Portland Trip 2013 – San Deigo to LA


On the way through the mountains to get to San Diego, I overheated high up in the peaks in the dark. I clearly wasn’t the mountain’s first victim, as there were frequent police boxes and signs for “Radiator Water” all along the road. I found a good place to pull off, and went through the “wait for it to cool down and refill while hunting for the hundredth time for obvious problems” dance. Some very nice Immigration agents showed up at one point to check on me. I assured them that I could probably keep going again once the car had cooled down enough to refill the radiator. Once I did the car behaved itself again through some pretty aggro mountain driving with 6-8% grades until I finally pulled up to Touch’s place in San Diego. I was concerned the thermostat might have gotten jammed half-way open, which sometimes happen after overheats, so I had previously removed the piston so that it wouldn’t block water flow under any circumstances. The thermostat’s main purpose is to stop coolant flow when the engine is cold so that the car warms up to correct operating temperature ASAP. It’s not necessary for the operation of the car, though, and having it out meant I didn’t have to worry that it was causing the problem.

The Mauer Thermostat!

After a fabulous night consisting of BATHING and sleeping in a CLEAN BED at Touch’s in San Diego, I had a total blast geeking out with him about programming, data structures, Sacred economics, and human consciousness over breakfast and a nice swim. His property is mountainside-amazing and clothing-optional, and often hosts large conferences in human awareness. In my new career as a game designer, I really missed actually *programming*. Like, writing source code with an editor and compiling it late at night to accomplish great things. GameSalad is a great tool, but in many ways it isn’t programming. I also met (or, I feel, re-met) a man who was as into Geo Metros and portable structures as I was. In the end, it took the voluntary withdraw of those two delightful people to get me back into clothes and on the road. I would love to visit longer, and would do so on the way home, but that will be when Touch is at Burning Man, so I may have to wait until next year. Or leave later. 🙂

Coming out of San Diego through the mountains, I had no serious car problems, and the coolant temperature seemed to be behaving itself. I was starting to feel optimistic about making it to Alameda by dinner that evening to visit my cousin Julie and her family when I hit the inevitable Wall of Traffic that is L.A, at which point the car immediately started overheating anytime it wasn’t moving. All my dreams of getting to Alameda on time went down the toilet, and I realized that I was simply going to have to declare bankruptcy schedule-wise until I could get the car working properly.

WARNING — CAR MINUTIA FOLLOWS: I spent about five hours in an O’Reilly’s parking lot in a part of L.A. that conformed to a lot of my TV-acquired gang-war stereotypes. Despite the bed the night before, I was still massively sleep-deped and dehydrated, and was pretty close to the end of my ropes. I was doing the work in the sunlight wearing a bare midrift t-shirt, but I couldn’t get to any of my other clothes without unpacking the whole car, and there wasn’t anywhere in that shopping center that sold sunscreen. In desperation, I tried replacing the hose that connects the radiator to the overflow bottle. The old hose seemed ok, but the main problem seemed to be that once the coolant went into the overflow, it was never coming back into the radiator. The old cap had a safety-release mechanism, and I was concerned that it might have a weak spring that was letting coolant out at too low a pressure. I replaced it with a more solid one, but that hadn’t fixed the overflow problem. I also re-connected the heater core. It doesn’t actually blow hot air, and before I left for the trip I suspected I had a slow coolant leak somewhere. Since I’d replaced pretty much the entire rest of the coolant system, and on a tip from Chris, I decided to bypass the heater core before I left. I figured anything I could do to simplify things would help. Right? Right?!? But since I’d tried every other fucking thing I could think of to fix the car, I decided to put it back. Maybe it creates necessary back-pressure on the pump for water to flow correctly. Maybe I bypassed it wrong. Who the fuck knows?

Now, naturally, I’d checked on the fan fairly early in this process. It’s the first thing one checks when the car is overheating at idle, right? And it seemed to be working. At 200 degrees, it would come on, and when it went below 200, it would turn off. However, during this set of repairs, I noticed that there was a *lot* of antifreeze on the electrical connector for the fan. So I took it off, cleaned it up, and put it back together. And, although I didn’t notice it at the time, I’m pretty sure it was blowing a *lot* harder afterward. In retrospect, I think what was happening was that when the fan came on, most of the power was being shorted through coolant that had collected on the connector. It would still come on, spoofing my ham-fisted attempts at diagnosis, but it was just barely running, *not* enough to actually cool the engine down at a stop.

So after getting a bite of only mildly antifreeze-flavored Chinese food, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to at *least* make Alameda at a time when Julie, who has two kids, wouldn’t be totally put off her schedule by my greasy arrival. I knew better than to jump on the 12-lane highway right away, so I simply tooled around town for a bit. Everything *seemed* to be working perfectly! The temp went up to around 215 at most, but the fan would reliably kick in and bring it back down just as I was starting to panic. After about 20 minutes, I decided to get back on I5 to Alameda.

I’d been on the highway about 10 minutes when it overheated again. FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!

I pulled off into a small strip mall near a home furnishing store. It wasn’t the best place to work on the car, but it was in the shade and there weren’t a lot of other good options left. Luckily, I found the problem pretty fast this time. When I had put the heater core back on, one of the hose clamps had bitten a hole in a hose where it came out of the firewall.

Have I mentioned I fucking *hate* hose clamps? *H* *A* *T* fucking *E* them! I hate all types. I hate the spring-clip ones the least, followed by the flathead ones, and I hate the hex-head ones the absolute most. About half the total time I spent working on the car was fucking around for twenty minutes trying to get some hose clamp on or off that should have taken 30 seconds. I already suspect that hose clamps were used extensively in Hell, but now I’m dead fucking certain.

Fuck hose clamps.

However, the fix was easy. I just cut off the part of the hose with the leak, and clamped it all back together. I actually suspect this small leak was probably the Root Cause that Started it All when Levi was in Austin to do his Children’s Book Reading. I couldn’t blame it for the problems I’d had since then, because the hose with the hole hadn’t been hooked up to anything. However, after thousands of miles of trying-things-and-none-of-them-fucking-works, something as obvious as boiling hot ethylene glycol pumping out of a pinhole like life-blood draining from a Chinese political prisoner was *fucking* *refreshing* in its obviousity.

Once *that* was fixed, I refilled the radiator One More Fucking Time, did another around-town test, and then, unable to contain my visceral ecstasy at the possibility that it WOULD WORK THIS TIME FINALLY despite how many times I’d tried to kick Lucy’s football, I headed back north through traffic toward Alameda.

This time, the car didn’t overheat.


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