29 October 2007

Mopar Or No Car (What's the Difference?)

Well, here it is the end of the month. I apologize for the light posting, it's a good thing I don't do this for a living or I would have made some editors very angry. Of course if I did this for a living I would have much more time to dedicate to it.

My time has been eaten up with work, one of my co-workers had to go away unexpectedly and we had to take up the slack. I've also been very busy with another project car, this one has been more trouble than it's worth.

When I say project car, I don't mean some exotic collectible that will be worth a fortune when finished. You see, I seem to have a knack for finding cars on the cheap that just need a bit of work. The last 3 acquisitions have been Dodge front-wheel drives, not by design but by accident. The last two are vehicles that I swore I would never own, a minivan and a station wagon.

It all started with a Chevy Cavalier. The Chevy died on me and I needed a car quick. An associate from work hooked me up with the mighty Rampage for cheap ($50 USD) because he couldn't keep it running. I was able to diagnose the problem (pickup coil, as I found out later a common problem with Dodge 2.2 and 2.5 motors) and seven years later I'm still driving it.

The next was the minivan. I got the van for free, the original idea was to pull the brakes off of it for the Rampage. However, my friend Tommy decided he wanted it and paid me to put an engine in it. I couldn't get the engine running (I literally worked on it until closing time at the auto hobby shop and had to go on cruise the next day) so I gave him his money back. When I got back a fuel injector fixed the problem. Now I had a van I didn't want, but since it was running and in decent shape I hated to do anything bad to it...like strip the brakes off. About that time my daughter called, needed a car, so I gave her the van. She drove it for two years and sold it for $400.

The latest is an Aries station wagon. Initially I paid $150 for it, my intention is to use it as a camping and fishing car. When it was just me and Christopher the mighty Rampage did fine, but now we have family closer that also enjoys the occasional camping and fishing trip so we needed something that would carry 4 adults and 2 children. It seemed the Aries would fit the bill perfectly. This one has been a nightmare.

I got the car from a consignment lot. The owner of the lot tells me that the owner of the car brought it in to use as a trade-in, but he wasn't interested in it. So, the car sat on the lot for over a year as the owner delayed coming to get it. Since I have started working on it I have no doubts as to why that is. He was trying to shaft the consignment lot owner, and hard.

Initially the car started and seemed to run great, especially considering that it sat unstarted for over a year. Now it seems to have decided that since it has an owner that fixes stuff, it's going to break as much as possible just to see what I'll put up with.

First I replaced the front rotors and pads, discovering the left side pads were untouched and the right side was down to metal. Further investigation showed the brake line had been removed on the left. The metal brake line, between the distribution block and the rubber line. No way the Previous Owner didn't know about it.

A full tune up and fluid/filter change was next. I found the radiator drain cock fully sealed with bathtub sealant, the rubber gasket had fallen off somewhere and apparently the PO couldn't be bothered to just go to the parts store and buy a new $3.00 plug. But I did.

Next I replaced parking brake cables, both the front and intermediate. In the process I have found much cancer in the floorboards, and during the latest rainstorm have discovered the windshield, doors and the tailgate all leak. Additionally, the water standing in the spare tire well gives off an interesting stench, no doubt due to the mouse nest I found under the spare tire as I was cleaning out the car. Soap, water and Febreeze have done wonders to eliminate the odor, but the parking brake still doesn't work. I'll have to pull the brake drums to find out why.

So why haven't I done that, you ask? Well, it was about this time the true nature of the car showed itself. I was taking it to get tires, ten miles from the house, when at the halfway point it started belching black smoke. The check-engine (actually a power loss light on this particular car) never did work, so I couldn't pull the codes. Added to this, the radiator fan always came on with the key, something I found interesting but not worth chasing down at the time. I should have.

I tried an O2 sensor and a fuel injector before finally biting the bullet and checking the logic module out. It had been water intruded and fried, also something that the PO had to have known about since it was old damage. Apparently sitting as long as it did allowed the computer to reset itself (dead battery) just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security. Changing it out fixed the problem with the running, gave me back a power-loss light, and fixed the radiator fan issue.

(It was about this time that I had to go on extended shifts, and of course that same day the Rampage's carberator went all to pieces. I was hoping to drive the War Wagon, but of course it had other ideas. It's a good thing the wife works opposite shifts.)

The next thing to go was the power module, which is the other half of the engine computer suite. Fortunately since I had a power loss light now I was able to troubleshoot and repair this using the engine codes. At the present time the car now runs, I was able to drive it around the house for an hour today with no problems, and the smell has been washed out. The headliner has been removed and the foam remnants vacuumed off the headliner shell. The rotting cloth has also been removed from the sun visors. All this will be repaired when the water leaking problems have been resolved.

I'm going to tear into the rear brakes next week and fix the parking brake problems, then finally the car should pass inspection. I'll get a jack and a spare tire for it and just drive it for a couple of months to work out any more bugs, then I'll work on the water intrusion problems before doing any interior work. Maybe I'll even get the air conditioning fixed before next summer.

Of course my co-workers find this saga highly amusing, especially the part where the mighty Rampage let me down the very day I had to start working extra days and the war wagon kicked out it's power module that night as I was driving in.

You would think I would be over my recent Dodge fetish.

You would be wrong. I want one of these. And I'll wait for this one.

This Rampage was formerly owned by SGT R. Kennedy, USMC. I wish mine looked like that.


El Capitan said...

As a former owner of a '74 Dart, a '77 Aspen and a '98 Ram, believe me when I say I feel your Dodge-induced pain...

A buddy of mine had a Rampage in college. He lifted some blue & red gels from the campus theater, taped 'em on the fog lamps, put a blinker circuit in his fog lamps, and would sneak up behind people late at night on country roads and pull them over. Everyone thought it was one of the TX DPS Mustangs until he whizzed by laughing at them. I'm sure he got caught doing it sooner or later.

Larry said...

Thanks for dropping by Cap'n. As evidenced by the latest misadventure, the fun never ends. Now it's broke again and I have to go get it this time since it didn't make it home.