I’ve been meaning to put together a follow-up to Fleet Horror Stories, Pt. 1 for a while now. This post has been buried deep in my drafts folder for so long that it was easy to forget about. But I remembered this time!
While the previous post focused on a POS truck that I spent most of my time driving for that company, there were other trucks with problems of their own that I occasionally found myself behind the wheel of. One was a 2004 Chevy Express-based box truck. In my opinion, it was the best truck in the fleet. Powered by a proper 6.0, it was actually kind of nice to drive (though I have to admit, the bar wasn’t set very high).
As usual, maintenance was limited to oil changes ONLY, and tires were allowed to get pretty ugly before any money would be spent on -you guessed it- more used tires (sans alignments, of course).
Visibility became another issue. No work truck would be complete without a cracked windshield, but this thing went a step further than that. One day the wipers failed, (not that that’s a priority repair or anything...), and it would be several weeks before that was resolved. During that time, I was sent 4 hours across the state, and as luck would have it, it rained on my way back.
As I squinted to see through the raindrops, the co-worker beside me decided to record this ridiculousness with his camera phone. As he did so, he was surprised to find that the picture shown through his phone’s screen was somehow clearer than what we saw in person as if unaffected by the distortion of the wet glass. So he handed the phone to me in an attempt to help, but I decided that the half-second or so delay from the camera lens to the phone display was just too much, and continued white-knuckling our way back to Detroit.
Eventually the wipers were fixed, followed shortly by a failure of the washer sprayers. And what better time of year for this shit than wintertime?
My manager was as helpless as I was to secure funding from the owners to arrange to get these trucks fixed, and bid me stop by Home Depot for some Windex. So every other red light or so, I had to roll down the window, lean out, and spray the glass. At least the wipers worked now. Unfortunately, I didn’t always remember to bring the window cleaner inside overnight, lest it freeze in the cab of the van.
IIRC, the problem turned out to be the multifunction switch, and instead of replacing it, a new circuit was run through the firewall to a Radio Shack button installed down by the brake release handle. So you would literally have to lean forward, and hold the button to make it spray, while operating the wiper switch normally.
One day, coming off of the expressway, a small, brief cloud of smoke erupted from under the hood. I pulled over and found a wire fried bare of its insulation. It was the new sprayer circuit running from the fuse panel to the washer button, chafed on the firewall instead of being protected by a proper grommet.
Speaking of the electrical system, here’s a pic of the dusty and corroding underhood fuse panel. Apparently someone had lost the cover at some point. Note the broken blade from an old fuse stuck in the center of the pic. If memory serves, that was for the wiper circuit (but I could be mistaken).
Refueling was always an issue. Instead of having dedicated fuel cards, you had to return to the main office and borrow a “petty cash” credit card (there was only one). People usually remembered to bring it back when they were done, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. More often than not, the card was maxxed out, and we had to be careful to select which truck to drive how far, and how close we could run it to empty.
The fuel light came on many times in this truck, and I became familiar with its limits. One day, the light was already on, and despite my protesting, I was sent to a jobsite 20 miles away. There was no money to put in it and I KNEW it wasn’t going to make it back. So before leaving, I took it upon myself to look around, and I found a gas can in the shop that had about one gallon left inside. I took the can with me and got on the road.
Sure enough, on my way back, the van sputtered and died. I used that little bit of remaining fuel to get to a gas station, where I used my lunch money to get a couple gallons and return to the office. (But before doing that, I made sure to call the office and let them know I ran out of gas, so that I could make them panic for a moment.)
Some months later, the van sputtered and died again, but this time it had a sufficient amount of fuel in the tank.
I coasted it into a parking lot, and after several minutes, I managed to get it started again. But it died before I even left the driveway. After nearly half an hour, it somehow ran again, but would only move for a couple of miles at a time before sputtering out and forcing me to pull over. The company would not call for a tow truck, and was content to have me spend an hour and a half limping it back home.
You guessed it: it turns out that the fuel pump was failing, presumably after having been run so low on fuel so often.