Getting an unseen used vehicle 1000 miles away...
February 14, 2007 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I recently purchased this used vehicle on eBay which is located around Bangor, Maine, and I'm planning on driving it back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I'm looking for advice to maximize my chances of actually making it back...

I'm flying out friday morning, taking a taxi ~50 miles out of bangor to pick it up (I contacted a service and this is OK) and was hoping to get it home by the end of the weekend. I took off work on Monday and could call in for other days if necessary (ie I am stuck in BF, Nowhere). Should I make hotel reservations ahead of time? Am I forgetting anything in the travel arrangements?

It's sold as running condition (without a warranty), the seller claims to have driven it 100 miles with no problems, but that's a bit different than 1000 miles. I was thinking about trying to make arrangements with a local repair shop to have them look it over and tell me if there are any repairs that should be done. Could the feasability of a long trip be assessed immediately? I figured I'd get all the fluids flushed, in any case. Will it be problematic to find a shop willing to deal with a vehicle like this?

I was considering bringing out some parts and/or tools to do minor repairs if necessary, as I'm pretty mechanically inclined. This has an all-mechanical detroit diesel engine, which I'm told is pretty easy to work on, but I have no experience with. Are there any parts in particular I should be concerned with being able to find? Any parts I should replace just for the hell of it?

I was also thinking of getting something like an Allstate Motor Club membership, which should cover me (towing, lodging) if it breaks down and I have to get repairs done. Is this a good service, or is there anything better?
posted by nTeleKy to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure you noticed, but they specifically list the tires as needing to be either rotated or replaced in the description.
posted by togdon at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2007

I sort of tried the same thing you did but going from Portland to Milwaukee. I never made it partially because it broke down after a few miles and partially because I brought a (now ex-) girlfriend along.

If I were to do it again, I'd try to bring along a Chilton guide for the vehicle (though for yours that might be hard to find), a good automotive tool kit, and a motorclub membership (personally I have Amoco, no experience with All State). I would also have a plan in place for how to get back home if the vehicle completely conks out (in our instance, we had roundtrip airline tickets)
posted by drezdn at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2007

Congrats on your new Borat truck. Yes, you should take it to a local mechanic, but no, there's really no way they can guarantee it will make it to Wisconsin.

Finding a mechanic for a U.S.-made vehicle shouldn't be hard.

The best you can do is make sure the engine's compression is good, fluids are full and relatively clean, all belts, suspension, steering linkage and hoses are in order, etc. If it were me, I'd take some wrenches, some duct tape, a few hose clamps and one of those universal fits-all temporary belts.

You never really know what's going to happen with a 20-year-old, obviously well-used vehicle. But that engine is pretty young for a diesel, if the mileage is as represented on eBay.

Allstate, AAA, etc. would be good, but some gas credit cards also provide traveler emergency services. You may already be covered.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:03 PM on February 14, 2007

Buy some snow tires. Driving from Maine to Wisconsin in February with 2 bald tires is asking for trouble. Think about replacing that big battery he says is 'bad' also. I hope it runs better than it looks. Good luck.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:06 PM on February 14, 2007

This will either be a whole lot of fun or a pain in the ass, depending on your attitude. Judging from your questions, I'm betting on fun.
I would replace:
The tires. Radials on back and bias-ply on front will equal squirrely handleing in snow.
The battery. He says you need a new one.
I can't speak to the diesel, but I'm sure someone else here can. You could probably find a deisel mechanic somewhere on your route who would look at it for you.
My GF and I bought a car in NY off E-Bay, drove it to Maine for a little vacation time then drove it back to Wisconsin a couple years back with no problems, but that was a much newer vehicle in the summer.
This sounds exactly like something I would do just for the adventure.
Give us an update when you get back!
posted by Floydd at 12:08 PM on February 14, 2007

I also vote for new battery and new tires. Or if not actually bringing tires (tad impractical) at least buy or bring a good jack and other tools necessary to change a tire. A small DC-operated air compressor wouldn't be a bad idea (although does this vehicle have a 12V electrical system or 24V? I have a dim recollection that some diesel military vehicles were 24.).

I'd also make a contingency plan in case it just doesn't make it; a way for you to get home, and a way to get the truck home (shipping/towing etc.).

Also, I see that it has a block heater -- that might not be a bad idea to take advantage of; if you can, try to park it in places where you can plug it in at night, otherwise getting it started might be a bear. Several long extension cords might be good to keep around. At least you won't be short space, in the back of the truck.

Diesel-fuel anti-gel is easy to find at gas stations selling diesel, and might be good to toss in. I used to put some in, back when I drove a diesel car (a tiny 90-something HP VW), and although I have no idea of whether it really did any good, I never had trouble starting it in the winter in Maine. (And that car did not have a block heater, and was parked outdoors.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:15 PM on February 14, 2007

Be sure to post after it back to this thread so we know the end result!!!
posted by thilmony at 12:37 PM on February 14, 2007

I nth replacing the tires. Running ply and radials on the same vehicle isn't exactly the best thing to do because handling could be seriously compromised. Replacing all the fluids and battery would be a good idea as well.
posted by ganzhimself at 12:55 PM on February 14, 2007

Stick to the roads, beware of the moors

get those basic repairs, try to keep travel to daylight hours, take routes that are fairly well used and populated, and go like hell!!!!

check 'er over thoroughly every night for fluids etc

good luck
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2007

Pick up some oil, antifreeze, any other fluids you might need. If you are buying tires you might get an alinement done too.
posted by yohko at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2007

I don't know how much you'll want to drive on those old tires, but I cannot say enough good about Century Tire here in Portland, which is about 3 hours south of Bangor, and should be en route to Milwaukee.

Good luck with this!
posted by suki at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2007


we just got a 93 dodge 250 off craigs list after much searching.

run that puppy on wesson!

(and, yeah, travel by day. stuck roadside at the 10/20 split outside el paso in a sunset snowstorm taught me that lesson.
when the nice fundie trucker finally picked us up--because the girl i was with was hot--he told us NOONE picks up anyone at the 10/20 split because of the many dismembered truckers' bodies found whose rigs disappear to mexico...dropped off at the one convenience store for miles with the twin brothers counting out stacks of money on the counter next to the biggest revolver ive ever seen, we waited for the prematurely, white-haired tow-truck driver who only wanted to talk about "messikins" and the klan as he drove us SLOW-LY through the developing blizzard. anyway....)

posted by oigocosas at 1:50 PM on February 14, 2007

If you get a roadside plan (such as AAA), make sure that the plan covers that size of vehicle --- it is big enough that you may need to get an plan that covers RVs and trucks.

Bring a sleeping bag and pad to let you safely sleep in the back, in case you break down or there is bad weather; either bring with you or buy on the first day a supply of food and some water bottles.

A new battery (or batteries -- you may want to just go ahead and replace both) would be a good idea. If you buy them from a chain (like Walmart) you can use the warranty no matter where you are. Personally I'd suggest new tires, at least two and preferably four. You could make some phone calls now and have a place ready to do the battery and tire replacements when you get there.

If the truck is hard to start, try to shut it off as seldom as possible. You can fuel up diesel vehicles fairly safely while they are running (diesel is a lot harder to ignite than gasoline); you can eat snack foods or drivethrough foods while idling, etc. Putting some cold-weather additive in the tank on the first day wouldn't hurt if it has been sitting for a while. If it's really tough to start, you can drive the whole way without ever shutting it off, just napping at rest stops with it idling (don't forget the sleeping bag!).

I wouldn't make hotel reservations ahead of time, because you won't be sure how long it will take you to get on the road (especially if you are replacing batteries and tires). One advantage of AAA membership is their state books, which have hotel listings for every town. That plus a cellphone lets you call ahead to the next town and have a hotel room ready when you get there.

Bring or buy a 50' heavy gauge extension cord for plugging the heater in at night. You want a good, heavy extension cord, not one of the light and cheap ones. Not all hotels have good places to plug it in, but some do.

Consider replacing the wiper blades along with the tires and batteries, and make sure you have an icescraper for the windshield. Double-check the tire pressures --- big diesels sometimes need quite high tire pressures, and even tire shops sometimes default to 30 or 35psi without checking the manual.

It'll be a fun trip, and do let us know how it goes.
posted by Forktine at 1:56 PM on February 14, 2007

Kadin2048, yes this vehicle is probably 24V. (Although the seller says it's starting off the second battery only, which seems to indicate it's 12V. Either way it's easy to tell once you're under the hood.)

You're on the right track having the fluids changed. I would suggest also checking over the hoses and the belts carefully -- a vehicle this old with only 39K miles on it may still have some of its original rubber. Try to find a shop that specializes in diesels in Bangor to have it checked out -- they will be very familiar with this engine type and be able to tell you quickly if there are obvious, major problems. Most mechanics unless they are diesel specialists don't know much about older truck diesels.

As you probably know already common things that go bad with the 6.2Ls are head gaskets, injection pumps, and starters. The first two there's not much you can do about on the schedule you've laid out -- if you had more time (or hadn't bought the truck yet) I'd suggest taking it to a diesel shop to have them do a compression test, perhaps check the head gaskets based on the results of the compression test, and check over the injection pump. (maybe when you get back to Mowakee.) Something you CAN do is to use the block heater whenever you can -- the 6.2L has a pretty high compression ratio, which makes it hard to start in the cold (which is in turn hard on the starter motor.) And if you have to crank it to get it to start, let it sit for a minute or so between attempts to let the starter cool.

As for the towing insurance -- let's put it this way, when I bought our 1986 6.2L a couple of years ago, I changed to AAA Premium with the 100-mile towing coverage. Haven't had to use it yet (knock on wood) but I have done an awful lot of work to get that beast road-worthy.

Good luck!
posted by harkin banks at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2007

Besides good info above...
Although you may (not) be able to find a shop manual for this thing, you CAN buy a 1986 CHEVY G-30 shop manual, if you have time. At least that will give you something to go on as far as specs (hoses, belts, plugs, oil requirements, etc). Or, you might find specs online by googling 1986 Chevy G30.
posted by artdrectr at 2:21 PM on February 14, 2007

About the battery: maybe overkill, but if you can, get a heavy-duty jump pack that can handle a diesel. If you have a club with roadside assistance, they'll often send a guy in a little car or pickup with one of these things, but the run-of-the-mill ones can't crank enough for a diesel. (If you can get them to send an actual tow truck, that will usually jump a diesel). This might be different if they understand that you're driving a large truck, but was incredibly frustrating when I had a diesel VW with an intermittent problem with the alternator - they never believed me when I told them that they really, really needed to send the truck and that the little jump packs wouldn't cut it.

Take comfort in the knowledge that with an old diesel, once you get it started you won't have to worry much about battery problems unless you really need the wipers, lights, fan, or radio.
posted by dilettante at 2:40 PM on February 14, 2007

One thing to keep in mind with a roadside plan is that it can take awhile to kick in. They don't want people calling up and signing up at the moment when they're in need of a tow and cancelling at the next available opportunity. I think when I signed up for CAA, they said it was 2 days before I could use the tow services, and a week before I could use the premium services, or possibly the other way around. So if you're planning on getting a roadside plan to cover the trip, make sure you get it far enough in advance that it'll actually cover your trip.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:49 PM on February 14, 2007

If you are traveling out of Milwaukee, you only need to look out the window to see that the advice about tires is the first one you should be listening to. Driving that beast through the snow we've gotten in the past couple of days on bald tires would be like an exercise in terror. Particularly if you are unfamiliar with handling a vehicle that big.

The jumper cables seem like a really good idea as well. And warm clothes would probably be useful as well; you are assuming the heater is working, but if the van does break down, you may be out in the cold while you are waiting for help.

Also, make sure you bring a cell phone and it's charger.
posted by quin at 3:57 PM on February 14, 2007

One thing I forgot: Another thing that often goes bad on 6.2L engines of this vintage is the glowplug system. Fortunately that can be sorted out pretty quickly by a mechanic who knows these engines, so if you take it in to be checked out have them make sure the glowplugs are all working correctly. If it's cold you won't be able to start without working glowplugs!

(After listing all the common problems with the 6.2, now let me say congratulations on becoming an owner of one of the most common truck engines in the US. Don't worry about finding parts, there are so many of these on the road that you'll be able to find parts, both new and in wrecking yards, for years to come. And get to know this place -- it's got the highest signal-to-noise ratio of any online forum I've run across, and the guys there are almost uniformly super knowledgeable and helpful.)
posted by harkin banks at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2007

I once flew from Raleigh, NC to upstate Minnesota to pick up a 65 mustang and drive it home. Pretty interesting trip and would do it again, even with the issues I ran into.

If you are flying up, theres not much you can take tool wise. It might just be easier to hit the local walmart/kmart/etc and pick up a basic set of cheap tools and supplies (sockets, pliers, screwdrivers, etc). Having extra tools never hurts.

It's easy enough to stop at a autoparts store and get the battery replaced, so that might not be a bad idea. The tires seem a bit sketchy, but thats a bit harder to get done on a timely basis.

1000 miles in an old truck in two days is a pretty aggressive schedule. In a nice comfy car, no problem. But that truck looks like it would be pretty tiring to be driving 8-12 hours a day. It's going to be loud, and quite possibly cold (good chance the heater doesn't work).

If you have at least money, a cell phone, and AAA, I'd say give it a shot. But I'd allocate at least another day or two. If you get up there and drive it for a while and decide it's not safe to drive without some work, you can stop. Since it will be over the weekend, it's going to be hard to get any service work done if it needs any extensive work.

The weather looks pretty crappy up that way. I did my trip in the middle of the summer, so had no such concerns.
posted by alikins at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2007

I would consider strongly having provisions in case of a breakdown and no help available. Water bottles, food, blankets, hat, gloves, flares, and beer.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:05 PM on February 14, 2007

Floydd writes "The tires. Radials on back and bias-ply on front will equal squirrely handleing in snow."

It'll be squirrelly on dry pavement, every groove in the pavement will be an adventure. And the backs don't look all that great to me either though the fronts definitely need replacing. There is a good chance the van has 16.5 wheels (my 84 did, it's pretty common on single wheel 1-tons) which will make the tires a touch harder to find. See if you can find a tire place that services both cars and heavy trucks.

I'd budget for tires, battery (get the right code, there is a reason the box is so big), wiper blades, headlights if it's got seal beams, a few marker bulbs, engine and diff oil change, possibly an air cleaner and a roll of duct tape.

If you can't get the dog house (the inside hood) to seal properly duct tape the gaps. The breeze coming thru at highway speeds in the winter will freeze your leg right off.

If you don't replace the battery right away at least secure the temporary. Little is more exciting in an accident than a 30lb projectile filled with sulphuric acid flying around the interior of the vehicle you are driving.

You might want to bring a portable radio with you.

Hydroboost brakes share hydraulic fluid with the power steering system so make sure the reservoir is full.

Longer term I replaced the seats on everyone of these GM cubes I owned. The pedestals will fit a lot of seats with a little drilling, my favourite were seats out of a mustang II.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on February 14, 2007

I kind of scanned through but didn't see anyone mentioning.... Umm.... they've just had major snowfalls in the region the last week or so. Is the current weather system done? Or is there more snow coming? All the stuff people have written looks like good automotive advice, but don't be this guy; make sure you are knowledgeable about the traveling conditions you're likely to encounter, especially weather, and take a good cold weather sleeping bag and some provisions. Don't take any remote short cuts!
posted by Doohickie at 9:11 PM on February 14, 2007

Come on Doohickie, I've read your history and you are awesome at the whole AskMe thing. You should know better than to scan. Reading is fundamental, and all that.

But in case the point gets lost, I'll say it again. Bring warm clothes and if necessary, sleeping gear. Your van could break down in an area where you might be out of touch with everyone. Better safe than sorry and other preparedness clich├ęs.
posted by quin at 11:47 PM on February 14, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thank you all for the great advice and good wishes.

I went through hell getting this titled, registered and insured last night, but I was successful! I decided to go with Koa's RV Roadhelp since they cover any necessary distance to a qualified repair place and deal with larger vehicles. Both that and the insurance were activated immediately with payment via credit card.

Weather was a concern of mine, but from what I've been seeing on weather underground, it looks like the nor'easter's back out at sea, there's not that much snowfall left (depending on my route) and there's only minor snow coming enroute. But if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. I think I'm probably going to try to get tires, battery, fluids done fri. afternoon and drive straight through Saturday.

I'll definately check back in and let everyone know how it went. If I can borrow my friend's laptop, perhaps I'll even update you while I'm on the road (but not driving). I've got a hacked e815 with EVDO that I've been trying to find an elaborate fantasy scenario for.
posted by nTeleKy at 7:36 AM on February 15, 2007

Response by poster: Update time: things are terrible and things are going great. So much has happened, I'm planning on putting together a travelogue and pictures eventually.

Anyway, long story short: If you're flying, don't use US Airways. I paid $100 extra for my ticket to get there before closing time Friday. My first flight was delayed, my second flight left early (and the woman actually said "The clocks are wrong" when I pointed it out). I decided to get a few glasses of Jameson rather than deal with the constant 0-person line at US Airways complaint center. It was there the entire 5 hours I waited until the next flight, which also let late. If you're ever in Bangor, use this guy for taxi service. When I got there it wasn't starting, there was coolant all over the ground and leaking in the cab. He said it was the heater core, it was maybe just loose, I tried tightening it, but it was a hard angle to get at and the place it connected to the core at seemed rusted-out, so he brought me to a service shop (coincidentally, he grew up in the exact small town that my car was in) down the block and talked to the guy. They were closed, but sent us to another shop in someone's (huge) garage on their land. That guy was also closed (nothing it open on the weekends...), but had a wrecker. I decided to get a hotel in bangor and just take care of everything today since I only had 4 hours of sleep. So the taxi driver drove me to a sweet hotel: The Charles Inn, and then to the Auto Parts store to see about the heater core, which was $28 but not there for some reason. And, because he felt sorry for me, he only charged $130 for all of that...maybe 3 hours of driving? Plus, you could smoke in the car, which was nice. I fixed a computer at the Charles Inn that was virii (yes, I know that's not the correct spelling) infested (24 and counting), so now I have a computer I can use. I called the tow place and they won't tow it unless I'm with the vehicle, so I'm going to wait until Monday, when the service place opens. I called the seller and he thinks it's just because the coolant was topped off and the heater core was on for so long. His guy is looking at it and he's going to call me back. He said he'd get a new battery (it wasn't cranking well) if needed. So hopefully that guy can fix it and I'll be off tomorrow. Maine reminds me of Northern Wisconsin, but the people sometimes eerily remind me of stephen king characters and there's more hills. More later...
posted by nTeleKy at 1:52 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: Woops, that first link for the taxi dude shoud be this.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:55 PM on February 17, 2007

I'm dying for an update!!
posted by thilmony at 2:02 PM on February 22, 2007

Me too!!!
posted by Floydd at 10:20 AM on February 23, 2007

Response by poster: Woo Hoo! It took me 5 days to get the first 50 miles and 34 hours for the next 1000, but I got it back!

On Saturday, I talked to the seller and he had his person look at it. Apparently, he had topped off the coolant and plugged in the block heater the night before, which built up a decent amount of pressure and pushed the heater core over the edge. The seller was on vacation, but drove up Sunday and bypassed the heater core, put in a new battery, threw it on his flatbed and brought it to my hotel and gave me $100 to boot. Not wanting to drive back without heat (and defrost), I decided to replace it. Coincidentally, one of the maintenance people at the hotel was a mechanic for 25 years, so I was talking to him about it. He said it'd probably be 8 hours of labor since you have to take apart half the van to get it out. I went to the auto parts store and they had a similar heater core, but it was slightly longer and thinner. Due to the size difference and my lack of tools and impatience I decided to just bust open the box and patch it in with foil tape, which I did in the hotel parking lot.

I was all ready to go and tried firing it up. It was trying, but not quite turning over, so I plugged in the block heater and left it for a few hours, still no go. I got it towed to a mechanic on Monday, and they replaced the glow plug relay, which had gone. One of the front tires had a big gash in it, but they didn't have the 16.5 tires, so I had to get two new rims (from a junkyard) and two new tires. I had asked that they look it over, but the serpentine belt was squealing, so I asked specifically if they checked the belt. The mechanic that looked at it wasn't there, so I asked that they check it out. About ten minutes later, the guy at the front desk told me he talked to another mechanic who said he had looked at it and it was fine. To me, that sounded like "we're running behind schedule today (they were), so we're going to lie about it", but I decided to trust him and picked up some belt dressing.

I was triumphant, finally on my way, and the squealing stopped after half an hour. I stopped at a rest area and came back out, turned the key and...clunk. Clunk. Fuck. Called roadside assistance again and the woman on the phone wouldn't talk to me because I was swearing. I shit you not, she was going to find another operator because I said fuck one too many times. I'm on hold for another 10 minutes and freezing my ass off, so when she got back on the line I told her I wouldn't swear anymore, just please get me a tow truck. I was left with the rather uncomfortable options of freezing in my car and warming myself up in a rest area men's room.

Got it towed and got a ride to an almost vacant chinese restaurant where I got a House Special Zombie ("even more powerful than the original!") and three plate-sized egg foo young for $12. I talked with the waitress about my situation and her traveling days and got a free glass of Jameson because she had already written up the bill. The tow truck driver (who was listening to Hannity and Colmes) left me at this kind of creepy place called Pray's Motel, which turned out to be the best $40/night hotel I've ever been in (living room, stove, fridge, cable). I got it fixed at his shop the next day and headed out at 10AM on Wednesday, napped at rest areas when I started to doze, drove through a blizzard in PA, rush hour in Chicago, and got home mentally and physically exhausted at 8PM yesterday.

It was one hell of an experience and I was starting to lose it by the end, but...well, it was one hell of an experience. I've got some pictures I'll put up later, perhaps with a better rendition of the events. I've got a decent amount of missed work I should be catching up on... Thanks again for all the advice, I wish I would've followed more of it.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:22 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

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