Some thoughts on vehicles, and maintenance

So today I was driving around in a mid 90’s sedan, a Buick. The darned thing started to overheat, but I made it to my destination. Popped the hood, let it cool while I took care of some business I had, and when I came back it was cool enough to take the radiator cap off and get an assessment. Usually, coolant and radiator problems will let themselves be known to you by the smell of hot water and steam, and this was no exception. The radiator had obviously boiled over, and I couldn’t see any issues with hoses, this being one of the cars that has everything so tightly integrated that you have a hard time tracing hoses under various components. So I got some water, and started to top off the radiator. Of course, that’s when I notice some water coming out of the top of the engine, still unknown because everything’s so obscured. So I pull the serpentine belt, the top plastic panels on the engine intake manifold, the battery get its positive lead pulled, the alternator gets pulled….and finally I see the culprit.

It’s a barbed hose fitting. Broken right off at the threads, from the bypass hose on the water pump. It’s plastic. Bugger snapped clean off.

Now, GM has all sorts of problems right now without me adding to them, but for the love of PETE YOU GM ENGINEERS…PLASTIC? In any case, I’m sourcing something in, oh, say, a nice brass fitting. Instead of plastic.

What the heck does this have to do with preparedness? Several things, to whit:

  • Modern vehicles have many components that aren’t built to last. Components that, once broken, can only be replaced – not field fixed.
  • Older vehicles often have more “maintainable” subsystems than newer vehicles, specifically because they needed more maintenance.  Not to mention they had to be able to be maintained by someone with a regular high school education, not  a Masters in Electronic Engineering.
  • Plastics on engines, transmissions, and other drivetrain components immediately make me suspicious of durability. Plastics should make you suspicious too.
  • JB-Weld, and epoxies in general, are godsends. (yeah, that doesn’t make sense as the last bullet, but once you use them…)
  • For preparedness, have things you can maintain. Have things that last. Have Things YOU Can Fix.

Even though it’s a given that modern vehicles are often much less maintenance intensive than older vehicles, this comes at a price. Namely that it’s hard to maintain them when they do break.

As an advanced, or even moderately advanced strategy, consider purchasing at least one older vehicle – something that’s pre-electronic. Even pre-CDI era (CDI being Capacitor Discharge Ignition, a huge advance at the time, and still  a great thing to convert an old points and condensor vehicle over from – but don’t throw those points kits away, stash them as a just-in-case backup.)  For many of us, something in a four wheel drive flavor  is attactive, but even having a regular car or motorcycle that doesn’t depend on hard to maintain systems, and systems that are specifically designed to deteriorate with time, is a terrific backup to have.

My preferences in vehicles tend towards durable 3/4 or 1 ton domestic pickups, from Chevrolet, Ford or Dodge. There’s no one best manufacturer, they’ve all got pluses and minuses. Engine -wise, if you’re looking for durability, maintainability and reasonable price, you won’t go far wrong with a Dodge slant six, a Chevy or Ford straight six,  with my preference being the good old slant six. But the Ford and Chevy are both great choices too.  If you’ve got to have a V-8, again, it’s pluses and minuses.  I prefer the Chevy small block, but that’s got quite a bit to do with just plain experience. You can do very well with the Ford and Dodge products too.  Concerning diesel engines, I really like the Cummins 12 valve engines.

Don’t ignore a regular sedan with an old six in it either, many of them are great vehicles. Likewise, if it’s motorcycles you’re into, look at the earlier bikes out there. I’m a big fan of the little old Honda CT-90’s, which were an incredible design.

One last thing: many of these older engines can almost be considered multi-fuel. If it’s designed as a gasoline, carburated engine, then you can run gasoline, gasoline blends, alcohol, propane, drip gas, etc. Some of these might take a few modifications, but it’s very possible. Not to mention also, if it comes down to it, being able to run on Wood Gas. Try getting a modern engine to do that. If it’s an early diesel engine, you have various diesel blends, fuel oils, jet fuel, waste vegetable oil, new vegetable oil and Biodiesel as a few options. Many of your diesel truck manuals, by the way, will specify “emergency fuels” in their reference sections. Might be a good idea to check on that, if you’re running a diesel truck.

So look into older vehicles, there are plenty of boards out there that deal with them. Many of us here can make good recommendations, so don’t hesitate to ask on The Preparedness Podcast Forum either.

-Greg Trent

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