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afarnam
02-27-2015, 12:17 PM
My heroes have a very old Volkswagon sedan (at least 20 years old). They're driving in the desert. They break down. I'm thinking a broken fan belt. I know very little about cars. Can't even drive but I've had this happen to cars I was riding in.

What sort of tools do you need to fix a fan belt? I need them to need to borrow a tool for plot purposes.

I know you can use a string or pantie hos or the like to temporarily fix a fan belt but they have three more hours of driving in the desert to go. I'm thinking they need more than that. They get help from a mechanic driving by and she could have some sort of makeshift fan belt that fits. Any ideas?

I would like this to be a problem that results in the car overheating beforehand, which is my experience with fan belt problems. But I could use a different sort of breakdown. It needs to be something that really makes the car stop. It's a very junkie car. They wouldn't stop just because the car was in bad shape. They would drive until it stopped. They aren't entirely helpless in terms of skills, so instead I need them to have to borrow a tool. They can fix cars a little but they have no tools at all with them (long story). And I need the problem to be simple enough that they can either fix it with tools and what the mechanic who stops to help them has at home or with something you could buy at a very small town hardware store. They have to get going again in hours.

Someone has suggested a broken throttle return spring. But that sounds a little more complicated. I'm not sure how much they'd have to take the car apart to fix it and if the mechanic could conceivably have a replacement part on hand. Any suggestions?

Many thanks! :)

Solaris91
02-27-2015, 12:47 PM
hm, not sure exactly about models from that time, but could be they have a toothed belt for the fan belt, meaning you pretty much need a special spare part (which could be available, or not, depending on luck). Another option i think would fit could simply be the cooler leaking. unless they just happen to find lots of water in the desert, they can't just keep refilling it, and depending where on the cooler the leak is, you need some tools to reach the spot, but the problem itself can be somewhat fixed with generous amounts of duct tape.

mccardey
02-27-2015, 01:00 PM
Dammit! I feel like I should be able to answer this because it happened to me in India once. We were in the desert and hit a rock and something broke. The driver was beside himself until I remembered I never travel without a roll of gaffer tape. I gave him the gaffer tape and he - well - gaffer taped something. And then we drove on.

Can I just add that when I said goodbye to him five weeks later, he asked shyly whether I might let him have the rest of the gaffer tape? It was a lovely moment.

afarnam
02-27-2015, 02:01 PM
Mccardey, that is hilarious. I know the type of thing. I do have a real life story from Kosovo about our driver fixing a Russian Lada jeep with a string for a fan belt. We had to drive through some very dangerous areas in the middle of a war and we couldn't have the jeep stop again for 20 miles. It was a bit exciting. But, Solaris91, has a point. I probably can't use the fan belt thing. I might go for the throttle spring but I have no idea what tools are needed. Anyone know if a Volkswagon sedan has a throttle spring accessible the same way other cars do?

Thanks to both of you!

Helix
02-27-2015, 02:04 PM
You should have a look at the ABC series Bush Mechanics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_Mechanics). Although I'm fairly sure they weren't dealing with a VW!

alleycat
02-27-2015, 02:09 PM
Just an idea. They could have a loose radiator hose. I think someone would need a screwdriver to tighten the clamp back enough to stop the leakage.

VW Beetles were air-cooled, but I think models such as the Jetta were water cooled.

afarnam
02-27-2015, 02:54 PM
I may have to change this to a Subaru. (Although I was really in love with the photo of the old VW sedan.) I know that some late 1980's Subarus were pretty basic mechanically.

Alleycat, what would happen if the radiator hose was leaking? Would the car stop. Sorry. I really am that ignorant. But I don't need every detail, just some specific ones (what the breakdown is like, what tools needed to fix, what the problem is called, how long it takes and how much the car has to be taken apart). :P Thanks.

alleycat
02-27-2015, 03:03 PM
If a car was leaking water/radiator fluid they would need to stop (especially in a desert). It would start overheating quickly. If someone continued to run the car it would eventually destroy the engine.

There are a couple of hoses that run to the radiator. They are held on with clamps (I think of two different types). It wouldn't be hard to fix if the hose is still okay and someone can get to it (something that's the hardest part of a repair; just being able to get to something). Someone would need a large screwdriver.

There are probably videos on Youtube that show someone fixing or replacing hoses on an older car (maybe even an old Jetta--or whatever VW called that model in that location).

alleycat
02-27-2015, 03:11 PM
Here's one (for a 2001 Jetta): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ShCTe8YzMI

I didn't watch all of this so I'm sure whether it would work for your scenario or not.

King Neptune
02-27-2015, 05:14 PM
If you want the car to stop and then gotten back into service fairly easily, then I think a good problem would be a loose or dirty battery terminal. At a certain point the car would simply stop. Removing, cleaning, and replacing the terminal would correct the problem, and it would just require a wrench or Visegrips and something to wipe the terminal with.

jclarkdawe
02-27-2015, 05:39 PM
By and large, a fan belt is an easy fix. Typical fan belt operates the fan for the radiator, the water pump, the oil pump, air conditioner compressor, alternator, and power steering. When it breaks, you tend to notice it by the alternator light coming on. When it breaks, you stop charging your electrical system, your cooling system is impaired, steering becomes harder, and the air conditioner doesn't work. If you know what you're doing, you can get ten to twenty miles with those systems not operating.

Repair is very simple. Pull out the remains of the old belt. If you're near a parts shop, it helps to bring in your old belt to make sure you get the right replacement. Thread the new belt onto the pulleys, figuring which pulleys are inside and which are outside pulleys. They are now called "serpentine belts," and as you thread a modern fan belt on, you'll discover very quickly why they're called "serpentine belts."

You'll discover after lying the belt out, that it doesn't quiet fit. You need to find the tensioner. The is the part that you need to loosen and/or just move, so that you can slide the belt on. If it's spring loaded, this can be fairly easy if you know the trick (each vehicle has a trick for doing this). Even if you have to loosen a bolt, it's still fairly easy.

There are lots of YouTube videos on replacing fan belts. It's a common backyard repair. Here's one for the new VW Beatle -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urBVruIk348

Simple temporary belt is duct tape. Multiple layers, with the sticky part taped over, and it will last for quite a while.

Repair time if you know what you're doing and have a new belt is about 15 minutes, including swearing time.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

afarnam
02-27-2015, 06:18 PM
Jclarkdawe, thanks. That is helpful. The only thing I'm confused about is the issue of the car stopping. It sounds like you are talking about either a different belt than what I understood to be a fan belt or a different type of car. I've had at least two experiences where I was in a car that has simply stopped. The motor went dead all of the sudden while going down the road and we coasted to a stop. Both times, I learned later that "it was the fan belt." I wasn't driving and I didn't fix it but these were similar experiences. One was on a Russian Lada jeep in Kosovo. Another was when I was a kid and I don't remember the kind of car. Is there a different kind of belt I'm thinking of or is this an older car or am I just confused?

King Neptune, that sounds about perfect, except wouldn't you need a fairly new car for it to stop running just because the battery isn't working. I've ridden in cars with dead batteries many times (older cars). They had no lights or anything electric and couldn't start without a lot of help, but they ran. Is there some other reason the car would actually stop because of a dirty battery terminal?

Thanks!

badwolf.usmc
02-27-2015, 06:49 PM
If you want the car to stop and then gotten back into service fairly easily, then I think a good problem would be a loose or dirty battery terminal. At a certain point the car would simply stop. Removing, cleaning, and replacing the terminal would correct the problem, and it would just require a wrench or Visegrips and something to wipe the terminal with.


Not completely true. For the most part, the battery serves three purposes.

1: The battery provides the initial power for the starter to crank the engine, where the alternator takes over to provide power to the engine and any electrical device, such as the radio.

2: On modern engines, the battery serves as a power conditioner to protect the sensitive electrical parts of your engine. While you could disconnect the battery while the engine is running and the alternator would provide all the power you need, you could damage electrical components.

3: The battery serves as an electrical reservoir. Sometimes the alternator can't/doesn't provide enough power for everything, so the system draws the power from the battery to supplement the alternator.

A loose battery cable could do several things, from nothing to killing the computer for the engine. It would depend on the make/model of the car, but most likely if a loose cable caused the engine to stop that would mean significant damage was done to the electronics and only extensive and expensive repairs would fix it.

King Neptune
02-27-2015, 06:53 PM
King Neptune, that sounds about perfect, except wouldn't you need a fairly new car for it to stop running just because the battery isn't working. I've ridden in cars with dead batteries many times (older cars). They had no lights or anything electric and couldn't start without a lot of help, but they ran. Is there some other reason the car would actually stop because of a dirty battery terminal?

Thanks!

You may have ridden in cars with dead batteries, but you didn't ride in cars where the battery was disconnected. The whole electric system runs through the battery. Cutting the circuit shuts everything down. Even if the battery isn't turning out any juice, electricity can go through it.

If you don't believe it, then remove the cable from the negative pole of the battery while the car is running. There will be a large arc, but the car will stop as soon as the cable is too far from the terminal to arc across. Don't do this, unless you have suitable equipment; the electricity wouldn't kill you, but you could get burns.

jclarkdawe
02-27-2015, 08:03 PM
It depends slightly on what the fan belt is operating, but normally it won't shut down the engine. However, when the belt goes, the red idiot light for the alternator will come on. A well conditioned driver should shut down the car immediately upon seeing a red idiot light. Second is that the broken belt will frequently make loud and annoying noises that will cause the driver to shut the car off.

Driver's choice is frequently to shut down immediately. But I've driven twenty miles with a broken fan belt without a problem. At some point, because your battery will drain, eventually your engine will stop. You have to watch engine temperature very carefully. With the water pump out, your engine will overheat easily. Steering, especially at slow speed, will be incredibly heavy.

Now if your timing belt breaks, or you've got a combo timing/fan belt, your engine will shut down immediately.

My guess is that the driver did not realize the belt had broken and ended up overheating and shutting down for that reason. If the belt isn't slapping and the idiot light fails, you might not notice the belt is gone.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

afarnam
02-27-2015, 09:41 PM
Okay, I think I've got my scenario.

It's a VW sedan from somewhere between 1990 and 1995. It's water cooled. It's in very bad shape generally. The water line from the radiator leaks and they have to keep filling it all the way across the desert, lots of stopping and waiting for the thing to cool off so they can fill it. That's fine. Then at one point in the middle of the night the line breaks entirely. The heat gauge tops out and a huge cloud of steam comes out of the engine. It is clear that they cannot drive at all anymore, even a little bit. They try to fix the line but cannot reach it. They have a jack and a tire wrench, that's it. They don't have a crescent wrench that they need to reach the line. They don't have any duct tape or a piece of pipe either. A few hours later the mechanic stops and pulls them 5 miles to her home with a chain. There she has the tools to take the thing apart, which she does faster than they could. Then she fixes the line with a bit of pipe and some duct tape, well enough to get them the next four hours to their destination.

Any holes?

Many thanks to all! It is really appreciated. What a technical puzzle to ask you to tackle. But hopefully I've managed to create a scenario with no holes out of a... er... holey radiator line. :D