I Hunger for the Good Old Days

25 April 2016

When I had my 426 Plymouth back in the Dark Ages, it was a snap to fix.  If the engine started to miss and surge and die, the probable causes were few, and easy to fix.

  1. Check the ignition wires, make sure they’re all tight.
  2. Check the sparkplugs, they may be dirty, cracked or worn.
  3. Check the fuel filter.
  4. Pull the carburetor and give it quick rebuild while watching professional wrestling and belting a beer.

It’s going to be one of these.

Now I have a late model car and two weeks ago it began to misbehave.  I first noticed it while cruising at 55 mph or so.  The car felt like it was surging a bit..  Hummm.  The next time I drove it, it was cutting in and out and the (computer controlled) transmission didn’t seem to know which gear it should use.  What could it be?

I opened the hood.  There lay an agglomeration of . . . Hoses, pipes, wires, black boxes and gizmos of every sort and description.  There was nothing in there that even vaguely resembled the old 426.  All I could to was: A.) Check for loose wires, and; B). look for leaks.

The problem is today’s cars are, in essence, computers with various appendages, e.g., wheels, power windows, EGR valves . . .  The list is endless.  Ah, but to help diagnose problems, the computers offer the hapless mechanic fault codes.  There are millions of them.  If the wonderframus conks out, fault code P1203 will be spat out.  The idea was by disgorging precise fault codes. mechanics were spared the grueling, messy and vexatious process of diagnosis.  The mechanic read the fault codes then went to the parts bin for a replacement and, presto chango, the owner was on his or her way.

So.  I took my late-model car to a parts store named AutoZone which, at no charge, will read these fault codes for you (a shrewd business decision as it helps sell parts).  I suspected I’d see fault codes for the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve, or possibly the Throttle Position Sensor.  Armed with such information, I’d buy a new one, go home, replace it and be good-to-go.

Guess what?  That’s right; no fault codes.  Whatever’s wrong does not involve the computer! It’s mechanical!

Oh, Christ.

It could be a plugged up line from the EGR or gook in the Throttle Body.  Maybe a mouse worked its way into the intake system and died, its rotting little corpse plugging up some minute — but vital — airway.

If I go to a mechanic, he can do no more than can I.  That is to say spend time pulling everything apart, cleaning them, reinstalling them and seeing what happens.  If I have a mechanic do this, the SOB will charge me about $75/hr and it could take days.

But maybe it’s something really simple like a dirty fuel injector (I hope), so I threw a can of Techron in the tank and we’ll see what happens.  If that doesn’t do it, I’ll pull the EGR and see if it’s coked-up (undetectable by the computer).  If it’s not that, I’ll pull the throttle body and give it a good cleaning.  Of course I can simply replace these two components and hope for the best.  I’ll start with the EGR valve as it’s cheaper.

A guy can go nuts with something like this.  If none of my efforts bear fruit, I’ll probably just set fire to the damned thing and collect the insurance.