Last weekend I was driving up to see my niece for her high school graduation and along the way I decided to take a longer path and do a little more exploration as I do whenever I can. It was raining the whole way so i didn’t take any time to actually stop anyplace but when I was almost at my destination, something unexpected happened.
As I was coming over a bridge up to the main highway the car suddenly lost power and started to shudder as it was idling up to the stop sign. I gave it some gas to get out into the main road but it just felt worse so I pulled over to see what was going on. The engine was still running and at idle it didn’t appear that anything was wrong but when I went to take off again, I knew that one of the cylinders had gone dead.
Because of the weather and where I was at in my trip I didn’t have much choice and pushed on with the car running like this, all the while worrying about what damage I was incurring. Eventually I made it to the next town and stopped at the gas station / hardware store where I turned it off and went inside to think. I also made my Facebook friends aware the car just had a troubling malfunction and tried to reach out to my dad for some ideas as to what I should do.
Not long afterwards my dad called me and asked if the car even ran. When I said it did he had only one response, “drive it.”
When I restarted the car I thought I caught a whiff of anti-freeze but when I checked the exhaust all I got was extra fuel that was not getting burnt. Before I made the rest of the journey I did check to see which cylinder wasn’t firing and made sure that all of the connections were tight. It happened to be the #1 cylinder that wasn’t firing but every once in a while I could hear it pop off so all was not lost.
I pressed on and drove it nearly 60 miles this way and was doing about 55mph at the most. Hills were the worst as it couldn’t handle the increased load as well so I tried to avoid them as much as possible. Eventually I made it to my parent’s place and left the car alone until I could look at it closer the next day.
One thing my dad kept saying was that when grandpa had the car it was always stalling because there was moisture in the distributor cap. I looked at this idea with much skepticism for two reasons. One, I have power washed the engine (twice) while it was running and never had a problem with water getting in the cap and Two, there were a bunch of things wrong with the car when I got it so who knows what was really wrong when grandpa had it.
To be sure though, we checked that the spark plug for that cylinder and it was good (I have recently changed the plugs) and it had good spark. The plug and the inside of the cylinder were wet with fuel but otherwise everything was normal. Nothing in the oil, good gas, clean air filter, just that nagging idea that a ring had gone out. Dad felt that one of the valves had come out of adjustment but that didn’t feel right either.
In the end I had to go back home. I checked online if there was anything wrong with driving as it was and mostly it was determined that it should be fine. So I set out on my trip and again, I made sure to get on the roads with the least inclines. The engine sounded rough but ran and I was able to maintain a fair highway speed.
270 miles after this problem started I was at home and I had some new insight as to what the problem truly is. When I got closer to home I saw that there were huge billowing clouds of white exhaust when I drove slow but it went away when I sped up. I’m pretty sure now that the head gasket blew around that one cylinder and you can smell the sweetness in that cloud as well.
I have not had a chance to do anything with the car since I have come home and it might be another week before I can get it over to my mechanic. In the meantime, I might work on replacing the brakes, drums, rotors, and bearings since I don’t have to worry about time constraints.