When it pours, bad things come in threes

1992 GTPI was driving home from work in car #4, my GTP, last night. The city is in the midst of harsh rains, strong winds, and rising flood waters on all the major rivers. I get six miles down the road, and the engine lets out a sudden jerk and stalls. I coast onto the shoulder as far as it will go (about a quarter mile) and call for a tow. I’m told that due to the harsh weather conditions it will be 2-3 hours.

Of course my optimistic brain wants to believe it’ll only be an hour, but my pessimistic brain says I’ll be lucky if they’re here in three. It turns out of course to be three. So there I sit on the side of the highway in pouring rain and rush-hour traffic roaring past. It was the slowest part of a forthcoming adventure-filled evening, during which the universe would seem to be fighting me at every turn.

While I was waiting for the tow truck I was thinking about what could’ve gone wrong with the engine, and I came to the conclusion that it must be either the timing belt or the timing chain. This engine has both.

The car has to go to a shop that is about 25 miles away. The heavy rains have caused major flooding on the Snoqualmie River, closing many of the roads in the Snoqualmie Valley, which is where the shop is. All roads to it are closed because they have to cross the valley – except one. I tell the driver the route to take and we head off.

All’s fine until we get about a mile away from the shop and we see a large sign across the road that says ROAD CLOSED AHEAD – NO THRU TRAFFIC. It didn’t say how far ahead the road was closed, and “thru traffic” in this case implied getting “thru” to the next main road. We didn’t have to go nearly that far, and I didn’t think it would be closed before the shop, so I told the tow truck driver to drive around the sign and press on. Turned out the road actually wasn’t flooded yet, and we dropped off the car without incident.

A quick diagnosis in the garage confirmed the broken timing belt, $50 and no big deal to fix over the weekend. But the water level on the Snoqualmie River was still rising and would continue to do so for another 15 hours. I still had to get home, a half hour away.

In a mad dash against the rising Snoqualmie, we raced back to my house the only way we could go, about five miles out of the way. I was dropped off in a hurry and my friend rushed back to his house. I later got a text message saying, “Had to drive through six inches of water to get home.”

I still had four cars left at home, three of which were drivable – at least before the big storm 3 weeks ago. It’s precisely for days like this that I have this seemingly excessive redundancy.

I go to start car #5 and notice it has a flat tire. Figuring I can limp it to the gas station for air, I hop in and stick the key in the ignition, then press the clutch pedal and… no resistance, it goes to the floor. Tried topping off the fluid but it was too late, the air was already in the lines.

So I figure I’ll try car #1. It slowly cranks over but won’t fire. I put the charger on it and wait a few minutes, then try again. Cranks, won’t start.

Since car #6 only runs for 10 minutes before it overheats, all that’s left is car #3. I put in the key and go to crank it, but get only a CLICK.

At this point I’m sure most people would throw in the towel, certain that a higher power has a different plan in mind for them that day, and go back to bed. Not me.

If only I had my trusty car #2, none of this would be an issue. But it’s in the paint shop and won’t be ready for several more days. It’s probably just the battery, so I put the charger on car #3 and wait. 20 minutes later I go to start it again, and it fires instantly and roars to life. I got to work two hours late due to the run of bad luck, but otherwise uneventfully.

This is one of the reasons I have so many cars. Even when five of them are out of commission, there’s still at least one that can get me where I need to go.

Update: After tearing the engine down to the timing belt, it turns out it also broke the timing chain when the belt wrapped around the main pulley and jammed.

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