Finding out your vehicle’s idiosyncrasies – the hard way

Just hanging out, on the end of a winch rope.

One of the best and/or worst things about getting an old banger and fixing it up is that you never quite know what you’re going to get. Sure, with a bit of an experienced eye you can figure out the main stuff like rust, bearing and bushes and all the standard leaks and squeaks. But there are always things you can’t see and won’t find out about until the right conditions present themselves.

Take a recent outing of mine for example. Old Rusty had been performing beautifully in the short outings that I’d been taking him on, post re-build. Most of the little niggling issues had been sorted so now it was time for a camping and four wheel driving weekend. We settled on Gordon Country, a cattle property-come four wheel drive and camping park. Just over the hill from Brisbane heading towards Warwick, take a turn at the Driver Reviver stand and follow the signs and before long you’re in camping heaven. Nice wide-open shady camp grounds to choose from and enough tracks of varying degrees of difficulty to keep everyone happy.

So with the destination locked in, Rusty was loaded with enough gear for a couple of nights for me, my lovely lady and my two useless hounds and we were off. The next day we were joined by Mitten’s, his girlfriend and Kertrude. Time for some off-road exploration.

At first everything was going well. A few decent mud puddles, some minor hill climbs and generally just a bit of good clean fun. Eventually we arrived at the foot of a fair to reasonable climb up a fairly steep hill. It was a bit scrabbly with some small wash outs but with no reason to think Rusty wasn’t up to the task I set the hand throttle, selected first gear low range and headed off.

It was all going well for a while, until we reached a particularly steep bit. For some reason the engine just died, leaving me in a rather precarious position half way up a steep incline.

“No worries.” Thought I. Using the tried and trusted technique I selected ‘R’ for backwards, let go the hand-brake and kicked over the ignition and ‘you little rippa’ it started again.

For a grand total of 5 seconds.

Something was definitely wrong. We soon figured out that we were getting no oil pressure and as such the inbuilt safety mechanism was kicking in and shutting the engine off. Great, the engine isn’t going to seize up through lack of oil. But I was still stuck halfway up a hill.

Rusty does have a winch on the front and under other circumstances it’d be a simple case of running out the cable, hooking onto a tree and winching back down under control. But Rusty’s winch is a PTO winch, meaning it is driven off engine power, not electrical power, and my engine wasn’t working. Well not for any more then 5 seconds anyway.

So with nothing else for it we hooked up the winch and went backwards 5 seconds at a time. Obviously this put a lot of strain on the old battery and it soon gave up the ghost with a good twenty metres or so to go until we reached flat ground. What to do? We needed another battery and the only one within shouting distance was in Mitten’s truck at the bottom of the hill – bugger.

Now, dear reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever carried a car battery twenty metres up a steep hill, but I recommend you don’t try it if you don’t have to. With searing lungs and burning limbs I finally managed to get the battery up the hill, but needed a good sit down before I had the energy to actually lift the bloody thing into Rusty’s engine bay. But lift if I eventually did and we were soon back into the five second intervals until finally we were far enough down for the old engine to kick over and stay kicked-over. It was a wonderful thing, and I was knackered.

Back to the campsite for a well earned breather and a couple of amber beverages and the whole experience was nothing more than a funny story being told around a campfire.

Turns out that over the years, the vibrations within the engine had caused the oil pickup to crack, resulting in the loss of pressure at the right angle. Nothing particularly difficult, but it just goes to show, you can look at these old clangers as much as you like but you’ll never fully know what’s lurking beneath, unseen and waiting to reveal itself at the worst possible moment.

But that’s what makes them sooo much better then a brand new chariot.