Van Runs

Running Engine

See our van run.
Run, van, run!
Keep on running!
Run far, run long!
See van run!

That is the engine of our extended body ford cargo van with the interior shroud off. Below it you can see the muddy dirt road blurring by. It is a bit louder running this way, sounds like we’re in first gear when we’re in drive, but I wanted to observe it.

Several weeks ago the alternator died while Holly was on the road making deliveries of our pastured pork to stores and restaurants. She limped to a service garage using the battery, which killed the battery. They made an emergency heart transplant (a rebuilt alternator and a new battery) which got Holly back on the road in an amazing 2 hours and $250. This was most fortunate.

Unfortunately when the alternator was being replaced the radiator appears to have gotten bumped. It is 14 or 15 years old. A crack in the top is not too surprising a development. The symptom was a sudden loss of heat for the interior. Our regular mechanic fixed this with some radiator gunk which will take care of the problem for a while. Fortunately the hole was high, not low, or the entire radiator fluid would have dumped resulting in the engine not getting cooled. We were lucky.

The next issue, for the past three weeks, has been that the distributor cap has a crack so it is letting moisture in. This makes it so that the van won’t start after a rainy night. Part of the problem was the gasket in the hood above the distributor had come off. A hairdryer on the distributor for about half an hour dries it out enough that the van starts and then it is fine for the day. New wires and distributor are $250 or so. I’m holding off on this and keeping the hairdryer handy. Bonne chance.

Access for the hairdryer is why the shroud is off in the photo at the top. Unfortunately the distributor is in a very difficult to reach spot at the front of the engine behind the air intake assembly but only accessible from the back of the engine by reaching in around a lot of parts such as the spark plugs, fuel injection, etc. Bad setup. What is worse is the distributor is directly under the place where water from the windshield will leak down on it if the hood gasket fails, which is what happened. I have resealed the hood gasket with silicone – an easy fix.

Someone told me that spraying WD-40 on the distributor cap would help with water vapor getting in. Have any of you tried it? WD-40 might interfere with something. I hesitate since I know how to fix the problem with the hairdryer technique. Thoughts?

This was a cascade of mechanical failures, some of which were caused by the previous repair. That sort of thing can happen easily. Repairs under the body once wiggled and broke the brake line causing failure. New tube time.

Even with these repairs it is cheaper than a new van which runs $25,000 to $35,000. We spend about $500 to $1,000 on the van a year which includes tune ups behind what we can do. At that rate it would take 25 years to cover the purchase price and I’m sure a new vehicle would still need some amount of maintenance and repairs in that time. The monthly purchase payments alone would be more than these repairs. So far I’ve managed to avoid buying cars on credit. I would if I had to but I’ve been able to avoid it so I have. I just get used ones and bring them up to speed, keeping them repaired. This has been more economical than buying new. I seem to be averaging about 7.5 years each and this van’s still going so it could get extended. Vans seem to last a long time. They are not pretty but they’re functional and the fuel efficiency per pound transported is great. Make full trips.

I also don’t feel as bad about a ding in the paint on an old vehicle. I’ve watched people look at that first paint chip on their new cars… Emotionally it might be better to take a hammer to the fender to start with and get the whole thing over with. But since I’ve never owned a new one I can’t say for sure.

My other car is a tractor
Speaking of which, drop me an email if you have a Ford E-250 or E-350 extended body cargo van you would like to trade for CSA Pre-Buys of pork plus some Farmer’s Baskets. I would like to have a second vehicle so that when one is down for repairs we can still make deliveries or have a vehicle on the farm for emergencies when Holly is out on the road. Cosmetics is not an issue – functionality is.

Outdoors: 55째F/33째F Sunny, Spits of Rain
Tiny Cottage: 67째F/63째F

Daily Spark:
Walter: Sometimes government leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Holly: You’re not supposed to eat it.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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15 Responses to Van Runs

  1. David says:

    Wd-40 is non-conductive (you can check this with a simple ohmeter) and does shed water. However, I would probably replace the distributor cap, not the distributor, and the cost should be moderate. You might find one through a junkyard for very small dollars. A lot of those are linked online these days. It sounds like you have solved the water straight onto the distributor problem. Good luck.

  2. oshea12566 says:

    Good luck with your van, hope you keep it running for a few more years. My dad is a mechanic and I remember him spraying WD 40 on the distributor cap on my 'ol Buick Regal. I say try it, WD40 displaces water and moisture, so I think it'll help, certainly won't hurt. Might save you some electricity running a hair dryer for half hour. :-)

  3. Quatrefoil says:

    I'm absolutely with you on the old car front. I'm driving a 1988 Saab which I bought for $1,000 more than a year ago. 386,000 km on the clock and it's still running beautifully and has just got through registration with a total of $175 on repairs including labour and the inspection. And no, I'm not precious about the odd dint. I realise this won't last forever, but I figure spending a thousand or so on repairs each year is much better than buying even a 10 year old 'new' car.

  4. Anna says:

    Sounds just like our 20+ year old cars. Actually, we had an absolutely identical (to my untrained eye) electrical problem in our car last year. It wouldn't start when the weather was damp (which is about half the time around here.) We didn't want to have to replace the distributor cap, but when we brought it to the mechanic, he discovered the problem was actually the wires, which he replaced for just a few bucks.

    Another mechanic told me to go out at night and start the car in the dark while someone looked under the hood. With an electrical problem, you should be able to see sparks jumping at the location of the short. Probably would have worked, but we live half a mile from the cars and don't often walk out there in the dark. :-) If you live closer to your van, you might try it to make sure the short is where you think it is.

  5. karl says:

    as i understand WD40 stands for Water Displacement (version 40). i have also heard of that spraying a distributor but never tried it. ron at would know and i'd trust his opinion.

  6. We had another vehicle where the spark plug cables wore out and were not getting the energy through. When that happened some of them would fire but not others. In this case, when it is wet, none of them fire. Putting the hairdryer to the distributor cap solves it. I'm going to try the WD-40 as many people have suggested and we'll see how that does.

  7. Mike says:

    I've heard of the WD40 trick on a cap myself. Although, I think I am too chicken to try it myself – my luck the WD40 would work itself inside the cap and ignite, blowing the cap off.

    I'd try replacing the cap and wires before the whole distributor, like David and Anna said.

    Could you put an old bakelite bowl over the cap or something to keep the water off of it?

    It's so much easier to find a 2nd beater when you don't need it, then when you do!

  8. Gail in Montana says:

    Hi Walter,
    Looks like you are saving a lot of money by keeping your old van going!! That's great, I wish you the best of luck with it. Glad you can do some of the upkeep yourself. Boy, on a lot of the "modern" vehicles, my hubby says you couldn't begin to do that.
    I've not been on in the morning for over a week as I've been tending my doxie, who had surgery a week ago Tuesday. Her anal glands keep filling, so I decided to get them out. She was really suffering with them filling all the time. Not cheap, but better for her once she is completely healed. Stitches come out Friday!! So I've been tied via an invisible cord to her since her surgery. She almost died on the operating table from the anesthesia. Sure scared me when I heard the vet/surgeon tell me that after the fact!!!! You know how much I love animals, and my Dorie is my precious little companion and not quite 6 yet!! Anyway, it's good to be back, with her on her rocking chair right next to me ;-)
    It was fun reading your posts that I have missed!! Thanks for sharing!!

  9. UB says:

    Buy old and restore is fine by me, cleveru….

  10. Teresa says:

    I am truly impressed by those with the skills to keep vehicles running. It's also why I am thrilled my son is becoming a mechanic. He is working on the old 1975 Ford truck and has it running smoothly.

  11. krnntp says:

    Hi Walter, totally unrelated question. I found your website after following someone's link to your Pork Cuts Chart jpg. I'm quite taken with it :) Awesome graphic design, very appealing. …Do you have printed copies available, or higher resolution graphics files? I would like to put a copy on my wall. The jpg image looks a little grainy and I don't think it would look as good printed out on paper. I particularly love the font you have used, as well as the helpful breakdown of meat and utility areas of the pig. May I ask what the font is? (PS. another point about backfat, is that unrendered fatback is great for sausage making).

  12. Jerry says:

    Hi Walter: On the distributor cap I have used fingernail polish to seal a crack. And wd40 does work to help dry out an electrical system. I have used it many times after going threw a water hole and drowning out or washing the engine. If I can be of help, email me or call I have several years in a shop so mechanics rarely get any of my money.

  13. Krnntp,

    We do have printed versions of our Pork Cut Chart in much higher resolution. That chart has appeared widely including in a BBC documentary and won an art award as well as being used at many restaurants and other farms. It is kind of fun that so many people enjoy what started as simply my project years ago to learn about the parts of a pig. You can see blog posts of it here, here, here and here.

    The poster version is on a 13"x19" heavy stock for $20 non-laminated or $25 laminated. That includes postage in continental USA. The font is Textile.

    There is also a T-shirt version of the chart sold through CafePress that is slightly simplified to deal better with the low resolution of the weave of fabric.

    I need to print some more posters – high on my too do list. Maybe today as it is raining. My poster printer was frozen in the winter, it had been down in the old farm house, and it took an inordinate amount of time to it running again. Make note to self: printers don't like wintering outdoors in Vermont.

    If you would like to order a pork cut chart you can send a check. Just make a note of what you would like.

    Archimedes, the big boar pictured in the pork cut chart is now almost seven years old and still out in the field with his ladies. He's starting to show his age but keeps on keepin' on. He is no longer the biggest boar in the herd since Spot surpassed him. They get along well enough with their wide open spaces to graze on.



  14. Joel says:

    Hi Walter. Look here:;=7054&a;=FRc1414145k933689

    $11 bucks. Plug wires $11 Bucks. Rock Auto has been good to me on prices and quality. Save the WD-40, this is a pretty cheap fix and well worth it. On the Radiator….keep up the gunk approach. If the gunk already on it comes off, try Hi-temp RTV or similar products. If you drain the radiator in the future for whatever reason, pick out the gunk and use a vacuum to put a slight negative pressure INSIDE the radiator, it will pull the old gunk INTO the hole and seall a bit better. Old cars are great fun. Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without! Best regards.

  15. Rein says:

    You can access the cap from under the hood area .Just remove the air filter box and hoses.The plug wires are more of a pain.I you do one at a time you should be able to handle it. Be careful with wd40.I sprayed a running engine once .instant fire aleaking plug wire ignited it

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