Decided to take the WS6 out for a drive today. I don’t drive it too much anymore, maybe once every week or two, since I’ve been working at home full time. Since this is also the slow season at Apple’s restaurant, she doesn’t work as often either, so usually when I want to go somewhere I take her car. Today, though, she’s on duty (and it’s Coupon Day™, no less), and after reading the GTO message board I felt like taking my own 6-speed V8 for a spin. So out I went.
It occurred to me, as I pulled out of the garage, that I ought to check the garage floor for fluid leakage, just in case the car’s recent change in usage has caused some kind of new and exciting parts failure. Lo and behold, there was some semi-clear, faintly rust-tinged liquid on the garage floor — right in the middle of the rather large rust stain from where the WS6’s factory battery sprang a leak and ate through part of my suspension about three or four years ago. The fluid looked like battery acid — again. Here we go.
The battery I’m running right now is a top-of-the-line Die Hard Gold, but it’s aged and frankly I wasn’t sure how much life it had left in it. The fact that it had to start dying all messily doesn’t please me any. I wonder if its death has anything to do with the out-of-control short circuit I was experiencing back in July, that took a couple of weeks to sort out and get fixed? Oh, I didn’t write about that short circuit? Hmm, that’s right — I was ignoring this site then. Well, suffice it to say, I had an energizer fail from excessive heat (the car was sitting outside under the sun almost every day that month). It took out the DRL circuit, physically blew apart two headlamp switches and almost blew the battery up before we finally got it isolated and replaced (at a cost of damn near $500 dollars). What with the unnatural power draw (and even some wild arcing), I was wondering if the battery had taken damage. Maybe it has. Either way, it’s inexorably doomed to die now. I need to get a new battery…for a car I’ll probably own less than three more months. Cooooool.
But is the battery all that’s wrong with the electrical system? Doubt would soon be cast…
I went back to the black Poncho, still idling patiently in the driveway, and with a scowl on my face I slid back behind the steering wheel. I keyed the engine off, waited a bit, and turned it over again. Everything seemed to be fine. The voltmeter was reading normal, maybe a little lower than usual, but within operating range. (And by the way folks, this is why I insist upon cars having auxiliary gauges for things like volts and oil pressure, instead of just the dumbed-down sissy clusters they give you these days that tell you only whether your coolant temperature is “fine” or “blowed up good.”)
Everything looked all right, but I was nervous. I recalled the day many years ago that my dad and I took the ’78 Corvette out for a drive, parked at a classic car showroom, and then found the charging system DOA when we got in the car to go home. I didn’t want something like that happening again. But, I decided to live life on the edge. I shut the garage door, put the T-56 in first gear and took off.
I drove around town for a little while before I realized this trip just wasn’t gonna be any fun. The traffic was horrendous. I hit every red light, for starters. Then, as I was gaping at a huge traffic jam running up the other side of the boulevard I was on (and being thankful I wasn’t caught in it), a couple of police cars running code three came up from behind and had to find a way through the gridlock on my side of the road. We were at a red light, the light had just turned green, and here come these cops from behind, blasting up the right turn lane right next to me. I just stayed put and let them fly by.
I decided to go home. First, I decided to stop in the auto parts store, since I was right near there, and see if they had a battery for my car. Of course, they didn’t. This is the store that never ever has anything you want, unless it’s an oil filter…you can pretty much count on them to have plenty of those. I even have trouble getting the right size wiper blades there, for God’s sake. Anyway, I wasn’t going to go all the way downdown to the Sears at the mall — not on a bad charging system — so I went back to the car, intending to head home.
Got a little shock when I started it up. No, not literally. But while it did turn over and fire up — albeit a little slowly — the RPMs barely rose above 1000, real hesitant-like, before they started to dip. To like 300. The oil pressure started to drop like a rock too. I gave it some throttle and it perked right up, but it wouldn’t idle correctly — kept falling below the idle speed, and I kept revving it up. I gave it part-throttle for a while, hoping it would snap out of it. Finally I decided to just take my foot off the gas and see what would happen. The revs dropped real low, it made like it wanted to stall, then it came back to idle, slowly.
WTF. Okay, not good. Is it safe to drive? I got a hint of an answer a moment later, when I decided to back out of my parking space and try driving to the other end of the parking lot. As I did so, a big huge work truck with a cement mixer on a trailer came freakin’ BLASTING into my aisle from the wrong direction. I put on the brakes (just lightly, as I was barely rolling), but all that happened was that the RPMs dropped back down to 300. The low RPMs reduced the vacuum to where the power brake booster was basically ineffective, so the usual light pressure on the brake pedal had very little effect. It freaked me out but good.
Okay, so I was going to have to keep the RPMs up and use engine braking when decelerating. (Thank you, manual gearbox.) With all the accessories off, the idle problem was reduced, but I was still dropping to about 300 RPMs at near-stop conditions, and losing all but about 25 pounds of oil pressure at the same time. I decided to take the back streets home and then sideline the car until I could figure this shit out.
The trip home wasn’t too bad. I used the tranny along with the brakes to decelerate (so as to keep the RPMs up naturally) and then some funky heel-and-toe action just before I came to a stop, so as to keep the tach hovering around 1000. Everything went fine, but I was annoyed. I did not need this to be happening. But one thing was certain, the car knew it was going to be sold and replaced. It knew it, and it was hella pissed. Now it’s giving me grief. That isn’t really very opportune. Like, I got enough grief already from every other corner of the planet, thanks. I don’t need yours too, blasted car.
So I got it home, waited an hour or so, then took out the multimeter. Started the car back up — no problem starting or idling this time. WTF? Okay, time for diagnostics. Engine running, voltage across the battery is a nice, steady 14.07. Bring the revs up, it’s still steady at 14. Crank all the accessories on — radio, max A/C, headlights, rear defroster and the lowest reading I can get is 13.78. Still within spec and normal if I remember right. Finally, engine off. Test battery voltage across terminals. It’s a hair above 12 volts. Looks normal to me! I have to admit I was disappointed. I expected to see low voltage on the battery.
One way or another, the leaking battery acid demands that the battery be replaced — I’ll probably pick up a new one within the next couple of days. I wonder about the strange idle, though. I would have thought that more a symptom of a bad alternator than a bad battery. The last time I had a car act like that was in 1997; I was driving my Grand Prix home from West Bloomfield, stopped to get dinner at Arby’s, and my charging system took a dump. Voltmeter started reading low, engine started bogging. Wouldn’t idle right with the compressor running. That was the debut of replacement alternator #1 of 2. Granted, I didn’t see the T/A’s voltmeter reading abnormally today. But it’s still worrisome. Especially given that I’ve got to get this car in tip-top shape for the sale by next month.
About three months ago the Trans Am really started to come apart, and it’s not stopped since. So far it’s all been electrical — which, while probably preferable to a rod knock or a blown head gasket, is in my opinion the worst type of problem to diagnose and repair. So many circuits, so many systems sharing leads, so much intermittent operation. Bad grounds, flaky energizers, melted solder on some logic board somewhere…who the hell knows. Electrical gremlins loved the ’80s F-bodies too, maybe the fourth-gens are no different once they suck down enough wear-and-tear. Mechanically the car is sound and trustworthy, but the electrical system is an inexorable part of the equation too.
Could be a rough road from here on out. But the GTO is on the way — and this will be resolved one way or another.