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Redusernab Asks: Where has your car let you down?

Jeff Glucker June 5, 2018 Redusernab Asks 51 Comments

A post shared by (@hooniversejeff) on

Last night, I ran out to pick up dinner for my wife and I. The location of said food was a mere 5-7 minute drive from our house, and my 1974 Mercedes-Benz had no issues on the drive over. When I received my food and returned to my car, however, the old blue baby was acting up. Actually, it wasn’t acting at all… because putting the key in the ignition and turning resulted in nothing.

The battery is fine. All the gauges sprung to life and the radio would turn on. The buzzer would let me know the door is open with the key in the ignition. But turning to the final spot where I’d normally hear my M110 engine work its way to life, I got nothing.

No clicking. No straining. No four-barrel Weber (someone in prior ownership of the car replaced the Zeniths with a Weber) coughing air and fuel into the engine. My Benz would be sleeping in this spot for the evening.

This isn’t the worst spot to be let down. I called my wife and she came to pick me up along with our slightly colder than anticipated dinner. The car is now at a local shop getting work done, including other items that were on the schedule so the timing is fine.

Where have you been let down by your vehicle? Share your stories below.

  • Fred

    A better question, would be what car didn’t let me down. 1971 MGB, 1986 Mustang SVO, 1965 VW Beetle, 2007 Audi A3 and 2014 Acura TSX Sportwagon. So that’s 6 out of 24 cars. I should also add that the MGB and VW weren’t trouble free, but since I was able to drive them home I don’t consider that a let down.

  • P161911

    The last time I was let down by a vehicle was my Trailblazer. The accessory drive/fan belt let go. I was able to limp it to within about a mile of home, when I finally gave up and just left it to cool and walked the rest of the way home. This was the same car that a year or so earlier had died at a traffic light on a busy highway with my wife driving. The frustrating part was it was an intermittent failure, lost ECU communication or some such. This led directly to use leasing a Nissan Leaf. I drove the Trailblazer another 5k miles with no ECU issues.

    The strangest and most epic roadside fix was probably my K-5 Blazer. I was working in Connecticut at a co-op job in college. My parents had come up from Georgia to visit and we had gone down to NYC. Late on a Sunday night a little ways outside of NYC the Blazer starts to overheat. I pull into a park and ride lot. I kept a decent set of emergency tools in the truck. I was able to diagnose and remove a stuck thermostat. But, I needed a replacement gasket of some sort. I was able to find an orange juice carton in the trash at the edge of the lot. Made a gasket and got back on the road. The whole time that I was doing this the pay phone in the corner of the lot was ringing. I figured that I must have been interrupting a drug dealer. This was the mid-1990s.

    • danleym

      Ooh, I have a K5 story too. Well, I drove one for 8 years so I have a few… But here’s my favorite.

      My wife and I were travelling from St Louis to Colorado Springs to visit her folks. We were going to be towing a trailer of stuff they were giving us back, so we took the 23 year old K5. And I ended up stuck working some of the first weekend, so she drove out alone and I was going to catch a flight a couple days later. Smack dab in the middle of the trip outside Hays, KS the Blazer blew a head gasket. She calls me and can’t get ahold of me because of work, so she calls her dad and he starts heading her way with a trailer. I started driving toward them as soon as I could in our more reliable but not suitable for towing car, expecting to catch up. Her dad gets it loaded, only to blow a trailer tire another 50 miles down the road. So he is out trying to find a trailer tire in the middle of nowhere Kansas at 10 pm when I catch up. We finally get everything squared away, decide to just press on through, and get to Colorado Springs about 7 am. I then spend a few days of my vacation changing a head gasket when I was hoping to be enjoying Colorado…

  • neight428

    Like Fred, I was afflicted with a Mustang SVO, it was my first car. I drove it to the DMV to get my license on my 16th birthday. It wouldn’t start to get me back home. That, my friends, is what you call an omen.

    • Fred

      I loved that car, it was my first new car and I thought it was so smooth and quiet, compared to the old LBC and VW I was driving then. Never had any big problems with it but at about 50,000 miles it was blowing smoke from the turbo. I sold it before it let me down. Got a 1989 Chevy Cheyene with AC because I was moving to Texas. Like a lot of my cars, it broke down some and finally lost an oil pump and subsequently the engine. Fortuantly on my way to buy a new 1999 Silverado that frankly wasn’t much better.

      • neight428

        The turbo center section let go on mine as well allowing oil into the cool side impeller and up into the intercooler. The rear end and radiator held up without issue, and the transmission itself never let go, but didn’t really like going into first or reverse very much. Pretty much everything else needed attention at some point, but I owned mine from ~70k to ~110k miles in its life. For a mid-80’s Ford, that’s like buying a three-pack a day smoker at age 62.

        • Fred

          There were a lot of special parts on that car, that alone would make owning it tough, especially when you had it.

  • neight428

    Do M-B’s ilke Jeff’s have a starter solenoid like a Ford, or did they engineer the starter motor to receive voltage via a set of cod oil cooled vacuum tube actuated switches within a separate sump cast in to the oil pan? You have to change that cod oil regularly, and don’t go with plain North Atlantic cod either, has to be Arctic or the viscosity is too high.

    • As in “the solenoid isn’t stuck, it’s pining for the fjords”?

  • Michael Stoops

    I had a 1984 BMW 318i that decided to blow a lower radiator hose on the 5 FWY near Redhill several years ago. That was fun. Waaaaay back when I had a ’70 Firebird that ate fuel pumps on a regular basis. I always kept an extra on hand because they were easy to swap out on the side of the road. Oddly enough, my ’74 Alfa Romeo Spider has been darn near flawless since I’ve owned it, including 900 trouble free miles to and from Monterey for Car Week last August.

    • Vairship

      900 miles in a ’74 Alfa? That’s impressive! I thought a 600 mile round trip in my Corvair was pushing it!

      • Michael Stoops

        Thanks! She performed flawlessly and it was a blast – top down 100% of the time, too!

  • smalleyxb122

    1991 Maxima SE. It was my first “nice” car, and it was, by nearly double, the most I had ever spent on a car. It died on my way home from the dealership. It started right back up, and was trouble free for the rest of the journey. The following 3 years of ownership were letdown after letdown, and it was always intermittent problems, making it impossible to diagnose. Weird surges. Intermittent power loss… while merging onto the freeway. Electrical gremlins locking me in the car.

    I’ve had cars before and since that have left me stranded, but they were $1000 beaters. When a $1000 beater dies on you, it’s not a letdown. When your “good” car turns out to be a piece of shit, it is.

    • Zentropy

      Beaters are the best. They always overachieve low expectations.

  • Zentropy

    I’ve owned 17 (regularly-driven) cars over 28 years of driving, and surprisingly, none have ever left me stranded. However, a rear wheel did come off of my CJ-7 at 75mph. Fortunately, the wheel crossed the median and the opposite lanes without colliding with oncoming traffic, and came to rest against the opposite guardrail. Turns out the tire shop under-torqued my lug nuts. No damage was done, so I was back on the road in within 45 minutes.

    Edit: my wife’s VW Passat devoured its own water pump in our driveway, but that was before we were married, so I’m not claiming it.

  • My cars have never let me down. It is always I who have let them down.

    • neight428

      We know about your cars, you wouldn’t buy them unless their designers and manufacturers had not already let down everyone who wanted to actually get somewhere.

      • I’m not convinced my cars had designers so much as they had deadline-driven last-minute panickers.

    • P161911

      That sounds like an abused spouse talking.

    • 0A5599

      It’s all relative, I suppose. When was the last time you had high expectations when purchasing a car? It’s hard to be let down when you are already at the bottom.

      • The next one. The next one will be perfect, I’m sure of it.

      • outback_ute

        If you expect the car to break down and it doesn’t, has it let you down?

    • Jeff Glucker

      I like this answer

    • Sjalabais

      Let me just wipe that tear off the corner of my eye. Onions, lemons, all the same.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve needed a tow truck. The most memorable was a few years ago when the rear tire on my motorcycle blew out. I’m still not sure what caused one spot to wear clear through to the tube. The other was last march when after 15 years, our Saturn SL2 decided to deposit the contents of the transaxle on the road. We ended up donating since a used transaxle was as much as the car and that didn’t include labor, or any guarantee that the replacement would do any better.

  • Dropped my 2001 Ford Focus for small service, got a call: “well, you may drive it off the court again, but only to the scrapyard” I knew it was rusty, but I had given it one more pass – didn’t see the mushy engine mounting beam.

  • Smaglik

    I had an intermittent no start condition on an 87 635csi. I’d checked fuses, replaced relays, everything but the external fuel pump (in hindsight, I should have just replaced it preemptively). I was driving stovea with the part in the trunk, just in case. Well, just in case came to fruition at a work conference. Car wouldn’t start afterwards, called some friends who brought over tools and lights (this was in Phoenix, where I do not live), and swapped it out there, and she fired right up. Issue never came up again.

    • Zentropy

      I drive an ’87 535i, so maybe I should go ahead and buy an external fuel pump, just in case…

      • Smaglik

        When I would road trip in that car, the trunk had a rather healthy box of parts that went along with me.

  • Alff

    My cars have let me down in only three places – my driveway, my destination and somewhere in between.

    • Lokki

      With my Alfa, I have found that buying it regular small trinkets, and occasionally sacrificing some knuckle blood keeps it from sulking as much and greatly reduces the showboating for attention from paid mechanics.

      I don’t know what advice to give MDHarrell though. I suspect for his fleet it would involve a book by Tesla, a large cauldron, and full moon visits to… an English Pub?

      • Alff

        The older I get, the less they leave me stranded.

  • Troggy

    The most embarrassing was the ’74 Honda Civic that suffered a catastrophic head gasket failure right in front of school – just as three school busses pulled up. So it was witnessed by enough students that the entire school was informed before the first class had started.
    It had also blown coolant and oil out of the exhaust, all over the front of the car following me. And that car belonged to a teacher who had only bought it a week before – it was nearly brand-new. So I also had to cop a ribbing from all of the teachers who were aware that I’d blown a car up and made a big mess of the road outside.
    It also left a big ‘splat’ mark on the road that haunted me until the day I finished school.

  • Lokki

    The most annoying was with my 2012 BMW although there’s an argument that it wasn’t really the car’s fault. The question -still occasionally under debate- is whose fault it actually was. The car left us stranded in the parking lot of a local grocery about 7 or 8 miles from our house. We knew the reason though. I had been doing some yard work the previous week and after finishing came into the house to shower. I admit to leaving the fob/key in my pants pocket. I stipulate to that. However, my wife came along while I was in the shower and dropped my pants into the washing machine without checking the pockets. Naturally the key/fob ceased functioning after that. After calling BMW and learning that a replacement key/fob was over $300, I took the Service Rep’s suggestion and tried drying it out for a week. That almost worked. It worked fine on the way to the grocery, but refused to do a damn thing when it came time to return home.

    There is also a point of contention that my wife did not have her key for my car in her purse… although some people (quietly) say that there’s enough stuff in that purse to stock a small convenience store. Not having her key in there came as some surprise to me, as I had never thought to ask if she was carrying it when we left on her trial run.

    So…we came home on the back of a flatbed courtesy of my AAA membership which I keep for the Alfa.

    There are the facts, gentlemen of the Jury – I leave it to you as to where blame (if any, noting I wish to remain married) lies.

  • Hmmm…

    1976 Camaro – I don’t think it ever left me stranded. It was disabled for a week because I had bolted the negative battery cable to the block using a blind hole instead of the through hole next to it.

    1980 Monza – Broken timing gears on I75 somewhere in NW Ohio. Later, a failed alternator also on I75 in NW Ohio. Toward the end of its time with me the starter would stick on, one time it overheated and caught fire. I took to parking on a hill and roll starting it until I sold it. I’m sure there were other times (it was a terrible car), but I don’t remember.

    1977 Cutlass – Dad’s car, lost a wheel bearing on I75 north in Dayton.

    1988 Pulsar NX – I don’t think it ever left me stranded, even though it was a terrible car.

    1988 Nova – I don’t think it ever left me stranded.

    1988 Grand Caravan – Slipped timing belt on fresh remanufactured engine.

    1993 Escort – Failed timing belt.

    1999 Odyssey – The first two transmission failures didn’t strand us, but the 3rd (at 205K) did.

    2005 Mazda3 – Still own it and in 200K miles since new and I don’t think it ever left me stranded.

    2010 Outlook – No start in the driveway which the dealer blamed on low fuel and the slope of the driveway.

    1998 Escort – Bad coil fried the ECU, stranded my daughter at school. That was tough to diagnose.

    2003 Protege – I’ve owned two and I don’t think either ever left me, or my daughter, stranded.

    2007 Prius Touring – I don’t think it ever left me stranded.

    1996 BMW 318ti – Broken brake line and a flat tire. I’m counting the flat because the BMW’s 20 year old spare would no longer hold air.

    2002 Acura RSX Type S – Hasn’t stranded me yet.

    2015 Accord Hybrid – Hasn’t stranded us yet.

    1960 Thunderbird – Only the failed starter a year and a half ago.

    I’m sure I’m forgetting something. I’ve had plenty of other car issues, but most haven’t left me stranded.

  • Maymar

    My most memorable (quasi) stranding happened on Christmas eve. At the time, I was a student, working as much as humanly possible, and commuting an hour each way to college. I was overdue for an oil change, and because I stubbornly refused to use some quickie-lube place, I ended up under an ’03 Hyundai Accent, at 11:30pm on Dec 23rd, stabbing my oil filter with a screw driver, in sub-zero weather. Anyhow, I went to work the next day, my then-fiancee meets me after my shift is over to go to Chrismas eve dinner at my grandma’s, and like two minutes away, the low oil light goes on. I check under the car, and there’s no drain plug. I call my family (who were just a few minutes away), my dad comes over, we go back to my work, and sure enough, in my parking spot, was a drain plug and a pot hole full of oil. We grab a couple quarts from the gas station, get the plug back in, and get to dinner (well, leftovers, no one waited for me).

    I think that’s the last time I was stranded – the ’04 Accent I drove later had a dying starter when I got rid of it (but started with copious jumping), and when I blew a fuse, at least did it at home, and my ’80’s motorcycle ran fine when I was riding it consistently (weather was the only thing that stranded me with it). I also blew a tire commuting on my bicycle, had to walk the rest of the way home, took two hours.

    Prior to that, I had both an Escort and F150 that would vapor lock or something, just not start a couple times while I owned them, just to start up again fine hours later.

  • danleym

    I have an AMC Spirit that I rebuilt in high school. Shortly after finishing it, I was driving to girls home, and I would have been happy to impress either one. Well, about a mile away from school I drove over some railroad tracks and a couple suspension bolts I had failed to torque down decided that was a good time to vibrate out of place. Done, stopped, shitty part of town. My dad was a fireman, and it happened to be his district, and he happened to be on shift. So my dad comes in the fire truck to help me get my car back together enough to get home. The girls were not impressed.

    • Zentropy

      Still have the Spirit? I likewise built one in HS, and it’s still sitting beside my dad’s shop, sans engine. I had put a 360 V8 in it, but then pulled it and put it in my CJ. I had intended to go back with a 304 that is likewise sitting in my dad’s shop, but never got around to it. The pic below was taken in its glory days.

      • danleym

        Nice! I still have mine. The engine was the only thing I didn’t touch in mine, still has the original 258. I always planned on building a hopped up 258 for it, but I’m right in the middle of having kids and realistically it just isn’t going to happen soon. I’ll see if I can find a good picture.

      • danleym

        • Zentropy

          Nice! I like the wheels and fogs, and if I had it to do over now, I’d certainly remove my window louvers.
          I would have kept the 258 (I love inline sixes), but mine was shot. My car was a non-running, white 1980 Spirit GT with a 4-speed when I bought it. I painted it black (my first attempt at two-stage painting), which was stupid considering the lack of A/C and virtually no flow-through ventilation. I cut down the front bumper and recessed the grille for more of a muscle-car look. I wish I had a picture of the rear– I moved the license plate down to the bumper and cut a stock taillight to fit in the space it had occupied, making a single red taillight that spanned the entire width. It looked pretty cool.
          I had access to a 360 in a J-10 pickup, so I swapped it in and regrettably hoped the stock tranny could hold it. After ruining two 4-speeds, I finally pulled the V8 out for my CJ-7. Kids happened, and there the project sits. I loved that car, though, and drove it when I first dated the woman that became my wife.
          I’ve likewise considered restoring the car with the a built 258. Clifford still makes a number of upgrade parts. I’ve also thought about going with a 4.0L Jeep engine just for the benefit of fuel injection. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make it my first project once life slows down a bit.
          Thanks for sharing the pic!

          • outback_ute

            Nice photos guys. I am guessing the ride heights are both stock, but they seem very high (they are not the awd Eagle versions?).

            I’ve always thought the Spirit looked similar to the Holden Torana hatch here in Australia, obviously the vertical grille/front end vs sloping is different. A friend still owns his that is similar to the attached, and has had it since soon after high school. His has the 253 V8 from memory.

            • Zentropy

              Mine was stock height, and I had a six-cylinder DL of similar stance, as well as a 4×4 SX4 that sat much higher. Danleym’s appears in the photo to sit a bit higher than stock. These cars were built on surprisingly rugged platforms.
              As for the Torana, the Spirit had steeper rear glass and the impression of a stubbier tail. The Torana in my opinion resembles the AMC Concord hatchback, shown below in AMX trim. The Spirit was a shortened Concord, which itself was a revised Hornet. Essentially the same basic car carried through from the early 1970s through the mid-80s.

              • danleym

                Mine’s stock height, too. Could be the angle of that picture. But the ride height is definitely higher than a lot of cars, and thats a pretty regular comment that I get. On the long list of things maybe I’ll get to one day is to lower it. The front is easy, but the back would be more complicated.

  • outback_ute

    I have a couple that resulted in major inconvenience, and I can think of a couple more that resulted in field repairs that got me home.

    First was a split coil casing that let in dew and shorted/wrecked the coil when trying to start the engine. Happened at a roadside rest area in a cell phone dead spot between two country towns, with a loaded, hired car trailer hooked on for good measure. Ended up wasting a day but was lucky to borrow a car to get home with the trailer, make an interstate work trip the next morning and return the car a week later.

    Second was a failed water pump that happened in the Snowy Mountains about 2 hours from civilisation. Far enough that every vehicle that passed asked if I needed help. I soon found I did because the water pump pulley was a press-on type and while I had tools, not a shop press! Got it sorted thanks to a local farmer who also didn’t have a press but did have a bench vise and a sledge hammer. Again a day wasted.

  • Erik the Awful

    In 2010 I was towing my Jaguar XJ6 back from the 24 Hours of Lemons race at Mid-America Motorsports Park outside of Omaha when my ’99 Suburban started overheating. I had just entered a construction zone outside of Lawrence, Kansas with concrete barriers lining both sides of the road. For about five miles I towed the car uphill and shut the truck off and coasted downhill. Traffic was backed up behind me as I was only hitting about 40 mph. Finally the barriers opened up on the right and I pulled off next to a farmer’s field. The engine was hot as hell, but once it cooled I poured water into the radiator and it came out the upper intake manifold gasket. $700 and a day of work lost, but we finally hit the road again. Half an hour later the truck stalled. The side-post battery had worked its way loose. I tightened the terminal and half an hour later the trailer blew a tire. I dropped the trailer at a gas station, removed the wheel, drove home and dropped the family off, got six hours sleep, loaded up a spare tire, hit a tire shop and had the tire put on the rim, drove back and got the trailer.

  • Sjalabais

    My ’77 Volvo 242 let me down twice, both times when I was supposed to pick up a girl-friend from the airport. Most jealous car I have ever owned. A ’93 245 I owned crapulated by Lambda sond once, which was a bit annoying. I actually needed a tow truck on that one.

    The deep distrust I have of GM products was re-enforced the one time I really dependent on one. My neighbour’s kids loved the orange 242, and he had them only every two weeks for a weekend. So then they would borrow it and I got his vintage Ascona or whatever it was. Unfortunately, it left me stranded twice, with minor issues. Got it running once, the other time I needed a tow truck, being stuck between two, several kilometers long tunnels in Hardanger. Grand luck to not being stuck inside the tunnels. Getting home, I vacuumed sweets out of my rear seats and praised my ~AAA membership.

    • Zentropy

      I think you are the first person I’ve ever heard to get stranded by a Volvo 240 Series. Seriously, the ones I’ve known were indestructible tanks, and even when a part failed, it would run without it or was easily remedied until proper repairs could be made. I’ve been wanting a 240 wagon for years now.

      • Sjalabais

        Got to say though:

        1) It started again after some tinkering, not needing a tow truck.
        2) It was a bottom-of-the-lot, cheapest-of-Craigslist, date-with-the-wrecker kind of 240, 27 years old when I sold it in 2004.
        3) It was my first car after growing up with a single mother in a non-mechanical household. I had to learn how to check the oil level.

        • Zentropy

          At least you’re honest! We’ve all been there. I routinely started my AMC with two screwdrivers bridging the starter solenoid until I finally had the troubleshooting experience to diagnose the issue. (Fuse was blowing because of a short in the wiring of the seatbelt.)

  • Ted Odell

    The Los Huevos Ranchero; Turn 3 Thunderhill, July, 107 degrees outside. That was when it was throughing fan belts every 15 laps. Waiting for the tow in that weather was unpleasant.

    On a more real note, my ‘74 Datsun 1200 had a dash fire while in commute traffic. it was my fault as I was 1/2 way through installing a new stereo. I left some unshielded wires for the next evening’s work. Dumb.