Hooniverse Asks: What’s The Worst Place You’ve Ever Had To Fix a Car?

I’ve always said that the most opportune place to repair a broken down car is in its new-owner’s driveway. I don’t mind at all maintaining the various members of my herd, but it truly vexes me when something on any of them goes wrong. It’s especially frustrating when the problem arrises in an inconvenient locale.
Years ago I had a 1974 Audi Fox coupe in baby poop burnt orange and that car had a penchant for eating starters. Inevitably the cranking would diminish in direct proportion to how far away from home I was. The most egregious example of this was when it crapped out while I was driving back to LA from Berkley where I had been visiting a girlfriend. I’m not really one to Macgyver a starter on a Sunday afternoon on the I-5 in the middle of the Central Valley, it’s just not in my nature. Instead I just kept the car running and when I did need to shut it off when getting gas at a station where the CHP liked to loiter, I just asked the officer for a push. He was very obliging.
That Audi is long gone and these days I’ve been lucky enough not to get stranded too far from home requiring some under-hood monkey wrenching. Have you also been so lucky? If not, where is the worst place that you’ve had to fix a broken down car? 
Image: dreamtime

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33 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What’s The Worst Place You’ve Ever Had To Fix a Car?”

  1. rumblestrip Avatar

    It looks like Leeloo Dallas really needs that Multipass right now.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      My first thought exactly.

  2. Kiefmo Avatar

    Was driving my MIL’s 1991 Cressida from Metairie to Columbus. I was between cars, and it was her extra, so we were borrowing it. I was in that stretch of no-man’s land between Montgomery and Auburn when the windshield was suddenly splattered by burnt-smelling brown goo. I pulled over, popped the hood, and the upper radiator hose had burst. Brown fluid was everywhere. You all will know what that means, especially in the context of a Toyota packing the 7M-GE straight-6.
    But at the time, I had no clue. I was a car work newb. I just knew it was getting dark and I still had over 100 miles to go. I called my wife to talk it out. She reminded me that the car had roadside assistance on the insurance. I called the roadside assistance number, and a flatbed arrived within a half hour — kind of miraculous considering where I was. The tow driver asked where to. I hadn’t thought of that. It was Sunday, so there were no garages open. I figured I could replace the radiator hose, though, so I asked the truck driver if there was a auto parts store open anywhere nearby.
    15 minutes later, and just 15 minutes before the parts store closed, the truck dropped the Cressy in the parking lot of an Advance Auto Parts. I ran inside and with the help of the amused and friendly guy behind the counter, purchased a generic hose that would fit, and borrowed a screwdriver to loosen and tighten the clamps. I called my BIL the mechanic to ask if there was anything not-obvious about replacing this hose, and he told me about how to burp the air bubbles out of the system.
    When it came time to fill the radiator, I realized I didn’t have any way to get water into the car. I scavenged a 20oz coke bottle from a trash can, found an exterior spigot on the side of the parts store, and proceeded to re-fill the cooling system 20oz at time.
    A pack of good old boys with large pickups looked on while filling similar 20oz bottles with brown spit.
    The car started, and I waited. I didn’t know what caused the hose to burst in the first place, but I assumed at the time it was just old, and it must have burst under the pressure of the water pump. Right? Right?
    Of course, I was wrong. It was a headgasket on its way out. But I got home without further incident. The car later blew its headgasket in more definitive fashion. Because I was a total car ignoramous at the time, I sold it as a non-runner for $500+1 tree removal (with ground stump) to some guys who owned a tree service. If that happened now, I’d have had a headgasket swap weekend in my buddy’s garage, and we’d have a jolly old time.

  3. Kiefmo Avatar

    When I was 16 and a relatively-freshly minted driver, I swapped the spare tire onto my crush’s car in the middle of a freeway-to-freeway onramp (so, traffic was moving fast). Her mother had called me and picked me up to come do this because the father of the family worked odd hours at a factory and wouldn’t be off for hours, there were no male cousins or brothers in the family, and I was “church family”.
    She’d driven on the tire and it was thoroughly shredded, but she’d pulled just over the white line when she pulled over. I had her get back in and pull way off the road before I changed the spare, because the tire was gone anyway. Still, it was on the driver’s side, and it was extremely nerve-wracking squatting and laying by the side of the highway changing this tire.
    When I got it done, she asked if I would drive the car back to her house because she was afraid of driving on the 50mph spare. Of course I did — and it was a relatively quiet drive. I felt like a damned hero to the girl I really wanted to make out with. When we got to her house, she thanked me profusely before her mother drove me home. I found out much later that she’d had a bit crush on me as well, but it turned out that she, a really devout Baptist, really wanted a project boyfriend — a raw hide to tan, if you will. Despite my blasphemous talk (in the eyes of the Baptists, at least), I was very well behaved, so I didn’t really hold her interest.

  4. GTXcellent Avatar

    1983 Dodge Ram with 727 Torqueflite. Early March – spring melt just after a heavy snowstorm. Parked in the street, in said slush.
    Time to go. Turn the key. Nothing. Why U no start Mopar? Oh, why do I see a wire harness hanging down? Somehow, the neutral safety switch fell out, or some jack-ass prankster pulled it out. I had no choice but to crawl under the truck in 6 inches of slush/water/salt/don’t want to think about what else and plug the harness back in. Cold, wet and miserable – but at least the truck was fine.

    1. Harry Callahan Avatar
      Harry Callahan

      I drove a tow truck in Milwaukee for a year. My daily life included crawling under cars daily….no way to avoid the awfulness of said slush….though I did lift a few cars by their bumpers to, uhm, reduce the misery……

  5. P161911 Avatar

    Mid-1990s a Park and Ride lot outside New York City. I was working a co-op job in Connecticut, my parents had come up to visit and we were doing the tourist thing. At about 10pm on Sunday night we are headed back to my place and the thermostat in my 1979 K-5 Blazer decides to stop working and cause the thing to overheat. I keep a decent set of tools in the truck. I manage to get the bad thermostat out, but I don’t have a gasket. Look around at the trash in the parking lot and find a discarded orange juice carton. I manage to make a functioning gasket out of that and drive the 100 or so miles home and drive it until the next weekend. While I was doing the repair, the payphone in the lot kept ringing. I was probably interrupting someone’s drug deal, not a comforting feeling.
    Another was replacing the rear half-shaft u-joint on my 1977 Corvette in an apartment parking lot in Flatwoods, KY. It was very rough asphalt, almost just tar and gravel.

  6. Alff Avatar

    Camping and wheeling in the Cascades led to numerous back country breakdowns. One of my favorite good ’nuff repairs involved patching a cracked exhaust manifold with a metal tennis ball can, fence wire and a tube of high-temp silicone. It held for all but the last few blocks of a two and a half hour drive home.

  7. outback_ute Avatar

    Blew a water pump about 2 hours from the nearest town in the mountains. Good thing is that nearly every passing car stops to see if you are ok – don’t get that in the city!
    The other good thing is I had a new water pump, although it would have been even better if I had swapped it before the trip like I originally planned. That way I would have discovered that the pulley was a press fit…

  8. JayP Avatar

    I was just thinking about my 944 this morning.
    I’d just replaced the transaxle in it and was taking a victory drive to the grocery.
    Loaded up the hatch with the goods, headed home. Pulled into the side road when the shifter disconnected.
    Half out in the street… not going anywhere.
    A cool fella in an FJ40 (real one not that new thing) helped me push it back into the bank parking lot. After about 30 minutes of waiting on a tow, I managed to get the shifter reconnected.
    No casualties but I had to toss the raw chicken breasts…

  9. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    Ever have a tire blow on a car, and you knew the other tires were going to need replaced? I had this happen to me with a 1989 Mazda 323. The first tire blew in a good place, there was a parking lot I could pull into and change to the spare. I had a friend put a used tire on it and I decided to keep going until I had the money to replace them all. Well, one day, already running late for an appointment, I got another flat… on the side of a very busy I-69. And it was on the driver’s side. I hated changing that tire, even going as far as draping myself over the hood and down to the tire, so I wouldn’t have to hang out near traffic, which was fast and constant. Fortunately, my appointment wasn’t unhappy with my being late, and was slightly amused with my story (and still dirty hands).

  10. Hillman_Hunter Avatar

    Active train tracks in the dark. Good times.

  11. Toufic Chahin Avatar
    Toufic Chahin

    This goes back to high school (mid 90s) and my sister had gone a trip out of town with friends, my parents went to visit my grandparents, so was left with the only car not suited for out of town travel which happens to be a 1967 Mustang GT fastback. Beautiful car, looking very much like the car out of Bullitt and even the same shade of forest green. It’s a great car sporting a 390ci engine and 4 on the floor, but at that point also sporting an unseen bubble on the inside of the driver side front tire. Well my happy teenage butt was driving said car, if you grew up in Houston then you already know the hell that can be the 610 loop moving along at 30mph, but I imagine anyone in very large city can sympathize easily enough. So it happens the tire decides to blow it’s period correct bias ply tires in one long strip as I’m driving, making steering interesting and denting the top of the front quarter panel from the inside in the process of spinning around its wheel. Of course I was in the fast lane and with traffic as dense as it was I had to pull to the inside shoulder as I had no tire to drive on at that point. So I had the pleasure of changing a tire in the middle of a wonderfully humid Houston June summmer, crammed up against the highway divider, and the weak/old jack causing the car to fall off the not once but twice! That is definitely a pleasure I would not wish to relive ever again…

  12. jeepjeff Avatar

    Motorcycle. Death Valley. August.

    1. Harry Callahan Avatar
      Harry Callahan

      Repairing a motorcycle in the desert is better than pushing a motorcycle in the desert.

  13. ptschett Avatar

    One hazy July evening I was out on my KLR650 meandering along township and county gravel roads between Oakes & Forman ND. I’d just decided to turn back toward home (in Gwinner at the time) when I noticed the back end of the motorcycle wasn’t as stable as I was used to… I’d found a big old ring shank nail and punctured the tube.
    Off came the Flambeau ammo case I was using for a top box / tool kit (good thing I’d brought it and left the milk crate home!), out went the wrenches, tire irons, spare tube, tire pump and mini bottle of Dawn soap concentrate for bead lube; over on to its side on the case went the bike and out went the axle bolt. Some people who lived in the area stopped when I was about halfway through the job & helped pick it back up when the time came. I got home just before dark, but dark comes pretty late in the central timezone area of North Dakota in July.

    1. serowman Avatar

      I too am no stranger to motorcycles crapping out in the middle of nowhere (AKA the entire state of North Dakota). In my case luckily it was just me accidentally leaving the light on on my Yamaha XT225 and killing the battery. I had rode my bike out to a friend’s ranch to shoot (and they weren’t there). Got done shooting and the battery was completely dead. That was the day I learned that I am not in great shape and that bike is a pain in the ass to push start.

  14. hwyengr Avatar

    Not nearly as bad as some of these, but my worst was an Indiana Toll Road rest area in the middle of the night. The location wasn’t terrible, but the circumstances made it worse since we were picking up the barely-approved-by-the-SO 928. We had ordered the $6/mile emergency tow back to Chicago (160 miles to go) when I finally figured out how to clear a flooded engine.
    We upgraded to the AAA 200-mile tow package after that night, which came in handy for the Rambler wagon pick-up. I have been told that I can no longer plan to drive home old cars that I’ve bought on the internet.

  15. PaulE Avatar

    Not my cars: Friend’s Saab 9-5 managed to have a serpentine belt idler pulley frag along a state highway an hour and a half away from me. I ended up buying a new pulley and belt in the town I live, drove the hour and a half with tools and a floor jack and changed both belt and pulley by flashlight alongside the highway on a cold, dark December evening.
    My own cars? A few years back, a weekend roadtrip to see friends in Milwaukee featured the water pump seizing up in a Lexus LS midway between Madison and Milwaukee late at night, as noted by lots of steam and coolant escaping and the temp gauge pegging out on a steamy summer night. I called a buddy of mine in Madison, limped the car back 35-40 miles. With coolant added, the heat cranked up and windows down, I was able to get the temp gauge down enough to do this ritual: Get the car to highway speed before the temp gauge shot up, then put the car in neutral and turn it off, rolling as fast and far as I could on the shoulder, balancing the temp gauge and speedo. I repeated it over and over, made it to my buddy’s place and slept. I was lucky enough to find a full timing belt/water pump kit in stock at a local parts store on a Saturday ($cha-ching!) and started the thrash of a full 1UZ timing belt/water pump job in my buddy’s driveway. I had nearly enough tools in my tool box to do the job and he had the remaining stuff in his garage. Of course I found more things that needed replacing while in there, so the whole job ended up being a 14-hour adventure, finishing somewhere between 4 and 5 in the morning. I slept a couple hours and returned home, where I had to work the next afternoon. Beyond tools that travel with me, I now keep a spare timing belt in the trunk of the different LS I now own, in case I ever have to do that miserable job again in the middle of nowhere. Otherwise? Many years ago, a Saab 9000 alternator change in my driveway in -10F weather.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      I feel lucky now the water pump I mentioned before on my ute is driven by the serpentine belt, which helped acted as a water pump failure warning by stopping to drive the power steering. I had the tools to R&R the pump, a local farmer had the necessary tools to change the water pump pulley (sledge hammer and punch to substitute for a shop press). Didn’t do anything else, although the next day the handbrake cable frayed and jammed on, this time at a campground miles from a road. Turned out to be easy enough to release it manually, too bad I could have used it later in the day on a trail…

  16. Bj Ruland Avatar
    Bj Ruland

    I was involved, indirectly. My brother was overseas, Baghdad, around late 2009/early 2010 and he was doing force security for command staff for his unit. They were somewhere outside the green zone. I was of course home in ‘sconi snoring away at 4am when my phone rang from a number I did not recognize. “F*&ing suburban won’t start and we need it to start what the fu*& is wrong with it?” I was of course half asleep with this call and thought I was dreaming so my reply was “what?”. That was when a flurry of f*&k’s were thrown my way as my brother, in Baghdad, explained one of the Suburban’s in the fleet for the command staff wouldn’t start. I was fully awake by then and my simple reply was “what is is doing?” My brother explained it wouldn’t start, key on no cranking but the lights on the dash were good, headlights were on and all he could here was a ‘solid click’. Right away I knew it was a starter failure. I explained to him to have someone smack the body of the starter with a hammer or wrench as another person holds the key in the crank position and the truck in park. I heard another flurry of swearing and then a distinct “vroooooom” of a engine starting. He said “later” and hung up. I laid there in a semi state of sleep and shock wondering if I just dream the entire call or what.
    A few hours later my brother called back and explained the entire situation. They were guarding the command staff who was out and about doing whatever it is they wanted to do. Something about keeping the natives happy or whatever. They had parked and shut off the ‘burb in a not so great part of the city and when things were getting a little weird the man in charge wanted to leave. That was when one of them decided not to start. There was a discussion on what to do, leave it and all pile in another and deal with the aftermath or figure it out quick. My brother borrowed someones phone, called me and I answered. Once it was started everyone went back to the green zone and all was well.
    So I phoned in a repair to a war zone. If they get $500 for a toilet seat that should be worth what? 2,3K worth of advising?

  17. Rudy™ Avatar

    Not really “worst” compared to other stories, but that effing Merkur I owned was notorious for pulling one on me. How about in the bowels of Detroit, alongside I-94 after leaving I-96, all the belts thrown off? Discomfort, to say the least. Even worse was not carrying any tools, and calling someone to bring down a socket set so I could get it back on the road. Thankfully a state trooper pulled up not too long after, to keep the traffic away from me, and from being murdered from drive-by thugs (which is a “thing” here). Of course, given location, I think the worst place that lemon–erm, Merkur–stranded me was about 2/3 of the way up Pike’s Peak (you know, the part with the gravel road and no guardrails), when it just completely quit running. It finally restarted half an hour later. No idea what caused that. All the while, figuring out how I was going to turn around so I could coast down, without flying off the edge of the mountain. This is why we own no more Ford products…worst ownership experience ever.

  18. Wayward David Avatar
    Wayward David

    Replaced a u-joint on my 1961 Buick Special wagon by the side of Route 66 once. Fortunately the weather was good, so it wasn’t too bad except for the gravel/rocks.

  19. CraigSu Avatar

    During a horrible storm many years ago my 1970 Opel Kadett Rallye let loose with a thunderous roar after passing through some standing water. I pulled over immediately and discovered the exhaust pipe leading into the muffler had let loose owing to it being neither welded nor clamped. The sudden wash of water had twisted the muffler and rotated it in its bracket. I had to crawl under the car in the pouring rain and reattach the hot pipe to the hot muffler. Since I was already soaked I used my T-shirt as a heat shield between my hands and the hot parts.

  20. NapoleonSolo Avatar

    Maybe not the worst place, but the strangest experience. In summer of ’85, we had a Buick Electra 225 that we had bought for $700 from a friend. It was actually a wonderful automobile, and with a 454 it pulled our inherited 1976 Coleman Patriot pop-up camper like it wasn’t even there. In fact, I couldn’t see it at all when I was driving, even with the big mirrors attached. My wife and I and one-year-old son were visiting family in Lake George, NY and decided to take the “scenic route” over the Green Mountains of Vermont on our way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. That meant no interstates, no reasonable grades and a lot of switchbacks. It also meant relatively low speeds, and I was watching the water temperature gauge slowly edge up higher and higher. Just when we were a few hundred feet shy of the summit, the radiator cap let go and the coolant left as a big cloud of steam. I had to pull over to the side of the rather narrow road and park the car and trailer. There was a scenic overlook just up the road, and I got my wife and baby up there in relative safety and waited for the car to cool down. Problem was that there was no source of water, and I would need a lot of it. While we’re sitting there wondering what to do (no mobile phones in 1985), a guy in his twenties with a girlfriend pull in driving a little Datsun wagon. We exchanged greetings and told them our car had overheated. Without any more than that, he tossed me his keys and said, “We’re going hiking for a couple of hours. Just leave the keys in the car wen you’re done with it.” The last source of water I had seen was a little pond that was pretty far back down the hill. In fact, we could see it from where we were. I had some sort of container, but it wasn’t very large. It took me three trips back down the mountain to the pond. The water was simply teeming with one-inch pollywogs and I had a really tough time keeping them out of the container. For all I know, I may have cooked a few in the Buick, but we made it down the other side and found some proper coolant. The Buick never overheated again. We had a great time hiking Crawford Notch with the baby and came home with a story I enjoy telling. That guy with the Datsun is my hero.

  21. Scott McIntyre Avatar
    Scott McIntyre

    Well my 94′ F150 4.9 chewed up the serpentine belt not once but twice due to the pulley being wrong on the new alternator recently installed. Felt/heard it going but too late. It exploded. Coasted off I-75 in Atlanta made the red light at the bottom of the hill and came to a stop behind the Chick-fil-A and in front of CVS. Always carried a spare belt under the seat but was on the way to a company trade show and didn’t put my tools back in the truck from the weekend repairs. Purchased shitty vise-grips, pliers and, a small adjustable wrench along with a pair of scissors at CVS and changed the belt. Made it halfway home and it started to go again. This time stopped before the totally destruction happened. Walked to where a buddy worked nearby. Called brother-in-law who came, followed me off the interstate, limping to keep it in one piece. After getting tools and parts he dropped me off to make the repair again. With all correct parts confidence was hight…then it started to rain. Hunched under the hood trying to stay dry I realized where my repair was taking place. On the ramp access road directly in front of the local Chevrolet dealer. Surely the had a laugh but no smart salespeople because none came out to attempt to sell me. And luckily this was prior to smart-phone and social media to mask the “fun” of the day for me.

  22. Harry Callahan Avatar
    Harry Callahan

    What’s up with the tranny on the the lede photo?

  23. Douche_McGee Avatar

    When I was about 16, my family took a trip to somewhere in Upstate NY. Leaving from Long Island, we had to take the cross bronx expwy.
    Anyway, we got a flat, and the only place we could pull over was on some of the white lined triangle areas where there was an exit. As I was the most car adept, I grabbed the jack and swapped on the spare. There was not a lot of room to work where we were. but thankfully, I wasn’t clipped by a car.

  24. hike15 Avatar

    In a left turn lane. I was in the shop truck with a bad battery we just took out of a vehicle. It was a short drive, but I got a red light and the old ‘Burban just wouldn’t make it, Being only two minutes from the shop, I called the tech who brought the other vehicle back and he said he’s be there in two minutes with a battery. Fortunately, I have a truck fool of tools, whip the old battery out, throw the new one in and get on my way without even clamping it down.

  25. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    All along I-95 in Connecticut one night. The radiator seams in an old Opel Kadett decided to give out while we were on a long trip. We tried crimping, and getting a soldering kit and trying that, and limping along adding wAter at every exit. It was quite a leak, and we’d made it worse. Eventually, I noticed a tube of radiator stop leak powder in a gas station, and that did the trick. I was sure we’d be overheating next, but that awful car got us to the destination.

  26. Sam Avatar

    Blew a head gasket in a little shit box˛ just as we passed the sign for the Nullabor Plain. Radiator refill every 30min˛ This is the desert Between Western Australia and the rest of it. The only sealed road˛ water is scarce and the petrol stations want $6 a liter. Thankfully when the sun went down radiaor refills streched out to 1hr˛ then after midnight 1hr30mins so we kept driving to dawn. Paying for showers at petrol stations and funneling the water into scavenged 2ltr coke bottles. Ceduna to Norseman˛ 1200km 18hrs. Slept all day˛ limped it to perth the next night.

  27. MattC Avatar

    My breakdown is not exciting except for the time of day. I was driving home from work after a snowstorm in a mid 2000’s RAV4 when I ran over an end piece that had broken off of a snowplow. This caused a spectacular blowout and I was fortunately able to pull over to the shoulder and under an overpass. Unfortunately the time of day was about 0230, it was snowing profusely and I am proceeding to take off the wheel (that was rusted to the hub) while keeping a wary eye of the inevitable drunk drivers leaving the local bars that use this corridor to get home.
    My second breakdown was in a 2000 Ranger on a major interstate. The Ranger proceeded to shred the serpentine belt (idler puller crapped out) and I was able to pull over to the side of the road before overheating the engine. My FIL picked me up about 1 hr later and we bought a new belt and a gallon of premixed antifreeze. We were able to replace the belt/replacement pulley and refill the spent antifreeze right before a massive thunderstorm was about to dump on us. I remember seeing the storm clouds in the distance and watching their approach as we hurried along knowing we had mere minutes to fix without being deluged.

  28. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    overpass of i-10 and I-35 rush hour friday afternoon in huston. mgb. electrical issue;lucas prince of darkness electrical system. when it really needs to be dark…lucas.

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