Too Bad To Be True – Florida Misadventures

Come to Florida and build a greenhouse? Youll pay extra for delivery and cover my expenses? Sure, sounds like fun!.

And it did. Then. He bought a greenhouse, hydroponic lettuce garden, and barrel gardens from me and paid me to deliver them a thousand miles away in Florida. But fun? Well, I suppose that depends on your definition – and the amount of sarcasm you inflect when you say fun.

Assembling the parts was simple enough; a weeks work but nothing worth mentioning. Assembly too was a wrap – piling all the parts on the trailer was a relatively academic, if ungainly, problem. Then we decided to take it for a quick spin before embarking. We made it about ten feet before I noticed this rubbing sound coming from the trailer. Turns out the tires were rubbing on the fenders.

Well, I hadnt expected it to be quite so heavy – or the trailer to be quite so weak – but we had to do something, and fast, if were going to keep my schedule. So we decided the best way to fix it was to raise the shackles on the back of the springs – replace the 3 pieces with 8 ones. This was a rushed, makeshift job assembling it out of the parts we had on hand in the time available but we have a well-equipped shop and had no other choice so we got it done.

Then we went for another loaded test drive. The tires no longer rubbed, but because wed lifted the shackles, the trailer bed rode higher above the axles – which was the idea, but now it had the shocks stretched out so much that they were not shocking and the trailer was wobbling back and forth like itd just had a pint of tequila.

Newer, longer shocks were the obvious solution, but by now this was Sunday morning – the morning Id planned to leave early. Right. Well, it was a good plan. So as some of us went to town to look for shocks, the others stayed home doing the last-minute packing so we could leave the instant they got home. To make a long story short, half a day was wasted in town partstore-hopping and looking for longer shocks. Of course, you cant by them by length – you can only buy them by the part number, and since this was for a trailer, and a now-customized trailer at that, no one really could help. So we got spring supports instead.

These little gizmos clamp under leafsprings and help support them, in theory. In practice, they were apparently designed for lighter, thinner springs than we had, because there was no way to clamp them on to ours with the bolts they provided. So we moved on and did what we should have done from the start and just lengthen the shocks. This was pretty simple, removing the shocks, adding a piece of stainless pipe and a new bolt to make the shock longer. Once done, we were finally on the road! It was 3:00pm, but we were on the road!

Thirty miles down the road we were calling home asking how serious is it when the temperature gauge on the dashboard starts dinging at us?? – apparently it thought we should know that the temperature gauge was maxed out. Mind you, this car had never given us any trouble with overheating, or really that much trouble at all, before this trip.

So my dad, who knows more about cars than I do about computers (and even more than someone who knows something about computers!) drove out to meet us and see just what the problem was. We concluded that it had to be a sensor since it was fluctuating too quickly, and decided to do nothing and hope we were right. But on the test drive my dad took it on, it started vibrating on the front end; it hadnt done that before, so we figured it must be the road, right?

Just to be safe I felt around and noticed that one of the balancing weights was so loose that it came off in my hand. So we clamped it down tighter and reattached it, and it seemed to fix it. They followed us in their car a few miles down the interstate to make sure things seemed to be ok, and they were.

Well, somewhere in here the air conditioner started dumping about a cup of water on the drivers feet – it came out and poured right on the accelerator. It did this periodically throughout the trip, but being the passenger I rather enjoyed that part so I didnt consider it a problem, per se.

Anyway, just past Shreveport, less than two hours from home, the vibration my dad had noticed came back with a vengeance. So we stopped and checked the tires for pressure, bumps, missing weights, etc – you know, the things you usually check for when you have vibrating in the front end. We spent all told over an hour checking these things over a fifty mile stretch of road.

Then we discovered that if we pushed past the vibration and got to a higher speed – around sixty – it got a lot better. So, since by now any self-respecting tire shop was closed, it being after dark, we decided to push on and make it to Monroe for the night.

Next morning we went to the nearest tire shop, which happened to be Wal-Mart. After an interminable wait watching the goobers there dawdle, we gave up and asked where another tire shop might be. And I mean goober in the nicest possible sense I mean, seriously, Gomer Pyle could have changed tires faster.

So we went to another tire shop. On the way, the gauges all went dead. Speedometer, fuel, everything. We decided to focus on one thing at a time and asked the guy at the shop to balance the tire. He did so, but said the rim was bent but he balanced it anyway. While he was balancing, I happened to notice that the brake pads were almost completely gone. So I asked him to fix that, and he said to do that hed have to grind down the rotor, too. I said fine, so we got ready to wait for a fixed car. A few minutes later he came in and asked me to come look at something only to tell me that the rotor was so badly scratched that we needed new ones. He wouldnt fix the pads without it. So I told him just to put it back together and Id deal with it later.

The balancing seemed to have helped the problem, but it definitely didnt fix it. So after nursing it for an hour we pulled off in Vicksburg. I asked a tire shop to mount my spare, thinking it would cost me five, maybe ten dollars. He quoted me 70$ to swap it out for my spare. Yes, seventy. I repeated it back to him several times. He must have misunderstood me somehow, because I cant believe anyone would charge that much to swap out tires. Anyway, I never did figure out what he thought I said because I just kept moving.

I nursed it for awhile longer, hoping it would get better, then finally pulled off and asked another tire shop. He quoted me 15$, which I thought was too high but would have paid, then told me there would be a half-hour wait. I was behind on time enough as it was without MORE waiting! So I pulled off and changed it myself. In the process discovering that jacks kept under hoods get REALLY hot while driving and that the tire pump we kept in the car may well be the cheapest piece of equipment ever manufactured by humans anywhere. I also discovered it was very hot in the sun and that gravel doesnt feel good on your knees. (I already knew those things, but I had to work it into the narrative somehow!)

But the tire was changed and we were moving again. Then the windshield wipers turned themselves on. Yes, without any help on their own they came on. Just once. Then about 5 minutes later, they came on again. Throughout the rest of the day they continued to come on at random intervals. If this were not strange enough, the wipers seemed to wipe faster when the turn signal was on while they randomly chose to run. This seemed strange. After watching cars chasing people all over the world in Transformers just last night, this was disturbing to say the least.

Naturally, it wasnt raining (why would it rain when your wipers are working??). Considering the skies were clear, we were likely the only people in Mississippi right then with our wipers on. On another day I might have dealt with the autonymous wiper blades promptly, but today we were taking one problem at a time.

Since central Mississippi roads arent the best in the world, I couldnt tell if the tire wobble was still there or if we were just on a really bad stretch of road. After another half hour I was convinced that the problem was worse than ever when, while going over an overpass, the vibration became worse than it ever had and only got better when we coasted. I thought the engine was going to fall out.

When we accelerated, it got horrible – like giant was grabbing the front of the car and shaking it. When we coasted, it was almost normal. So we pulled off to a complete car care center. I explained to him my problem and he explained to me that they only did oil changes. I thought about asking why, if it was a complete car car center they only did one tiny thing to cars, but I wasnt in the mood by then. He referred me to another place and we went there, explained the problem, and he promptly said Oh, you need a new axle.

This was not good news. I was starting to wonder if this trip was going to cost me more in car repairs than I was going to make! I was thinking Axle $1200? $1500?, so I timidly asked the first question I always ask how much?. He said $175 and an hour and a half. That was a relief so I told him to do it and went to wait. Fortunately we brought a laptop and DVDs, so the wait wasnt too onerous. Although of the three sets of (brand new) DVD seasons we brought with us, only one set seems to actually work properly on this computer.

Still, we managed and after an hour I went out to check on the car and found a coterie of attendants scratching their heads in consternation. It seems the axle they had which was supposed to fit this car just wouldnt. quite fit. They tried for over an hour to make it fit. So they finally admitted defeat and went to the parts store and bought a different one. After theyd been working on it for awhile, I dropped back by to check on how it was going. Much better, he said, it seems to work better when you use the right part. Amazing the difference that makes, I commented.

Somewhere in all this I dropped a hint that the air conditioning water was flooding the front seats and that, while I personally enjoyed it, the driver would love to have that fixed, and since that just involved blowing air back through the drain hole, he volunteered to do that for me. So after about three hours waiting for a ninety minute repair, we were ready to go.

In my paranoia I insisted in taking the car for a good test drive before we left town or hooked back up to our trailer, but since all seemed well we hooked up and drove away. By now weve driven about two, maybe three hours out of an eight hour day.

We commented on what was going to break next as we pulled away. The attendant assured us wed have clear sailing from now on out. A lot he knew! We got two miles. Yes, two miles. Well, I think it was two miles – our gauges still werent working. Anyway, twoish miles out of town and suddenly the engine started to miss.

At this point, a less philosophical person might have been frustrated, or even began postulating such ordinarily implausible causes such as aliens, gremlins, or a vengeful deity. But not us, were troopers! Although, we had seen over a half-dozen cars abandoned alongside the road at various points along the freeway, (five of them in Louisiana) and were considering adding our own vehicle to the list and flying home.

But we nursed the missing vehicle with an unresponsive accelerator onto the frontage road which happened to be conveniently located, and even managed to make it into the shade in front of someones house. Before I left, my dad had cautioned me that he had rigged a quick fix on the accelerator cable that might give away at any minute. By rigged he meant that the cable had come apart and he had held it together with a chip-clamp and duct tape. Naturally my first thought of a culprit led to this semi-repair. Surely we couldnt be out of gas, having only filled up 150 miles ago.

So I looked at the cable, which certainly lived up to expectations. I figured it must have been coming apart and caused the car to die. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized that despite its obvious shortcomings as a repair, it wasnt actually the problem. So then I decided to check the gas. Normally, Id have looked at the gauge but of course, it still wasnt working.

So I tried to get the gauges going – checked all the fuses – nothing. Then I realized that the obvious way to check and see if there was anything in the gas tank was simply to rap on it. I crawled under the car without delay and a reverberating sound revealed that the tank was indeed hollow. I later deduced that the bad axle was causing so much vibration it must have been murder on my gas mileage, but hindsight is well, you know.

So now were out of gas. A call to AAA told me it would take an hour to get someone here to fix it, no one was at home in the house in front of us, but we had passed a gas station about a mile back that I could just barely see. At least, I thought it was a mile. And I thought it was a gas station. It looked like one, but you couldnt quite tell from here. I decided a walk back there would be less time than AAA would take, so I grabbed an empty water jug and started hoofing it.

On the way I passed a home that looked occupied so I thought Id give it a shot. An old lady came to the door and coldly answered my inquiry if she had gas with the answer stations that way. At least, I think thats what she said. Her dog was yipping so loudly, and she paused every word to yell its name at the top of her lungs, it was rather hard to understand anything except that she figured it was my problem, not hers.

So I kept on cruising. As I got within a hundred yards of the station, after 10 minutes of hot hiking, my phone rang; Crystal, the driver, informing me that the people whose driveway we had chosen to grace with our steaming hulk had returned home and offered to come pick me up. I told them it wouldnt help me much on the way there, but I sure would appreciate a ride back!

I managed to fill the jug with no one accosting me, and managed to even get most of the gas poured into the car. After the appropriate thanks we filled the tank, and I decided to take one more stab at working on the gauges so this didnt happen again.

Again I swapped out fuses and fiddled with things, rattling it hoping something would fall out – the only repair techniques I know (works on computers, too), and nothing under the dash made any difference. So I went under the hood. None of those fuses admitted to having anything to do with gauges, but I messed with them anyway. Wiggling and taking out this fuse and that, and finally the long awaited exclamation from the person watching the gauges – Wait a second! That worked!

I had removed – not replaced, but removed altogether – a fuse. I replaced it, and it killed the dash again. I removed it, and again it worked. Nothing else seemed to be broken when I left it out. It was labeled Ign. Off Down which I assumed meant it was the fuse that controlled the solenoid that turned off of the car, it being fuel-injected. Still, after our recent gas episode I figured having gauges was more important than being able to turn the car off. I could always kill it by replacing the fuse in a pinch!

After that, everything worked fine. I cant figure out exactly why removing, not replacing, a perfectly functional fuse worked, but the wipers no longer move without being told to, the car does in fact shut off without problems, and all the gauges work. Who knows what will happen next. We knew wed never believe this happened unless we wrote it down the same day, and you may not believe it – but this stuff is so crazy, do you really think I could make it up?

But the sad part is, this trip hasnt been all that unusual.

Posted on July 4th, 2010 by Natnee and filed under United States | 1 Comment »

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