Dear Car Talk:
Back in the mid ’70s, my brother asked me to drive his 1963 BMW from Connecticut to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I had been traveling on Highway 95 for about an hour at around 70 miles per hour, when steam started pouring out of the hood. I immediately pulled over, but the engine had seized up, according to him, when he later had it checked out. He said it had a cracked radiator hose.
He still blames me for ruining his car over 45 years later, saying that I should have kept an eye on the temperature gauge. I couldn’t have stopped the car any faster. I think he should have maintained his car better. Am I right? – Peter
RAY: I have a similar story. Back around the same time, my brother parked his rotting 1965 AMC Ambassador at the garage, in the way of everything. And he refused, despite many requests, to get it out of there. Probably because it wouldn’t run.
So after about a year, I finally called the junkyard and told them to haul it away. And they crushed it. And for the rest of his natural life, my brother whined that I owed him a car. After a couple of decades, the whining finally wore me down and I offered him the full value of the car: 50 bucks. He refused it, calculating correctly that he’d get more pleasure out of complaining than he would out of the 50 bucks.
I doubt you and your brother want to spend the rest of your days arguing about this. So in the interest of getting you invited back to Thanksgiving dinner, I can provide ample evidence that both of you are to blame. Here’s why it was your brother’s fault. If the cause of the overheating was a cracked radiator hose, that suggests the hose was old. New hoses, or hoses in good shape, don’t just crack and fail. So he wasn’t keeping up on his maintenance. And since he asked you to do him a favor and move the car, then the onus was on him to make sure it was in tiptop shape for the journey.
On the other hand, engines don’t just seize up within seconds of losing coolant. So your story raises a few questions, too. Normally, when an engine overheats to the point of seizing, the process starts with the temperature gauge going up into the red zone. You obviously didn’t notice that.
Then the car starts to lose power. As the engine block continues to heat up and expand, it gets harder for the pistons to move inside the cylinders, and the car begins to slow down more and more. So it doesn’t happen instantly. Instead, it just keeps slowing down until you have your foot down to the floor, and the car won’t go. Is that starting to sound at all familiar, Peter? So if you had been a little more aware of your surroundings, you might have had a chance to save the engine, too.
Now it’s possible that your brother did keep up on the maintenance, and one of his radiator hoses failed because it was defective. Unlikely, but possible. And in your case, if the hose that split was a lower radiator hose, there might not have been much steam to see until the engine was already very hot.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know who was more to blame. So make a peace offering. Tell your brother that when you win the lottery, you’ll buy him a 1963 BMW. And if he wins the lottery, he can buy you a 1963 BMW radiator hose.
Tire-gauge technology has come a long way
Dear Car Talk:
In my 50 years of car ownership, I have accumulated a large number of tire pressure gauges. I’ve got a bunch of plastic, pencil-type gauges. I’ve got some cheap, round ones. I’ve got a metal one with a plastic thing that pops out the end when I test the pressure.
The problem is they all read differently on the same tire. So what’s the best gauge to use? What’ll give me an accurate reading? – Frank
RAY: Well, as with many things, tire-gauge technology has improved over the years. You used to need a very good-quality, round metal or brass mechanical gauge to get an accurate reading. And those were expensive. And I’ve got about 15 of them.
But nowadays, you can get a good “pistol grip” digital tire pressure gauge for about $10. If you’re willing to pay a little more, you can even get one with a display that’s backlit. That way, if you get the urge to get up in the middle of the night and sneak out to check your tire pressure, you’ll be able to read the result in the dark. That beats the old-fashioned way of checking your tire pressure in a dark garage – holding a flashlight between your teeth – until either the flashlight fell out and broke, or your front teeth did.
You can also get one with a short hose attachment to make it easier to read, and easier to attach to your tire valve stem. I’m partial to those. You can find lots of them online, at your favorite market-dominating monopolistic online retailer. I bought a couple made by Accutire that work well. But I’d check the user ratings, and get one that’s got an overwhelming number of five-star reviews.
Happy testing, Frank.