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What Was Your Worst Mechanical Failure?


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Define worst; size, severity, distance from home, improbability, diagnostic time, cost to repair?

Exactly what I was thinking!

 

I've had a few, I'm having trouble picking out what was worst.  Fortunately, none are MJ related, but I do have a few Jeep related ones:

 

1) Probably the scariest one was in a '53 M38A1.  It had a 350 out of a 69 Camaro SS and the seats, instruments and steering column were out of an early 70's Trans Am. It also had an Stewart Warner ammeter... all installed by a previous owner.  One night, driving down US 17 in North Carolina between New Bern & Jacksonville, I noticed a light show going on under the dash - complete with sparks.  In an attempt to cut the electrical power, I shut off the key and hit the brakes figuring I would pull to the shoulder and take the ammeter out of the system.  Problems escalated when I turned the key off and the steering locked.  The Jeep was drifting past the shoulder and in my panic, I couldn't get the key to turn back to on.  The Jeep went down into the ditch, up the other side and ~100' into a corn field before things came to a halt.

 

I was able to take the ammeter out of the system and get back on the road before anyone showed up to see what I was doing in a corn field (the corn wasn't very tall yet, so I kinda stood out - other than it being pretty dark).

 

2) Coast to Coast - or is it Cost to Cost:  This one isn't really one failure, but more a trip from hell.  In Dec, 1979, I was discharged from the USMC in Jacksonville NC and owned the Jeep above.  The Jeep needed a new top badly, especially if I was going to drive it from NC to WA in the winter.  A Jeep dealer in SC had ads in the 4x4 magazines for new tops at bargain prices, so I decided to drive down there and get a new top before heading towards home.  That went pretty uneventful, and from there I headed to Poplar Bluff, MO where my grandma lived and then up to the St. Louis area to spend Christmas with my aunts and uncles and my mom who'd flown out.  It was my intention to drive from SC to MO straight through.  A couple hours east of Poplar Bluff it started to snow hard and ice kept building up on my wipers.  I had to stop often to break the ice off.  In between one of these periods of time, my driver's side wiper decided to depart the scene, so I swapped the passenger wiper over to the drivers side and suffered through the tunnel vision of the one little spot and the lame heater old Jeeps are known for on to grandma's place.  (At least the fenderwell headers kept the floor warm.)

 

The next day, I thought I should go out and do a little Christmas shopping and headed towards the shopping disctrict.  As I was a descending a hill, some old lady pulls out in front of me in a big Olds Delta 88 and damn near comes to a stop in front of me,  I hit the brakes hard, but the hill was covered in compact snow and the left rear corner of the Jeep stepped out, crossed the centerline and struct a Missouri Natural Gas Utility pickup.

 

Day after that headed up to visit with the rest of the family (grandma came up, too) and noticed the rear axle was howling.  One of my uncles owned a repair shop, so we pulled it in and checked it out.  Replaced all the bearings in the axle, put new brakes on all the way around and threw some new shocks on, too.

 

After Christmas, I continued on towards home with a stop planned for Canon City, CO to visit one of my Marine buddies who had been discharged a few months before.  In Western Kansas, the Jeep started howling again, this time from the transmission area.  Had the oil level checked at a gas station. it was fine, so I continued on towards my friend's.  It was pretty white and cold in Canon City and my friend lived in a trailer park with no garage or carport.  I didn't want to rebuild the trans outside, so I took the Jeep in to a shop and several days and serval hundred dollars later had a freshened up T-86/89/90.  Made it on home to WA after that without any further issues, but a couple of days after I was home, my dad asked me why my Jeep was leaking oil on his driveway... so the t-case came out and got rebuilt, too... but at least I had a garage to work in.

 

3) Bad Luck/Good Luck: Coming home from a wheeling trip in Eastern Washington in my '71 CJ5, nursing a clutch I knew was getting tired, just as I was cresting the summit of Steven's Pass on US 2, there was a sudden BANG!  I coasted down the western side of the pass for several miles, trying to minimize a tow bill, how far I'd have to walk to a phone, etc.  When it finally quit rolling and stopped I was still several miles from the nearest phone (no cell phones in those days).  I also had my wife and youngest daughter with me.  We had some snacks and lunch goodies in a paper grocery bag, so I emptied the bag, opened the hood and took the cap off the PS pump's reservior and made a sign, "TOW OR PHONE" and stood next to the Jeep with my two girls.  Traffic was light that day and I was sure I'd end up walking to a pay phone, but withing a few minutes a guy in a F350 stopped.  We hitched up the CJ's tow bar to the truck and he towed me to my brother-in-law's place ~50 miles away.  My BIL towed me on home with his motorhome. 

 

4) Bad Luck/More Bad Luck:  Out wheeling in a local ORV Park (Walker Valley for those familiar with western WA) in my 86 XJ (prior to much modding - on 31's with a budget boost and a front Lock-Rite w/disabled CAD).  I was almost to the top (~80%) of a long, steep, rough climb when I ran out of traction.  Backed down a little to take another shot and repeated a couple more times.  On the last attempt, was trying to apply the "more speed" method, got a little off the preferred line, hit a sharp step in the trail hard enough to get a little air with the back tires.  When they came down, an orchestra of noises went off and I started rolling backwards down the hill.  The brakes weren't very effective going down that grade backwards, but I did finally get it to a halt.

Sum of the damage: two broken motor mounts, broken t-case mount, disengaged driveshaft that was also dented and bent and a radiator leaking its contents. The 2.8V6 was trying to copy it's FWD cousins and was as close to transversely mounted as it could be under the hood of an XJ.

A buddy towed me home on the end of my tow strap.  After fixing what I thought was all the damage, I found out the t-case was now shot from being towed home with the front shaft turning.  Turns out NP207's don't turn their oil pump unless the rear shaft is turning.  (I did have a shipping cap I installed to keep it from loosing oil whe the rear shaft was out.)

 

Those are the ones that stand out right now...

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I have owned my truck longer than probably anyone on this forum.  I recall taking the MJ into the back field and getting stuck in a small ditch about 2 ft across and 1'deep and wet.  I couldn't understand what went wrong.  Then I found that the switch that activates the 4wd went bad.  It cost me $30 for repairs IIRC.  That and a sensor went out a couple of years ago causing rough idle.  Other than that, so far so good.  They are absolutely bulletproof.

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1.) Lost the brakes in my 59 Mercedes 220S due to a hose/line leak.  I could fill the master and I'd be good for about 3 "braking incidents".  I drove it home from the east side of Yosemite N.P. to San Jose just using gears (about 200-250 miles), down & up shifting, the e-brake and dumb luck.  I also made the trip at 1:00 am thru 5:30 am.  No traffic.  Fixed the brake line...actually ALL the lines...and drove it for another 4-5 years.

 

2.) Engine seized in my VW squareback.  Looked like a James Bond smokescreen.  I junked that car.

 

3.) 1990 Jeep XJ...popped a tranny cooler hose on a trail about 25-30 miles from the nearest paved road...about 50 miles from any town.  I did not know about it until the Jeep just stopped moving.  Under hood looked like a murder scene.  After 5 hours I was lucky enough to reach a friend on my cell after hiking up to the top of the hill.  A friend showed up with a case of Dex III.  It took 8 quarts, so it was empty before it actually stopped.  That tranny is still in service and doing great over 100K miles later.

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Mm. Forgot about one. I was about four miles from home, and popped a brake line in my dad's Chevy Van. Thing is, though, I was also 1200 feet above home. And separating me from home was some of the steepest, twistiest, gravel road I've ever encountered. Many blind corners. Posted speed limit is 12mph. The hill had been freshly graded so was very loose. It has also rained a couple inches that morning, so the loose gravel was basically mud. And I had no brakes coming into the first corner at 45 mph (the speed limit is 40 until right at the top of the hill). Did I mention that the road cut down along the side of a ravine as the easiest way down? And that the only thing separating me from a 700 foot plunge pretty well straight down was a 50 year old wooden gaurdrail and a couple shrubs? I dropped the auto tranny into 2nd from 3rd (Drive) which was enough to break the back end loose or else I would have gone all the way to first. Somehow I managed to hang onto it going sideways around the corner, dropped it into first to keep the back end out and wrestled it around the next corner (a switchback in the other direction, this time pointed straight into a cliff, not off one). After that the road straightened out a bit and I was slowed down well enough that I wasn't sliding any more, so I coasted the rest of the way down the hill in first gear.

 

Probably the most butt-puckering ride I've ever had in a vehicle. Right when I hit the brakes and they went to the floor, I passed a vehicle going the other way. Right after I got the van pointed straight down the road again I passed another vehicle going the other way. If I'd been a couple seconds earlier or later, I probably would have pushed someone else over the edge. Despite it being a nasty stretch of gravel road, it was still a fairly well-travelled stretch of "highway" in a national park. Brakes are useful things.

Two weeks later I bought my MJ. My dad replaced only the rusted out line that blew, and is still driving that van. In fact I drove it 1200 miles and then back through the mountains with my family for our Christmas vacation this year... if I'd remembered that, I might have been a little more hesitant...

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I had my ex-wife get mad and shove the shifter into reverse, but it skidded then locked into park and the motor/trans rotated under the hood several times before punching the hood and floor.

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Headed out for the weekend with 33' fifth wheel in tow behind the big beast. New engine at about 1000 miles, just cruising down the freeway when it started to run rough. Pushed in the clutch and the Cummins died. Popped clutch, it came back to life and I worked over to the exit all the while things were getting worse in the shaking department. I clutched it again, it died again but I was the right lane and coasting to the off ramp. Luckily the off ramp was downhill, the light at the bottom went green, thinking if I could coax it back to life, I could make the turn then pull over on a side street. Popped the clutch again, the duals slid and we came to a sudden stop. Turns out they put the wrong bearings on the mains...

Its now about 35,000 miles on the second rebuild, it is smooth as silk and purrs like a kitten. Yea, they paid for the second rebuild.

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  • 1 month later...
 

2 weeks before a cross-country drive and this happened:


Too bad! Looks like I need to find a motor!

 

24hrs later and Craigslist provides a '98 TJ engine with some mods (incl. 2-piece ex. manifold) on the stand and ready to go. $800 takes it.

 

Gotta swap the oil pan, oil intake and oil filter adapter, PS, AC & ALT brackets, WP pulley, tensioner, engine mounts, flexplate and some other stuff.

Also as many new seals and gaskets as I could justify:

 

The new power plant was a huge improvement, and having the entire drivetrain out gave me the chance to easily do a ton of other work that needed to get done. Like Bob Ross said: "There are no mistakes, only happy accidents".

 

Now it's my wife's DD.

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I was 16. My brother had this supercharged Nova street car that would run 9's on slicks. It had a Muncie M22 4 speed with a vertigate shifter. As probably only 3 of us actually remember those shifters a vertigate is a manual transmission shifter where everything is in-line so the shifter does does not move to the side. It was faster than a standard shifter. You would pull up on this little scissor handle thing and go forward and up for 1st gear. Holding up on the finger holes and pulling straight backwards got you 2nd gear. Dropping the finger hole handle and going forward again got you 3rd and then coming straight back got you 4th. Everything was in a vertical line and that is what gave it its name. 1st/3rd and 2nd/4th where in the same place on the shifter except that the other handle kept the rails pulled up into a different position when you pulled up on it.  You only had to pull back or go forward about 4" for any shift. To engage reverse you left the shifter in neutral and flipped a small rod that was shaped like a capital R that was on the rear of the shifter. The rest of the shifter had nothing to do with reverse.

 

I had just turned 16 and only had my temps. My brother, who is 12 years older and had been known to have a drink now and then, taunted me into doing a burn-out in his Nova. I back it down the driveway and then put it in 1st. I take it up to 5,500 and dump the clutch. All hell breaks loose...noise....smoke...strange smells... and the windshield shatters. I am stunned. I look down and the top of the transmission tunnel is GONE and the firewall is ripped open. The flywheel had broken off of the crank and shot up through the car missing my right foot by about 4"s. It acted like a saw blade and ripped through the car and straight up into the air, landing in the yard.

 

What we believe might have happened was that, although this was supposedly not possible, I had left the reverse shifter engaged. Then I put it in first but had the clutch in. When I dumped the clutch the tranny locked and sheared everything lose. It is possible that the rear of the crank broke first or that any number of things could have happened...who knows? The car had been seriously abused and should have had a blow-proof bell housing anyway. More afraid that he had just killed me than anything else I didn't even get in too much trouble even though it destroyed the engine, transmission, and the car was now junk. The body wasn't that great to begin with. He used it for street racing for money and having a ragged out sleeper that was all go with no show was common. I did buy him another 454 as a start on his new engine build.

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  • 1 year later...

This "failure" was self-inflicted.............

 

I got my discharge from the Navy at 22 years old, had a pocket full of money, and bought a nearly finished 36 Ford coupe with a 327 SBC engine. It ran like crap (carb was shot), so I picked up a new Holley 650 double pumper. Got her all bolted in, started it up, and it still ran like crap. So I decided to adjust the float levels, a common problem with the Holley carbs. To check the float levels you need to remove the plugs from the side of the fuel bowls and visually check the level, sort of like a rear diff plug.

You know what's coming. Turned out the fuel in the first bowl I checked was way too high and the engine was still very hot from all the idling. When I unscrewed the plug, fuel shot out onto the hot engine. Of course I forgot to cover the surrounding area with rags, and...................... :dunce:

WHOOOMP! FIRE! Panicking, I grabbed a garden hose and eventually put the fire out, but not before the engine wiring was all burned up, some charred paint occurred, and the windshield cracked into a million pieces from the cold water hitting the hot glass. My hair was mostly singed off too.  :doh:

Over the next couple of weeks I rewired the engine, got it up and running pretty well, then resold the 36 coupe with the cracked window charred paint and all. At a pretty good profit too. Then I went back into the Navy................

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I'll play along. 4th of July 2013 we were heading up I78 in my 08 F-250 with her horse trailer in tow. It was about 10 pm as I rolled into the throttle to pass a slow camper up a hill. Suddenly there was a pop and clouds of white smoke were pouring from the exhuast. EGT'S were through the roof. Got it to a pull off and shut it down. Tried reloading the tune with no luck. Got underneath to find a stream of fuel running down the side of the block. Luckily we were one exit from a hotel, and knowing the truck was hurt bad, I nursed it up the shoulder and got a room for the night. Got it towed back the 125 miles to home. Dropped the truck off, hopped in hers and headed back north to grab the trailer and continue finish the trip. Truck ended up cracking the #8 piston and took the block with it. Bill to replace would have been around $12k and I didn't really have a desire to repair and keep driving it, so I sold it in the state it was in. It was definitely an adventure.

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The first major failure:

 

My idiot friends and I were messing around in a mud hole we created with heavy equipment and a high flow trash pump.  I was 3rd to drive into what we called the Hell hole, i proceeded to get my 1982 Jeep Wagoneer stuck.  I was only in 4 high, so I shifted down to low, waiting for everything to engage.  I give her gas, she is not moving.  I decided in my infinite wisdom to smash down on the throttle, heard a loud bang. Now none of the tires are spinning.  I was the kind of stuck, where a 416 Cat Backhoe couldn't resolve the situation. We cease "make a giant mud hole in a Rancher's field operation" and let everything dry out.  The backhoe easily pulls The shaggin' wagon free.  We tow her to the shop and begin cleaning.  I figured I grenaded the TCase.  We removed it, nothing was wrong.   Next step was the transmission.  Removal of the trans went flawlessly, We begin tear down of the tranny.  I removed the Torque Converter and half of the input shaft in one fluid motion.   I sheered it in two.  

 

Flash forward 4 years later, dumbass young Marine "Outlaw3030" is driving home on leave. I make into the first turn heading up 4th of July Pass on I90 towards Montana.  I note with awe as a 315/75/16 on an American Racing Rim flies across two lanes of traffic and lands near a tree.  I think to myself, "wow that sucks for that guy."  I then notice my front left side of my bitchin' 1992 K2500 with 6" Lift is drooping.  I finally come to a complete stop near the 4th of July Pass sign.  2 Weeks prior to this event, I had new rims and tires put on my truck after I did the lift with a different group of idiot friends.  The wheel and tires were put on by a local Sear's shop, everything was torqued to spec.  I drove 25 miles and had them retorqued before my interstate journey.  The threads on all six of the wheel studs were stripped.  I ended up getting it towed into Kellogg, I strolled down to NAPA, got new studs and lugs and did a hasty repair in the parking lot.  The damage to the truck was a completely smashed front quarter panel and the lower ball joint nut and stud had been completely ground smooth with the lower A-Arm.  I sold the truck once I got home and bought.. a lifted 93 GMC k2500.

 

A year later, I'm sitting outside the main gate at Camp Pendleton waiting to enter and all of a sudden I can smell coolant...  the heater core decided to have a melt down in 100 degree heat.  

 

Aside from sensors going wonky, I've been trouble free since 2003. 

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Was driving the shop truck (F-150) at my last job back from a 3 hour road call. The rear end had been whining for a while, but nobody bothered to fix it. Coming down I-77 at about 75mph and hear a loud pop, then a horrible grinding noise. Immediately throw the hazards on and start pulling to the shoulder. As soon as the rear tires hit the grass the rear froze up and I spun into the ditch. Hop out to assess the damage and the whole rear end is smoking. Call my boss and tell him it's locked up and he says "Give it about 30 minutes and see if it'll drive".  :fs1:  Well of course waiting didn't do anything so then I had to wait another 3 hours for the wrecker to come pick me up of the side of the highway. So now a 3 hour road call is 7 1/2 hours. Get the truck back to the shop, and as we are unloading the truck, the right rear main leaf decides it a good time to snap in half.

 

The worst part is, I was only 2 miles from the shop when she locked up. 

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Maybe I'm luckier than I think, I don't recall any "worst mechanical failures". I've had a few interesting things happen over the years though. Here are a couple I recall.

 

2004 Silverado. It was a repairable I had bought and fixed. One part I replaced was the rear axle assembly. I put a lower mileage axle in, than what the truck had. I had it sold, just had to deliver it. About 1 mile from my destination I smell something funny, a second later I hear a terrible grinding sound. Yep, from the rear axle. Luckily I was able to crawl the rest of the way to my destination. The buyer was cool, he still bought the truck (for a few less $ than previously agreed on). He took the receipt I had for the axle and got a replacement one and put it in himself.

 

1986 Ford Ranger. I had just bought the truck so didn't know much abut it yet. It's winter and it's snowing. I'm coming back from St. Cloud (half hour drive), snow is blowing across the road leaving lines across the road. So, bumpy ride. But as I'm driving I'm thinking, is that vibration just the snow on the road or is it something else? I get to a point I know there is a safe field road to pull into and just look to make myself feel better. As I slow down to turn into the field approach the right front tire falls off and goes rolling. The truck falls to the ground and there I sit. Sure glad I was not going 55 when that happened. I'm off the road. No damage to the truck or wheel. Ok, just jack it up and use the one lug nut I found and one off of the other 3 wheels. It's cold, this sucks, but could have been so much worse I keep thinking. I'm looking for the jack, but guess what, this truck I just recently bought has no jack. Wonderful! Just then a guy pulls up, "need any help"? Well, what I really need is a jack. No problem he says, I have an extra one in the trunk. I don't have time to help you but you can have the jack. I tried to pay him something for the jack but he wouldn't take a dime.

 

I've had 2 brake lines blow (separate times) while pulling a loaded car trailer. One was on the way home, came to a 3 way stop. I was turning left, pedal went right to the floor. I went through the intersection without issue cause no one else was there. Pulled to the side of the road and found the main line to the rear of the truck rusted and blew out. Now what? It's just back roads the rest of the way home.... I stuck a glove in the E brake release and used my left foot on the E brake pedal, and my right hand on the trailer brake controller. 4 ways flashing and not much speed, made it home no problem.

Next time a brake line went was in the cites. Was going left again at a red light. Foot to the floor, grabbed the e brake and trailer brake and got it stopped (in the middle of the intersection!) Thankfully there were no other vehicles in the intersection, then the light turned green for me and I just drove into the Wendy's parking lot. Sat for a couple minutes thinking how lucky I just got. Hopped out and saw it was just the left rear line that blew. Grabbed a hammer, pounded the line flat, got some lunch and went on with my day.

 

There has been some interesting things happen out wheeling. Breakage wise not much though. The bolt that holds the track bar fell out once. At the time I actually had some speed cause I was on a smooth core road trying to catch back up to the group. I turned left but the truck went right, right into the brush. Easy fix though. No damage except some scratches in my dented fender.

 

I've snapped both rear axle shafts once. Each time it was with the same spotter. Each time I thought things didn't feel right so I asked, "how's it looking"? He said fine, so I gave it a little gas. After the snap, I get out to find 3 wheels on smooth surface with no traction what so ever, one tire pinched with no way it was going to turn.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bump to keep it going

 

I had the fuel pump on my MJ give out on me coming up to a stop light on a busy intersection.I had to push the truck under a freeway and a bit more so I could make a right onto the closest small street. To make matters worse my wife was in the truck with me, it was night time and there were huge storm clouds over us and we had bags of groceries. We wound up walking home since none of the kids were driving yet, what really struck me was the fact that people behind me were actually honking as they drove around as if I was just having fun and doing it on purpose.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

My worst mechanical failure is hard to decide on. First was a broken idler arm on an 89 toyota pickup doing about 55. Ended up in the ditch but didnt hit anything. Second was in my 78 cherokee chief I had a front wheel bearing literally blow out going about 50. The truck had about 10 inches of lift and was sitting on 40's so it wasnt very easy to steer when that happened. Busted the spindle shaft and a full turn warn hub on a built dana 60.

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  • 3 months later...

was driving my 95 xj from MI to KS. noticed noise from steering pump when I pulled in for gas. fluid was fine, so kept going. an HR or so later, some oil started spraying up from the corner of the hood. when I popped the hood I found the steering pump shelled out

 

* took pic after I pulled line off.

 

I have a semi. I had been hit by some crazy chick, so while waiting for the insurance $$, I had an old tire on it. it blew @ 73 mph. it opened the hood , blocking my vision, when it blew I was in the right lane & it pulled me to the left shoulder. thank God it was 1am and the road was empty. it completely ripped out the complete headlight bucket, wiring, even the angle iron brace across the bottom of the hood.

a cop stopped while I was picking up the debris. he thought I ran over a car there was so much of it. 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Flew too close to a thunderstorm in a company employee loaner plane. Tried to hide from the turbulence along a river in a deep canyon. That worked for a while then I needed to climb up and head towards where I was going. Ripped part of the tail off the plane. Scared the f*&K out me. I won't do that again.

 

The tail breaking also caused all planes of it's make and model to be grounded until a fix was engineered to prevent the same thing from happening again. It took over 4 months. I worked for the company that built the plane, and was on the engineering team. Not a happy 4 months of work, and the more I learned, the more I knew how lucky I was to be alive.

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