Engine Crime Scenes


The end of the San Juan River Trip has come, and we are back at our car. Almost everything is too hot to touch in the 103 degree heat, and we fumble through our dry bags looking for the car keys. We part ways with our group and head north toward Moab.

“Uh oh,” Alex says, about halfway there. “The car is doing that weird thing with the gas pedal.”

If you’ll recall, we had some issues with a faulty fuel pump in Alex’s car last summer and got a little bit stranded outside of Buena Vista. We replaced the fuel pump and a couple of spark plugs and everything seemed good to go in the last couple months.

Now, the gas pedal stops working again and we coast for as far as we can with no gas pedal…which is about a quarter mile. Then we sit in the stagnant heat for a moment, restart the car, and sputter on down the road. Of course, we talked to the car and gave her the reassurance we could muster while trying to reassure ourselves. We stopped in Monticello to stare at the engine, fill gas, fill all our water bottles in case we got stranded, and let the engine cool off. On we went, with an engine that was working extra hard to go. It kept revving and pulling and we kept thinking it was probably just overheating a little bit (weird gas pedal problem aside, because we still don’t really understand why that happened…again). We stopped a couple times and finally, as Alex backed up in a rest area to get a ‘running start’ onto the highway entrance ramp, we got a hold of our river trip group and told them to wait for us.

As we pushed the old Subaru up to the highway speed limits, we realized that the trouble seemed to be in getting going. Once we got up to 70mph we could coast there, but if we had to go uphill or if we got stuck behind a semi we were once again talking to the car, urging her to make it. The decision to stop and check things out more seriously came when we were revved up past 5 [you can insert unit of measurement here…I don’t know what it is] and only going 50mph.

At a gas station in Fruita, we examined things with a more keen eye and what we found was quite gruesome: blood splattered on the inside of the hood, fur on the alternator belt, and some cooked guts nearby. It quickly became clear that we had killed a nesting critter and that there were probably some bones caught up in some belts. It all made sense! We got to work scraping some guts away with a knife and then Alex had the brilliant idea to go through a high-powered manual car wash and flood the bits of critter out of the engine. We took some back roads over to Grand Junction and the search began. We got sidetracked by Chik-Fil-A, where I went in to order food and inquire about car washes while Alex searched on the smartphone. About an hour and a half after this all began in Fruita, our engine was squeaky clean and we were on our way once again. Lucky for us, the car ran perfectly all the way home and we will always remember to check for engine critters.


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