I was joking around with a buddy of mine, commenting on the indestructibility of diesels—their engines in particular. It seems even when damaged, the suckers can just keep on running and running. Some of the best stories I have are from vehicles that were beat and broken but just kept on running, and the adrenaline rush of wondering if they would make it to home base has given me quite a few memories over the years.
One of my funniest moments with my ’89 Dodge occurred right after I bought it. I had driven it to work and noticed all my gauges were reading a little high. My fuel level on the gauge had gone up, a virtual impossibility, so I knew something was amiss. I parked the truck and turned it off, and to my surprise, it kept running. I took the keys out, and it still kept running. I had planned on fixing it later, but it seems like my engine had different ideas. All it turned out to be was a bad ground, which I found by wiggling wires, so it was the best kind of fix: a free one!
Project Triple Threat, my ’95 Dodge, decided to blow a head gasket, but I was able to drive that truck for months before fixing it. Since water was only slowly seeping out the side, I was able to keep the big Cummins moving for weeks at a time before I filled it with water. Just replacing the old and crusty head gasket with a nice new one and some head studs was an easy and permanent fix.
Perhaps the most extreme case of diesel limping I have seen in a while involves the ’11 Dodge Ram we took on our Diesel of the Year test last July. After an unnamed editor bashed the radiator on a rock, the cooling system started leaking. As it turned out, the tanks were plastic and the radiator was metal, so it couldn’t be fixed by welding or JB-Weld. We tried to patch it up, but it was still utterly determined to leak all its coolant out. With night closing in, 150 miles away from home, the staff—spurred by the ridiculous nature of the 4Wheel and Off Road guys—decided to try and limp the truck home with a busted radiator. The truck could only make it about 20 miles at a time before it would overheat and need more water. The fact that it would go any distance at all was due to the enormous capacity of the radiator. Eventually, the team started filling up the truck with water before it truly overheated, cutting down on our waiting time between stops. We also tried a numerous amount of fixes en route, including adding stop leak, and even trying to plug up the leak with eggs and pepper like one editor had seen on MythBusters. Nothing worked, but we still limped the truck through the night, towing a trailer. We didn’t make it home till a little before midnight, but we made it. As silly as the decision was to try and drive the truck back to Los Angeles, it’s a trip I’ll always remember.
If you have a story of triumph over impossible odds involving your diesel (like using a squirt gun as a lift pump), make sure to send me an email at Jason.Sands@sorc.com. We’ll compile all the entries and print some of the best stories in an upcoming issue of Diesel Power.