5 do-it-yourself emergency roadside repairs

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

dabfcaef1ff34b46860e7a2826b48608The sickly sweet smell of hot coolant is never a good sign. It typically signals that a hose is blown and that your car isn’t going anywhere, bad news when you’re, say, on the side of the road somewhere in rural South Dakota and you have no cell phone reception. In such an emergency, you have two choices: Wait for a tow truck or a good Samaritan to pass by, or fix the problem yourself. With just some basic tools and ingenuity, you can be rolling again quickly. Click through for tips and temporary solutions to five common problems that could leave you stranded on the roadside.

Tool Kit

Roadside repair is easier with some basic tools and supplies. A pair of small locking pliers, plus a length of soft wire and a flat roll of duct tape. To this, we would add wire snips, tie wraps, a good multitool with a sharp knife, Rescue Tape and electrical tape, a rag and a flashlight.

Broken Window

Duct tape and a plastic trash bag can cover a broken window until you can get it repaired. If available, use a 3-millimeter “contractor” trash bag, which is three times thicker than a typical garbage bag. Cut the bag to fit the window frame. Secure the top edge with tape, then put a length of tape on the bottom edge and try to pull it taut before sealing it down. If it’s tight, it will last longer and make less noise. Then tape down the sides.

Blown Radiator Hose

If the radiator hose blows toward the end of its length, it may be possible to unclamp the hose, cut that portion off, put the clamp back on and reattach the hose. Otherwise, patch the hose by wrapping it with self-fusing silicone Rescue Tape, which can withstand pressure to 700 pounds per square inch and temperatures to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Let everything cool down first, and then wipe the hose so the tape gets a better bond. You’ll want to top off the radiator with a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water, but water will do in a bind.

Dragging Exhaust

The sparks look cool at night, but a dangling pipe could catch on the roadway and be torn completely from the car, along with other, more costly parts. The exhaust system usually is suspended from the car with rubber hangers, which can dry out over time and break. They can be easily replaced with some stout wire — a coat hanger is classic. Let the exhaust cool down before you work. Be sure your wire is not touching moving parts, such as the drive shaft, and do not attach it to brake lines or electrical wiring.

Blown Heater Hose

About the size of a garden hose, the heater hoses carry coolant from the engine to the heater core, located on the firewall or under the dash. They can deteriorate, fail and spew coolant. If a heater hose blows near its end, try to cut off the hose and reattach it. If you don’t have Rescue Tape or the fitting has failed, simply cut the hose at the firewall, bend it over in the middle like you are kinking a garden hose, and secure it with tie wraps. You’ll need to do this to both hoses. Now coolant will stay in the engine. Top off the radiator ASAP.

Stuck Lug Nuts

You can’t change a flat tire if the lug nuts are stuck, whether due to corrosion or a grease monkey who torqued them on too tight with an impact wrench. The first trick is to position your lug wrench parallel to the ground and pointing to your left, and then stand on it. Your weight will often break the nut free. If that doesn’t work, put a 10-inch section of water pipe over the end of the lug wrench. It’ll extend the wrench handle and give you more leverage.


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