We’ve all had a car break on us, but we haven’t all had it happen in a prepared, well-stocked garage. Sometimes, stuff just breaks, and you need to do whatever you can to limp back home. It’s a situation that leads to some deep frustration, but an equal dose of incredible engineering. Yesterday, we asked you for your most hacked-together car repairs, and you had a ton of answers. Let’s see what you came up with.
JB Weld Cures All Ills
Nothing I could ever do could compete against my dad. My dad used to buy JB Weld by the gallon. His entire family was JB Weld-o-holics.
While most people have childhood memories of fresh baked cookies and the like, my childhood memory is JB Weld curing.
But my enduring memory of car repairs is when we were going to church and dad decided to run the car through the car wash. When it got near the end, it dropped and exhaust pipe and jacked the car back end off the conveyer belt and caused a massive back up in the proceedings. My dad’s solution was to steal my shoe laces and tie up the exhaust. So I went around church without shoe laces. When we got home from church, we had soup, so he could use the can, some JB weld and a couple hose clamps to fix the exhaust. When we traded in the car, my shoelaces were still JB Welded to the exhaust under the car.
I can think of no reason why adhering fabric to a car’s exhaust would be bad. Not one single inkling of how that might go wrong.
All About Security
The Problem: My 1995 Dodge Neon Sport Coupe had this recurring issue where the key in the ignition would allow you to turn the car on and off, but it would not let you take the key out. Call it codependency, call it possessive, call it what you will; that ignition lock wouldn’t surrender that key no matter how much you swore at it. I had it “repaired” at the dealership no fewer than five times, and after a few days the problem would rear it’s ugly head once more.
The Solution: Leave the valet key in the ignition and carry around the main key to lock/unlock the door. Why the valet key in the ignition you ask? The Neon came with a fun main key that glowed in the dark (on the first-gen, anyway). Great for finding your key in the dark, not so great if your key is stuck but able to start the car, which is like shouting to a car thief “steal me!”.
Not like any of that mattered for a Chrysler product in the mid-90's. If anyone wanted to steal the thing, just grab a screwdriver.
I mean, without the glow-in-the-dark fob, who’s really going to notice that key in there? I think you’re fine, from a security standpoint.
At Least You Got the Rust Off
When I was young (like 17), I once ground out a rust spot on the passenger front door of a Volvo 245 DL. Lacking any kind of skills or knowledge of bodywork, I then patched the hole with a Tupperware lid, duct tape, and bondo, sprayed the whole thing in orange primer and called it a day.
My dad was less than impressed. Surprisingly, he didn’t get it properly fixed for something like six months.
Theoretically, that Lovecraftian horror on the door could have been watertight. It may not have been pretty, but it could easily have been functional at keeping rust away.
This Is Why God Made Helicoils
I was doing the brakes on my W123 wagon. The one side went fine, done in like 45 minutes. The drivers side. Oh my.
I snapped one of the caliper bolts. Okay, no problem. Tried an extractor. Nope, they never ever work except for that one time maybe. I can drill it out and tap for a larger bolt, no problem. So I needed to disconnect the steering knuckle so I could get in there to work. And I snapped one of THOSE bolts. Ugh, at least I can drill and tap THAT one for a larger bolt. And of course the tap snaps in the hole. So I end up calling a mobile welder to come and weld the arm to the spindle.
My ex-wife got in a fender bender with the car soon after, and the steering arm broke. No, not the one I half-assed. the OTHER one.
One of my proudest moments in my wrenching history was doing the brakes on a friend’s car in college. An apartment of three car guys all working on this rusted-out Malibu Maxx, for hours upon hours in the parking lot. We even took trips to Lowes to buy power tools, it got so bad. A couple weeks after the job, that friend drove down to the Bronx, and one of her calipers locked up on the highway. It was the only corner of that car I hadn’t touched during the brake job.
Not Sterile, But Satisfactory
A friend of mine had a Audi 5000 Turbo which threw off a coolant hose out in the middle of nowhere. So he lost all his coolant and needed a way to get those hose back on.
Luckily, there was a stream nearby - so he went back and forth with a small cola bottle to get water. It must of taken forever to refill.
Then he tied on the hose by wrapping a coat hanger around the hose. Impressively it lasted 100 km (60 mi) to get back home. Quite the MacGyver fix.
If you aren’t in a region where temperatures get too low, you can use water just fine in your cooling system. The trick is to ensure it’s distilled water, and to flush it very regularly because you’ll be lacking all the anti-corrosion additives. Stream water is likely just a touch worse here.
Dilapidated Vehicles Make for Interesting Repairs
I have three hacks from my days of owning a 1980 Jeep CJ-7 in graduate school:
*The filler neck of my gas tank cracked. I finally found a shop that agreed to weld it back together. They quoted $300 for the job if I brought them the Jeep, $100 if I brought them just the tank. Of course I pulled the tank off, and then realized that was my only vehicle. I grabbed a 5 gallon gas can, put it in the back seat, and ran a length of fuel line out the soft top back window, under the bumper and plugged it into the hard fuel line. I drove like that for a few days. Cool thing is that the gas gauge had never worked, but for that time I could look in the back seat and see how much gas was sloshing around in the can.
*At some point before I owned the Jeep it had been submerged and the fuel tank was full of mud. The sock filter over the end of the fuel line inside the tank got plugged as I was driving on the interstate. It leaned out and died. After a few minutes the sediment would settle down off the sock and I could drive for a few minutes before it plugged again. I limped to a truck stop and borrowed a compressed air line. Opened the fuel line outside the tank and blew the sock filter off with the compressed air. I inserted an inline filter outside the tank to limp it home.
*I was starting the Jeep one morning to go to work when the accelerator cable snapped. I found a length of speaker wire that I tied to the carb and ran out the side of the hood. The Jeep had no doors so I could control the throttle with my left hand to drive to work. That’s a strong spring! I could basically achieve idle or 3/4 throttle.
See? In a pinch, speaker wire always has your back. It’s the perfect tool for exactly one situation, but a usable tool in nearly all of them.
Safety Systems < A Paperclip
My first car was an ‘88 Pulsar, which already had 140k on the clock by the time it came into my possession—it was free from a friend of my dad’s and I was a broke high school kid so it became mine. Needless to say it was a bit of a crapcan, with lots of stuff that was wrong with it or about to go wrong.
Anyways, one of my prouder moments was diagnosing a problem where I couldn’t get the car to start. Through some testing and some Googling, I figured out the relay that was connected to a switch, for when you depressed the clutch before you could start the car, had gone bad.
I located the relay and ordered a replacement from Amazon for a few dollars, but I still needed the car that night. So I bypassed the connection for the relay with a paperclip. Car started right up! lol
Gotta love how easy it was to bypass finicky systems in older cars. Back then, all you needed was a paperclip. Now you need a resistor of the proper impedance.
Yep, That’ll Do
Spray foam insulation used to “repair” rust, anyone?
Look, I was only 17, and it was just a beat up old truck...
Please tell me you disclosed that “repair” when you sold the truck. Or, at least, sold it to someone who would’ve appreciate the DIY approach.
It’s Clear And Red, What’s The Problem?
Had a minor accident right before a long road trip... which knocked out a rear tail light (among other things). Bulb was still there and worked, but everything else was toast.
So I walked over to the Canadian Tire that was close by, picked up some Tuck Tape, and recreated the tail light with the tape. Worked well! Got stopped by every state trooper that saw it on the road trip, but it worked.
If you’ve got an illuminated element, behind a red-tinted cover, I for one don’t care what that cover’s made from. Why not have it be tape?
A hasty road-side application of coat hanger wire is still holding up the muffler on my wife’s old Corolla some 12 years later.
I JB Welded a cracked radiator tank inlet hose nipple on a Dodge Shadow. It was either that or replace the whole radiator. It held for several years.
I lost an E-clip for some part of the rear drums of my Neon. I didn’t have a spare, but I had a bunch of small washers. I clamped one that looked about the right size in a pair of vice grips, cut a notch in it with a Dremel, and installed. It stayed put until I replaced the shoes 100K miles later.
I had rounded off the oil drain bolt on one of my vehicles - it was either the Neon or the Taurus, can’t remember - but once I got it free, because I was 30 minutes from the nearest parts store and the car was my only ride, I decided to just toss the bolt in the freezer for a bit, then I took an old 12mm socket and heated it. Then I hammered the socket onto the stripped 1/2-inch bolt head. Once both parts reached the same temp, they never came apart again. Bonus was I never had to look for the right socket when doing oil changes.
I had lots of very hacky stereo installs over the years. Lots of electrical tape (or even duct tape) until I discovered the joys of solder and shrink tubing.
Lots of body parts held on by zip ties and drywall screws.
Bending coat hanger wire into place is convenient enough, but once you start buying armature wire you’ll never look back. I use it for everything now.
Better Than Hardware Store Hose
Had a heater hose (passing coolant from the engine to the HVAC block) blow on my crusty, 220,0000+mi second-gen Mitsubishi Eclipse in the fast lane on the loop 101 in Phoenix. Got a ride to Home Depot and got a 1/2 inch soft tube sprinkler couplings, like a black plastic thing 2-3 inches long with 2 male ends. On the side of the road just made a fresh cut where the hose had split, plugged the coupling into the 2 sides, secured with zip tie and filled up the coolant. Couldn’t find a new legit hose and life happened so the botch job became the definitive repair, and put another 10,000k or before I sold it. Car did get to redline on temp gauge before I noticed it. No obvious issues afterwards, oil and water seemed to stay in their respective compartments.
The genius of this repair is that it reuses the original hose as much as it can — no consideration for whether a cheaper aftermarket hose would’ve held up. That’s ingenuity right there.
Safety Wire Makes It More Safe, Actually
The O2 sensor in my Geo Metro fell out of the exhaust pipe complete with the bung. I don’t have a welder so I safety wired it back to the pipe. Ran great for another 50K miles. Put some new safety wire back on it before I sold it to the next guy.
If there’s one thing I know about safety wire, it’s that it’s completely airtight. No way to have an exhaust leak when safety wire is involved.
Necessity, Invention, Et Cetera
My first car was a VW Type 3 fastback. After a winter of scraping the inside of the windshield whilst driving, I had the idea to install a fan to do the work for me. Trouble was, I had ZERO dollars to do anything with pizazz, but as evidenced by the rust hole patched by pop-riveting metal from a garbage can lid into the floor of this very same vehicle, the lack of pizazz has never stopped me. So, pull apart one hair dryer to access the fan, cut hole in dashboard where the center speaker sat broken, and wire to...what? Oh, got it! The lights for the heating controls is a little spotlight on the dashboard that shines down between the seats where the levers to open and close the vents were. Clip the wires to the light, splice them into the hair dryer fan, and as long as the headlights were turned on I had a defrost fan that kinda defrosted a small area nowhere near the driver.
Now that’s an invention. I have no notes, other than to put an oscillating assembly beneath the hair dryer fan so it gets the whole windshield. Then, the next step is Shark Tank.
I had an older beater Ford Escort, that one day as I was leaving the Taco Bell with lunch, I turned the key and there was no resistance. The tumbler was dead. No biggy. Like a $20 fix, done them before on old trucks and such.
Nope. The lock cylinder is part of the ignition switch unit on the car. The whole thing comes as one piece. So, I need a $200 part, to fix my $800 car. Forget that.
Removing the steering column cover, then using a multimeter, I figured out where all the contacts were for the switch points. (Acc-Off-On-Start) I then went to my local auto parts store and bought two switches and a heavy duty, momentary toggle. Drilled holes in the bottom plastic of the dash and mounted them in a row.
Now, my little Escort started like a NASCAR. Flip the row of switches, and she fired right up.
Turned a $200 repair, into a $15 repair.
Sure, you could argue that this setup is just hotwiring with extra steps. I, however, would argue that it’s all track preparation.
Classic Gixxer Situation
I have one glaring example, but with a motorcycle.
I bought a clean-ish used 2004 gsxr1000 in Salt Lake City at an auction and rode it back to Pennsylvania.
I knew the bike had been down at least once. But judging from the fairing damaged, it looked like your typical low speed lowside ( narrator: it wasn’t just a low speed lowside)
About 3/4 of the way home the was a little weirdness to the handling. If I sat on the right side of the seat, the bike would kinda steer left. And it had a real touchy on center feel, I just chalked it up to loose or worn headbearings, and rode along. When I stopped for gas I noticed the rake seemed a little weird. Started crawling around the bike and noticed the entire bottom of the steering tube (head tube) was separated from the frame by about 1-2 mm.
My first thought was not “wow, how will I get home” My first thought was the 150-ish speed run I was doing in the empty parts of Colorado a day or so before.
It was about 1 am and nothing was open. But luckily there was a Walmart next door. I decided to go get some snacks and think about what I’m going to do. Now the beautiful part about rural Walmarts is they are really the do all store in the area. As I’m walking through the isles I happen upon those 3' long 3/4" wide zip ties. My inner shade tree mechanic is instantly activated. A bag of 30 for $20. Thank you very much. And a set of their cheapest channel locks and side cutters to really pull the ties trigger and cut them off.
Back to my bike. I rather ungraciously ram the bike into a wall a few times trying to get that gap as close as possible, then start zipping on the ties. Made sure the broken patterns of the aluminum fit back together, and put the rest of the pack on for good measure.
Get back on the road and all is well. Stayed well within the speed limit for the next 1800 or so miles till I got back home. One used frame (with title) from AJs cycle salvage, and a few weekends and I had a pretty kickass bike.
See, this is a situation where zip ties probably weren’t the perfect choice. What you need here is a hose clamp, so you can really ratchet it down. That’ll hold your frame together forever.
Submitted by: chewymilk