So you've spotted a prime project car; owner will let his tragic heap go cheap and maybe it's even got a title. But it's wedged deep in the depths of some hoarder barn with no power and no brakes. Don't worry, getting it home isn't impossible. Just an incredible pain in the ass. Hop in, let's do this.
(Full Disclosure: U-Haul supplied an Auto Transporter trailer and Ram supplied a 2014 Power Wagon SLT 2500 to make this adventure happen. Why? Because they know a great idea when they hear one. Thanks again guys.)
(Safety Disclosure & Author's Note: The following method of dead-car-rescue worked for me, but isn't necessarily up to OSHA standards... this story is meant to amuse as much as inform you. Take my advice at your own risk and always consult multiple experts/owner's manuals where possible!)
So I bought a 1964 International Scout 80 off a kind old man in New Jersey for $400. It's my all-time favorite 4x4 "just 'cause," so I figured F it, for that price it's well bought even if all I get to do is bounce in the seat and make "vroom" noises with my mouth.
Scouts are still pretty affordable compared to other old school 4x4s, but $400 still doesn't buy you much truck. Mine has a title and a solid(ish) frame, other than that I wasn't really sure what the hell I bought. But I knew for damn sure it wasn't moving out of the owner's personal junkyard under its own power.
Oh yeah... that was the other minor barrier betwixt me and Scout ownership: an extraction operation of Black Hawk Down-level insanity, sub'ing Somalian warriors for tetanus and recently-disturbed hornets.
1. Get More Gear Than You Think You Need
Moving a dead car out of a weird corner is going to present problems you just won't realize until you're actually doing it. At that point you'll be elbow-deep in rust and the store will probably be closed... so planning ahead for the unexpected is paramount.
I hit the U-Haul office at around 8AM the day we were scheduled for The Job. We spent a long time clicking screens and making approvals, probably because the guy behind the counter couldn't work out why some idiot driving a lifted bass boat who didn't know his own license plate number was friends with his company's Vice President.
"Truck's not mine. I'll smoke the tires for you if you let me ride that U-Haul bike." (U-Haul has bicycles by the way, which employees use to get 'round their massive facilities. They're tiny and adorable, but I forgot to take a picture.)
Getting the Auto Transporter hooked up to the Power Wagon required blowing the dust off a 5 and 3/4" ball hitch drop, and another adapter to make that adapter fit into the Ram's elephant butthole of a hitch receiver.
I put the adapters and tow ball on my tab, grabbing a two-ton hand winch and some rescue straps as I was being rung up– call it "a feeling" they'd come in handy. They would, read on.
If you're thinking about borrowing a trailer from U-Haul, remember they don't provide these towing accessories as rental options. At least not in Newburgh, NY. I had to buy them, with the promise that I could get my money back as long as they were returned "in good shape." The total accessories was something like $80; though $60 of that was the winch and extra straps which not everyone will need.
2. Get Some Friends
If you know your equipment really well and you're a beast with a trailer, you might be able to move a car carcass on your own. But some tasks that are likely to become necessary are just so much easier with multiple humans. Towing a dormant vehicle through multiple corners for example.
Besides, your morale will last a lot longer if you've got someone to suffer in solidarity with you.
Gear sorted, I picked up my friend (/trailer-towing expert) Ben and rocked up to the Scout's address. After shaking hands with George, the vehicle's former custodian, we set to forming a plan of attack.
The path was tight. Tighter than I'd remembered. Or had I just underestimated the length of a Ram Power Wagon and U-Haul Auto Transporter? A little bit of both probably, either way I was thankful Ben had been kind enough to lend his help and serve as a witness to this absurd story.
Even luckier for us George, a retired mechanical engineer, was absolutely stoked at the challenge of getting the Scout off his lawn. He scampered around grabbing tools and coming up with ideas like a man a third of his age... which would still be older than me.
3. Think Long And Hard About Where You Land The Trailer
If your project is as buried as the Scout was, you're not going to be able to get your tow rig anywhere near it. Especially if that rig is an aircraft carrier-sized Power Wagon plus two-axle trailer. But if your trailer's big enough to carry a car, it's going to be a bitch to unhook and move... and once your derelict is touching the ramps you're not going to wanna start over.
BASE jumping out of the Power Wagon (there's really no other way to exit) I set to spotting Ben as he weaseled the Wagon and immense trailer it was now pushing backwards down the first hill. We got the trailer 'round the first 90º bend, but that was all our maniac caravan could accomplish.
No problem, I figured we could just unhook the trailer and physically push it the rest of the way around the property to the trailer. Then follow with the truck, right? Of course I immediately learned that was a huge problem and the dumbest idea I'd have in a long series that day. This two-axle trailer was not moving a micrometer under the strength of my scrawny ass, even if I hadn't skipped all those leg days at the gym.
4. Make A Derelict Propulsion System, And Consider Consequences
Your options for moving a dead car you can't reach with a tow truck are pretty much– 1: push with personpower, 2: pull or push with an ATV, farm implement, or similar, or 3: use good old fashioned simple machines i.e. pulleys, winches, and levers.
You may want some combination of these, but make sure the brakes work as you make your exit plan and do not underestimate the amount of momentum a car can build on a mild incline.
In another stroke of decent luck, the ancient Massey Ferguson tractor I mistook for another statue on George's estate was operational.
"We'll throw a chain on, I'll give you a tug with a machine, pull ya right up to the trailer! Just don't fight me with the brakes. Do the brakes work?"
I raised an eyebrow at the assumption I'd have any idea, and tested the middle pedal. It dove to the cracked floor with, and I felt the last bastion of brake fluid somewhere in the lines standing at attention. The pedal had the faintest feeling of resistance.
My reply; "Uh, feels like... maybe a little," was good enough for George. He shrugged and booted the throttle on the tractor, jerking the Scout out of the space it assuredly thought it would rust in peace for the rest of eternity.
As we headed down maybe 1º or 2º of downhill, the Scout got excited and started to pick up speed. I tapped the brake and any semblance of stopping power I might have perceived evaporated in a POOF of rusty dust.
Pedal to the floor; still nothing.
"Oi. OI! NO BRAKES!" I hollered, trying to get the attention of anybody. Ben jumped clear, George motored on... and now the Scout was closing on the tractor like a beast on its quarry.
Decision time: plow the Scout into the back of the tractor, on which 80something-year-old George was precariously perched and possibly kill him, or use the woodpile to my left as a "net" and risk turning my Scout into dust in my first ten feet of drivership?
I picked woodpile, quickly realizing that might also mean impalement by a rusty steering column. Sure, I would have loved to have bailed out but the door was "tricky" and not opening in a hurry.
The Scout stopped, and the terrific noise finally caught George's attention over the sound of his engine.
He just shook his head. "No brakes, huh."
It didn't matter. If anything, the Scout looked a little straighter and was easy enough to tug back behind the tractor with some chain-pulling and human-pushing. By "easy" I mean it took some thirty minutes.
5. It Still Doesn't Drive. How Are You Gonna Get It On The Trailer?
Even a vehicle as light as a Scout can't be person-pushed up the ramps to a flatbed car trailer. Your tractor might be able to do the job, but remember this is a rusty old project car where "spit and luck" comprise most of the structural integrity. Do you really want to push a loader bucket into the body?
The answer is a winch, or multiple winches, and wheel chocks.
Remember when I mentioned "getting more gear than you need?"
With the Scout wheeled up to the trailer ramps thanks to the tractor, we broke out the hand winch I'd copped from U-Haul. At about five-feet at full extension; it didn't get us far. We could have hooked some chains up and started cranking but we'd still be there if we'd done that... good thing George had his own hand winch in his Cave Of Wonders, much larger than the dinky thing I'd brought to boot.
With the U-Haul winch hooked up to a D-ring on the trailer designated for this purpose and stretched out, we hooked up the second winch to the end of that one and the second winch to a chain 'round the Scout's axle. Running the winches in series was necessary to get the length we needed.
Again; a car trailer is really, really, ridiculously long... and it feels worse when they car you're putting on it is about the size of a Power Wheels.
6. Hand Winch Slow, Chock Rear Wheels Often
Cranked, chock, unhook, shorten chain, repeat. Do not forget to move the car-anchoring straps out of the way of the wheels lest they get trapped in an inaccessible spot.
The U-Haul Auto Transporter basically uses two diesel-ass ratchet straps that clamp the hell out of the front wheels. There are also chains near the front and rear axle, but they're pretty much redundant.
7. Tow Gently, Check Often
You don't really know how solid any part of the car you've just excavated is. Those tires you just torqued down on might well go flat halfway home and dump your new prize all over the interstate.
Towing the Scout from New Jersey to New York was the only painless part of this process. The Ram's 6.4 V8 HEMI made easy work of the some-5,000 pounds it was pulling, albeit at the expense of fuel consumption (we were looking at around 9 or 10 with the trailer; compared to 12something without.)
8. You Made It Home, Now Get Your Unresponsive Car Off The Trailer
Well you can't just push it, you've got to control the descent while keeping your trailer from moving. The answer, of course, is winches and chocks. Again.
Dropping a vehicle off a trailer that's disconnected is not ideal as it creates the possibility of the trailer moving when you don't want it to. But I reckon enough wheel chocks will keep the flatbed steady, especially if the car you're towing is light.
This time, a powered winch will make your life about a million times easier. As will a safe landing zone. Just in case it gets away.
As a side note; remember unhooking a loaded trailer is a bigger pain in the ass than doing so on an unloaded one; the puny trailer jack has few thousand extra pounds to deal with, so take your time.
Glossing over the two-hour operation that was snaking our locomotive-length tow rig into my tiny, wall-lined driveway, dumping the Scout on my lawn was actually pretty easy.
The trailer was positioned to give the Scout room to get out, but roll harmlessly into the woods should we lose control of it. With all four trailer wheels chocked in both directions by big slabs of fire wood, we unhooked the Ram and turned it 'round to kiss the the nose of the Scout.
After teaching ourselves how to use a winch (there's a little diagram on the controller; "pull it out or push it in") we clicked the hook to the Scout's frame and undid the trailer tie-downs.
9. Lower Carefully, Watch Out For Many Moving Parts
Getting the Scout out of the trailer wheel wells took a little extra man-pushing. No worries, we just gave it some slack on the winch line and a good shove. But remember; momentum comes on fast.
"The truck moved," said my girlfriend, who'd come outside to enjoy the spectacle.
Well that's not right... the Scout was starting to pull the Ram's beautiful chrome bumper into the surge brake of the trailer. We got around this problem with the buddy system; my lady sat in the Ram with her foot on the brake while I ran the winch controller and slowly dumped the Scout.
It worked; with a few flickers of headlights as the Warn winch guzzled the Ram's electricity (yes, with the pickup running) we were finally able to get the Scout on solid ground.
Having a powered winch at this point was huge. Ben and I were exhausted, and while it would have been possible to hand-winch the Scout down from the truck across the trailer... by the time we were done the Scout would have rusted out of existence.
After that, it's all just a whole lotta unclipping and taking your trailer back to the rental site.
10. Have A Beer
Lord knows you've earned it.
Ben and I left my house with an empty trailer at about 4:15 PM, and had the Scout safely positioned in its new home at 11:30. Two hours of that was drive time between sites, about 55 miles of highway each way.
Don't get into this thinking you'll wrap up in short order.
Project Scout Update Phase II: "Bringing Her Home"
Tow-truck: $0 (Thanks, Ram.)
Trailer: $0 (Thanks, U-Haul.)
Damage to trailer (I somehow scratched the hell out of the tow ball and bumped a wheel bearing cap off... sorry U-Haul.): $12
Gasoline for the tow rig: $80 (Damnit, Ram.)
Truck Yeah! Project Scout So Far, August 29 2014
Total Investment: $492
Total Hours: 8
Status: Lawn Ornament