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semilargeintestine
02-01-2009, 09:17 PM
I never thought I'd be asking for a car problem, but here I am. One of the characters in my story winds up in town because of car trouble. I had the engine cut off on him a few times, so he took the closest exit and found a body shop. I'm not entirely familiar with cars (despite my step-father owning a few body shops; I'd ask him, but he's out of town), so I need a problem that would require at least a day of work and could have him stuck in the town for a day or two.

Clair Dickson
02-01-2009, 10:17 PM
Anything that requires ordering a part could do it. Either a common part (that quickly runs out) or an uncommon one (like for a foreign car and the shop doesn't see many of X brand.)

Could be fuel pump, regulator, O2 sensor, timing belt/chain/computer. It doesn't have to be a serious problem, just make it that the shop is out of that part and can't get any in for a day or so. Happens all the time.

BTW, body shop refers to a place that primarily works on the body of a car, aka collision shop. In my neck of the woods, that's different from a car repair shop. Some body shops also now do alignments and some engine work, but usually the guys are only certified to work on body panels and such, not engine work.

semilargeintestine
02-01-2009, 10:37 PM
Thanks for the distinction. I don't really talk shop (no pun intended) with my dad. I'm not that into cars.

waylander
02-02-2009, 03:11 AM
Does the car have an immobiliser?
I had immobiliser problems on mine that randomly cut out the engine in traffic. All in needed was one relay replacing, but getting the right part took a while

Kathleen42
02-02-2009, 03:27 AM
Am with Clair Dickson on the body shop distinction. Some large garages may have a body shop department but, in most cases (at least in North America), if you just say "body shop" people will assume it's a place which just handles body work.

You could also ask your father about cars or models for which parts are harder to get. I believe that Parts for an Audi, for example, are harder to get than parts for, say, a Toyota.

Dommo
02-02-2009, 05:53 AM
Maybe have the character have a bad alternator. That could cause the car to conk out, if the battery isn't being recharged enough to keep the sparkplugs firing.

DeleyanLee
02-02-2009, 05:56 AM
FWIW, my experience is that a body shop deals primarily with the actual body of the car. The one time I had a serious accident, the body shop sent my car to a garage that actually worked on the engine and transmission. All they did was fix the frame and quarterpanels.

If the car's stuck at a body shop, it could take a while to be get someone in who can actually do the work on the engine or whatever.

Horseshoes
02-02-2009, 08:23 AM
It would really help to know the demographic of the driver to help give you some car options. Poor teen? Rich kid? Businessman? Rcok star? Need car first, then make it no worky.

Linda Adams
02-02-2009, 03:43 PM
Alternator would be a possible choice. I was starting out for work, and my alternator threw the power steering belt. Suddenly I couldn't steer at all, and I ended up having it towed. They get a rebuilt alternator, put it in, and off I go. (This was the original alternator)

I'm coming home the next day, and the same thing happens--only the belt partially comes off. I'm able to get it back to the shop, and they replace it once again (rebuilt alternator, and they did not charge me for this). Turned out the rebuilt alternator had fallen apart.

Two days later, I'm driving down this 45 mile hour road when my radio shuts off. Then the power of the car completely shuts off and stops. I had to get the car towed. One more time in the alternator department (no charge). The alternator had stopped charging, and the car had been running off the battery until it was dry.

Fan: The fan or the breaker could go. It'll cause the car too overheat unless you're moving fast (i.e., if you're sitting in traffic on idle, it overheats). In my case, they replaced the--think it was the circuit breaker--first since it wasn't working, it went the next day, and then they had to replace the fan. That had to be special ordered.

Short: Any kind of short is going to take time. It is the hardest thing to troubleshoot.

Ms Hollands
02-02-2009, 05:12 PM
My car has been quite good at cutting out on me. If your character has an old Golf Mark 1 (called a Rabbit in the US I think - or maybe that's just the cabby model like mine), chances are he has some rust in his tank (the fuel filler pipe is renouned for going rusty on that mark of Golf). His car would lose acceleration, then come to a halt as no fuel can get past the rust blocking its way. As soon as the engine stops, the fuel pump will stop sucking the fuel, so the rust will stop blocking the way, allowing him to restart it and drive until the rust happens to get back in the way of the fuel. A mechanic would recommend a new fuel filler neck (ie, the metal hole that the petrol goes into when you open your fuel tank cover to put petrol/gas in), as well as a clean-out of the existing fuel tank to ensure the problem doesn't keep happening.

semilargeintestine
02-02-2009, 07:57 PM
Ha, wow you guys have a lot of experience in this it seems. I feel kind of bad for taking advantage of your misfortunes, but not bad enough to pass on them. Thanks everyone.

C.bronco
02-02-2009, 08:03 PM
Maybe have the character have a bad alternator. That could cause the car to conk out, if the battery isn't being recharged enough to keep the sparkplugs firing.
That's what I was going to suggest.

When the alternator goes, first you lose all of your electric goodies, like lights etc. The car will run until the battery charge poops out. (That's technical language.) Then the car will stop and not start again.

If your alternator is going and you turn the car off, it will probably not start again until the battery is recharged.

Also, if a connection to your battery is loose, the car will not start, but you can fix that by simply tightening the screw that holds the wire to the top of the battery, which takes 10 seconds.

Replacing the alternator and alternator belt will take over an hour, or maybe a day if the garage doesn't have the part in stock.

C.bronco
02-02-2009, 08:07 PM
My car has been quite good at cutting out on me. If your character has an old Golf Mark 1 (called a Rabbit in the US I think - or maybe that's just the cabby model like mine), chances are he has some rust in his tank (the fuel filler pipe is renouned for going rusty on that mark of Golf). His car would lose acceleration, then come to a halt as no fuel can get past the rust blocking its way. As soon as the engine stops, the fuel pump will stop sucking the fuel, so the rust will stop blocking the way, allowing him to restart it and drive until the rust happens to get back in the way of the fuel. A mechanic would recommend a new fuel filler neck (ie, the metal hole that the petrol goes into when you open your fuel tank cover to put petrol/gas in), as well as a clean-out of the existing fuel tank to ensure the problem doesn't keep happening.
Or, a clogged fuel filter will do that on most any car, I believe. Good one! :D

Clair Dickson
02-02-2009, 09:07 PM
If your idiotic repair shop leaves the fuel filter in the plastic bag, that will cause many problems too... like the car not getting gas into the engine. Doesn't go real far under those conditions.

MelancholyMan
02-03-2009, 12:05 AM
One day job, huh?

Fuel pump failed
Radiator overheated
Thermostat stuck
Water pump leaking
ECU (electronic control unit) shot
Clogged catalytic converter
Vacuum leak (can be hard to find)
Engine sensor failure (can be hard to find)
Blown head gasket
Fuel injector problems
I can go on...

Take your pick and I can fill in details as you see fit.

I 'd make it something easy, like an engine sensor failure, and the repair shop totally rips your MC off and like replaces the entire fuel injection system which costs $$$. Your MC goes on a killing spree and just like that, your novel has gone from a literary romance to Friday the 13th.

RJK
02-03-2009, 06:15 PM
I was on my way to a white-water rafting trip with a bunch of buddies in a rented ten-year-old motor home. We broke down at 4:30 a.m., 30 miles shy of the Canadian border somewhere north of Watertown, NY. We were towed to the border, then a Canadian tow truck towed us to a repair garage in a small town, just over the border.
It turned out the alternator was dead and we'd been driving on the battery for hours. It was 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning.
Where we depart from your story, is the guy had an alternator, and had us on our way by eight. You could easily have to wait a day, for him to order one from the 'Big city'.

Libbie
02-03-2009, 07:53 PM
I never thought I'd be asking for a car problem, but here I am. One of the characters in my story winds up in town because of car trouble. I had the engine cut off on him a few times, so he took the closest exit and found a body shop. I'm not entirely familiar with cars (despite my step-father owning a few body shops; I'd ask him, but he's out of town), so I need a problem that would require at least a day of work and could have him stuck in the town for a day or two.

I had this happen to me once. The brushes on my alternator had worn down, and I had to wait for the right kind of alternator to be shipped in. I had a Saab at the time, so it was rare to find parts in stock anywhere.

I've also had a car die while driving due to the thermostat conking out and the car overheating. That would be one where a part would need to be ordered.

Oberon
02-04-2009, 01:46 AM
A minor accident can work. It happened to me, driving my '59 Rambler American through Nebraska. Dude in motorhome in front stopped suddenly to turn into a tourist attraction, cars screeched, I hit the one in front, took out the fan. Garage had to order parts from the city, "On the bus tomorrow." Tomorrow, no parts. Day three, "Gee, I don't know what to tell you." I could write a novel about that small suspicious town with farmers on the porch of the ancient rundown hotel discussing weather, desk clerk asking, "Is that your wife?" No, but for this town, yes. Sheriff in the saloon, "I didn't see it, so I can't write a report." Insurance agent, "When you get back to Chicago, contact your agent there." No doctor to check my bruised and bleeding arm. Stares from townsfolk in the only cafe. Reminded me of "Bad Day at Black Rock."

hammerklavier
02-04-2009, 02:07 AM
A bad alternator usually puts the car out for a good long time unless you get a jump. Eventually, if you have a good battery, it'll work up enough charge on its own to start the car again, but you'll only get a little ways down the road before it quits again. So your description of 'the engine cut off a few times' doesn't sound like an alternator problem to me.

Clair Dickson
02-04-2009, 04:00 AM
02 sensor does pretty good for cutting out. I had a car with a bad 02 sensor and it would just randomly stall. Luckily it was an old stick shift, so I could pop the clutch and keep going. It would start easily, but randomly shut off. (It was fun when it did it that one time when I was on the eway going 70!)

HoraceJames
02-04-2009, 05:25 AM
Make sure the problem is age-appropriate for the setting. If your piece is set in the fifties, you'd have different problems (carburetors vs. fuel injection, generators vs. alternators, no computers of any kind.)

I'm kind of a gearhead, so I'd probably go so far as to do some research and find an appropriate problem for the character's vehicle. Detail is good.

Generally, you can blame any problem with modern car on "the computer" since it's not usually repairable and would have to be ordered.