1. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    My fictional character needs car trouble

    Discussion in 'Research' started by marktx, Jun 27, 2012.

    If anyone here is mechanically inclined, I would appreciate some technical advice. I need to strand my character by the side of the road, and I need to do it in a way that is mechanically accurate but also fits the plot.

    My character is an elderly driver who does not use his car often, and when he does, it is only for short trips close to his home. He never drives on freeways, but he has to make an exception due to an emergency in another state. His vehicle is a large, ancient Pontiac. I don't describe the car in much more detail than that (except to indicate that the car does not sound well-maintained), so the problem should be of a general nature (i.e., not specific to newer car technology).
    I'm thinking that I would like to have his radiator rupture, or some other cooling-related problem.

    Now, before my character takes to the road, he DOES take his car in for routine maintenance (oil change, belts, hoses, fluids). At the garage, he is told by the mechanic of a *potential* problem that *should* be fixed before he's on the road.

    Unfortunately, he decides NOT to get the repairs because (1) the situation he is responding to is urgent, (2) the repairs would take too long, and (3) the problem itself is not cut-and-dry--the mechanic knows it will become serious if neglected too long, but he has no sure way to know HOW long it will be before it will become serious.

    So my questions:

    1) What is the warning sign that causes the mechanic to become concerned?

    2) What is the time-consuming work that would need to be done?

    3) If the problem is something other than overheating and coolant loss, how would the problem manifest itself?
     
  2. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    A broken transmission is one problem that meets this criteria.

    1 - In automatic cars, a faulty transmission will make the car jolt when it accelerates between 40 to 50 kph, but the car will still be drivable.

    2 - A new transmission is serious work, and isn't something that can be done quickly. I don't know if garages have spare transmissions for Pontiac's laying around, how long does it take to find a transmission for a pontiac? I don't know.

    3 - This problem is bound to happen to cars that have a lot of wear and tear on them. One day the car will shake, than it will start happening more frequently, until it breaks down and can't go anywhere.
     
  3. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Hmm...I like that symptomology! The mechanic doing basic belts and hoses might not make a diagnosis directly, but if he questions the character a bit and the character mentions the symptoms at highway speeds ("It sometimes does that when I go fast, but I never go fast, so it hasn't been a problem") or something along those lines. it could leave the seriousness of the problem an open question while still raising it as a potential problem. Then as the character actually drives at highway speeds (since this is something he hasn't been doing much until this emergency trip), the symptoms could become more obvious and worrisome as he continues on the open road.
     
  4. nephlm
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    nephlm Member

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    I'm not sure how serious you wan the trouble to be, but I think a broken timing belt would work here.

    1. No practical warning. Timing belts are changed according to a schedule, the mechanic would note that the timing belt was supposed to be changed at 60,000 miles, the car is now at 90,000 and it still hasn't been done or if it's been done before it was more than 60,000 miles ago..
    2. To change the timing belt in most older cars involves removing lots of engine parts to get at the timing belt.
    3. Worst case the pistons fire out of time causing catastrophic engine damage. At the least the engine will run 'roughly' and may not run at all.

    My first thought was actually a dead alternator. Seems to have happened to everyone at some point.

    1. I'm not sure.
    2. It tends to be relatively expensive and takes several hours to replace the alternator.
    3. The car will no longer charge the battery while it is driving. When he tries to start the car after stopping somewhere it won't start.

    That's at least some starting points for further research.
     
  5. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Here's what my Dad suggested:

    Slight leak in radiator.

    Mounting bracket on the radiator is rusting.

    Water pump starting to fail.
     
  6. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Thanks everybody!

    Here's what I got from a mechanic's discussion board:

    Leaky intake gasket (known problem with certain Pontiacs). Might be okay for a while if you keep your fluids topped. Takes 4-6 hours to fix, which is too long for my character to wait.

    Basically jibes very closely with the "slight leak in radiator" suggested by Ettina's dad.
     
  7. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    Well if the car is not well-maintained yet he has the foresight to go to the shop then that is kinda contradictory. Its either he doesn't keep it well maintained and this urgent matter finally breaks whatever has been causing problems before and that's the end of that. If for some reason he has the foresight to bring it to the shop anyway before an urgent matter (which would take an hour or more) it would be awkward. I'd almost prefer to have a on-going problem which exists for a long time until it breaks in a spectacular way.

    CV Joint failure. Its a problem which is defined by clicking in turns, the bearings in the joint grind away and if it goes WILL take you off the road, no questions asked. Your wheel will not spin, if it goes the wrong way it can take out the transmission, and it is hopeless to repair on the side of the road unlike a fluid issue which leads to overheating and can be solved by adding more water. A leaky intake gasket is not a problem which will put you off the road suddenly as a CV joint failure will. While a CV joint is a quick repair (an hour or two if the part is in stock... doubtful for many places), it is something which is usually has to be ordered. The clicking gets louder and louder as time goes on (can take many weeks or months depending on use) until rounding the corner yields loud crunching, snapping and twisting of metal and the car won't go anymore. It allows for good foreshadowing with comments like, "It creaks and clicks like my back in the morning when I round the corner onto Plum Street."

    Also the CV joint issue is caused by a broken boot which allows water and dirt and grime to get into the grease-filled ball bearings in the joint until they crunch and breakup, if someone doesn't take care of the car, this problem could be a fun way in which no-one, not even a roadside assistance responder could fix. The car will be entirely out of commission.
     

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