Friday the 13th misadventure

Since my 18-year-old VW broke down, Diedre and I have been sort of stranded in St. Cloud. I get around just fine on my bicycle, limiting grocery purchases to backpack capacity. Giving more thought to acquiring panniers, which would also come in handy if I were to embark on long-distance cycle trips.

There is no school bus service for Diedre’s summer school, so I acquired a Metro Bus pass for her, mapped out her routes, and taught her how to ride a bus. Essential skill for anyone approaching adulthood.

Before the Passat died for good, there were intermittent stalls and no-starts, often accompanied by a buzzing noise from the electrical panel, due either to a sticking relay or poor electrical contact somewhere on the bus bar or connectors. A few raps on the panel with a wrench until the buzzing ceased, and the car would restart. In the end, even this failed to work. I dissembled the fuel pump relay and filed the contacts to no avail. Bypassing the relay with a jumper had no effect, which would seem to eliminate the FP relay as cause, but for only $14 and a ride to Eich motors I replaced it anyway. Still no go.

I need to study wiring diagrams to troubleshoot the problem. I used to have the $180 Bentley Publishing official service manual for this car but it’s gone missing from FW’s house. I had continued to supply her with cars long after we were apart, and one of the cars I provided was a matching Passat, albeit an automatic as she’s never learned to use a clutch. She didn’t like the car, and when I was in California, she disposed of it along with my custom wheels and spare parts. I suspect the shop manual went too. Which by itself was worth more than she probably got from a junkyard for the car.

There are manuals available online, which are only accessible at the library proper. Unfortunately St. Cloud’s Great River Regional Library system subscribes to Chilton, which is far inferior to All-data carried by Hennepin County’s library system. Another bike ride to the library proved fruitless as the Chilton diagrams were incomplete and useless.

Not giving up on it, next time I make it to the cities, will access the All-Data system at HCLIB and save the pertinent diagrams to a flash drive. I suspect troubleshooting will reveal a bad fuse panel. I’ve had bad experiences with burned and melted connections within Audi/VW fuse panels. I even had one Audi burn to the ground due to such a short circuit. I will probably need to replace the entire fuse panel with a good used one. Which will probably entail a trip to U-Pull-R-Parts in East Bethel or Rosemount where I get the best prices by far.

In the meantime, I had been shopping on Craigslist for a temporary beater. I’ve had good luck in the past with little Japanese pick-ups, and one would certainly come in handy now, with all the pending logistics of moving from the apartment, clearing out my stuff at the farm, organizing and consolidating storage in FW’s garage. Found a rough-looking ’87 Mazda B2200 in Monticello, which is about 25 miles away.

Rode to the bus-stop, took the Metro-Link bus to Becker, and rode the remaining 10 miles to Monticello. There was no bike rack on the Link bus like city buses have, so I had to cram my bike into the luggage compartment. Skies were threatening, and the road was wet from recent rain, but I somehow dodged getting rained on and had a tail-wind to boot rolling along the river into Monticello.

Inspection, road-test, a little haggling, and for $550, I had transportation again. Brakes were soft, front tires bulged with cords showing, and a million other little things were wrong, but it started and drove, and the frame was solid, which was about all I cared about. I kind of liked the fact it was carburetted with minimal engine management and most of the emissions control systems gone. As simple and basic as a lawn mower, less to go wrong.

Helped the previous owner unload a bunch of junk from back, tossed my bike in the bed, and headed home. Took the back roads because it vibrated pretty badly over 45mph due to the bad tires. Every time another car overtook me, I pulled over to the shoulder and waved them by. About 10 miles from home it started raining very heavily and I was relieved to find the wipers actually worked just fine.

About 5 miles from home, the exhaust suddenly got very loud, and I knew exactly what had happened. During the inspection, I noticed a loose threaded plug on the top of the exhaust manifold where perhaps EGR piping once connected, maybe only on California models. I made a mental note to add threadlocker and retighten the plug first thing when I got home, but I never got the chance, as the plug had unwound and fell out. Rain was too heavy to stop and scope things out, so I tried to memorize the stretch of road and limp noisily home.

Monitored the weather radar, and headed back down the road on my bike after the storm had passed. Chances the plug had ended up on the pavement instead of bouncing off into the weeds were pretty slim. Chances of a passing car not finishing the job made the chances of finding it even slimmer. But, I searched, and of course, it was to no avail. Gone, baby, gone. In some far distant future, will an archeologist with a progressive metal detector find it, catalog it, and file it away? It is amazing though, to see how much other debris ends up on our roadways.

Calls to Mazda dealer, parts stores, and an extensive internet search proved fruitless in finding a replacement part. Being somewhat resourceful, plan B will be jury-rig a temporary plug. And scrounging up new front tires is on the front burner as well.

But, as of now, we’re a little less stranded. And that’s a good thing.

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