Here we are, in New Mexico. Most of my posts on this blog will be about RVs and RVing, but the need came up to take a trip to Florida to see my father in law. He’s in poor health, and since we won’t have our RV for at least another 4 months or so, we decided to get out to Florida now instead of waiting.
The question became – how to get out there? We looked into flying, but want to take our dog with us. Flying with the dog is expensive, and sounded like a real pain in the neck. Taking a train or bus sounded like it would be just as big of a problem as flying with the dog. Then it popped into my head – why not just do a car trip? I mentioned the idea to Laura, half expecting her to say no way. She loved the idea.
The car we have is the only reason I didn’t consider this first. It’s old. We are driving our 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. It’s low mileage for a 2001 car, thanks to proximity to my old job. It just turned 79,000 miles pretty recently. I bought this car brand new, using my GM Employee discount – a legacy from the time when GM owned Hughes Aircraft Company, which they continue to renew. Guess they need the customers.
The Pontiac looks pretty good inside and out, mainly because it’s spent most of the time either in the garage, or in parking structures at work. This car has rarely been in the sun for very long.
The car has had some problems, and some recent work. It has a supercharger which started leaking fluid. I could smell it….this fluid is an unusual oil that really stinks when it gets hot. I did some research on the internet and found that the supercharger could be rebuilt pretty easily, so I decided the go down that road myself. Now that I’m retired I have the time, and although it’s been a few years, I’ve done a lot of car work in the past. I used to be somewhat of a gear head when my job wasn’t keeping me late all the time.
As I was getting ready to pull the supercharger off of the engine, I saw that I had a mixture of oil and antifreeze leaking out around my intake manifold. Not great. I dived back onto the internet and started researching that problem. I didn’t like what I found. Ignoring that problem could eventually lead to water in the engine oil and hydro lock. I’ve rebuilt an engine before (a 400 cu in Ford V8 that was in a truck I used to own). That was back when I had a single family house with a three car garage. It would be tough to do at our condo. The good news – I found great instructions on replacing the lower intake manifold gasket, and I didn’t have to pull the engine out of the car to do it. It is possible to do that job at the condo – I can back the car into the garage and have enough room to work in the engine compartment.
What caused the problem? This makes me mad. GM decided to save a few dollars per car on their 3800 Series V6 engines by using a plastic intake manifold gasket instead of a metal one. These gaskets get too hot, and they always fail eventually. This usually happens between 70,000 and 80,000 miles (gee, fancy that, just like clockwork). Up in Canada, the government forced GM to recall all of these bad engines. The US Government didn’t do this. Urrrgggg. This engine was widely used in Pontiac and Buick mid-sized cars. Other than this problem, the car has been great – probably the best car I’ve ever had, and certainly the most fun to drive. It’s like a little muscle car. Mileage around town isn’t great, especially if you drive it hard, but on the open road I get 27-29 mpg.
I tore into the job of fixing both the intake manifold gasket and supercharger, and replaced a lot of other small things that made sense while I had it taken apart – belts, thermostat, vacuum hoses, and the like. Of course I used a metal intake manifold gasket on the job, so I should not have this problem again. The job took about a week to do, but I could probably do it in about 2-3 days now that I know how.
Shortly after this job got done, I had the front tires and brakes replaced, as well as the right front wheel bearing, which was just starting to make noise. The left front wheel bearing had been changed out about a year ago. Bottom line, this car is probably in the best shape it will ever be. Good time for a road trip.
We just finished our second day of driving. So far, so good. The car is running great. It likes to run fast. I have to pay attention to keep it under 90 mph. We’ve been running 75-85 mph most of the way. We still have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic that the Pontiac will get us all the way to Florida and back without any major issues.