I wouldn’t have been able to pick up my Nova Bus RTS last weekend without the help of my fiancée and her little 2009 Chevrolet HHR. But something weird happened in Texas; the extreme heat caused a bunch of serious failures and I can’t seem to figure out how or why.
Austin, Texas, and its surrounding areas were blazing hot last weekend; perfect weather to pick up a city bus and drive it home. In fact, we found that the thermometer never dropped below 95 degrees during our time driving around Texas. Relatedly, the poor little HHR experienced a cascade of failures.
It all started when we stopped for fuel for the bus. The HHR’s air-conditioner failed with a loud bang, followed almost immediately by the car’s temperature gauge pegging itself into the red.
On the dashboard, the check engine light flashed and the car seemed to lose power. But these failures didn’t seem to have an explanation. Fluid levels were fine and I couldn’t find any real damage. Not even a single fuse had popped.
We picked up this car as her cheap daily last fall and amusingly, it’s been the most reliable vehicle in our fleet.
When my complex German cars break, this little HHR always works. We got it for the cheap price of $1,000 because it had some minor front end damage. The previous owner drove it as far as Alaska and back, but finally got tired at looking at the car’s slightly messed up face.
We’ve continued the car’s life of road trips by taking it all over the country, putting nearly 20,000 miles on its odometer in short time. The HHR also made for a nice tiny camper on Gambler 500 rallies in the winter. I still wait for local junkyards to get in a bright red HHR with good panels.
But the 98-degree heat in Austin that day seemed to work a number on the 227,000-mile car.
The bus didn’t like the heat, either, so we agreed on going a slower pace. This seemed to do the trick for a while and both vehicles were happy.
But then I started getting additional reports from the HHR.
The rear windows stopped working. They would roll down to a partially-open position then stop responding. Austin was already a sweatbox, but not being able to roll down the windows all the way was only going to make it hotter.
Making things worse was when the blower motor for the HVAC system took a smoke break.
We stopped again and I tried to figure out what was going on but I found nothing abnormal. We decided that our best bet would be to get out of the heat as soon as possible and soldiered on.
The rear windows would eventually come back to life, with the front windows failing in their place. The blower motor would also come back, but at the cost of the 12V power socket.
Random things would fail and fix themselves the entire way home without explanation, but thankfully the engine and transmission kept chugging along.
Well, until Monday afternoon, anyway.
On Monday, the car decided that it didn’t need greater than three gears. Then a sort of limp mode activated and the car drove like its fuel tank was filled with melatonin.
Today, I decided enough was enough and I was determined to get to the bottom of this. Generic scanners didn’t reveal any trouble codes that weren’t already there. My real diagnostic computers are for Volkswagens and Smarts, of course.
It also passed my test drive, shifting through all gears and every electrical component worked as it should.
I searched through all of the wiring harnesses that I could and found nothing out of the ordinary.
The only hint that something went wrong in Texas was the broken air-conditioner. The HHR has fresh coolant, oil and a battery, so it’s not like the heat-related problem was the result of a worn out battery and old fluids.
What happened here? This car was seemingly brought to its knees, but now it drives no different than when we picked it up. It was hot in Texas, but it shouldn’t be enough to fry a car. I’m baffled and not sure where I should look next. Perhaps we shouldn’t have messed with Texas...