My '98 Montero Made It Across The Country And It Only Sucked A Little

Illustration for article titled My 98 Montero Made It Across The Country And It Only Sucked A Little
Photo: Andrew P Collins
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

Road-tripping in coronavirus America is suboptimal, but definitely possible and I would hazard to say it’s even still fun. I’ve just completed my fifth drive across the contiguous U.S. in an old car and, as ever, it was a unique experience.

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I’ve seen a lot of takes on pandemic-era road tripping, from “it’s not so bad” to “it’s harrowing” and I think the reality is that with a little preparation and patience it’s just fine.

My mechanical talents and bravery for filth aren’t as impressive as my friend David Tracy’s, so I tend to run a little more conservatively in terms of how much roadside wrenching I like to allow for.

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In other words, I tried my best to make sure my 1998 Mitsubishi Montero was ready for a 3,000-mile run before my wife and I set off from southern California to northeaster Massachusetts. That meant fresh tires, fresh fluids and filters, healthy hoses and belts, high-quality windshield wipers and headlight bulbs, and auxiliary gauges to keep an eagle eye on water temperature, engine load, and oil pressure.

We also tried not to be in close contact with anyone on account of the pandemic, so I had to pass The World’s Largest Truck Stop in Iowa without buying any trinkets. (You can imagine my sadness.) That and we didn’t get to pig out at any diners which is one of the best things about country-crossing. Alas.

I got into our pandemic protocols in another blog post, but basically: masks when outside the car (or going through drive-throughs), gloves for public bathrooms, gloves for gas stations, fridge with food onboard, hotels with aggressive cleaning claims, and... yeah. That was pretty much enough for me to feel confident we didn’t catch it, though we’re still scheduling a test soon to confirm.

Illustration for article titled My 98 Montero Made It Across The Country And It Only Sucked A Little
Photo: Andrew P Collins
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Nothing’s ever too far from reach thanks to my sleeping platform that bisects the cargo area horizontally creating a very useful shelf. A 12v-fridge and battery is clutch for long hauls while avoiding humans.

The general level of corona-caring varied quite a bit state to state, with the coasts being the most concerned and Iowa barely acknowledging the existence of the virus. But I’d rather talk about how my truck ran. (Because it ran real well!)

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My Montero has almost 190,000 miles on it, but like I’ve said, it’s been pretty well looked-after and I’ve done a lot of refreshing within the last year. Once we were underway, keeping it happy really just came down to driving pretty slowly, like 65-75 mph, driving really slow up hills when the water temp started to creep up (we got down to around 4o and had to turn the hazard lights on a time or two), and checking the engine oil at every fuel stop.

We left late-afternoon Saturday and got into my wife’s dad’s farm in upstate NY, our last waystation, at a reasonable hour Thursday evening, proceeding at a casual pace throughout. We rarely got on the road before 9:30 in the morning and barely drove at night.

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The only real drama we had, besides the water temperature creeping up to 216 degrees a time or two on big hills (well shy of overheating danger), was a little squeal the air conditioning compressor started making on day one.

Illustration for article titled My 98 Montero Made It Across The Country And It Only Sucked A Little
Photo: Andrew P Collins
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When A/C would come on, it would make the same sound a cartoon car makes when it screeches off a stoplight. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought until it got really loud, in Omaha, and I started worrying that the compressor would suddenly seize and give us bigger problems.

I briefly hoped it was something as simple as a slipping belt, but the belt had good deflection and looked healthy. It’s likely the clutch that engages the A/C compressor is on its last legs. And while I’d probably just ride around being uncomfortable rather than spend the coin on a new compressor (it’s going to be a lot), this vehicle’s got to drive us back to California in a few weeks and I don’t want to ride through the desert without air conditioning.

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Illustration for article titled My 98 Montero Made It Across The Country And It Only Sucked A Little
Photo: Andrew P Collins

So the vehicle’s getting diagnosed at a shop my pops likes, when we get it back with working climate control I’ll do an oil change with a cool new Greddy magnetic drain plug I ordered for fun (the old drain started weeping and I’m praying it was a bad crush washer, not me over-tightening and cracking the pan), and I think we’ll be ready for another cross-country run.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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DISCUSSION

Check the clearance between the plates of the AC compressor clutch. It’s likely worn to a point that the clearance is larger than spec (IIRC, 0.014-0.020"). If it’s like most Japanese rotary compressors, if you remove the small center screw holding the outer (driven) clutch plate to the compressor shaft and remove said driven clutch plate (may need a puller), there will likely be some shims inside the pocket of the clutch. Measure the clearance with a feeler gauge, and if it’s over 0.020", pull the driven plate, pull the shims, measure said shim(s) with a caliper or (better) micrometer, and adjust the thickness of the shim stack to tighten up the clearance. You can get a set of compressor shims at a parts store for <$20.

Put it all back together, carefully tighten the screw, double-check the clearance between the clutch plates, and you’re good to go.