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My fictional character needs car trouble


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markTX
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Jun 26, 2012, 11:22 PM

Post #1 of 13 (768 views)
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I know this forum is for solving car problems, not creating them, but I am halfway through my novel, and I need some technical advice. I need to strand my character by the side of the road, and I need to do it in a way that is mechanically accurate but also fits the plot.

My character is an elderly driver who does not use his car often, and when he does, it is only for short trips close to his home. He never drives on freeways, but he has to make an exception due to an emergency in another state. His vehicle is a large, ancient Pontiac. I don't describe the car in much more detail than that (except to indicate that the car does not sound well-maintained), so the problem should be of a general nature (i.e., not specific to newer car technology).
I'm thinking that I would like to have his radiator rupture, or some other cooling-related problem.

Now, before my character takes to the road, he DOES take his car in for routine maintenance (oil change, belts, hoses, fluids). At the garage, he is told by the mechanic of a *potential* problem that *should* be fixed before he's on the road.

Unfortunately, he decides NOT to get the repairs because (1) the situation he is responding to is urgent, (2) the repairs would take too long, and (3) the problem itself is not cut-and-dry--the mechanic knows it will become serious if neglected too long, but he has no sure way to know HOW long it will be before it will become serious.

So my questions:

1) What is the warning sign that causes the mechanic to become concerned?

2) What is the time-consuming work that would need to be done?

3) If the problem is something other than overheating and coolant loss, how would the problem manifest itself?


Sidom
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Jun 26, 2012, 11:36 PM

Post #2 of 13 (753 views)
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If you're going with a Pontiac, that would be easy. Go with the common leaky intake gasket (something all your 3.1 & 3.4 readers could relate to) 4 to 6 hr repair @ $700. It would slowly leak all the coolant out until it overheated and your character could continue to drive the car until it died, ruining the engine, instead of pulling over when it 1st started to overheat, turning a $700 repair into a $3500 repair..... Like everyone else in the real world does






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re-tired
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Jun 27, 2012, 12:24 AM

Post #3 of 13 (720 views)
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If thats to technical you could go for a swollen lower radiator hose . It would be a ticking bomb , ok on the short local trips .On the freeway its a disaster waiting to happen.Shocked


LIFE'S SHORT GO FISH


Hammer Time
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator


Jun 27, 2012, 7:05 AM

Post #4 of 13 (705 views)
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Looks like we all agree that it should be an overheating problem due to a coolant loss.

You could still use Sidom's scenario on a Pontiac. Mid 90s Grand Ams used the 3.1 engine.




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We offer help in answering questions, clarifying things or giving advice but we are not a substitute for an on-site inspection by a professional.



markTX
Novice

Jun 27, 2012, 8:52 AM

Post #5 of 13 (694 views)
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In Reply To
If you're going with a Pontiac, that would be easy. Go with the common leaky intake gasket (something all your 3.1 & 3.4 readers could relate to) 4 to 6 hr repair @ $700. It would slowly leak all the coolant out until it overheated and your character could continue to drive the car until it died, ruining the engine, instead of pulling over when it 1st started to overheat, turning a $700 repair into a $3500 repair..... Like everyone else in the real world does


Thanks!...and thanks to everyone who replied! (My character might not appreciate your help, but I sure do!)

Now in terms of diagnosing this problem, is this the kind of thing the mechanic would be able to spot with certainty in a routine check, or is it something he would more likely suspect based on a set of symptoms?

That is, would he tell the character "You have a leaking intake gasket, and it needs to be replaced," or would he say "You have [this symptom], and on these cars it's almost always a leaking intake gasket, but I'll need to [do X work] to be sure that's the problem."


Hammer Time
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator


Jun 27, 2012, 8:54 AM

Post #6 of 13 (690 views)
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Knowing you had a coolant leak somewhere would lead you to suspect the intake gasket but performing a pressure test would confirm it.




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We offer help in answering questions, clarifying things or giving advice but we are not a substitute for an on-site inspection by a professional.



markTX
Novice

Jun 27, 2012, 11:00 AM

Post #7 of 13 (685 views)
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Thanks!

Now, when you perform a pressure test, is this a fairly quick procedure, or is it a time-consuming procedure? In other words, since this is supposed to be a short visit to the garage and the character is under time pressure to get to the emergency he has been called to (he's only at the garage because the friend who called him strongly urged him to get the car checked first, knowing how careless he is about maintenance), would our fictitious mechanic go ahead and do the pressure check, then tell him that the intake gasket is leaking, or would he tell the character that there's a coolant leak but he needs to do a pressure test and it will take xx time to do it?


Hammer Time
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator


Jun 27, 2012, 11:11 AM

Post #8 of 13 (681 views)
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15 to 30 minutes




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We offer help in answering questions, clarifying things or giving advice but we are not a substitute for an on-site inspection by a professional.



Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator


Jun 27, 2012, 11:35 AM

Post #9 of 13 (675 views)
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Interesting and TMK only request for something like this at this site. If this is not focal to your novel then perhaps (it's your novel) don't over tech a mechanical failure but just say what most any reader would relate to like an old radiator hose blew out stranding your character. Too techno if not about the car or driver may be a turn off for your project??

T
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Long retired now


markTX
Novice

Jun 27, 2012, 2:20 PM

Post #10 of 13 (663 views)
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Thanks!

Don't worry, I'm not going to take it all the way into the underlying mechanical ins-and-outs. (I'm not qualified to go there!)

But I needed just enough detail so I could set him up for the problem in the reader's mind before the problem happens. If he just happened to have a mechanical failure at a point in the story where it was convenient for me to make that happen, it would feel fake to the reader. But if the reader already knows the car has potential issues before he starts the trip, and we toss in a few warning signs along the way, then when it finally happens, it will seem like an inevitable and naturally occurring event from the reader's perspective. Plus it builds suspense.

Thanks again to everyone for their help on this (and also thanks for the timeframes on the pressure test as well).

I think you have given me all the tools I need to strand my poor character by the side of the road late at night in the middle of nowhere with the villain hot on his tail.

Oh, yeah...and since my character has avoided cell phones all his life and only bought one for this trip, he accidentally took the wall-charger with him instead of the car-charger. Wouldn't you know it, the battery's now dead.

Gosh, I hate it when that happens. Wink


Sidom
Veteran / Moderator


Jun 27, 2012, 2:38 PM

Post #11 of 13 (658 views)
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Well good luck with your book....
Since it's a work in progress it probably wouldn't be a wise idea to give away to much detail on the story right now...

When you finish it and have the final title,,,,,,post the name so we can check it out.....






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markTX
Novice

Jun 30, 2012, 12:49 PM

Post #12 of 13 (570 views)
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I really like the mechanical issue we've come up with here (leaky intake gasket), as it works beautifully in terms of story timing.

I'm wondering, however, if there are older, full-sized models that this might be applied to. I have been looking at Pontiacs, but I am wondering if there might be a larger, older GM brand and model than what I'm seeing in the Pontiacs specifically. Something along the lines of a cream-colored ocean liner on wheels, Nixon-era or thereabouts, more full-size than mid-size.


Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator


Jun 30, 2012, 1:21 PM

Post #13 of 13 (564 views)
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A quintessential "Old Man's Car" of the era would be an Olds 88, Buick LeSabre, Chev Impala, Pontiac Catalina in GM, Ford -- Galaxy 500 or LTD, Torino or if you want some Chryslers, the ever famous Dodge Dart, Plymouth Valiant. Most old farts didn't buy the top dog but rather just one under.

Ha - Nixon administration! "I'm NOT a crook"



Was like yesterday!

Tom
_________________________________________
Long retired now




My fictional character needs car trouble


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