Tuesday 27th June – I Don’t Know What It Is

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This morning was an especially late start thanks to our late night last night. We stuck to our usual ritual of cooked breakfast but had the house to ourselves since Debbie was off at work. I got straight to it after eating, replacing the cracked vacuum hoses of which there were three. It was all pretty easy with the engine bay at a reasonable temperature, even though it was still hot inside the garage. Dan went to work on his car while I was fiddling, managing to fix his passenger door handle which had broken for as long as I’ve known him. It took him all of five minutes.

We both installed our new inverters and after a bit of packing, I moved out of the Dan residence for about the third time. Dan was pretty confident that the vacuum hose was the problem, so was Dave my mechanic and so was Dad. I was forever the sceptic though, so the plan for today was for me to start driving to Flagstaff by myself and if I made it over the big 3,000 ft hill in the middle, I’d call Dan and let him know he could start following. This meant neither Dan or Cleo had to endure the hot drive in case the Astro should fail again.

The car was running beautifully as I navigated the highways out of Phoenix. Cruise control was working, it had plenty of power which I was slightly abusing wanting to do a bit of a stress test. I started up the hill. She was running strong, just like a well oiled machine, staying at 70 mph even in the heat. The temperature gauge was rising, but nothing out of ordinary considering the 45*C ambient heat. I saw Sunset Point, the rest area where we’d turned around last time. Could she be fixed? I was driving towards a huge plume of smoke from a bushfire and thinking that if I could just get past that, I’d be confident.

I made it over the hill! I was ecstatic! I messaged Dan immediately and said “I made it !!!” He replied saying he’d leave ASAP. Just as I received his message, my heart sank. The Astro lost power. I got on the phone to Dan and told him the news. He’d barely had time to get up from where he was sitting, but I let him know that I was on my way back to Phoenix. It was really bad this time. She lost power after I’d peaked over the hill, backed off, then tried to put the power back on. The worst thing was that it was nine miles of downhill to get to the next exit, which meant I’d have to cover nine miles of uphill to get back, which I wasn’t confident of. I stopped at a centre pullout where a cop was parked to get people for speeding. I clearly saw the no u-turn sign, but decided to take my chances, not confident that I’d make the extra 18 miles of driving. As I pulled up next to the cop in the pullout, I rolled my window down and he did the same. I explained my situation and he told me I wasn’t supposed to do a u-turn, which I knew, but I told him I probably wouldn’t have made it another nine miles. He told me to be on my way and be careful when pulling out. Thanks mate!

I stopped at the rest area after a very, very slow crawl up the hill with my hazard lights on. I was really concerned I wouldn’t be making it back to Phoenix this time. At the rest area, I opened the bonnet to see if one of the vacuum hoses had come off because it had been such a sudden failure. No, all the vacuum hoses were good. I was feeling pretty disheartened at this point but I had to find out what was wrong with this bloody thing! I took the engine cover off and the air filter so I could see at the injectors. I drove around the carpark a bit trying to look at the fuel pattern while driving, but it was a bit too dangerous and I couldn’t really see anything useful. I decided I’d have to wait till I was back at Dan’s place to do any root causing so I could have another person in the car.

Before I set off from the rest area, I tried calling Dad but he didn’t answer. Just after doing so, my phone stopped working thanks to the high temperature so I put it in the fridge. Back on the highway, I went as fast as I could with my hazards on. Going down the hill I was ok to do the speed limit but once I hit the flat, I was lucky to be doing 35 mph. Dad called me back and even though my phone was in the fridge, the call came through my Bluetooth so he stayed with me nearly the whole drive back. I tried to explain as best I could what was happening real time, shouting at the microphone over the sound of the uncovered engine. The noise was atrocious and the heat even worse, but I had to see what was going on. When I told Dad about the engine codes that had popped up at the top of the hill, one of them mentioned the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve and he got straight onto thinking it was that. I stopped on the side of the road and unplugged the stupid thing. Lo and behold, the Astro ran perfectly. I put my foot down and it was all good! Wow, Dad had figured it out! I left the thing unplugged and kept driving and we started talking about how I should plug it back in and see if the problem came back. Just as we were getting cocky, the Astro lost power again. Shit. Of course it couldn’t be so simple. At one point, it lost so much power that after I pulled over to a stop, the engine cut-out completely. It’s the first time it’s done that since I’ve had this issue.

Dad and I kept brainstorming the whole way back until I got onto the highways close to Phoenix. I stopped to get a few tools out so I could act on Dad’s suggestion and tap a few things as I drove, like the EGR valve and the fuel pressure regulator. I was aware of how hilarious it would have looked, me driving in pretty much my underwear while whacking at my engine with a hammer. “Don’t break it!” Dad told me.

Eventually I got off the phone with Dad because it was getting too hard to concentrate on traffic, watch the fuel out of the injectors, whack stuff and talk at the same time. Plus I had to remember how to get back to Dan’s place since my phone couldn’t help me with navigation. I called Dan through my radio, told him where I was and he gave me instructions on how to get back through the maze of streets that lead to his place. An agonizing hour or so later, I was overheating as much as the Astro was as I pulled into the driveway. Another thing I’d discovered on the drive was that I had a coolant leak. The brown liquid was spraying through to the cabin where the engine cover normally was and I could see the hose where it was coming from. Just another issue to deal with.

Dan met me in the garage and I retreated inside, but I only allowed myself a few minutes in the cool. Debbie smiled when she saw me. I’d sent her a message to tell her I was heading up to Flag and thanked her for everything and here I was again! Dan followed me out to the car to drive while I investigated a few things. I had to see if I could find out more while the problem was still present. The first thing I did was get a video of the fuel injector spray while Dan revved the engine. It was running fine and I could see the fuel spray was perfect, so I knew that the fuel system was capable of working perfectly. Next, I pulled off the EGR valve. I had to put gloves on it was so hot inside the engine bay, I was happy the valve was easy to get to. I was a little less happy that the bolts were less easy to get to, but I got there in the end. I found that the valve was moving freely so I didn’t think it was possible it was getting stuck open like it had previously. After I muscled the valve back on, I left it unplugged and we went for a drive. I wanted the valve to stay closed as we were driving.

Dan did a whole loop of the neighbourhood, going up steep hills and down them, throttling on and off as we went on the more flat roads. We probably did a 5km loop and couldn’t reproduce the issue. He stopped then and I plugged the EGR valve back in. As soon as he tried to get going, we lost power and the engine cut-out completely. He tried starting it again, it cranked ok but would not ignite. I unplugged the EGR valve again, she started first go. Hmmm, maybe it was the EGR valve after all? We drove around some more and the car lost power again with the valve unplugged. Sitting right behind the engine, I was getting sprayed with coolant and the heat was getting to an overwhelming level, so we called it quits. I wanted to cover the EGR valve hole with something so I could leave it plugged in but essentially keep the valve closed, but we couldn’t think of something at hand to achieve that so we called it quits. My mind was frazzled and I was exhausted from the afternoon’s developments and needed time to think. I moved back in to the Dan residence again, bringing in some essentials from the van, before joining Dan and Cleo in the pool.

We chatted a bit about my car, then I called it, no more talking about the problem. We hung out in the pool a while, then decided we’d go out for Tacos since it was Taco Tuesday. It would be our third highschool date. Dan took me to Filiberto’s, his favourite place for breakfast burritos, where they had tacos at Baja prices, 99c. One chicken and one beef for the both of us, we had to wait a while for the goods and when they came out they didn’t look anywhere near as good as the ones we’d gotten used to, but the taste was right. There was so much meat in both of them, they went down pretty well. We both liked the beef so much, we ordered one more each, then we were satisfied. We left Filiberto’s and walked across the carpark to Maccas where we got a couple of dipped cones. The guy behind the counter hooked us up with huge cones which we took outside to eat. I liked the warmth of the evening, it almost seemed cold compared to the heat I’d endured through the afternoon. Like a real highschool couple, we sat on the kerb outside Maccas licking at our ice creams.

The sleepys hit Dan so after I’d taken my last bite of ice cream, he was up off the kerb ready to go, even before I’d managed to swallow! I didn’t mind, I was happy to head home too, plus he had to have me home by 10pm. No movie necessary tonight, we just played a couple of rounds of cards before lying down on the soft bed to sleep. Despite our tiredness, we had probably one of the longest games we’d ever played, the lead continuously changing hands.

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