If you read Hunt Jones article, Towing Vintage With Vintage, in the last issue of Airstream Life you might be aware that there are challenges. I tow our ’86 Airstream with an ’85 Chevy Suburban. Not quite vintage but nearly so.
I believe the ’85 Suburban was the last 3/4 ton with the 454 CI engine to have a carburetor. Subsequent to that year GM used a fuel injected throttle body. Still, our Burb passes the emission inspection and gets close to the same mpg while towing as the 2001 F-150 we used to have
We’re a one car family now too. The Burb is our daily driver and not just our tow vehicle. So, it’s important for me to keep it running.
In my previous post I wrote about the trip we just took where we towed our Airstream around New Mexico and southern Colorado. In all, the trip was about 700 miles. The day after we got back though, it suddenly began making a strange clicking and whining noise. This happened just as we were pulling out of the garage.
I immediately opened the hood to see what was going on and noticed gasoline pouring out of the mechanical fuel pump. For the last three afternoons I’ve been working on that problem. It isn’t something that should have taken anywhere near that much time, but I violated the number one repairman’s rule, “do no harm.”
The fuel pump on is in a tight location, between the right front wheel well and low on the engine. There are a couple of hoses that have to be moved to get to it, but all in all it wasn’t too hard to take off.
The real problem started when I went to install a new fuel pump. I haven’t worked much on cars for awhile as I simply have’t needed to. But one of the reasons I went with an older tow vehicle was that I figured if something went wrong with it out in the middle of no-where I might stand a better chance of fixing it than I would if I broke down in a newer tow vehicle.
Let me explain why. I once tried to change the spark plugs on our 2001 F-150 and it took me an hour just to get the number one spark plug out. I gave up on changing the remaining seven plugs as I didn’t want to spend fifteen more hours taking out the old and putting back in the new. I couldn’t even see where there was room to get a wrench and spark plug socket onto the spark plugs at the rear of the engine. In fact, I couldn’t even see those spark plugs.
Certainly, this is partly due to the fact that I’m not the most practiced mechanic, but newer cars don’t seem to be made with the idea of the owner doing the maintenance. Shade tree mechanics are really challenged when it comes to working on cars made within the last decade or two. So, it isn’t just me. To change the spark plugs on some of today’s cars actually requires dropping the engine! They really are that tight.
Comparatively then, the Burb is a cakewalk, but it still helps if you know what you’re doing. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I figured the new fuel pump would go on the same way the old one came off. Wrong! I forgot to move the fuel pump push rod up and as a result I bent it. In doing that I also cracked the flanges on the new fuel pump. Yep, I broke everything that was involved! Do no harm? I was a disaster package.
When I went to install the second new fuel pump I did remember to move the push rod up. Yes, I moved the bent push rod up, and it got wedged in the bore it travels in. You see, I just didn’t think a ½ inch piece of steel could be bent that easily, but again I was WRONG!
When the second pump didn’t work because the rod wasn’t moving. So, the problem I faced was how to get the damaged push rod out.
I Googled the problem. One horrifying poster testified that he broke three fuel pumps before figuring out what he was doing wrong. Another wrote that it took him TEN months to figure out how to get his bent push rod out. He ended up soldering a pipe to the end of it and with a make-shift handle attached was able to turn and twist it out. Good Grief, what had I done, and what was I to do? The people making these posts were all hot-rod fanatics. They worked on their cars just for the fun of it. It was a pastime. Some had done complete restorations, yet they were as stymied by the same little push rod as amateur me.
So, I called a friend who has a Burb and he called a friend who owns a Burb and is also a mechanic. “What should Forrest do,” he asked? The answer I got was, “its Hell to be Forrest.”
By now I realized I needed some help and I called my son. Some things I think happen for a reason. Why would our Burb (my son and daughters call it “The Beast”) run nearly flawlessly all this summer, towing for thousands of miles, only to break down in our driveway the day after we got back home? How does that happen, coincidence?.
Our 1985 Chevy Suburban Silverado, hooked up to our 32′ 1986 Excella.
My son and I ended up working all afternoon on the problem. It always helps to have a second set of eyes and another set of hands to help. Both of us tried using needle nosed pliers to get the rod out. No luck at all, it wouldn’t budge. Since he had a car he drove me around to get a new push rod, and mechanic’s work gloves (my hands were getting pretty scratched up, cut and bruised from knuckle busting slips).
But what we ended up doing most was talk about some problems he was having in his life. We haven’t talked like that in a long time and especially these last few years where I’ve been unavailable with traveling and hospitals, etc. He really needed someone to listen and confide in and I think I was able to help him sort some things out and put them in perspective. He’s a great kid (okay he’s 32, but he will always be my boy). I couldn’t solve his problems but I hope it helped him just to be able to talk about them. That’s all a dad needs to do sometimes.
We wouldn’t have done any of that though if the Burb hadn’t broken down exactly where and when it did. The next day my son couldn’t get by to help me as he had to go to work and I was on my own again. I went back to using my needle nose pliers. On my first attempt I got a good grip on the rod and gave it a sharp tug. It came loose without a fight.
I was then able to insert the new push rod. By coating it with axle grease it stayed in the up position. I turned the engine by hand to make sure the cam the push rod contacted was shallow. That done, the fuel pump bolted on without difficulty. I was done in an hour. I turned the ignition and the engine ran like it was supposed to, and there were no leaks. How does that happen when it’s Hell to be Forrest?