Like many of you, we often have the opportunity to attend several car shows a year—actually, per month. It’s great to see, visit, and learn about the many Mopars that have either been built, preserved, restored, or purchased, with many interesting stories about each car and how they came to be. Sometimes, it’s a Hemi muscle car that was discovered by chance, or a regular 318 A, B, or E Body, or someone who just became interested in the hobby after buying a cool late-model Mopar.
While checking out what is under the hood of various cars at car shows, we periodically talk with owners about driveability issues that particular cars are experiencing and discuss the possible causes. More often than not, the owner seems to be on the right track or tells us about what was found to be the cause. But every once in a while, we see some fairly obvious reasons why some cars are experiencing problems, and the owners seem to often feel that the solution is always to install expensive and often unneeded new parts to remedy the problem.
At a recent car show, an owner explained that his car had a severe overheating problem that would occur on a car he had just bought with a huge-horsepower big-block and customized body and underhood area. He strongly felt the car needed the entire engine replaced to solve the cooling problem. He asked us if we had any ideas on what might be causing the situation in hopes that he would not need to replace his entire engine. During the conversation, he mentioned that he had installed a new water pump, a bigger engine fan, larger radiator, and a new thermostat, but he still had the problem. The engine’s temperature would easily start exceeding 220 degrees after just a few miles of driving.
With a quick look at the front of the car and under the hood, there was an obvious problem. Someone had added a custom and very restrictive grille and also around the engine compartment had added custom body-color panels that tightly surrounded the areas just below the cylinder heads around the headers. As a matter of fact, you could barely see the ground while looking into the engine compartment. When we mentioned that it looked like there was a pretty significant air-movement problem for both air passing into and through the radiator and then exiting out of the engine compartment, he quickly replied that since air could still get past the panels around his headers with the big fan, that that would not possibly be the problem and it must be something more complicated than that. He felt it was more complicated than that, and he needed at the very least a more expensive radiator.
A few weeks later at another car show, a different owner had an ignition problem that he explained was intermittent. Under the hood, he had a pretty nice aftermarket ignition system with all of the components, including the ignition box, distributor, and even down to really expensive plug wires. But still he had an intermittent problem where the engine would stop running for no apparent reason. While we were looking under the hood, it appeared that he had sourced the 12 volts to run the ignition box from a crimp-on-connector to the power wire for the windshield-wiper motor. Then we noticed that not only were both battery cables very small gauge but also both the positive and negative cable ends at the battery terminals had many leads attached to them. Besides that, you could move both cable ends on the battery terminals because they were loose and hand-tight. As we quickly explained the need for proper cable size, secure battery ends, good grounds, and a good 12-volt source to operate the ignition system, he replied that since the engine would start and run that that could not possibly be that simple and he would go online to find the parts and information he needed to hopefully solve the problem.
Troubleshooting a driveability problem can sometimes be an ongoing challenge with no end in sight. As many know, start with the basic operations of each system and continue up from there, and often the cause can be inexpensive or even just a loose ground wire that ends up being free to repair. But without starting at the basics, getting to the simple, free repair can be an expensive journey. This author over the years has paid to learn this.
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