Journal: What’s The Most Daunting Roadside Repair You’ve Faced?

What’s The Most Daunting Roadside Repair You’ve Faced?

By Michael Banovsky
August 19, 2016

I can tell you the exact moment I began to realize that cars aren’t invincible. It was after a fun Montreal Grand Prix weekend years ago with my dad, his Porsche 914, and during the roughly eight-hour drive home after the festivities. Having a weak-sounding ignition and/or a dead battery was par for the course with this car. The starter failing at a strip mall we’d only stopped at to ask someone where we were was not.

In most any vehicle, I’m sure the procedure to access the starter, gently tap its heat-expanded brushes back into place, and limping to a service point (or home) is a relatively painless procedure. The mid-engine 914, however, with Satan’s Own Engine Tin and a ride height set for Swabian roads had to have its left side pushed up onto a curb before any ‘fiddling’ could begin.

After a few calls, a local Volkswagen mechanic was found, starter replaced, and our journey resumed. It was relatively painless—and helped I was too young to be of much meaningful help. 

It certainly wasn’t as difficult as replacing, say, one of the belts at the front of a Citroën SM’s engine. They’re essentially ‘locked’ in place by a forward power take-off shaft to run the hydraulics…which are connected to the brakes, which are bolted inboard to the transmission, there’s steering bits mixed in…it’s probably not a side-of-the-road job.

Unless: you do what many owners have done: when the engine is out, it’s common for extra belts to be slipped over the shaft so that when one fails, a replacement is ready to be used in its place.

What’s the most daunting roadside repair you’ve completed?

Photography by Federico Bajetti & Afshin Behnia

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Denial Smith
Denial Smith(@denial-smith)
9 months ago

Last year I broke my rented ferrari, I had to call the service but I was lucky that the insurance covered everything and I didn’t have to sell the house :))

1 year ago

At the moment, my most difficult roadside repair was the case when I was driving through the city of Sunshine Coast in Australia, I saw a cart coming out of the supermarket Parking lot, which eventually drove into the door of my car and a small dent appeared at the site of the impact. The person who did not watch the cart said that they have a service in the city that provides mobile repair of dents ( and that he is ready to call them and pay for repairs, to which I agreed. I thought it would take a long time, but the guys arrived in about 20 minutes and did the job in about the same amount of time. Surprisingly, not even a scratch remained. Here’s the story 🙂

2 years ago

Headed to LA in December of 73 in my girl friends 61 VW camper Bus. There was snow on the Grapvine and it was closed, so went up to Tehachapi to come into LA on Hwy 14. We were having a great time floating along in the fast lane (unplowed lane) passing folks when the engine suddenly sounded really crappy. Pulled off at the next exit, pulled the valve covers off and found one of the left side rocker studs had broken. Pulled the rocker shaft off, pulled the pushrods and spark plugs out. Put the valve cover back on and finished driving into LA. One of the guys in the car had a relative in LA. We used his relatives garage to pull the engine, pulled the left head off, took it to a shop that fixed the rocker stud. Reassembled the engine, put it back in and went on our merry way.

Roger Mohr
Roger Mohr(@roger_mohr)
4 years ago

Replaced a g/box extension housing in a Morris Minor way back when …….and the only replacement part we could find was in a paddock , had Redback spiders all over and under it, oh and a resident brown snake the was pretty pissed that we needed to disturb it !!

4 years ago

I was on a Model A tour a few years back, and the tour group replaced a tranny on The Badger while crossing Lake Michigan. Amazing what a dedicated group of hobbyists can do – and someone had a spare tranny!

David Todd
David Todd
4 years ago

As an 18 years old wannabe rally driver I went to an area that was mainly dirt and gravel to try out my “skills” in my 1958 Holden FC sedan. Obviously I was out of my depth as the rough track and even rougher attempt at negotiating the same caused my steering arm to part ways with the rest of the car. Having left my toolbox at home, the only “tools” available were a long bladed fishing knife and an old pair of scissors that I had been using on another job. I needed to unscrew the end of the steering arm to fit it back onto the pivot arm so I managed to break off the end of one of the blades of the scissors and used that to reattach the wayward arm. It lasted long enough to get me back to the main road where I was able to call the Emergency Road Service which was just as well because they would not have come in to the offroad area where the mishap occurred.

Jay Jennings
Jay Jennings(@jjennings089)
5 years ago

My worst one was a drive shaft on my college roommates early 90’s GMC. The truck was a rebuild after being stripped in Mexico. So the drive shaft U joint didn’t match what the parts store had we ended up mixing and matching two to make one good one. Then trying to get the damn thing back to gather on the side of the road with some c-clamps and a hammer. One of the worst jobs I have ever done.

Michael Squeo
Michael Squeo(@enzobindo)
5 years ago

When my oldest son was graduating HS and getting ready for college we bought him an early 80’s T-Bird. It ate starter solenoids at a ridiculous pace. I was called to get him started in parking lots, at friend’s houses and a few other places. When I was in college my Dad’s friend called me to ask for my help changing the clutch on his Vega. I said OK and walked over the next morning to find that the Vega died in the street in front of his house, so for a few hours we did the job, and had many laughs, while laying in the gutter under his car. That was 40 years ago and he sadly passed away last year but through the years every time we saw each other we had some great laughs about that day.

Russ Hibbard
Russ Hibbard(@bullethead)
5 years ago

The setting: North Florida 1977, eight of us on our way to a secluded underground sinkhole, bouncing along a sandy powerline access road. We all watched in amazement as the right rear wheel comes off and passes my old VW bus.

The car’s corner never touched the ground, somehow we’re perfectly balanced. Nobody moves. Once stopped, the friend seated farthest swaps with me, and I jogged back about a mile to find each lug lying on the sugar sand, glinting in the sun like jewels.

Naturally, no jack. Another friend got out of the rear of the bus, lifted the corner as I put the wheel on, and luckily, we had a tire iron.

Had many other adventures with the Earth Cruiser (and other roadside repairs, usually involving baling wire) but the sinkhole escapade was unique.

Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson(@meccanica)
5 years ago

I replaced the clutch in my first car at the roadside after ignoring it slipping for a few weeks. I was 18 or so and had yet to amass any tools so the job was completed with an adjustable crescent, a single scissor jack and marker pen to align the clutch plate. For some reason I also chose to wear a white wool jersey to do the job…

5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Wilson

I, too suffered for my negligence. My Hudson Hornet suddenly went “clunk” and began coasting. It took a day to find parts just south of San Jose, and two days to replace in the back of a 76 station. That car was doomed, however, as even though it only had 30k when it was the proverbial “barn” find, it had deteriorated severely and I wasn’t sufficiently schooled in their upkeep. Too bad, as that was a surprisingly good handling car.

5 years ago

Removed the rear drive shaft in my 1965 109 Land Rover in a Mall parking lot, and drove home in front wheel drive. Another time in that same Rover in that same parking lot my ignition switch came apart and I zipped tied it together to get home. May have been the same girl with me too . . .

5 years ago

Fixed a blown heater hose in an early 80’s diesel Rabbit with a pen knife

Troy M
Troy M(@troggys-revenge)
5 years ago

My mate had a cancerous old ’79 XD Fairmont that he had to top with water before every drive. One day we had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us so I thought I’d take a peek and maybe see what was going on. After he topped it up with tap water, he put the radiator cap back on and I gave the top hose a squeeze, which sent a jet of water over my shoulder from a fairly large hole in the thermostat housing.
We threaded a tech screw into the hole to plug it up and the thing ran for many more years with that one screw maintaining the pressure in his cooling system.

Christos Kolokotronis
Christos Kolokotronis(@c-d-kolokotronis)
5 years ago

This summer we went to a church for a wedding with a friend with a 316 Compact. Everything OK we parked and after the end we tried to leave. Fuel pump. we tried to hit under. we found a spanner we removed back seat and started to hit the cap of the pump. It was ignited. after we thought that it was a small blocking we went to the event after the wedding and 3 o clock in the night we faced same problem. After several hits ( about 40 minutes) we say no more and we hit for last time. and the car was ignited. last ride home and next day we replaced the failed pump.

Jack Gabus
Jack Gabus(@silkhope)
5 years ago

In college, I had a 2000 cc pinto (Yeah the one with the gas tank problem) anyway I’m cruising down 101 to Santa Barbara and the car goes dead. I pull over pop the hood and pop the rotor cap. The points had gone bad. I had an earlier lesson with this in my Dads 69′ 911 S. So as it happened I had a gapper and extra set of points in the glove box. 20 min later I was off and running back to school.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
5 years ago

Yikes. There have been many over the years (starters and alternators a-plenty), but I try to forget about them.

The one that jumps into my mind, however, was about 8 years ago when I had to pull off to side of the busy freeway with a nagging short. I rolled off as far as a I could to the right, knowing I had to access the engine bay from the driver’s side with my body exposed to heavy, brisk interstate traffic.

Hastily, I popped the hood and fiddled with the electrical, all while keeping a close eye to oncoming cars. When opening the driver’s door to see if it would fire up, I saw an SUV start to slowly swerve into the emergency lane… towards me. I think the driver was on the phone. eating, looking down, whatever. I somehow managed to jump up and slide my body across the trunk lid to safety. Had I opened the door, I think that would have been all she wrote.

Been there done that. Over it.

Try working on an old boat (1938) out on the water. Now you’re talking “daunting”.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers(@brown76)
5 years ago

Beetle starter failed at a hotel in Nebraska. Opened my copy of “How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive”. Diagnosed as solenoid issue. Got under and smacked it a few times with the hand end of a ratchet. Problem fixed.

5 years ago

I had a few ones, but I remember having to hamer a 1 cent coin into a huge hole in the carburetor of my 1970 beetle to replace a kind of sealed plug that had fallen while driving on the freeway.
I also had to make a 3h drive home with a few teeth missing in the differential satelites. not quite the smooth ride

Johannes Oppitz
Johannes Oppitz(@johannes999)
5 years ago

Just yesterday I came back from a classic car meet in my ’71 “Neue Klasse”. About 10 kms away from home I got into a traffic jam . While stop-and-going on the very right lane, I thought by myself how unfortunate I would be, if the car breaks down now. The car didn’t broke down then, I broke down 5 minutes later. After pushing the car into the breakdown lane I diagnoses a missing spark. The ignition breaker got loose a bit somehow and didn’t open up. I fixed that enough to make it to next exit safely and home from there. That ignition’s going to kill me some day …literally.

Sjeer Ke
Sjeer Ke(@vscheren)
5 years ago

Changed a headgasket of a mini 1293 on the side of the motorway 300 miles from home on the Way back from Le mans. Cars where flying past with 80 miles per hour roughtly 2 feet away.

Arvin Blank
Arvin Blank(@arvinautorestoration)
5 years ago

Hit a concrete block on the I-10 in the middle of the desert and put a hole on the oil pan. Had a 69 Z-28 and you always had JB liquid weld, oil, duck tape (100 mph tape) and extra points/cap in the trunk. Mixed it up, slapped it on, waited it to dry, added the 2 quarts of oil in the engine and prayed that it would make it 30 miles to Indio. Made it topped it up with Union 76 purple oil and it lasted 2 more years before I sold it in 1978 for 4K. Oh I wish I had the car now!!