take the first opportunity and almost run right into a security gate and call box. Fortunately the owners were apparently away or didn’t mind the blundering and swearing at the end of their driveway, so I got back on the road without a visit from the police. Thank you for the use of your space, local millionaire, whoever you are.
I was on a student exchange program in Walkerton Ontario when I was 17 in the summer of 1973. A friend of mine and I had to go up town in his dad’s tired old 67 Ford custom 500 with a 240 and automatic. We got stuck in a traffic backlog and after a bit we saw steam rising from the hood as the red hot light lit up. What to do…. He was less than nothing of a mechanic so I opened the hood and sure enough the top rad hose sprung a leak right at the rad bung.
So what now? We checked the car for tools and all there was was a pair of rubbers in the trunk and a pair of kids scissors in the glove box. Well the rounded end of the scissors worked perfectly as a screw driver to remove the clamp and the scissors held up to cut the end off the hose. There was enough slack to reattach the hose and my make shift screw driver tightened the clamp.
But the best part was that we had been stopped on a bridge over a creek that had water in it! So what else would one do with a pair of boots in the trunk than fill them up from the creek and fill the rad.
All this was accomplished just before the traffic freed up! This was the highlight of my student exchange actually. His dad was a farmer and first thing he said when he saw what was done was “you are for sure a farm boy,” which i was.
This isn’t my story but a friend’s.
A long time ago my friend had a 1960s vintage VW Beetle. While driving on the freeway he noticed the engine was running rough. He pulled over onto the freeway shoulder, opened the engine bonnet and investigated the cause. Next thing he knew he ended up doing a complete tuneup….on the freeway shoulder with cars whizzing by him at 60+ mph.
The car ran fine afterwards.
The VW just wanted to know that the owner loved it. Did he do the valves too?
Back in the day I had this friend named Louis; he was basically a good guy but bad luck followed him around like a black cloud. An example of this was Louis getting drafted into the Army after high school, catching pneumonia during basic training, and then having to spend over a year in patient status at the Fort Knox hospital before the Army finally discharged him; at least it kept him out of Viet Nam.
When Louis finally made it back to town he decided that he had some catching up to do and burned the candle at both ends for several months. As part of his re-acclimating to civilian life he bought a 1960 Impala convertible, powered by the 348 CID V8, with a three on the tree. This Impala was probably pretty sharp in 1960 but 10 years down the road it was starting to show its age. It smoked (a lot) and the front end needed a total rebuild; you didn’t so much drive the beast as herd it down the road in a series of gentle course corrections.
Louis decided that the column shift wasn’t getting the job done so he purchased a floor shift kit. Of course he didn’t have much money so he didn’t buy a Hurst, or the equivalent, but instead bought a $19.95 “universal” shifter kit at some hardware store. The good news was that we were able to get this collection of parts installed in the Impala, the bad news was that the shifting action wasn’t much improved. The 1-2 shift especially had to be taken slowly in order to guarantee the gears would mesh (I’m sure the transmission was in as rough shape as the rest of the car). A couple of weeks after the installation we decided it was time for a road trip and four of us rode down to Kentucky Lake, about a two hour drive from home. It was a warm, pleasant day and a good time was had by all; we passed the afternoon cruising around, trying to talk girls into riding with us, and just generally enjoying ourselves. Around 6:00 or so we decided it was time to start back home; we were pretty warm so we stopped to get a cold beverage. When we pulled back out onto the highway Louis decided to impress the locals with a burn out, followed by a speed shift into second gear. Not really a good idea as this caused the el cheapo linkage to come completely apart. We pushed the Impala into a nearby parking lot to evaluate the situation. The situation was that not only had the linkage came apart, some of the pieces had snapped in two. After a couple of hours of tinkering (and cursing) we were able to cobble together a linkage that allowed us to use second and third gears; needless to say shifting was kept to a minimum on the trip home. Yes, the factory column shift was restored to the Impala the very next day.
Many years ago, I bought a 1962 VW Baja Bug real cheap, at night (not a good idea). So a few days later I was headed south on the 57 freeway (So Cal), when all of the sudden, I felt this sinking feeling. I glanced out the window to see my left rear wheel rolling down the freeway as the VW ground to a halt. Luckily, I made to the shoulder. Got out and looked at the issue. The tire/wheel had separated from the brake drum. Two of the five lug bolts were missing, and the other three had worked their way out. Neat.
This was way before cell phones, Fortunately there was a highway call box nearby. I phoned a friend and instructed (pleaded!?!) him to go to my father’s place where I stored my spare parts. Asked him to bring the coffee can of bolts and rescue me. I had retrieved the runaway tire, and about 90 minutes later, Brad showed up with the gold. He brought a jack, too. Ten minutes later, I was back on the road.
Lesson learned – if you buy a car at night, look it over the next morning!
On 86th St and Bay 17th, St in Brooklyn, NY. Parked right in front of an auto supply shop. A friend and I replaced the alternator of my 1976 Valiant sedan while the car was parked outside. A 15 f minute job, and when the dead alternator was out, I gave it to the salesman at the store. With the new alternator in, and a ‘buyback’ on the old ,one total cost or the repair was 65.00. That was back in 1990.
Lucky me! More than 50 years of driving and I’ve only had to get towed twice. Used to do virtually all my own work since I had a job at a service station since back in the ’60s. Went to college after that. Over the years, my kid brother and I have had some real jalopies and we somehow managed to always at least get home. All work took place under a large Norway Maple. First time I got stuck was with our Renault 5CV (Dauphine) when the timing gear broke. I think it broke due to the fact that we had installed a used one in an engine that we had assembled from assorted used parts – it was a wet sleeve mill. The street in front of the building that used to be the post office in our city was quite busy during the day. Being summertime, we had to wait until late to get dark so we could start. The Police saw us and let us be although we later got scolded by the Realtor who owned the building for losing oil on the street. First time I had to be towed was when my 1970 Volvo 142 got totaled in a head-on on my way to work. Not a scratch on me though! The other time was when my 1982 Chevette A.K.A., J.B. Weld Special decided to throw the timing belt in the middle of the road. My fault. I had neglected to tighten up the loose bolt on the end of the crankshaft. The tow truck guy advised me to junk my beloved ‘Vette. I knew better and had him take it right to my house and under that Maple. The nose of the crank got damaged and the 2 small pins for the pulley got lost. I think I used the same tubes of J.B. Weld to build up the pin holes that I used to repair the gear lever, door handle, and transmission mount threads. Drove the ‘Vette myself for 2 more years before my nephew acquired it. Great stuff, that J.B.!
Did a radiator at a winn Dixie parking in a Lincoln Town car. Replaced a gas tank in Geico’s parking lot in a 78 ltd that had leaked about 23 gallons of gas. Changed a distributor on the Rappahannock bridge on I 95 78 ltd. Several people stopped and asked if I was planning to jump off.
I performed a PI head swap on a club member/friend’s (we’ll call him Jay) Thunderbird, in his apartment parking lot, 30 miles from where I lived, for over two weeks! He had very limited/inadequate/cheapo tools on hand, and the only parts we had to perform the swap? The heads. No gaskets or anything, no supporting accessories to make it mechanically work in that year car, none of those things I was continuously assured he had before starting
I was essentially the mechanic of the project, having the skills and knowledge about the swap in those cars, and had his assurance been accurate, which I stupidly took his word for, it truly would have been the weekend project he told his landlord it would(more on that later). IIRC we got the timing cover and manifold off first, expecting those to be the most time consuming. That went well other than his drain pan was too small for coolant and a small mess was made before he closed the radiator plug. It wasn’t bad but it proved to be a real bad omen. Shortly after, with the manifold off I told him to fetch the new heater core tube for the deeper manifold so we could get that out of the way… said couldn’t find it – HE NEVER HAD IT – That was basically where day 1 ended, I wanted the old heads off and new ones on on the same day, and since that key component would need to be found, I didn’t want to take the project too.
Next day Jay and I went to the nearest junkyard and found what we needed, but by then the weekend was shot, and we’d need to work on it at night. He kept all the parts for the swap in the trunk, so I threw the junkyard tube in, and while I was there, I checked to see if there was anything else overlooked. That was where I lost confidence in this project and his word forever. Hoses, gaskets, vacuum lines, emissions parts, brackets, ect, were all “missing” too. Even the heads, one of which that came from a Ford Explorer, where one was obliterated by a dropped valve, and the other had minor chamber damage from the debris presumably recirculated from EGR or possibly PCV while it still ran, weren’t what he said. He managed to source a good head to replace the bad one, which was good, but claimed to have had both of them gone through at a local machine shop to inspect and decked in the months leading up. Nope, another lie. Not only were they NOT machined or inspected, I’m pretty sure they never even left the trunk from the days he got them. I thought screw it at that point, it’s up to him if he wants to proceed or put it back together while we can. Of course you can guess his answer. Had I been smarter at the time I should have probably walked away.
Over the workweek I decided I’d come by on Tuesday and Thursday, sort of splitting up the work we hoped to accomplish over the lost weekend hours, and ideally having it running by the weekend, where we have the time to find work out any bugs. Optimistic but doable I felt. So I gave Jay a list of parts to get from parts stores and he’d have them ready as things came together on schedule.
Well as you might imagine it didn’t. First, on Monday night when I wasn’t there, Jay and his buddy had a beer too many and decided to take the heads and timing chains off, blasting the project well past the point of no return. Remember that little issue of coolant spillage in the tiny oil pan the first day? Yeah well, they pulled the heads off with most of the coolant still in the engine, and it not only made a superfund sized puddle under his car in the parking lot, much of that coolant spilled right through the oil drainbacks of the block, so then they drained the oil, on the ground. Imagine my surprise the next day when I came up, which btw their effort was wasted because no parts, such as, um, gaskets, were obtained, all we got done was the coolant tube and figuring out how to improvise on the jerry rigged hose connection with the parts on hand.
I kind of forget the order of events there after, suffice to say weeknight productivity was minimal, due in no small part to the babysitting Jay’s kids 90% of the time and maybe by the weekend we got the heads on and timed, but not much else. At this point I believe his landlord got wise to the shenanigans afoot (the giant chemical trail leading to his car being a clue), and apparently Jay told him all we were doing was a simple tune up/oil change, right as I was standing there wide eyed holding a 40lb cylinder head. Let me tell you, I thought for sure he was going to get evicted right then and there, the word was distinctly uttered during their “chat”, I think the super was only sympathetic enough to his wife and kids to not go through with it, but a deadline for this project to be over was given, whether that meant eviction or having the car towed, I do not know. I just know I felt simultaneously used and guilty at this point, as did his other buddy that had been helping. The good news was the engine was 80% completed by this point, the bad news summer storms began playing a role, which at least dilluted the puddle a bit. Apparently Jay was now pushing his car around the parking lot to make it seem mobile to his landlord, which did actually seem to work.
By the time we finally finished, it leaked due to lack of gaskets and mismatched hardware, ran terribly because he never ordered a mail-order tune for it, had no functioning emissions devices, and wiring, hoses, vacuum lines, brackets and cables were so stretched and cobbled together he’d be fighting gremlins for the rest of the time he owned it.
I’ve learned from that experience to avoid tackling these kinds of projects at all costs. a tow truck ride is a small price to pay
LOL ! .
When I was young I got roped into a few of these details ~ like most ‘Customers’, they’ll lie through their teeth thinking somehow it’ll magically save them money or something .
Drury Inn parking lot, Sikeston Missouri. My co-worker and I did the the rear brakes on his Aerostar van 1,300km from home when it blew a wheel cylinder.
Had to drive to the auto parts store with no brakes because there was no taxi to be had in town.
Luckily we had tools, and didn’t get any grief from hotel staff.
The best thing going for you here was being in Sikeston; nothing fazes anyone there and I got to fully experience the town as I worked there for three years.
Sometime 1998 and 2000, there was briefly a fly-by-night taxi operator in Sikeston. His shop was next door to Kirby’s, home of the locally famous Kirby Burger. Going to Kirby’s one day I had to jump over the puddle of transmission fluid where the cab owner was rebuilding a transmission on the sidewalk in front of his shop.
Sikeston is indeed a unique place, once having more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the US.
Yeah, we called several times but he never showed up, maybe because he was rebuilding his transmission and needed to get to the auto parts store himself..
I’m not sure why anyone in Sikeston would be a millionaire. Maybe Mr. Lambert but that’s about it…
I (and my brother in law) repaired a rusted out flex pipe on my Mazda MPV in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Calais Maine about 10 years ago.
We were camping about 10 miles outside of town when the van suddenly got pretty loud. As we had to cross the border back to Canada the next day, I wasn’t in the mood to attract any undue attention.
We went to Wal-Mart, bought some muffler tape, and a can of Pepsi. We slit the can up one side, cut the ends off and placed it over the rusted out flex pipe. It was then wrapped in muffler tape to hold it.
It was surprisingly quiet, and it stayed on there for three weeks, until I was able to get the pipe fixed properly.
Head gasket change on a 60,000 mile 1973 Ford Cortina 1600L in a supermarket car park. Fortunately, it had an OHV 1599cc Kent engine, not the later 1593cc OHC Pinto unit or we’d probably have been stuffed. Did we have a torque wrench? Nope. Did we have the head skimmed? Nope. Did it blow another gasket? Nope. Result!
Years ago I had a ’79 Fairmont wagon with a 200 six and a C3. The C3 in that car would develop a leak between the bell housing and the transmission because the damn bolts that held the two together would back out. No amount of Locktite would keep those suckers tight so it became routine to drop the transmission, tighten up the bolts, reinstall the transmission and be on my way. Did it a couple of times in parking lots of big box stores and at least once in a motel parking lot. Got really good at it, I could take the trans out, tighten the bolts, and reinstall it in less than 45 minutes 😀 !
Obviously the owner has taken the wheels to accompany him on a train journey. Next mystery, please.
I helped do a water pump on a 77 Corvette on the side of what I think was I35.
starter on the Chevelle on the beach at Biloxi MS, after enjoying some time in the surf and seeing the lighthouse.
I changed my oil once in the heated underground parkade at the City hall in downtown Calgary. On my 1974 vw bus. It was -30 stupid outside and my dads shop had some crap blocking the service bay (as per usual). I had a drain bucket and all the parts needed but you had to be quick and time it after security did their rounds. I think the parking cost me a $1. But it sure beat getting frost bite.
My sister and I started driving across the country in 1975, in her ’69 Cortina. Got as far as Sparks, Nevada (about 200 miles) when first 4th, then 3rd, then 2nd gears disappeared. I limped along the shoulder in 1st and found a gas station with a pay phone. Called a friend back home who said he’d start phoning junk yards. Couldn’t find anything around Reno, but found one near his house in Oakland and he drove up that evening with the tranny and tools, and his dog, in his parents’ Peugeot 504. By then it was dark and raining, so we found a 24 hour self-serve car wash with lighted and covered bays. We had the driveshaft dropped, bellhousing loosened and were just lowering the tranny onto the jack (or maybe my chest) when it got really light in the car wash bay: red and blue light. The owner had come by and called the cops. They were pretty reasonable but we had to button it up and drive it in 1st to a gas station, where they said we could work on it outside in the morning. We found a cheap motel but had to leave the dog in the Peugeot. In the morning, it wouldn’t start … the dog had turned on the headlights during the night and the battery was dead. Bump started the 504 and went back to work on the Cortina. The “new” tranny had no more gears than the old one, so we piled into the 504 and drove back to the Bay Area. Borrowed another friend’s ’68 Satellite wagon with car trailer and brought the Cortina back to California. Finally found a working tranny but by then I had gone ahead and flown to D.C. to start my summer job. My sister drove the Cortina to Toronto and drove it somewhat reliably for another 2 or 3 years before an encounter with black ice took its toll. Interestingly, my only other transmission failure, in my ’81 Datsun, was a countershaft failure which left me with only 4th gear (mainshaft) which was adequate to drive home from Yosemite, albeit with some clutch slipping and some careful timing to avoid red lights. So I didn’t have to do a repair in Yosemite like some of the other CC commenters above. But I used Low Range 4th to descend Old Priest Grade and to drive to work in San Jose rush hour the next day … 4wd comes in handy.
My wife once rebuilt a carburetor from a 64 Pontiac on the kitchen table for her first husband. Despite that, they got divorced. Lucky me!
I replaced the nightmare heater core of my 1993 Honda Accord in the parking lot of a busy US Bank. While living on the corner across from an auto parts store and just upstairs from a bank parking lot was a dream come true for this hobby mechanic, neither the patrons of the bank nor the banks management were too thrilled about it as evidenced by the chagrined stares. I resolved to cease work when expressly requested, but that request never came for the years I lived there. A lot of repairs/bodywork took place in that parking lot.
Are we sure that’s a repair in progress?
Kinda reminds me of what my ’87 Escort GT looked like after thieves made off with all four of its wheels at 55th and South Shore Drive in Chicago. Left the car on milk crates.
I was able to buy identical wheels at the Maxwell Street market in short order, but the City had towed my car by the time I got back. I’ll never forget going to retrieve it and being told I needed to show registration and insurance. Which were in the glove box. And I was not allowed to go out to the car to get them.
I was late getting registered for the Buick National meet in 1991 in Sacramento, so had to make reservations at the Radisson Hotel 1/4 mile from the host hotel, got a cheap room on the phone. I was taking my ’63 Electra convertible and ‘Brian was driving my ’64 Riviera, both show ready. For check in I pulled up to the red carpet that ran from the driveway into the marble lobby, Brian and I both went in to register, just then, Brian said “UhOh”. Following his gaze, the Electra was pouring its fresh 4 core radiator green anti freeze contents onto the carpeting, and with no curb, running into the lobby and pooling across the marble floor. Understandably I was very apologetic. The young clerk was cool and calm, saying, “We have cleaning supplies and many red carpets, would you like a room upgrade?” Brian meanwhile checked and found the lower hose had split at the outlet pipe. In moments he had the hose trimmed and fixed (it wasn’t that old). The Concierge upgraded our $55 room to a 3 bedroom $595 suite on the lake filled with ducks and koi with dancing colored sprinklers at night, and two parking spaces per room (also very filling breakfasts each day) for the original $55. We filled the radiator and went to register at the meet. It was one of my most satisfying hotel stays, and when we checked that afternoon the lobby was fresh and the new red carpet in place. What we figured out was when I replaced the lower hose I didn’t get it completely strait on the outlet and the outlet had a sharp edge, it was fine. Since then the Electra has covered another 180,000 miles (465,000 total) and I’ve stayed at Radissons all over the country, always friendly and satisfying.
When I was 16, I put fresh Dunlop wide whites on the chrome wire wheels of my ’55 red Austin-Healey 100M ( Had photos of it from the original owner I bought it from with wide whites, new) The following day going over the freeway, a tire passed me, which was bad news since there were no other cars around, and as it turned left into the division oleanders I could see it was my Chromed wire with wide white. It took me a half hour to find the chrome knockoff, and I was trying to get the jack in place when a CHP cruiser pulled up. He was able to get a long pry bar under and lift enough I got the jack in and replace the wheel. Frightening part, I checked and ALL the other knockoffs were loose. I hammered them tight and stopped by the tire shop for a talk. Forgot to mention the two loops as the Healey spun and went in the divider area. Since then I check after having new tires mounted, and many times found at least one loose.
In the middle of the road. When the passenger’s-side outer tie-rod end on my 2000 Dodge Neon came apart as I went to pull away from a stop sign (the first clue was when the car wouldn’t move), I took off my shoestring and used it to tie the tie-rod end back together to get it home.
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