Driving Without Brakes Is Not Recommended

by admin | April 9, 2021 8:21 am

Once the snow and ice had finally melted from the mid-February winter storm, I decided to crank up our 1965 Ford F100 pickup, known as Big Red. I keep it covered most of the time. The cover conveniently has a zipper on the driver’s side so the entire cover doesn’t have to be removed. As always, Big Red fired right up. The truck is by nature cold-natured, so I decided to let it idle for a while and went back inside.

I got busy working on the computer and promptly forgot Big Red was idling — for about two hours. The only reason I remembered then was that I was taking something outside to the recycling container. I looked up in horror to see Big Red smothered in exhaust fumes, steam coming from under the hood. I ran over and turned off the engine. Big Red kept smoking. Good grief. I have burned up the engine, busted the radiator and will end up shelling out a bunch of money on a truck in which I have already invested far more than I can ever hope to recoup. In fact, I have given up attempting to sell Big Red, being unwilling to lose thousands of dollars. Besides, this beast of a truck comes in handy for trips to the compost yard or the Big Box store for plants or building material.

 Big Red was allowed to rest for several days. I checked the oil level, which was fine, and added some antifreeze to the radiator. Add checking the tire pressure and that sums up my level of automotive expertise. The truck started right up and seemed fine. I removed the cover and began filling the truck bed with contractor bags of leaves to take to the compost yard. I prefer using them to the paper recyclable bags, which don’t hold enough to satisfy me. Once I get to the yard, I untie the top, empty the bags, and take them home to reuse.

[1]Besides the leaves, I tossed in some scrap lumber and my old study chair, which was flat-worn out from a year of sitting in front of a computer screen during the pandemic. The chair was only a year or so old when I acquired it. By the time it ended up in the pickup bed, the cushions were flat, and the fake leather had peeled off. That chair has been replaced with one made of mesh that I hope can stand up to its near constant use.

It was time to make a trip to the compost yard, the first time Big Red has left the driveway since before Christmas. I noticed while backing out of the driveway that the brakes weren’t giving much when the pedal was depressed. With my vast automotive knowledge, I figured they just needed to warm up a bit. But when I got to the top of the hill of our cul-de-sac, Big Red sailed right through the stop sign. Luckily, nobody was coming. I went down another block and made a U-turn and babied Big Red back to the driveway, downshifting to slow down. I was convinced the brakes had been ruined when the truck idled for two hours.

A few days later, our daughter’s boyfriend, who is infinitely more mechanically adept than me, came over to take a look. He checked the brake fluid level, which was fine. When Big Red’s engine was rebuilt six years ago, the fellow who did it added a new front end and power brakes. Later, another fellow added power steering, repaired the rust and added a tailgate off another truck in his yard, since the old one had rusted through. Yet another shade-tree craftsman repainted the top half. I call it a Redneck Restoration.

The boyfriend decided to consult with his dad and grandfather but was called back to work in the Permian Basin earlier than expected. So, on a Sunday morning, with little traffic about, I drove it cautiously to the shop that does most of our maintenance — tires checked or replaced, oil changes, brake repair. I drove like an 85-year-old grandma scared of every other vehicle on the road. The route has two stop lights and two traffic lights, for which I started downshifting and slowing down about 100 yards away. I made it without mishap, though Big Red’s radiator was steaming by the time I made the short trip to the shop. I walked home.

The shop owner called on Monday and said, “Hey, your brakes look brand new.” I allowed as how the brakes had little mileage on them but invited him to take the truck for a spin. He called back and agreed there was a problem. No hurry, I said, which is music to a mechanic’s ears. Ten days later, with periodic updates that were along the lines of, “Man, we don’t know what’s wrong,” he called with a note of triumph in his voice. “We figured it out!”

When I picked Big Red up, the owner showed me the part, a two-inch L-shaped plastic thingamajig that controlled the vacuum pressure to the brake lines and costs $5.99. It was cracked, either from the -5 temperatures in February or the two-hour idling and overheating. So, what was wrong with the radiator? I asked. He said it just needed more antifreeze. Clearly, I had not added enough.

Yet another reason I need to leave vehicle maintenance to others.

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