We've all been there. We're tooling down the road in our vintage car, fat, dumb, and happy, when all of a sudden whatever thoughts or daydreams we were lost in are replaced with an unnerving sound. Whether it's the engine chugging as the car slows, a loud rhythmic rattle coming from the engine, or the engine is suddenly not making any noise at all, one thing's certain-you're not going anywhere unless it's on foot.
Roadside repairs are a fact of life for those of us in the collector car hobby. Whether your car has recently undergone a ground-up restoration or you just bought it from the original owner, the chances of it leaving you on the side of the road with the hood up aren't that remote. It's just the nature of the beasts. However, with a little advanced planning, it's really not much more than an annoyance. The fact is, most of the common failures that are going to put you on the shoulder can usually be repaired in an hour or so, provided you have the right tools and replacement parts. So, then the question becomes "fix it now, or fix it at home?" We prefer to work on our cars at home, in the comfort of our own garage with our roll-away tool box and all the other conveniences close at hand, but is that worth the tow bill to get it there? Not to mention blowing what had been a perfectly enjoyable cruise up until this point.
There are mechanical failures you won't be able to repair road-side, such as a blown motor, trans, or rearend. Otherwise, roadside failures are generally going to fall into a limited number of categories: fuel delivery, electrical, and cooling. Once you break down those categories, it's even less intimidating.
Aside from fuses, this is...
Aside from fuses, this is pretty much the entire electrical system of your Mopar. Most of these parts are take-offs from other projects that worked, but were replaced for one reason or another. They don't take up much room. The most overkill spare component is the distributor. Though we've never had one outright fail, components inside them can (points, wire to the electronic pick-up breaks, etc.). Sometimes just replacing the entire unit is quicker than trying to rebuild the top of it while it's in the car.
Electrical system components that will leave you on the side of the road are relatively few: alternator (or generator, for you pre-'61 guys), voltage regulator, ballast resistor, ECU for electronic ignitions, and the coil. If any one of these goes south, you're not going anywhere. However, each of these can be replaced in less than an hour. Other component failures could be the points, fouled plugs, or burned through and arcing plug wires, all also easily replaced. Fuses are obvious. The starter could also go bad, but these generally give you some warning before checking out. If you have a stick shift, push-starting will get you out of the parking lot and back toward home.
There's really only three things here that could go bad: fuel pump, fuel filter, and trash in the carb. This is why we like the non-resto-correct glass inline fuel filters-it takes the guess work out of plugged fuel filters, and it's easily cleaned and reinstalled. It will also help diagnose whether the fuel pump is bad or if the problem lies at the carb. Again, if you've got the parts and the hand tools to service them, any of these will take you less than an hour.
This one's also fairly straight forward, and it's one of three culprits: either the radiator is bad, a hose blew, or the water pump died. if it's the radiator, call the auto club. Radiator leak stoppers will work, but we don't feel comfortable dropping that stuff in there: If it'll plug a hole in the radiator, then it'll also probably gum up other areas, too. We'd rather fix this one the right way by taking the radiator out and going to a shop.
A radiator hose is an easy fix, with the only obstacle being filling the radiator back up. A few bucks worth of bottled water at the gas station up the road will take care of that, if you don't have any in the trunk (we don't).
The final item here is the water pump. Mopars have it easy compared to the other brands-all we've got to do is change the impeller, with the housing still on the motor. It's easy, requires one gasket, and carrying a spare doesn't take up much room. Again, even with removing all the stuff from the front of the motor to gain access, it's not much more than an hour's worth of work. A blown heater core or dead thermostat could also come into play, but both are easily removed or bypassed.
Water pump and rocker arm...
Water pump and rocker arm failures aren't uncommon. Throw spares in the trunk, and the necessary gaskets, and an otherwise day-ending failure could be turned into an hour-long pause in the action!
To make any distributor work...
To make any distributor work a lot easier, our spare cap has the firing order/cylinder numbers painted on with a paint pen (magic marker will rub off), and all the plug wires on the engine have these wire numbers from MSD installed. This cuts your replacement time way down.
A spare fuel pump (that we...
A spare fuel pump (that we know to be good), and spare cartridges for the filter are our back-ups for the fuel system. Not shown is a carb rebuild kit with fresh gaskets, in case trash gets in the needles and seats. Though the filter isn't resto-correct, it's hard to beat for diagnosing where any fuel system problems might lie.