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Tuesday I headed out for Berkeley at daybreak, having packed the day before for the trip. It was expected to take about nine hours driving time, but steam was coming out from under the hood at Arbuckle, about ninety miles short of my friend’s home, where I was to spend the next few nights. I immediately coasted to a stop, opened the hood and considered the options. After opening the hood it was obvious the steam was blowing out of the horizontal seam at the top of the radiator and soaking the engine, which was also steaming.

I waited ten minutes and poured the one-liter bottle of water I had put in the car to drink into the radiator. I then started up, accelerated quickly to 40 mph, shut the engine off, coasted on the paved shoulder back to 20 mph, and restarted the engine. I did this eight times and rolled into a gas station on my right. There I got more water, filled the radiator, and talked with the clerk for a bit to find out where there might be a mechanic. She gave me instructions on how to get to the NAPA parts store. And I headed out, hoping those folks could direct me to a mechanic. At the first stop sign, I pulled over to let the engine cool a bit, and a young woman drove up and asked me if I needed help. I described where I was trying to go, she said, “Follow me,” and a mile later we were in front of the NAPA parts store. We conversed for a bit, and then she phoned around town and found a mechanic that was available. It was about 4 PM, and the sun was getting low. In ten minutes Dan the mechanic was there with his truck of tools, fussing with my car. It was soon obvious to him what the problem was: the belt that spins the water pump was only a few strings of shredded remnants. Thus, the water wasn’t flowing through the engine to the radiator to be cooled by flowing air and back to the engine to cool it.

Because we were in front of the parts store, I bought the needed belt, and Dan installed it. It was a mighty struggle because it was getting dark, and the belt was very tight to get on, but eventually all was together. Of course, the radiator still had a hole in it, so on their advice, I put some gunk into the radiator that was supposed to work as a temporary fix, which I also got at the NAPA store.

Supposedly if I put the fill cap on loose the pressure wouldn’t build up in the radiator enough to blow the gunk out if the water was circulating and if the car was going fast enough to keep wind blowing thru the radiator and the engine stayed cool enough. That worked okay, and I was able to drive on the freeway and on into town, but then when I came to any hindrance, like a stoplight, and the wind stopped blowing through the radiator, the steam started blowing out from under the hood. Fortunately, I only had to stop a couple of times and made it okay.

I didn’t drive at all for the days I was there and headed straight to the freeway at sunrise on Friday. I coasted into the gas station in Redding, California, for a gas refill. The coasting was enough to cool the engine so it didn’t steam. After a couple of minutes I took off the cap to check the water, and it was still up to the top. Once gassed up I drove straight through to my house in Bend, Oregon, and didn’t get any steam until the last few blocks of city driving.

I was stupid for not having my belts and hoses checked before the long trip, so this whole misadventure was 100% my fault. I was lucky I didn’t lose the car to the junk dealer. I will get a new radiator installed on Monday.

Routine maintenance is better than breakdown repair.