Wet weather woes.

Well— at least I THOUGHT I was going to church this morning. Nope, didn’t make it. The Grey Lady started OK, seemed to be running stable, but I hardly got to the street before I knew I had trouble. The engine missed like crazy and had no power to accelerate. I got it back home after a trip around the block, got the engine to clear and tried it again. No good, another trip around the block, back into the driveway and rev the engine a few times to clear it. Call dispatch to say I’m out of service because of this trouble, and thank God it happened here and not on the road.

So– manage to get to the auto parts store and buy a new distributor cap and rotor. One thing about it, when you have this sort of trouble in damp weather it’s invariably an ignition problem. This old beast needs a tune-up pretty bad anyway so the trouble isn’t entirely unexpected.

Now, you KNOW this isn’t going to be easy. The distributor in these old Chevy V-8s lives in the rear of the engine. In vans like mine, that means you get at it from inside the van.

First, you have to remove the combination glove-box/cigarette lighter/cup holder/center console. This contraption is held in by 6 fasteners.


Removing this uncovers the “doghouse” which is held in place by a couple of spring-loaded straps, which I had removed before taking the photo. No problem removing these– they’re spring-loaded after all, a gentle pull on the strap and you get it unhooked from the fastenings, then set it aside.


This, once the straps are removed, slides back and lifts off. Not too formidable as long as you’re at home. That reveals the rear of the engine, where this trouble lives.


In the photo above, I have removed the old cap– on the right side- and placed the left-side wires on the new cap. The rotor is the sorta-white circular object near the center of the photo. Held on by two screws, gotta be careful because it IS possible to put the new one on backwards– and that would just wreck your whole day (trust me on this).


Placing the new cap on is sorta difficult. There are two screws to hold it on, and one of them can only be removed and replaced by feel– it’s hidden back there. Then, I took the wires from the old cap and placed them on the new one, then started the engine. Runs stable for the moment. I took it for a short cruise, seems OK “for now”. Tomorrow I’ll have it in for a proper job, the spark plugs and the ignition wires are old as the hills and need replacing too But, the cap and rotor get it so I can get it to the shop without having to be towed in.

Here’s where the problem lives.


This design is subject to corrosion and condensation problems, and a note that the distributor has poor ventilation exacerbates the problem. You get cross-firing and shorting within the cap.

OK, got it running for the moment– still not “safe” for a long drive, so into the shop it goes tomorrow.

Edit; add-on: It was wet and messy this morning. (Monday) Seems my job yesterday worked, the engine ran with a little bit of miss– most likely caused by a wire arcing to the exhaust manifold– but it worked smoothly enough to drive the few miles to the mechanic. As long as it’s in I get several things done. The front brakes needed attention, they’re getting that. Plugs and wires– replaced. Carbon blown out of the engine– that too. Rear axle seals are getting replaced. Oil change. It’ll cost me a little under 2K to get it all done, but at least I have it without worrying about how I’m gonna cover all that’s needed.

Note that all of this comes under “ordinary maintenance”– nothing extravagant. This van has 516,000 miles on it, and it’s a ’98. I hear so many people saying their cars, less than half as old and with less than 100K on the odometer, can’t be trusted to go just a few miles— this one gets loaded with 2,500 lbs of freight and I’ll put upwards of 1,200 miles on it on a trip. Now it gets general maintenance, and has– well, you tell me and then we’ll both know– miles left in it until it’s scrap.

Edit; additional add-on: Thursday evening, 12/18/2014. I got the van back Tuesday evening, finished putting it back together (I removed a bunch of stuff before taking it to the mechanic and all that stuff had to be put back) Wednesday morning. Yesterday evening, dispatch gave me a run going to downstate Indiana, about 250 miles one way. The van ran smoothly, so– at least in cold dry weather it seems OK. New plugs, wires, cap and rotor should help even when the weather does turn sloppy, but I’ll have to wait and see on that.


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