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Cruisers that won’t cruise smoothly

When it keeps coming back, the problems seem to compound instead of become clearer.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 07:00
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Everybody who pulls a wrench has run afoul of vehicles with bulky engines stuffed in very small engine rooms.  I wonder sometimes if at least some of the vehicle manufacturers have returned to the old “stovepipe” way of doing things, where design engineers would come up with a body they liked and then send the prototype up the pipe to the powertrain folks, usually with the instructions to cram an existing engine/transmission platform into the new body.

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Sometimes an existing vehicle that was produced originally with a sensibly sized engine compartment gets a powertrain upgrade that fills that engine compartment to the max.  One example of this would be when Ford decided to cram the Duratec V6 in the same place where that tidy little Vulcan Y block fit so well.  Granted, the Duratec has been a lasting engine design that runs like a champ, but it appropriates every available cubic inch of space in the powertrain compartment of the second generation Taurus.

The PT Cruiser and the VW Beetle are pretty much the same way, even equipped with their four bangers, and when you shoe-horn a Turbocharger in there, it makes things even tighter.

Retro vehicles became a hot item about 15 years ago, with cars like Ford’s reintroduction of the Thunderbird, the rebirth of the VW Beetle, the limited edition Plymouth Prowler, Chevy’s HHR, Dodge’s Challenger, Chevy’s Camaro and the venerable little PT Cruiser, which has been just about as popular as the Beetle.

This story is centered on a PT Cruiser that came to us from a regular customer who has owned several of these curvy little rides.  We’ve done everything from timing belts to radiator cooling fans to transaxles on PT Cruisers for these folks. This time, the problems the PT had were not so cut and dried, and the last thing I want to do is dump a bunch of high dollar work into a vehicle before I know for sure what’s needed.

Honeymoon Purchase
The son of a retired colleague of mine had purchased this clean little convertible PT while he was on a honeymoon trip with his new wife in Florida. They had been driving the car around for about five days sightseeing when it sprang a coolant leak, so they visited a shop down in Florida. They were told the engine oil pan would need to be replaced at a cost of $500, and the oil had been drained from the pan – the car had been driven in for service, and now, because of the oil pan problem, it was wrecker fodder.  This young owner was somewhat disillusioned as to how a coolant leak on a vehicle he had been driving for several days could morph into a $500 oil pan replacement. He placed a call to Mom and Dad, who took a trailer and spent 16 hours or so retrieving the Cruiser, which wound up in one of my service bays.

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