By on August 30, 2019

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The Labor Day long weekend is nearly upon us and, while your author doesn’t plan to roam more than a couple hours’ distance from home, many of you might already be packing up the car crossover for one last warm getaway.

Nothing is quite as bittersweet as packing up the fam and hitting the road to your favorite destination, knowing all too well that the best of summer is behind you and that soon things will grow cold and dark. The lowering skies will grow heavy with frozen precipitation, the north wind will kick up, and that refreshing summer beer just won’t cut it anymore. Yup, time for the harder stuff.

But I digress! We all remember family road trips that went awry, so let’s drive into the weekend on a road paved with nostalgia.

Given the automotive theme at play here, let’s avoid stories of family road trip disasters born of unexpected pregnancies, violent death, strange new adolescent feelings, or broken marriages. People are nice, but the car remains the chief focus here.

You author’s past contains numerous road trips, most of which went off without a hitch. Truth be told, during those developing years I can only recall one automotive breakdown while on the road with the family. It was an early memory, to be sure. 1986. We’d just descended from a journey up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in the family’s 1980 Pontiac Phoenix when the overtaxed X-body’s radiator blew. Despite my young age, I can still remember being impressed by how much coolant spewed out of that hatchback.

For the family’s sake, it was a good thing the Phoenix waited until we reached less lofty ground before vomiting up its precious bodily fluids.

Another averted disaster came on a hot day in North Carolina, where my youthful sister began loudly commenting on the decidedly ugly appearance of a pair of bikers who’d just rumbled up next to us at a stoplight. I’ll never forget my dad hissing a sharp rebuke that invoked both the name of the man who died for our sins and the fact that his Fairmont housed only an 88-horsepower four-cylinder. We made it to the beach without further incident.

All of this pales in comparison to a friend’s childhood tale, in which their old wagon broke down in the Everglades and was quickly surrounded by alligators, preventing any attempt at repair. A family dispute then broke out in the cabin of the sweltering vehicle, with the patriarch of the clan deciding to take his chances outside the car. He waited for help on the car’s roof.

What’s your tale of a family road trip that went sideways?

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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57 Comments on “QOTD: Most Memorable Family Road Trip Snafu?...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Even with stacked headlamps and fake wood, a cleaner design than any minivan offered today. It is amazing how big these things felt in the 80’s, yet how small they appear now. Pretty much the peak of “form follows function” automotive wise.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I still like fake wood. I think someone could do it tastefully now as an accent instead of a dominant element.

      I know I’m the only one but I’d like to see more fake wood accents in car interiors. I’m tired of piano black and my Regal even has fake carbon fiber accents (well at least I think it’s trying to be carbon fiber…)

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Just for fun I compared the dimensions/weight of the Caravan to my xB. Almost identical. The Caravan is 8 inches longer, but I’ll take the xB’s safety features. I do miss those thin pillars.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Yep. SO much glorious glass!

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          1984 Dodge Caravan curb weight 2965 lbs.

          2019 Dodge Caravan curb weight 4483 lbs.

          51.2% increase in 35 years using modern materials and development tools.

          The glass area must be an illusion – because “Glass” is the reason current vehicles are heavier…

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            They also don’t make a Caravan in 2019 and they did not make a Grand Caravan in 1984.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Flipper35,

            Fair point – so the weight increase is accounted for by length. Let’s see…

            1984 overall length of 175.9″, times 1.512.

            That would make the 2019 Grand Caravan length 266.0″ (42 inches longer than a Suburban) – right?

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            Flipper35,

            Fair point – so the weight increase is accounted for by length. Let’s see…

            1984 overall length of 175.9″, times 1.512.

            That would make the 2019 Grand Caravan length 266.0″ (42 inches longer than a Suburban) – right?

            Size in general. You have a six speed transmission instead of a 3 speed auto. Larger V6, larger glass, more steel structure to pass safety regulations, more airbags, window actuators for the sliding door glass and so on and so forth.

            In 1987, the first year the “Grand” was available there was 350# difference in weight between the SWB and LWB versions. So we are at 3350ish on the 1987 GC with a 2.5l and 3450ish with the V6.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      “… a cleaner design than any minivan offered today.” How true. Today, a “clean” design is, unfortunately, considered boring. What a great size that first Chrysler minivan was, and it even offered a decent amount of ground clearance for a multi-purpose vehicle. I believe there would be others, like myself, who would prefer one of these – built with modern structural integrity – to an SUV.

  • avatar
    Jon

    Family suburban (1985) overheated on our way out of Phoenix in June. We stopped at grandmas to check the coolant level since her house was on the way. Dad opened the cap hot and took a hot coolant shower. Mom rinsed him off with the hose. He topped the radiator off with the same hose and we kept driving. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

    On another trip, Dad had to work late and he told us to leave on time (in the same suburban) and that he would drive up later. So i loaded the trailer and hooked it up (was 13ish). Dad gave mom specific instructions to put the truck in 3 when climbing hills. Mom didn’t listen. Truck overheated on first big hill out of Phoenix. She got scared and turned around without stopping to top off radiator. We drove straight back home and waited for Dad to get home. Mom cried in her room because the vacation was “ruined”. While waiting, i topped off the coolant in the truck and we left as soon as Dad got home and took a (normal) shower.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      _WOMEN_ ! .

      Can’t live with ’em .

      Not allowed to shoot ’em .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        It’s “pass the beer nuts,” Nate, “pass the beer nuts!”

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Oops =8-^ .

          Pops bought one of those minvans in 1984, he bought it through Hertz rentals so it came with the roof rack and other goodies the Stealer in Hawaii didn’t want to order, he loved it *so* much he had it shipped to New Jersey when he left the island then drove it across America to Washington state some years later .

          It was as mentioned a durable, comfy, easy driving and BIG GLASSED BOX thing .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Family vacation, 500 miles from home. The PowerGlide in Dad’s 1964 Impala decided to stay in first gear. Dad, never having much mechanical sympathy, decided to drive that whole distance back home in first…on the freeway. I must give the 283 lots of credit….it spun pretty fast for many hours….and didn’t complain

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    My youngest son hated being in a car seat so we usually had to add several hours to the planned trip length just to pull over and let him get up and around. We transported a friend’s new labrador retriever puppy from the breeder to him. We had to stop every hour for the pup and my son. 8 hour trip took 12 hrs.

    In the day of no seat belts my dad almost always worked out of town in the summer so we spent them usually with him in his camper trailer. I recall my parents, myself and my brother, a dog and a pet rabbit all crammed into the (regular) cab of his pickup because the box of his pickup contained a fuel tank, cases of oil and grease along with spare parts and tools.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Oddly enough given the succession of crappy Land Rover products that plagued my dad’s side of the family, I don’t have any tales of mechanical woe. But I hated those road trips because my dad and wife #3 (my mom #2, and his current wife #4) invariably spent the entire trip yelling at each other. One time, being 13, and about 500 miles and two countries from home (this being Europe), I told them to let me off at the nearest train station. They did not, but they shut up.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Mid 1960s, dad bought a Corvair camper van to transport his young brood to a campground high in the Sierra Nevada, up a very windy one-lane road, on a hot early summer’s day. Pulling a heavy load slowly up hill not being the greatest application for an air-cooled engine, we had to stop–A LOT–to let it cool off. I think it was dark by the time we pulled into camp.

    By next summer the Corvair was gone, replaced by a more conventional front engine/rear drive Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I just today watched a Jam Handy film where the object was to teach salesmen how to sell a Corvair to a lady. One of the myriad pluses, per the film, was that it was air cooled and “you never have to worry about adding coolant.” And “it’s so easy to drive.” [you know]

      I also watched a GM is best carmaker ever video where they performed these laughable tests with a Corvan and an Econoline. I had to laugh.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I assume it is the one where they get the Econoline pickup to do a stoppie by replacing the tail gate with the shorter one used on a regular pickup, no rear bumper and a passenger that throws himself up against the front window when the brakes are applied. Supposedly they also removed the ballast plate from above the rear axle, but you can’t tell that part from the video.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          That sounds about right. Many an endo were shown. I like Jam Handy films, especially when he explains how certain things work, but the Chevy propaganda is hilarious.

  • avatar
    DedBull

    A couple road trip stories, one told to me, one I experienced.

    My dad tells the story of going on a road trip to Florida from his home north of Pittsburgh. He and his buddy made it all the way to Florida in a VW Bus only to blow the engine. They then hitchhiked all the way home, built a new engine for the Bus and drove it back to Florida in the back of my dad’s Beetle.

    Circa 2002 we are headed to Toledo for a car show. Again we are coming out of western PA, so we head across I90 straight through Cleveland along the waterfront. Dad is in front in our watercooled Vanagon towing his newly rebuilt 66 Beetle on a towbar. We are following in the 57 Beetle (with 40hp engine) straight down the middle of the 3 lane expressway. We did ok, everyone split and went around us. Another hour down the road the 57 finally decided it had enough and we had to stop along the Ohio turnpike due to loss of oil pressure. We tried to switch cars, only to find the 66 had no gas in it. We pumped a gallon out of the 57 and limped down the road to the nearest fuel stop. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    My dad had a 1977 Ford Granada Ghia, fully loaded, as a company car. Pretty car, but full of gremlins from the get go. One of them manifested itself on a hot September day coming back from an afternoon at the beach. Who knows what happened with the car’s electrical system, but the A/C quit working in unison with the power windows. So imagine what a pleasant ride home that was: five people sitting in a hot car with the windows closed, and no air conditioner. I was very glad when that car got replaced by a 1979 Ford LTD.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    In 1972 my family did a cross country trip from Boston, Massachusetts to Anaheim, California to go to Disneyland. Seventeen days on the road in a 1972 Chevrolet Brookwood station wagon. Hideous 70s green, vinyl seats, AM radio, no AC, with wood panels. I wasn’t even in school yet so most of what I pass along is family lore, but some are from memory:

    DAY 1: The entire exhaust system from the manifold back, drops into the driveway as my father starts to back out with 5 people on board. The trip is delayed a full day for exhaust system repairs.

    DAY 2: Pick up my Hungarian (Gen I) grandmother and grandfather in Philadelphia – 7 people onboard.

    DAY 3: First of multiple tire blowouts – the Brookwood was shod with Firestone 721 tires (do a search). In addition, we pick up my cousin and her steamer trunk of stuff, now 8 people and their luggage on board and on the roof.

    DAY 4: Second tire blowout in Gary, Indiana

    UNKNOWN DAY: We drive into Shamrock, Texas right into a tornado producing supercell. Conditions got so bad that my grandparents were quietly doing to the Lord’s Prayer over and over again in Hungarian. At one point stuck in traffic, hail, high winds, nighttime darkness during the day over a deep purple sky my mother goes, “what is that sound?” My father opens his door to discover that floodwaters are surrounding our car. He drives around stalled traffic either in the breakdown lane or the shoulder (don’t know which) and just gets out of the low spot – the car behind us following wasn’t so lucky.

    UNKNOWN DAY: Blow out of a tire in Gallup, New Mexico.

    UNKNOWN DAY: Because our trip was delayed a day, my mother called ahead and canceled all of our hotel reservations. Upon our late night arrival in Salt Lake City, some convention going on left utterly no hotel rooms available. I have a vivid memory of being so tired and bored, and us coming to a roadside hotel of teepee style units and no one there (no host, employees) but the lights on and a fire burning in the 70s style modern cone fireplace in orange paint visible through the lobby window. I wanted to have a nervous breakdown. We drove for hours before finding somewhere to stay at some ridiculously late hour.

    UNKNOWN DAY: Father finally has enough of dragging my cousin’s steamer trunk in and out of hotels. He demands to know what is in it before it will go one more inch. Inside is a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    UNKNOWN DAY: Family goes to Tijuana for a day trip except myself, and my grandparents. They all get ragingly sick from either food poisoning or the water. Trip delayed another day. Cousin stays in California as she was hitching a ride to move, we are now 7 again.

    UNKNOWN DAY/PLACE: Another tire blow out

    The rest of the trip was a death drive back to Massachusetts.

  • avatar
    Mnemic

    Driving to Florida in 92, in a 87 taurus wagon. Thermostat froze shut in south carolina at 4am. Waited until the gas station opened up at 6 or 7 and he said he’d call a friend to help. Old dude showed up, says to go with him. We stayed with the car, my uncle went with the guy. He drove 25 miles out of the way so my uncle to save $7.00. Got us fixed up and wouldn’t even accept any money for helping.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    It was the summer of 1984. My family was on the last leg of our epic, three-week trip to the Rocky Mountain states. The vehicle was a powder blue 1881 Chevrolet Caprice wagon with a Sears XCargo topper on the roof rack. Our family of six required a vehicle with some space for my parents, two teens, and two pre-teens. The Caprice wagon fit the bill but it was a tight fit for that length of trip which included gear for both camping gear and cuisine prepared over a Coleman stove. The Chevy had a rear-facing third seat which was deemed necessary due to border disputes over siblings’ personal space which made Middle Eastern diplomacy look like child’s play. I’m sure my parents thought that Jimmy Carter had it pretty easy. I frequently drew the short straw that landed me in the rearward-facing seat, far from the A/C vents, and the entertainment of billboards. This was just prior to the luxury of a Sony Walkman. All I had to entertain me was the grills and faces of the traffic behind us. My father was an excellent driver who kept speed slightly on the north side of 55 mph but well below the literal radar of Johnny Law. Therefore, my scenery altered very slowly so I had very little to entertain myself during my perpetual gaze to the rear.

    On the last day of our trip, we made a fuel stop at a small independent, gas station just off I-70 near the town of Belmont in eastern Ohio. The routine was down to a science after three weeks. As soon as the car’s gear selector hit the ‘Park’ position, we all piled out of the wagon to either stretch our legs, hit the rest room, or grap a drink from the large water jug. My father was always left with the task of filling the tank. This time, he made a pit stop himself after topping off the tank. By the time he returned, everybody else had fallen back to their positions like good soldiers. Everything was working like clockwork.

    The heavily-weighted Caprice wagon returned to the eastbound lanes and got up to speed as prudently as the meager GM mill could take it. We had not gone more than 2 miles until a dirty and rusty, early-’70s domestic sedan approached with vigor from the rear. The driver was a grubby-looking, middle-aged guy with a dark blue uniform shirt which bore the appearance of many brake jobs in its service and the man’s grimy wiskers had been front-row spectators for most of those same brake jobs, as well. He pulled the behemoth up very close to the rear of the car emphatically gesturing to me that he wanted us to pull over. I immediately thought that our family’s lives would soon come to an end in some gruesome fashion. I quickly shouted, “The man behind us wants us to pull over!” My father soon obliged but with tense caution. He exited the car and headed back towards I-70’s street urchin. He spoke a brief sentence to my father which was inaudible due to the traffic noise. My father turned tail, headed back to the car and leaned in the driver’s side window and asked my mother, “Did you pay for gas?” My mother said she hadn’t. My father quickly returned to the man and handed him some cash. All was well. Upon getting back in the car, my parents quickly realized that they had a miscommunication on who was paying. The phrase “I’ll get it” had been reference to an item they were talking about in the roof carrier a few minutes prior to the stop. This humorous story was recounted by family members many times over in the decades since.

  • avatar
    Easybeans

    Not a great story but somewhat topical. (The picture!)

    Last Friday I flew from BOS to PHX to pick up a 1989 Plymouth Voyager SE. (2.5 Turbo/Intercooled/5-speed) 2,600+ mile trip back home in a 30 year old van. Hitting rain during rush hour in Indianapolis was when I found out the wiper linkage was busted. It proved quite the adventure to safely pull over.

    Anyway, I saw people mentioning “all that glass” … It’s funny. I got onto the street that I’ve lived on for 20+ years and everything looked – different – I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was going on. Then it hit me. I could see MORE. This thing has so much more visibility than what I’m used to, driving these newer vehicles.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Story 2:

    Picked up a 1998 Pontiac Transport SWB minivan as a runabout for $1900 in 2009. Optioned weird but great for road trips and was a one-owner car. Opted to drive from Seattle to San Fran for Thanksgiving with the family. My teen daughter went with me. Was going to take the Holdenized G8 (do a search on TTAC) but the weather forecast called for snow in the mountain passes on the route. I had the Pontiac inspected before I bought it, and decided to drive it.

    Everything was uneventful until we got off the highway near our destination. The engine temperature skyrocketed. By the time I arrived at my mother’s place I was to overheat (didn’t push it, light came on literally as we pulled into the parking lot of her condo). That was a Tuesday.

    Took it to a mechanic on Wednesday. Failed a hydrocarbon test miserably, blown headgasket and pushing exhaust gases into the coolant, which now looked like chocolate milk. Told them I needed to drive it back to Seattle on Sunday. Got looks of horror. They replaced the coolant, dumped alumaseal in it, and drilled a hole through the thermostat to allow the exhaust gases to circulate. When given the keys was told, “give us a call on Monday, we’re real curious on what will happen.”

    Sunday we leave and death drive back to Seattle, including some brutal stop and go traffic. I remember when I got to 100 miles away from home I was massively relieved, I was now within the radius of my auto insurance for a tow covered back to my house.

    We made it.

    Epilogue: Drove the van another 12 months and 10,000 miles, blown headgasket and all. I got REAL good at “burping” the coolant system when hot. Don’t try this at home kids, good way to get killed. I then sold the van, full dislcosure of the condition for — $1900.

    Come to think of it, I never did call the mechanic to tell them I limped the van home.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @APaGttH – another good story.

      A buddy of mine told me a story where he had bought a 60’s era Econoline van. The “dog house” was basically slightly behind/middle of the driver and passenger seat. He knew it burned some oil but it didn’t appear to be too bad when he bought it. He wasn’t too far into his trip when clouds of blue smoke filled the road behind him. He limped on until the next small town. The engine was almost dry of oil. He grabbed all of the waste oil and even some new oil from the gas station and filled the back of the van. He drove and his passenger spent the rest of the trip pouring oil into the engine. He got the van home and probably killed a few billion insects along the way.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        HAHAHAHAHA! Fantastic story!

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          Keep them coming both of you!

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            This isn’t a “family trip” story but one I took with 2 buddies. It was supposed to be a weekend fishing trip. My friend had a Toyota Landcruiser with a winch on it. We put a 12 ft. aluminum boat on the roof loaded up and left. Being young, most of the supplies were beer and more beer. We were pretty well hammered by the time we drove an hour down a logging road. We took the wrong turn to the fishing hole and ended up on a winter logging road. Those roads are only used when the ground is frozen. We got stuck for 2 days. The closest rural farm would have been 30 miles away. Luckily 2 dudes in a Toyota 4×4 truck showed up. This was back in the day when that was all they called it. LOL (Pre- Tacoma etc). He could not budge the buried TLC. They gave us a ride back into town. We went back the next day with another Toyota 4×4 and a Ford HD diesel along with chains, cables, block and tackle and all of the other stuff one should always have. We had to winch further into the quagmire just to get onto solid enough ground to turn around. We got within reach of the HD Ford when the 2nd battery we put in the TLC died. We started pulling it with the Ford but the winch-line broke. It flew like broken rubber band and made a mess of my buddy’s tailgate.
            Luckily no one got hurt and we all got home. We learned a lot that weekend. My brother was a Forester responsible for the roads in that region. He was pizzed off and chewed us all out for wrecking his road… oh…and leaving beer cans all over the place.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Went out West in my 73 Chevelle Deluxe sedan with a 350 V8 in late Summer 1975 with my older brother after I graduated from college. The car was light yellow with moon caps and black wall tires and looked a lot like the highway patrol cars in New Mexico and Arizona. We were doing between 100 and 110 mph and we noticed cars slowing down and pulling over to let us by. We didn’t realize until latter that the Chevelle looked similar to the patrol cars. On the same trip coming back we were in West Texas and I had just passed an old 64 Chevy Impala full of guys (they appeared to be roughnecks on a drilling rig) when all of the sudden they were on my bumper and my brother told me to give it some more gas which I did. That 64 Chevy as well gave it some more gas and then slowed down all of the sudden with a big black cloud of smoke. I felt bad but my brother and I laughed.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @Jeff S – My mother had a blue early ’80’s Chrysler Lebaron 4 door. It looked very similar to the blue Dodge Diplomat cop cars of the era. At the time I had a haircut and mustache right out of the RCMP rule books.
      I had borrowed her car because my truck was down for repairs. I had gone out on the town and was heading home around 3 AM. I saw this sketchy looking dude lugging a rather heavy gym bag. He saw me and panicked. Cops say that a “perp’ will always bolt down the first right alley that they encounter. True to form that is what this guy did. I realized what was happening and deliberately started cycling the high beam lights to mimic police “wig-wags”.
      The dude started flinging stolen goods over fences at full run. He then almost killed himself scaling a chain link fence. His t-shirt snagging on the top. I could see the gouges on his belly as he slid down the other side.
      I drove home smugly happy with that chain of events.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Somewhat off topic, but relates to Lou_BCs comment. In the 80’s I worked for a Tier 1 automotive supplier. I worked for the consumer products side and I frequently had to go on press checks (checking the print quality of our outsourced packaging). We had a motor pool of mostly GM midsizers, but they had one strippo specfication Chevy Impala.

        I took that car whenever I could, as it looked like an unmarked Pennsylvania State Police car. I would wear mirrored sunglasses and a dark blue jacket and the traffic would part when I approached at speed. I could routinely drive at 15 over speed limits and no one bothered me.

        I was so sad when that car rotated out of the motor pool and was replaced with a Celebrity…

        • 0 avatar
          whydidithavetobecars

          My dad worked for the local utility. As a manager, he got a company car. Execs got the fancy ones, burgundy or blue or whatever with vinyl tops and velour interiors. Managers got the stripper models. In about 1974, he got a new Dodge Monaco sedan. White with blue vinyl. Same car as the state patrol, same color inside and out, antennas galore, company logo on the door was the same style and color as the WSP logo. I loved it. My dad was a very mild guy, but he thought that car was great. He always smiled when he talked about his commute home, and how people would pull over or slow down to let him by.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @geozinger – a buddy of mine was a fleet manager for the RCMP. He got to fly to Vancouver and pick up new police cars and drive them home. It was a 500 mile trip. He loved it. He’d play with the on board radar and watch people panic brake when their radar detectors would go off.
          He almost got in trouble once. He was on the freeway massively north of the posted speed limit and ran through a speed trap. Fortunately for him he was well acquainted with police radio jargon. He got an ear full over the radio without getting pulled over. If they knew that he was a civilian and not a member, he would have been in serious trouble.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Some interesting events there… puts what I’m about to say to shame… but still embarrassing (for my Dad.)

    I’m still a kid, around 11 years old or so and my Dad had been working his tail off to try and save enough money for us to take a family trip to visit the in-Laws (my mother’s parents) outside of Omaha, NE. The day finally comes and the three of us pile into the family hauler, a 1963 white Chevy Impala sedan. The car’s only 2 or 3 years old so no concern was given to preparing the car for a 1000-mile road trip from Chattanooga, TN. That is… until we start to climb Monteagle Mountain (US 64 towards Nashville) and a radiator hose lets go. we reach the top of the mountain and the garage just happens to be within a mile or so of a Chevy dealer, where the hose gets replaced… eating up some of that precious, saved, money.

    Fat, dumb and happy (ok, I wasn’t fat at the time and neither were my parents) we head down the mountain towards Nashville and points beyond. No problems at all, until we hit the outskirts of Nashville. You got it, another hose break… this time the main hose at the top of the radiator. Fortunately, we find another garage and get a repair… and more than half the saved money now spent just traveling 1/10th of the way. Dad grumbles about, “One more breakdown and we won’t be able to complete the trip OR return home!”

    Fortunately, the car finished the trip and grandpa paid to have the remaining hoses and engine belts replaced and enough extra money to ensure we arrived back home, even with fuel and food stops.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      There was a time when virtually every gas station was a “mom and pop” operation with a mechanic. In some respects I miss those days.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Aye. Me too. Problem is trying to find an honest one these days. My late mother used a garage about a mile from the house and they cheated her horribly. They ended up getting screwed when my mother died, though; I’d called them to inspect the car for her and they actively started repairs without permission—then she passed away out from under them and they ended up having to buy the car from the estate for twice what they were going to charge her for those repairs (almost $5000 total.) Still, it was a reasonably clean and low-mileage ’04 Caddy so they might have gotten their money back.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        “There was a time when virtually every gas station was a “mom and pop” operation with a mechanic. In some respects I miss those days.”

        I kinda – sorts miss those dayze, in the early 1979’s I was a gas jockey at a tiny Arco filling station with three pumps and 11 or so service bays, the under construction i210 freeway ended nearby so we got lots and lots of those stranded / lost travelers .

        After the freeway was finished we had the VW Shop a block off the same freeway and it was amazing how many VW Typ II’s loaded with pot died nearby….

        We’d fix ’em up and get ;em back on the road PDQ .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    JMII

    Two things in one trip from FL to WV for Xmas:

    In an overnight stay in SC the windshield iced up, but we had no scraper. No problem Dad just used the credit card. Well you can guess what happened. Yep it snapped in half. So for the rest of the trip it was nothing but terrible fast food.

    Then in NC we missed a turn and went about 50 miles in the wrong direction. This made Dad very grumpy.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      The other week I went to test drive a car, and the sales person – a lovely young kid, actually – just took me around the block. I explained I needed a highway car, so I’d appreciate the opportunity to take it up to 90 mph just for a minute or to. Onto I-90, but he sent us the wrong way. Next exit was 30 miles down. Test drive took an hour. Braking test revealed a shaking steering wheel the like of which I had only read about in the internets.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Oh the ’70’s, when cars were crap and dads were men.
    Mom, Dad and I were out for a two-week trip into Wisconsin and Minnesota- not very far considering we are from Chicago.
    Dad’s ’74 Dodge Dart Sport (the Duster body, not the Swinger body) dropped a left tie rod end on US 51 going highway speed. Fortunately, he maintained control and pulled over. He used an old wire coat hanger to reattach the tie rod end to the steering knuckle.
    After that, Dad misses a turnoff in the dark and doesn’t realize it for many miles. Unfortunately, this being the middle of Wisconsin in the middle of the night in 1978, there was no gas available for a long way. Longer than the Dart had gas to go. Dad and I walked about 17 miles to get a can of gas, fortunately the mechanic there gave us a ride back.
    Up by my uncle’s Supper Club in the North Woods, both families were going somewhere in both cars. My Dad’s kid brother, being a dufus, ramps it up to 75 while Dad is following. The 3-speed manual Dart tried, but could not keep up. When we got to our destination and got out, the old Slant-6 sounded like a washing machine filled with ball bearings.
    In Minnesota, Dad somehow managed to get not one, not two, but three flat tires on the same day. Not all in the same place, but many miles apart. Mom did him no favors by asking why he didn’t carry three spares.
    And then, at the end of the trip, on I-90 less than a hundred miles from our lovely Land of Lincoln, the Slant-6 lets go, and I mean FUBAR. I learned about how the inside of an engine looks because it was all on the outside.
    Funny thing, my folks and I only went on a handful of road trips, and never very far away, yet it was always a harrowing ordeal. As a dad I’ve taken my family all over the country and while there have been challenges, we were always able to get them solved quickly and continue on.
    Which makes me wonder- how in the hell did they manage to do this back in the ’30’s or ’40’s?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The other story I have is when my family was moving from Dayton, OH to Houston, TX in late August of 1958. Our 57 Chrysler Windsor overheated in Texarkana and lost its fan belt. We were in an unairconditioned garage for several hours few things were air conditioned in the late 50’s including our car. I was 6 at the time and since I was number 3 son I sat in the middle of the backseat. My mother cried and said my father had brought her to Hell and it was hot enough to be Hell. That fall my father bought a new 59 Plymouth Sport Suburban 9 passenger station wagon with factory air. I believe to this day between the heat and the fighting between all of us boys that my mother convinced my father to get a station wagon with factory air. I didn’t mind having the rear facing 3rd seat to myself. I remember that Chrysler sat fairly low to the ground and the rear seat was uncomfortable. Also the Chrysler was plagued with problems as late reported Chrysler rushed to market with lots of issues. My father later said he wished he had gotten a Chevy but my mother liked the dual headlights and the push button drive.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I don’t have too many memories of disasters while traveling as a family. I seemed to have most of them happen when I was alone. One bad day was in about 1961, when we were traveling from Toledo to Chicago, as we did every summer until my dad died in ’73. We were driving our year old ’60 Chrysler New Yorker, all black, inside and out. My mom really loved that car. We decided to leave earlier than normal, and set out around 6am. We hit the Indiana border about 7am, and we were going along at my dad’s usual 75MPH, when there was what appeared to be a bunch of broken glass on the road. My sister, who was 11, said, “Dad? What is that stuff?”, and my dad laid on the brakes, but it was too late, he ran over it and it was some sort of broken up part of something big. It was jagged steel pieces, each about the size of a penny. All four tires were ripped up, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the gas tank had a hole in it, and it was hot as hell. and the Indiana Troopers called some place to bring up 4 new tires forgot to tell them our gas tank was punctured and we would soon be pretty much dry. So we stood over in the grass off the shoulder, and after about an hour, all the drinks and stuff we brought were gone. About a half hour after that, the truck shows up with 4 tires he changed them and we got in to drive back to the tire shop, so the wheels could be balanced and the tank patched. The tire kid got under the car, which appeared to be peeing gas and said, “I think you can make it back to the shop with what you have!”. Of course, we didn’t even make it two miles and it was out of gas. A tow truck took us to the tire store, where the owner patched the tank himself and helped the kid, his 18 year old son, do the balancing. He didn’t charge us for the tow or the patching of the tank, and the trip to Chicago went off without any problems. We stayed for 5 days, and on the way back, the car sealed it’s fate when the alternator seized up just as we got on the Skyway out of town. It was the second one it had eaten since the warranty expired and about a year later, it was gone, replaced with a hideous corroded copper green ’63 New Yorker, which my mother denied ever owning for decades until I found the pic I had taken of the rear tailights. “Oh, that car!”. It kind of killed the love my mom had for Mopars, but it would take my dad’s ’68 Imperial to kill his love of them. It had endless electrical issues from day one.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Disappointing to hear about that ’68. I know Chrysler Corp had axed the unique Imperial chassis for ’67, but the ’67-’68 doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad recipe: longer wheelbase vs the platform-mate New Yorker, unique body panels, higher-quality interior. I.e., it wasn’t Roger Smith-style badge engineering. It sounds like your family lost out on the quality control lottery (which, when you’re paying what your dad would have paid for that car, is not an acceptable outcome).

      The ’67 Imperial Crown Coupe is one of Leno’s more interesting installments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMtsCfYZlog

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Autumn 1976. I thought it would be a nifty idea to take my older brother on a trip to Canada in my freshly restored 1965 Corvair Monza convertible. Top down, one drove, the other took pictures..great idea except:

    Flywheels on the manual transmission cars were a 3 piece sandwich affair, riveted something like 16 places around the outside. After a few years the rivets work loose and the quick fix for a rattling flywheel at the time was to arc weld it all together.

    What I didn’t know was that defeated the vibration damping that was baked into the original design.

    So we left the Bay Area, up to Vancouver, across the great Canadian highway to Banff, then down into Idaho. Trip was great so far.

    Down in the bell housing near Lowell, ID (1 motel, 1 bar, 1 gas station and nothing else), I heard and felt a horrible pounding noise. We pulled over and started removing the tinware and top crankcase cover to find….a broken crankshaft.

    So the recovery plan was to have Bro fly down to the Bay Area, grab his ’62 Loadside truck with all of 102 horsepower, rent a bumper mounted tow bar and drive back up to Lowell and tow me home.

    Imagine a tail heavy 2700 lb car being towed with a 102HP rear engine Corvair truck through the Siskiyous…It’s a wonder we made it home alive, but we did. The worst part of the trip was waiting the 3 days in Lowell for my brother to get back…absolutely NOTHING to do in that burg.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My middle brother totalled the 59 Plymouth and then we had a 59 Buick LeSabre wagon which we found out later had been flooded in a hurricane. After that it was a 64 Impala 9 passenger wagon, a 62 Chevy II, a 72 Cadillac Sedan Deville, 77 Impala 6 passenger wagon, and to my surprise my mother bought an 84 5th Avenue which I got just before she died which happened to be a good car (all new except the 59 Buick and 77 Impala wagon). For some reason my parents never owned a Ford nor would both my maternal and paternal grandparents. My brothers and I have owned Fords. It is interesting how much brand loyalty people had which for the most part you don’t see as much of unless it’s pickup owners and some Toyota owners.

  • avatar

    Family road trip sans one – our youngest son. We were caravan-ing with our oldest son from central IA to Grand Rapids MI where he was to attend college. The year – 2005. The vehicles – a 95 Escort wagon and a late 80’s Grand Am. Fairly uneventful as trips go. We both got fuel at some point in IL. Somewhere close to Hope MI the Escort starts sputtering and then dies. I coast to the shoulder and stop. Tried twice to restart, but no go. I decide that I will need to have the car towed somewhere close by for repair. We piled into the Grand Am and drove to the nearest auto place to get an idea of a shop/tow service we could contact. Looking through the phone book one caught my eye. Copied down their number and address, I gave them a call. We did not have a cell phone so I could not give a contact number to the folks who would ultimately work on the Escort.

    The issue had put us off our intended route via MapQuest so I improvised. We headed off in the general direction eventually connecting to a street/road that was on my turn for turn from MQ. As we headed south the Grand Am started sputtering. I encouraged my son to forge on. By my reckoning we were perhaps 2 miles out from our destination.

    Then it happened. Sounding like we had acquired a much larger engine, there was a rumble accompanied by other noises and “Voila” the exhaust pipe from the manifold back lay behind us. My son, in tears by this point, drove on with me trying to console him.

    “Shouldn’t we stop and pick the exhaust pipe up?”
    “No! Keep going as we don’t know, at this point, if we will be able to restart the Pontiac should the engine quit on us”. (it was still running very rough.)

    We got to the entrance of the college and got into the closest parking space we could see. We had just made the arrival time my son was supposed to be there by. I quickly told him not to worry (like that was going to happen) and I would take care of everything. Off he went to orientation; off my wife and I went to find lodging and start arranging the necessary things to take care of the Pontiac, the Escort and ourselves.

    We got a room at the on campus hotel and I walked a lot. First to get a pre-paid phone card and then back to campus. Food at this point was not even a thought. Our son was involved with a community service project all first year students undertake and would not be able to be contacted for 2 days or so. When the college knew of our plight we were invited to attend an welcome back event which took care of the food issue. The college and it’s staff were as helpful as they could be considering all the other things that was engaging their attention.

    Long story short, we ended up with a rental car, got the Grand Am fixed (fouled injector which required replacement), aside from the hotels provided free breakfast (which I took great advantage of) one of the employees got food for us occasionally from any leftovers from events there at that facility, called in to my workplace every day to let them know I would not be in as I was stranded in Grand Rapids (Yeah, I know, but if I didn’t call in I would have been let go) and were reunited with our son. The Escort needed a whole “new” engine. My trying to start it after it died – along with the incident itself – had damaged the engine beyond repair. While I cannot remember accurately now, I believe the timing belt had broken.

    Drove the Escort home (“new” engine) with a power steering leak that the shop could not get fixed and lived to tell the tale. They had given us several containers of power steering fluid so I could replenish the pump as needed. I know it sounds like a totally bad experience, but there were things that happened during and after that were great blessings. Would I want to go through that again? No. But I did make it through the one time hopeful for tomorrow.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Cruising through upstate NY five years ago on our way from Niagara to Virginia when BAM, a stupid suicidal deer jumped out of a clump of trees right in front of me. I had my tween daughter and niece with me; they were distraught for the poor deer and not my now dysfunctional, wrecked Trooper. We are in the middle of nowhere. Get a wrecker, find a motel (the kind where the dining room is also the town’s City Hall and bar). No rental cars within 100 miles. I’m normally not much of a drinker but I was heavily that night. My brother drove up from Virginia to pick us up, and I later had the Trooper delivered to his home in CT for repair. Overall a very harrowing, expensive adventure.

    Funny thing is I grew up in the northeast, and in 25 years of living there I never even had a close call with a deer. Since then I’ve met 2… one right off the national seashore refuge in Corpus, and this one in NY. I don’t care to meet another.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Dad’s 1981(?) Oldsmobile 98 broke down in Orangeburg, SC – and the dealership didn’t have the part in stock to fix it. So we got to spend a few exciting days in a place we didn’t want to be; seeing the sites like bee-infested rose gardens… and uh… all while stuck in a seedy hotel with two of my brothers. I’m surprised how well my parents took it.

    or the car accident we had in Tennessee; someone pulled out right in front of my dad. He had to nail the brakes, all while slinging his right arm over the seat to stop me from flying. There was a third car involved, one that we hit while the scofflaw kept on going even though he caused the accident. Minor fender bender but it put the damper on the day and the old man’s mood.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    We were coming back from Penn State in our 1984 Ford E-150 conversion van sometime around 1990. I think it was a few miles before the New Stanton exit of the PA turnpike, so almost home, when then van started swaying after a corner. Then there was a bang, a lurch and a lot of noise. Dad pulled it safely to the side of the road, the van now obviously sitting in an odd manner. Turns out the right rear tire departed the van, shearing the lug nuts with it and creasing the rear fender.

    All 5 of us were in the van for at least an hour. My Dad hooked up the CB radio to call for help. At some point, a kindly truck driver picked up my Dad and drove him to the rest stop where he called for a tow truck. He also called my uncle, his brother in law, who came to pick up my mother, sister,brother and I and take us home in his baby blue Pontiac Parisienne while Dad stayed with the van until a tow truck came. Seven people in that large blue Pontiac, and we aren’t a small family.

    Sadly, since he passed in April, I’ll never get a chance to ask him, as an adult, what went wrong and what he was thinking then. I know he mentioned something once that there was a problem with those vans with corrosion of the lug nuts or something. Dad didn’t use a torque wrench though, so that could have been a culprit too ;)


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