COAL: 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T, Part I • The AAA-Body

Timing belts weren’t the only thing. Oh, no, they were not. Shortly after I bought the car, I actually bought something from a car dealer salesman, which I’d never before done: a de luxe Chrysler Added Care Plus service contract. It cost something like $500, I think, and covered parts and labour through to 120,000 miles or ten years of age on the vehicle. I’m here to tell you, Chrysler took a very deep, very cold, very shirtless bath on that particular contract. They bought me several head gaskets, one or two radiators, numerous timing belts, an A/C compressor and both lines, expansion valve, brake master cylinder and booster, oil pan, turbo oil lines, and a passel of parts and whackload of work I no longer recall. Many of these parts were specific to the Turbo III engine—the radiator was special to provide space for the intercooler, the head gasket was unique, the A/C compressor was a special ultra-compact Sanden scroll design and the lines were particular to this car, I think the oil pan had special baffles, and so on and on. All of them would’ve been bitingly costly to buy on my own; that service contract paid for itself many, many times over.

But it wasn’t a bumper-to-bumper unlimited warranty; some stuff I still had to fix on my own. One day I drove the car home from the grocery a mile and a half away, went to use it ten minutes later, and…nothing. Not even a Check Engine light when switching on the ignition. The headlamps were nice and bright, and the horn worked, so the battery was obviously fine, but other than that, nada. There was an ominous, inscrutable error code on the trip computer display, something like r 01 I couldn’t find any reference for. (I liked that trip computer; its average fuel economy readout closely matched my arithmetic).

Elapsed time, trip odometer, distance to empty, instant & average fuel economy. What more needed I?

I spent ninety minutes on diagnosis. Some phone calls with knowledgeable friends guided my underhood investigation, and eventually the problem came clear: the main fusible link in the engine wiring harness had blown. The oxygen sensor’s four wires, in one of those corrugated plastic looms, ran across the engine to the ECU. The plastic clip holding that loom up had fallen out the air cleaner base plate, and the wiring had dropped down onto the hot exhaust manifold and turbocharger housing. The instant I’d turned on the ignition, the O2 sensor heater power wire had gone live while shorted to ground and took out the fuselink to protect the ECU.

A fusible link, or fuselink

I made up a new O2 sensor harness out of high-temperature GE Flamenol wire I’d salvaged from the kitchen oven we’d replaced a few years previously. I triple wrapped it in plastic and aluminum tape and routed it above the air cleaner baseplate, so it couldn’t fall and burn again. I had no replacement fuselink, so I put in a blade fuse holder with a 20-amp fuse. The car started right up, and dad was impressed with my diagnostic and repair abilities. Mother glowered, fulminated under her breath, and banged around. A fuse is a fast-blow item versus a fuselink’s slow action (which accommodates harmless transient overloads), so from time to time the fuse would blow and I’d have to replace it to be on my way again, but other than that, the repair held up fine.

Flamenol! Now, with more Science! (not to be confused with flamin’ ‘ell.)

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