Simple as it gets

Jan. 1, 2020
How many times has someone standing across the counter told you how much they yearned for the ?Good old days when cars and trucks were simple and you could work on them yourself??

How many times has someone standing across the counter told you how much they yearned for the “Good old days when cars and trucks were simple and you could work on them yourself?”

If you’ve been in this industry for more than an hour-and-a-half, I’ll bet the answer is more than once! I guess in a way we all yearn for those good old days when cars and trucks were simpler. But I’ll make you another wager that those “good old days” weren’t all that good. At least, not as good as you remember them. And, those “simple” cars and trucks could get really complicated in a heartbeat.

Don’t believe me? Not quite sure? The good old days really were better and those cars and trucks really were a lot less complicated!
Well, how much “simpler” than a 1967 Ford Mustang, 289 cubic inch, 2-bbl, C-4, with 35,000 original miles can you get?

Not much, especially if that vehicle has been somewhere between stasis and suspended animation for the better part of 10 years and wasn’t driven all that much during the previous 33.

It was an “heirloom” vehicle and, because of its simplicity, the perfect project car. And yet you couldn’t ask for a more diabolically problematical or convoluted set of diagnostic challenges.

First, it didn’t want to run! You wouldn’t want to run either if someone was trying to force-feed you paint thinner or if you had been in a coma for 10 years.

Second, when it would run, it would overheat almost instantly.

We received the vehicle after the owners replaced the water pump, coolant hoses, spark plugs, distributor cap, rotor and wires. All the easy lessons and fixes learned by the folks standing at your counter nostalgically reaching out for those good old days with some of those good old cars and trucks.



Every time you approach a vehicle with the intent of forming a diagnosis you should have a plan — a systematic set of tests and inspections, a list of tools and equipment, all designed to sweep away everything that is “right” with the vehicle.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive and the natural tendency is to jump right in to start wrestling with what’s actually wrong, whatever it is that is causing the problem. But I assure you that once you have eliminated everything that’s “right,” whatever it is that is wrong will present itself without a struggle nine times out of 10.

We started with our normal 30-point courtesy check, which is a fairly comprehensive, superficial look at the vehicle as a whole. The AVR test indicated the battery was sulphated and wouldn’t hold a charge. The fuel had turned to turpentine. The tank needed to be cleaned and the carburetor rebuilt. The fuel lines were dried out and badly cracked.
The vacuum lines that were connected were connected incorrectly. The rear wheel cylinders were pouring brake fluid on to the backing plate. The brake hoses were as badly dried out and cracked as the fuel lines.

The master cylinder was by-passing. The thermostat was stuck. The oil pressure gauge wasn’t reading on the dash, and the lifters were clattering. The power steering was disconnected, with missing hoses, brackets and hangers missing. The wheel bearings were loose. The idler arm had play. And, the stabilizer bar links were gone. The neutral safety switch wasn’t working properly. There was no lubricant on the rubbing block for the points, and you could actually watch the distributor shaft wobble from the excessive play.

I know I said you need to start by wiping away everything that’s right with a vehicle, but you’ve got to be able to find what’s right before you can do that. With this much wrong, you certainly would think the vehicle couldn’t help but run and run well if you could only eliminate all these problems!

It might be what you would think. But, it wasn’t what we found!

The Mustang ran and ran better, but it still wasn’t right. That’s something we refer to as RB2 — Runs Better But. The only problem was that it still overheated almost immediately. We checked thermostat operation and finally removed the water pump to inspect the pump and check its operation. The pump was fine. However, both the inlet and outlet ports in the timing cover were 100 percent obstructed. They were blocked to the point that we had to use a punch and a chisel to break them open. We grabbed the boroscope and started poking around inside the block for an answer. The answer was contamination. The answer was rust. The answer was no flow.

Ultimately, the heads had to come off and we had to punch out just about every water passage in the block. We did the valves, replaced the distributor and wires and finally had to replace the lifters. We popped the freeze plugs out and blew the water passages out with a combination of water and compressed air.


After countless phone calls and explanations, e-mailing the client digital images and boroscope videos, $9,00 and two months of almost constant effort, the Mustang finally ran like it was intended to run. Perhaps, even better!

The “good old days?” Simpler cars and trucks? Fewer problems?

How much simpler? How much better?

Each wave of technology brought with it its own set of challenges, each generation of cars and trucks its own grab-bag full of problems. The Mustang was just a subtle reminder that the good old days weren’t always all that good and that even simple vehicles and simple problems can be disastrous if you don’t have the ability to work your way through those problems with the tools, training and process required to inspect and test, diagnose and repair the vehicle quickly and correctly.

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