CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 3 – Vehicle Preparation


Now that a vehicle was chosen in the second part of The Great Beater Challenge I need to get it prepared for the almost 1,300 km trip. At the top of the priority list is a working charging system. Given the the mountainous route having braking and cooling systems in top notch shape would definitely be an asset. Additionally given limited space and funds I need to decide on what tools and spare parts should make it into my emergency repair kit.


While we had managed to limp home the Aries without the battery charging I had two choices; I could travel with a trunk-full of cheap batteries or fix the charging system. While swapping through a supply of cheap junkyard sourced batteries would likely earn me bonus points it made sense to fix the charging system. I was working under a time crunch so I immediately ordered an alternator from an online vendor as it was much cheaper than sourcing locally. I should have done my research and troubleshooting before however. Comments by Rich C and Daniel Stern both indicated that the car’s computer brain was more likely at fault than the alternator. Further research confirmed this to be a rather common issue. Rather than replacing a hard to source ECU an external voltage regulator from a Dodge pickup truck can be used. Sounded like a good excuse to head to the local junkyard.


The junkyard had a selection of five suitable Dodge pickup trucks but three had already had their regulators harvested. Since they are quite affordable I figured I would grab both of the remaining units. As a nice bonus the operator gave me a two for one deal so I snagged both for $10 + tax. The headlight lens on my wife’s minivan are rather opaque and yellow so I also managed to obtain a much better set at the same time. This screw driver was sitting on the ground next to where I parked which was a nice bonus as it can go straight into the emergency repair kit.


After studying the diagrams and instructions I temporarily wired everything into place.


Success! I just had to go back to properly protect and route the wires. Given that I cannot practically return the new alternator at this point I will stow it and the spare regulator in the trunk.


Treating the car to fresh oil and a filter is some cheap insurance. Given the color that the oil came out I would say it was due for a change. As you can see the front cross-member has been well lubricated by the engine over the years. Rust prevention like the British used to do. The murky looking coolant was also swapped out which is a job I do not particular enjoy due to the high likely-hood of mess creation. On the plus side the brake pads looked brand new so nothing to sort there.


I had also purchased a new timing belt but when I took the cover off the existing one still looked decent. Given the time constraints I decided to run the current one and tossed the new belt into the trunk. I would have ordered this regardless as it is a valuable spare part that I hope not to need.


The interior of the car was actually quite clean when I got it which is a minor miracle for a cheap vehicle but I did a slightly deeper clean. Usually in inexpensive vehicles there are some interesting items to find. After I acquired my old Lada Niva I did not even realize that the back seat was missing until I cleaned it. I also found a pair of used ladies underwear and a few random tools among the trash but no backseat. The Reliant Scimitar I owned briefly had a FuzzyBuster II early radar detector as well as some very rusty horse riding gear. The Aries however had no real secrets to spill. The trunk had some ragged seat covers while the interior held two old air fresheners, two screwdrivers, one pencil and a dime. I like the older look of the strawberry freshener so I hung that one the rear view mirror although any scent it once provided has long ago faded. The dime can be applied against my budget I suppose bringing the effective purchase price down to $299.90.


I got a bit of a surprise when I went to register the car as I had been under the assumption that it was a 1982 but it is in fact a 1983 model. There is not much of a specification or functional difference but there was a bit of an awkward moment at the registry (Alberta’s version of the DMV) when my bill of sale said 1982 and their computer said 1983. After some subtle cajoling the registration process proceeded. Unfortunately I could not buy just one month worth of registration as I planned but due to the particular rules about rolling expiry dates on plates and the first letter of my last name I had to purchase registration up until the end of October 2017. I will receive some sort of partial refund if and when I decide to sell the Aries.


I have driven the car a handful of times to give it a bit of test before heading out. Ideally I could have been driving it to work and back for the last couple weeks but hopefully any other bugs will surface over the next day or two. We had our first frost this week with overnight temperatures hitting the freezing mark which I hope is similar to what we will see in the mountains on Saturday night. The Aries started a little reluctantly and took a couple minutes to warm up. I suspect the auto-choke is barely functional or non-functional. However given my mixed track record of repairing carburetors I am not going to attempt a fix with only days to go.


As far as driving impressions go the Aries is softly sprung and does not want to be pushed hard around the corners but floats down the road in a reasonably pleasant way. It sort of oozes up to speed with a rather mushy throttle pedal. You give it a bit of gas, nothing happens. A bit more gas and still nothing. Then a touch more and it downshifts, roars and slowly builds momentum. My fuel injected 1986 Chrysler LeBaron was no sports car but felt like it had double the power. I am not a stranger to slow cars (having owned a Mercedes 220D and Nissan Micra among others) but I am a little worried that I will be crawling up the mountain passes with the engine screaming in second gear.


The final budget sits at:

  • 1983 Dodge Aries SE: $300
  • Oil and coolant: $33.56
  • Filter: $8.70
  • Found money: -$0.10
  • Junkyard voltage regulators: $10.50
  • Salvaged electrical wire: $2 (fair market value)

This brings the total to $354.66 Cdn which is approximately $269 US at the current exchange rate. It appears that I managed to come in at around half the allowed budget. I am not including the alternator and timing belt that I bought since they never made it onto the car but those were an additional $82.65.

Packing a road kit for the trip is an important task with a questionable condition car. I have to balance weight and bulk against the likely-hood of using a particular item. A contributing complication is the fact that I also need to bring camping gear for the Saturday overnight stay but do not want to overload the Aries. Given these constraints I have the following earmarked for inclusion.

  • Spare battery, alternator, and voltage regulator.
  • Booster cables.
  • Oil, coolant, transmission fluid
  • Selection of wrenches and sockets. Tire wrench. Jack.
  • Screwdrivers, pliers.
  • Electrical tape, spare wire, a few electrical fitting ends.
  • Tube of gasket maker.
  • Zip ties.
  • Cell phone and charger.
  • Spare tire.
  • Spare timing belt.
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • First aid kit.



For the team name I have stuck with ‘Special K’ like the cereal with the car nickname ‘Dodgey Aries’. As far as a costume goes I have a cigar and a vintage green suit jacket that I hope looks enough like Lee Iacocca. I am hopeful that I will not need to make any emergency roadside repairs but given there are eleven or so teams participating chances are high that someone will need to do some roadside work during the event. Anything you would add or subtract from the kit? Wish me luck as I head out Saturday morning!

The whole series:
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 1 – Vehicle Selection
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 2 – 1983 Dodge Aries Purchased
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 3 – Vehicle Preparation
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 1 – Off To A Slow Start
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 2 – Rain, Rain, and a Hotel with Character
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 1 – The Big Climb
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 2– Finale