Valve Clatter

They don't build 'em like they used to

Published in the December 2010 Issue December 2010 Column

I feel like an old timer when I say that. So sue me. In many ways, it's true.

This past weekend I took our project truck, LBMC, out for some recreational fun with the fam. I loaded up the wife, kids and threw a couple of UTVs on the trailer. After getting loaded up, fueled up and snacked up, we got on the Interstate and began our journey to the trailhead. Within minutes, the truck started losing power. The engine ran, but life was draining out of it quickly. My speed dropped-75, 65, 55, 50 mph-my toe grinding the accelerator pedal through the floorboard. Some jerk semi-truck driver was 12 inches from the back of my trailer, while cars were zooming by on both sides of us.

The smell of raw diesel fuel filled the cab. Luckily, there was an exit coming up. We finally were able to make our way over and get off the exit as the engine died. Fuel was pouring out from under the engine, onto the ground. The No. 4 cylinder injector line had ruptured. I sheepishly looked over at my wife, who I had just been giving me a hard time because we were late meeting up with our friends. I hate the taste of crow, but it seems like I should be used to it by now.

This bad experience had me thinking about the other times I've been stranded with a truck. A couple different times with a bad injector or two, once with a blown transmission, once with an entire set of failed injectors, once with a bad fuel lift pump, once when a tone ring came off of the crankshaft. Soon I realized that all but one of these break downs occurred in third-generation Dodges. In contrast, I recounted my experience with second-generation Dodge trucks, with which I also have a fair amount of experience. I realized that I've had far fewer failures in second-gen trucks. This is when the proverbial old granpappy's voice rang in my head, "They don't make `em like they used to."

It seems that with many of the technological leaps and bounds forward that engineers make in our newer trucks, we sacrifice a little confidence and peace of mind in our equipment.

Fifteen years ago, who would have guessed that some cars would be crashing their drivers into things with an electronic malfunction in the accelerator? Not to mention the fact that when this happens, their drivers wouldn't turn the key off before they hit something. But that's another issue. It takes complex engineering to bring us the convenience and luxury our high-tech trucks give us. With this complexity, the potential for failure goes up.

For example, now each injector has its own electronic solenoid that controls each spray of fuel, compared to the old days when fuel delivery was simply dependent on mechanical gears and plungers. All of the mechanics in engines are still present, but now we have layers of electronics and wiring on top of that. The creature comforts we enjoy in new trucks are great, but I have to be honest, I find myself weighing the pros and cons of today's luxury trucks vs. the more reliable, longer-lasting trucks of years past.

You would think that with age, experience and refinement, today's trucks would be everything yesterday's trucks were and more. However, it seems like owning today's trucks is a lot like a marriage: It's a give and take relationship, where compromises must be made. And sometimes you're left standing there scratching your head and thinking, "What the hell just happened?"

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