Greetings from the Nebraska/Colorado border where my wife and I are about 1,300 miles into a 3,000ish-mile quest from Los Angeles to the northeast. We’re running my old-but-OK 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, on its biggest validation run since I adopted it. Theoretically, we’ll head home eventually, too. Here’s how I prepped the truck and how we’re doing so far.
We need to link up with family for various reasons for an extended period of time. They all live in upstate New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. So we’re road tripping across the country while trying not to catch COVID. You might have already gathered that if you and I are friends on Insta.
Unlike my friend and colleague David Tracy, I prefer to take a tiny bit more time setting a vehicle up for long-range adventuring. Nothing but respect for DT’s bravery and skills, but my lady and I have a slightly lower tolerance for being inconvenienced. I wanted to get this SUV running as well as I could before setting off. Granted, we’re still running a 22-year-old SUV with over 180,000 miles on, so I’m well aware that we might end up moving to Nebraska or something if the truck croaks somewhere along I-80.
Also: This trip, if successful, will double the number of miles I’ve put on this truck in 2020.
Obviously, going from port to port across the country to see our parents, we’re trying to be as socially distant and safe as reasonably possible. We’ve seen a few friends from six feet away so far, but haven’t really been going inside anywhere except to use bathrooms where we don masks and gloves. Same for fuel stops.
We’re carrying a lot of food in a fridge powered by portable battery, and only need to hit drive-throughs once in a while.
For accommodations, we thought about camping but after experiencing the extreme heat in southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming I’m glad we didn’t. We’re just staying at hotels that have aggressive posted pandemic policies–long vacancies between guests, heavy cleaning routines–plus, we’ve got our own cleaning supplies to hit touchpoints.
I won’t lie, staying at nicer hotels definitely keeps fatigue at bay on this long cruise a lot better than catching a few hours at a time at truck stops.
I’ve had my Montero for about a year and a half, and have been pretty good about baselining it for big trips like this. It’s already done two Baja expeditions and short treks all over California.
Big line items that have been handled within about the last year, and I would not want to be doing this trip without:
- Recent re-cored OEM metal radiator with high-quality coolant and a water wetter additive
- Brake pads, brake rotors turned
- Brake fluid change
- Air filter
- Oil change with 10w-30 (the Mitsubishi factory recommendation for high-temp operation) and a Rislone engine treatment additive
- Fresh tires on lightweight wheels
Before we left, I brought the truck by my go-to Mitsubishi shop, C&A Auto Center in Van Nuys, to have my mechanic Chai give the rig a once-over with me to call out anything that might need immediate attention. He recommended an even heavier oil than the Factory Service Manual did, but I couldn’t bring myself to disobey the book this time. I had been running a 5w-30, which is what the manual calls for in “usual conditions.”
Since we committed to hotels rather than camping, we’re using the Montero’s sleeping platform for cargo. It’s great because the horizontal divider (that would normally be the bed) makes it so nothing is really too buried. We’re traveling heavy because we plan to quarantine with family for about six weeks. What’s great is that we didn’t have to load cargo above window level, so we’ve still got exceptional 360-degree visibility of the big glass and thin pillars of a ’90s SUV.
I grabbed an assortment of tools and a ratchet set in case something simple breaks far from town, but I also upgraded my AAA membership to cover a 200-mile tow if things go really bad. There are some unpopulated parts of America, but you’re rarely without cell service on main roads and never too too far from help.
Conditions on the first days of our drive were downright ridiculous. We waited until four in the afternoon to leave, thinking that would help keep ambient temperatures in the desert down a bit, but it was still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit as we climbed through southern Nevada into St. George, Utah.
I’m running a ScanGauge II OBD reader, so in addition to the factory oil pressure gauge and voltmeter we’re keeping a close eye on engine load, air intake temperature, and of course, water temp.
We saw 146-degrees (!) air intake temperature at the Del Taco drive-through in Baker, California!
The coolant’s been hanging out right around 200 degrees for most of the trip, which is great, but it crept up as high as 216 on some steep passes. Keeping the truck from overheating requires some very slow hill climbs, and turning the AC off when we really wish we could be running it most, but I’d rather have a slow and sweaty hill ascent than letting the radiator temp get anywhere near 240.
It’s been really, really hot this whole week so far, even at elevation in Colorado, but I think Nevada and Utah would have been challenging even for a younger car. I’m really impressed with the Montero’s engine temp management so far.
Mitsubishi V6s really don’t like to overheat, and once they boil over it’s common to warp things. Staying ahead of that is a priority.
These engines do like to make disconcerting lifter tick noises, which has been bugging me the entire trip so far. “That oil additive will help,” somebody said. (So far, no.) But, prevailing lore seems to be that it’s just a thing that happens. Oil pressure is good, and so is the level every time I check it, so, I guess I’m still gonna send it.
...I have been starting to wonder if it’s an exhaust manifold leak, though...
Otherwise, the only odd automotive behaviors I’ve observed are: Some kind of belt-squeal noise has happened randomly for a few seconds, like, three times since we’ve been driving. No clue what’s going on there. We also had a check engine code for a misfire on a single cylinder, but the engine’s not exhibiting any symptoms and changing spark plugs on this thing requires removing the intake plenum which I ain’t doing. So. I’m just hoping that was a side-effect of some low octane fuel we got at a remote waystation.
The truck doesn’t seem to be burning oil, though! I probably won’t do too many real-time update blogs, since I sincerely hope this trip is mostly uneventful. I will do a semi-comprehensive rundown, though, when we finally get where we’re going. Hit me up on Twitter and IG if you want to see some more posts from the road!