13 February 2013

Twenty things we learned the hard way on Route 66

Not so long ago, we sent six intrepid travelers on a journey to deliver two 1970s sports cars from the tumbleweeds of the southwest to the farmlands of the Midwest by way of one of America’s most iconic roads — Route 66. The breakdown-plagued adventure provided plenty of teaching moments along the way; here are 20 of the most memorable:

(Click here for the video from our “Trip of Fools.”)

  1. No matter how much you pay for a pre-purchase inspection, always oversee the trip preparation yourself. Trust us on this one.
  2. If you buy cheap jumper cables on your next trip to the store, you’ll likely need to make another trip to buy better jumper cables.
  3. Flashlights are great; a “headlamp” with a headband is even better.
  4. Don’t even bother trying to fix the cigarette lighter if you have a bad fuel leak.
  5. If you have a bad fuel leak, don’t fill the tank all the way, and consider using some type of object (an empty bottle of additive worked for us) to prop open the back hatch so you and your passenger don’t suffocate.
  6. Lucas Oil Additive is a great product. Use it. 
  7. Making sure all the oil pan bolts are in place really, really reduces oil leaks.
  8. Hard, dry tires with minimal tread don’t mix with high speed.
  9. A couple of cans of Fix-A-Flat are handy for inflating a spare tire after you throw a tread and discover the inflation bottle is empty.
  10. A little bit of gasket sealer is good; a lot of gasket sealer is better.
  11. A sharp knife is handy to cut a belt after the air conditioner compressor seizes.
  12. You will definitely feel better if you have a fire extinguisher in each car.
  13. The car that’s going to break next is the one without the tools in it.
  14. If you shift into neutral fast enough you can sometimes coast a mile after the engine dies.
  15. Chase cars come in really handy, particularly if they’re not 5 or 10 miles ahead of you at a crucial moment.
  16. Don’t expect Sushi at Big Vern’s Steakhouse in Shamrock, Texas.
  17. To check for bed bugs, inspect the edges where the mattress is stitched.
  18. If a hotel review tells you you’re better off sleeping in your car, you should just sleep in your car.
  19. Sometimes you can find the best service in the most unlikely places, as we discovered more than once.
  20. If you’re not from the Southwest, ask for the chili on the side – at breakfast.


40 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bruce Berens The Boonies February 20, 2013 at 15:20
    Very insightful and funny. I've done 8000 mile (10 wk) and 3500 mile (7 wk) trips through Europei n two 35 year old but well fettled though not" new" Alfas with only a crabby solenoid and crabby driveline. More worry than issues. A length of broomstick is handy for a crabby solenoid. The experiences were amazing.
  • 2
    G. Ogan Abilene, TX February 20, 2013 at 15:35
    You should make this an annual event, calling it, "The Unsure Tour" vs. "The Power Tour" and publicize it so those of us who dare can ATTEMPT to join up as you try to recreate the Route 66 Run. We can stand around and Kibitz as to what caused each breakdown and how best to use bailing wire and duct tape to get us to the next garage. Awards can be given at the final destination (or as far as we can reach) for: 1.The Most Catastrophic Mechanical Failure (or Emotional Breakdown) 2. The Highest Number of Minor Mechanical Failures 3. The Most Innovative or Creative Temporary Repair 4. The Furthest Distance Driven BEFORE Breakdown (either type) 5. The Shortest Distance Driven BETWEEN Breakdown (" " ) 6. Those Who Don't Have a Breakdown Get Nothing (they are either too lucky, too prepared or too sane) You can also have divisions for those who drive the most unusual brand or type of vehicle or those brands with a history of severe failures.
  • 3
    Carl Pratt South Lyon, Michigan February 20, 2013 at 15:41
    I can relate having driven my 75 Cougar to and from Daytona from Michigan a few times things happen...battery dead requires jumpstart; alternator bearing siezes...luckily belt wears out and falls off; motor refuses to start after gas fillup...Duraspark box has to be replaced; tire blows out...50 mile out of the way trip to replace; fuel leak at threaded fitting...after 35 years of not leaking! Clock (hasn't worked in 30 years) starts buzzing! A/C compressor looses charge every third day...luck was with us, it's December and going home weather calls for snow! Been there done that! Congrats on fine article and nice video.
  • 4
    rancho bella The Southwest February 20, 2013 at 15:45
    I don't want to write that I am a know it all, but.................this is why I hire enclosed carriers to bring the car to my front door. I don't like surprises in the middle of no where..................it ain't fun or funny.
  • 5
    Tom Schmidt Chicago Western Suburbs February 20, 2013 at 16:01
    There's something about a long car trip that I just love. And doing Route 66, a now defunct US Highway that runs about five miles from where I write this, fires the imagination. Did it once in 1960 in the family '59 Plymouth Belvedere. I must do it again. Cheers.
  • 6
    william furmage United States February 20, 2013 at 16:24
    Nice Video, loved watching it.
  • 7
    A Brood Northern Michigan (UP eh?) February 20, 2013 at 16:41
    I can relate well to this story. I drove my 71 Chevy truck from LA to Michigan on Rt. 66 in 2009. Fortunately, I discovered an eccentric fellow at an auto parts store who was a backyard mechanic and had some tools I didn't fly out with me to help get it roadworthy. I limped it home, but it through a rod within a week of getting home. Another suggestion before hitting the road cross country. Take a 50 to 100 mile test drive before heading out into the desert. I was able to discover a 75% blocked radiator before I left civilization on my test drive.
  • 8
    jim matus CA February 20, 2013 at 16:42
    Best suggestion next time drive a Corvette
  • 9
    Mark Scottsdale, AZ February 20, 2013 at 17:25
    We're planning a 1,400 mile loop from Phoenix to Santa Barbara to Vegas to Phoenix for the last weekend of March... in a '58 Alfa Giuletta Spider. I'm soaking up the preparation advice I can get. Truly, the adventure is the journey rather than the destination!
  • 10
    Fred Harrison Sierra Vista, Arizona February 20, 2013 at 18:09
    Great stories. I have a 1928 Model A Ford Tudor and plan to drive portions of route 66. I plan to carry as many tools and spare parts as possible. The restoration should be complete by June of 2013. The Arizona portion I hope will be in July of 2013
  • 11
    Jeff Torrey Northeast February 20, 2013 at 18:10
    I enjoyed that.
  • 12
    Joe Goldberg North Carolina February 20, 2013 at 18:26
    Thanks for the tips!!! My oldest friend and I are going to drive Route 66 from St. Louis to LA in April. He in a '67 Impala SS and me in my '46 Chevy pickup. WISH US LUCK, AND THAT WE DON'T NEED HAGERTY ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE!!!
  • 13
    Jonathan Spira SF Bay Area, California February 20, 2013 at 18:31
    "Trip of Fools" seems to be a very appropriate title for a video in which anyone considers driving more than a free tow's distance from a major coastal metropolitan area in a Jensen Interceptor III.
  • 14
    Brian Presley ScienceHill Kentucky February 20, 2013 at 18:54
    loved the story made me smile and remembered some trips
  • 15
    Brian Presley ScienceHill February 20, 2013 at 19:22
    loved the story made me smile and remembered trips made
  • 16
    John Hamburger Croton-on-Hudson, NY February 20, 2013 at 20:05
    After seeing this video I am more of a fool than ever. I am leaving here (Westcester Cty, New York) around the 18Th of March for Las Vegas in my 54 F100 panel truck to attend the Viva Las Vegas Car Show. Then return via Rt 66 then home. I am going to do this by myself. The good wife says no way she is going. Someone with some sense needs to stay home. Hope I make it. Wish me luke as I am still putting the pieces together on the truck as I write.
  • 17
    roger fritch west CA February 20, 2013 at 20:08
    I made two trips cross country ( coast to coast) in the last 3 years, one in 2010 my son and I drove 7500 miles in a 1973 ES Volvo, lucky no break downs and with engine and trans that are original never been rebuilt. 2nd trip was in 2012 in a 1968 220 Volvo wagon. Again lucky no break downs.This cars engine trans and rear end were rebuilt 3 years ago.. we took highway 50 and highway 80.I have also taken part of 66 and would love to do it again all the way. I think it is more fun to drive than have a car delivered. Makes more of an adventure. You guys made some good points on what to carry and yes I take more parts and tools than clothes.
  • 18
    carol reimann montana February 20, 2013 at 21:10
    If you keep your classic vehicles in good working order, you'll enjoy your trip much better..We took our 38 Chrysler on a 3 week trip on Rt 66. Only trouble we had was near Shamrock Tx when we forgot too latch the hood on our cooler compartment on our matching trailer. It flew open and we had about 20 delay collecting things that blew out and to prefix the hood.
  • 19
    Mike Mullay Maple Valley, Washington February 20, 2013 at 22:54
    I would have expected a higher degree of reliability out of the Datsun than what was actually experienced, but given it's age and checkered history it did about as well as one could realistically expect. But come on! Expecting a Jensen Healey to hold together for any length of time is just plain asking for trouble. Those things were basically crap when they were new!
  • 20
    Rod Evans The middle of the soviet state of Washington February 20, 2013 at 23:59
    I suppose that playing it safe and loading your car into the assend of a semi and having it transported across the country is now considered both stylish and cosmopolitan now days becouse of the increased value of our older cars and the number of things that can go wrong.If that's the case then you might as well become a magician becouse you have just changed your beloved automobile into a glorified door stop or a bookend for christ sakes!Our toys were designed to transport us from point A to point B and hopefully providing us with the absolute most enjoyable form of transportation possible .There is nothing better than on a nice,sunny and warm afternoon to pump the gas pedal twice,turn the ignition key ,hit the starter button and both hear and feel all 8 cylinders of the V8 in my 56 Austin Healey come to life wanting to hit the road for a little exercise and shake the cobwebs loose after hiding out from all the Winter's snows.Top down,sunshine beating down and a open road in front of you,how does it get any better than that?I've made numerous trips across country by motorcycle and in the process had a few side trips due to mechanical malfunctions along the way but,it's just part of life and those are the trips that you always remember the best.I'd much rather exprerience life than merely exist through it.
  • 21
    Bob Warren Az February 21, 2013 at 01:48
    I bought a Corvair in Atlanta. My wife and I drove it back through the tail end of Hurricane Ike. I bought tools for it in Atlanta before we left there. I had to use the Vise Grips in Tucumcari to use as a gas pedal when the spline shaft stripped. Made it back to Az like that. Fun adventure!
  • 22
    Tom Kent mid north Indiana February 21, 2013 at 16:57
    I sure enjoyed tour saga chronicle of all the trials, and tribulations on a journey on the Mother Road. It is however laughably Ironic that on the same page in a following article you address the five car manufacturers that met their fortunate or perhaps unfortunate end, depending on your point of view. One of these companies mentioned was Bricklin. I own a 1975 Bricklin and plan to make a future road trip on Route 66 with my teenage son in a few years, starting out in Chicago and heading west. We have taken several road trips before but an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. Thanks for a good laugh.
  • 23
    Philip Pepper Addirondaks NY February 21, 2013 at 07:03
    We have driven cross country many times during our 33 years together, but June of 2011 was one of the most memorable. My father in law said that he was done with his truck, did we still want it. The 1966 Ford F250 Camper Special is in great shape after living its entire 45 years just outside of Santa Fe NM. Did we want it? Of course we did! He bought it on March 18 1966, and about 10 years later, he taught my wife to drive with it. (and change tires etc...) DOT (Dad's Old Truck) was running a little rough, but after an oil change, gas tank cleaning, new fuel filter and pump, she was running like a champ. Off we went, trading the driving duties every few hours, stopping about every 3 hrs. for gas, and running with the air conditioners rolled down(temps.100 + in Oklahoma & Kansas) we made it to the Addirondaks in 3 days(16 hrs,-16 hrs,-10 hrs, drive times). 2100+ miles, and the only delays were all the extra time spent at each gas stop, talking with DOT's many admirers. Since moving to northern NY, DOT has been tuned for the lower altitude, gotten a new clutch and rubber, been in a parade, hauled lumber, and been greatly admired during the Grand Prix vintage races at Watkins Glen. We will always treasure and care for DOT, and pass her on to our daughter when the time is right.
  • 24
    Joe Peifer Denver February 21, 2013 at 09:10
    In 2003 we drove our 1970 Olds Cutlass Convertible from Denver to Seattle for a national meet. We caravaned with others on the way there and luckily had no issues. We were on our own coming home and took a side trip to San Francisco via the PCH. Then back through Reno and Salt Lake and home. It was hot as all get out but as luck would have it we had no issues. We sold that car a few years later. In 2009 we drove our newly acquired 1974 Gran Torino from Denver to Casper Wy for a 3 day car show. All was going well until we stopped for gas about 40 miles from home. The tranny would not shift very well. By the time we got off the highway for our house it would barely move and the smell of burning fluid was in the air. This warranted a transmission rebuild. Six hundred miles for that small trip but I would bet the car hadn't gone six hundred miles in a year before I bought it. These road trips are a blast no matter how they go and I love the people on the road that honk and give you a thumbs up or take pictures as you head down the road.
  • 25
    Michael Waters Eastern NC February 21, 2013 at 09:14
    I can identify with the seized A/C belt and the need for a sharp knife. Happened to me many years ago, but without the knife on hand. So there I was, a stranger waliking down a country road to the nearest house, knocking on the door of an unfamiliar house and begging to borrow a sharp knife. Luckily they sized me up to be an honest guy and no law enforcement agency was involved.
  • 26
    Howard Upper Falls, MD February 21, 2013 at 21:23
    Should have gotten some advice from an experienced roadtripper. Bought my '69 Porsche 912 in July of 2001. Left for it's first trip Sept/2001. First coast to coast trip July/'03. Five more trips to CA since. Cars has been in 39 states so far. Has never been on a tow truck, car carrier or trailer since it arrived at my door. 100k of my own so far. Hoping to make the West Coast 912 Rendezvous this September. Some people say I'm crazy to take a 40+ year old car across the USA. Well, I'm having one heck of a good time for a crazy guy. What could possibly happen....I could break down. Gee, a new car couldn't do that now could it? Car, no matter how old they are, are made to drive. You will spend as much maintaining a car that sits as you will for one that is used.Go out and drive that relic. I'm having the time of my life. You can too.
  • 27
    Ed Burman Fallston, Maryland February 21, 2013 at 11:41
    I made the trip in August of 1965, East to West, in a 1965 Chrysler New Yorker with friend and his Grand Parents. THE Trip of a life time! But the one thing these guys forgot, which was an absolute must in sixties, was a desert water bag you hung out in front, and to the side of your grill. I remember seeing almost every car on Route 66 with a water bag hanging out in front just crusing down the road. Thanks for the memories!
  • 28
    David Lylis Tampa, FL February 21, 2013 at 11:54
    A number of years ago I was diving in a caravan to Jekkyl Island, GA in my 69 TR6 with wire wheels when I blew out a tire. Fortunately, my spare was ready and willing and so I was on my way. My wife was arriving at our destination from a a work assignment and I was to meet her there. I KNEW that I would not live it down if I did not have a spare so upon my arrival I called Tire Rack and had a new, matching tire FedExed overnight to the hotel so I could have it replaced, have a spare, and proceed with our weekend. She had not yet arrived so she did not know. All is well; crafty David has saved the day, however managed to trash my checking account. On day of departure we said our goodbyes and started south. I managed to make it 50 miles before I lost another tire, and proceeded to drive home, with my wife in the car, without a spare.
  • 29
    Mike Peck Sonoma County, California February 21, 2013 at 00:11
    After buying and driving an old car cross-country (when I was younger and willing to take the risk), I didn't really think twice about flying to San Diego, picking up an old Cadillac limousine, and then driving it to my home north of San Francisco. I looked the car over, checked all fluids, tires and tire pressures, etc. I started the trip at 55...engine running fine, no vibrations. Then 60...65...70. No problems other than a non-working gas gauge, and making good time! Then...BAM!!! To really get your heart pumping, try skewing three tons of Detroit iron across all eight lanes of the Pasadena Freeway. Lucky for me, there's not much traffic early on a Sunday morning. Even luckier was that the spare still held air and got me home. I'm still willing to make a long-distance trip for something I absolutely have to own (like, for example, a Jensen Interceptor). Only next time it'll be loaded on a trailer behind the Suburban. I don't know that I'd fully trust an ad for an older car that reads "fly in...drive home" ever again.
  • 30
    Roger Bowers Melbourne, FL February 21, 2013 at 00:17
    Made a similar, but longer trip recently in my bone stock unrestored survivor 1970 Datsun 240Z. Northern California to East Coast of Florida. I drove the car as if it were built yesterday, hitting 100+ on long straight desert roads. No issues until Ft. Walton Beach,FL. when I began to hear the tell-tale sound of a left rear wheel bearing. I stopped at imported parts shop, took them to Mr. Goodwrench who made the repair in about four hours. All temps and pressures were as new throughout the trip. The tires were 10 year-old Dunlops. The Z had 136K. I was amazed at the reliability of this 42 year-old car. I've had new Hondas and Beemers that didn't work as well. Since the trip I had to replace the water pump, It was a piece of cake that could be done on the side of the road if necessary. And the part was very inexpensive.
  • 31
    LM Brown Seattle February 21, 2013 at 12:24
    Liked the article. Going to do a "trip of fool" this Sept. Just me and my grand daughter driving a 56 Chev from Seattle to Chicago. Then heading down 66 to San Bernardino for their Rendezvous.
  • 32
    Ralph Terry Honolulu February 21, 2013 at 00:33
    In 1967 I was 16 and took my first extended road trip with a buddy in my well sorted TR3b, so I thought. I had the original factory tool kit but a very wise man, My Dad, gave me another bag with a flash light-hammer- 2 wire coat hangars-roll of electrical tape-channel locks-two old gallon jugs of water and his Union 76 Credit Card. He said with a smile " that is all you will need to get you there and back"! He was right! by the time I had made it to Florida and back I had used everything in Dads bag. He was proud and happy I had made the trip on my own but did not appreciate the Union 76 bill.
  • 33
    Fred Frey United States February 21, 2013 at 00:52
    We're doing a Route 66 trip this upcoming summer in our 1973 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super. The car is very well sorted at this point having been through a complete rebuild and a previous trip from NY to California and back in the summer of '11. We've set up a website for our route 66 trip: www.route66alfa.com
  • 34
    Ken Sousa Lincoln, CA February 23, 2013 at 17:02
    We took our 69 Mustang convertible on a Mustangs Across America run from Las Vegas to Birmingham in 2009 for the Mustang Club of America's 45th anniversary celebration of the birth of the Mustang at Barber Motorsports Park. Great drive, but, in 5200 miles of that round trip, my Mustang didn't have any mechanical trouble whatsoever. Despite the disparaging comment about the Nissan at the begining of your video, the Jensen is a typical British electrical/mechanical nightmare and, as someone else said, it's a good thing you had the Nissan as a chase car. I owned a 72 Datsun 240Z back in the day, and it was a marvelous piece of hardware indeed. Anyway, the road trip with our Mustang was great until we ran into a sandblasting from a thunderhead downburst just east of Rawlins, WY. That cost us (Hagerty and I) around $7K to repair and repaint. Loved the trip overall, though, and I saw a lot of the locations along 66 that we traveled. The concrete TeePees in Holbrook brought back memories.
  • 35
    Michael Rubin Napa Valley February 25, 2013 at 13:37
    G. Ogan's "Unsure Tour" sounds like he's been on a Morgan run or two! I'd include bringing along a bicycle cable in the stash of emergency parts...fills in nicely for a throttle cable on older cars. And, in the words of a fellow Morgan owner, the most important tool to bring is -- a fully charged cell phone.
  • 36
    CJ Ojai CA February 27, 2013 at 12:52
    This reminds me of when I was driving from LA to Chicago on 66 in a '55 Chevy wagon back in 1970. In the middle of the NM desert a fan blade broke off and went into the radiator. Fortunately, back then there were plenty of junkyards along the road and I was able to find replacement parts and get going again in a few hours.
  • 37
    M. Piccirillo The lovely state of Wisconsin March 1, 2013 at 21:24
    This love we have for these cars has got to be genetic!
  • 38
    L Duncan SW Florida March 12, 2013 at 15:24
    Having just returned from a 4400 mile round trip, trip...from SW Florida to Sierra Vista Arizona and back...I must say...you either love the road trip...or you don't! We traveled in a 30ft rented RV, 2 competant adults, 1 -18 year old, 1 -6 year old and a set of 2 year old twins! Hubby and I have been "mini-truckers" for all of our driving lives, going on nearly 25 years. We helped design Hagerty's custom vehicle program. That being said, we are both able bodied mechanics! We spent a lovely 2 days driving across I-10 until we hit Ft. Stockton, TX. The RV began to slow, with no power no matter what you did. We pulled into the closest rest/picnic area (thankfully TX has a plethera of rest areas) to discover the tranny fluid dripping oh so steadily from underneath. We called the rental company who did the best they could given the circumstances....5:30pm on Christmas Eve. We spent the night in Ft Stockton at an RV park straight out of "Deliverance", and picked up our trip in a Surburban from the Midland airport the next morning, (Santa managed to find us even in the middle of nowhere). We arrived a little behind schedule on Christmas Day but still managed to surprise our daughter who is stationed in Sierra Vista. We picked up our replacement rental 2 days later in Tucson, finished up our stay in Sierra Vista and had a completely uneventful trip back home. Did I mention we made this trip in 3 days each way? The RV we left in was a 2012 with 27K miles....the RV we returned with was a 2010 with 137K. Newer isn't always better! Always be prepared...spend the extra money on good jumper cables, replace the batteries in your flashlight, buy a new roll of duct tape (or two), gather up your screwdrivers and pliers, and whatever else odd ball item you might think is silly...but turns out to be invaluable...put all the stress behind you and ENJOY the open road!! There is so much of the history of this country that our children aren't taught these days....and they should know how this amazing country came to be. So much beautiful scenery!! Here's to safe trips and good times!!
  • 39
    K Lewis Lake Tahoe March 13, 2013 at 17:19
    I loved the outline of your trip! The gas leak followed up by the security you felt by having a fire extinguisher had me laughing out loud. I had to share my funniest experience with my brother (by the grace of God we are sill alive). Driving to Mammoth Mountain for a ski trip, I'm 15 and he is 19, I wake up to him "rolling tumbleweeds" after he fell asleep at the wheel and the car drifted onto to the highway 395 shoulder. I said, "what are you doing, you'll get us killed, let me drive, I have my permit!". 10 minutes later he wakes up to me "rolling tumbleweeds" after I fell asleep at the wheel. Thank you Lord we didn't hurt anyone else or ourselves! Take home message, never start your road trip at 1:00 in the morning. Thanks guys!
  • 40
    zeke Way down south September 26, 2014 at 12:24
    I've been on route 66 (the entire length that you can drive on that seems to vary year to year) several times in my 1980 Shay Deluxe Roadster that I purchased in the mid 80s. I also have an origional model A that I drive regionally, but the Shay being a modern car (Ford 2.3 and 4 speed) is stone reliable. My Shay has over 300K on it now and of course it has had much work done to it over the years but the basic drivetrain parts are cheap and easy to replace. A few years back the motor got updated with a 2.3 turbo/5 speed from a T-Bird Turbo Coupe and it has an underdash AC unit and modern radio but otherwise its the same as it always was. I love using my Shay to fish and camp, it usually pulls a small teardrop trailer that me and my wife sleep in on the road. Most people that don't know what it is think it's a really old car, well, it's 34 years old, the engine being 8 years newer but not exactly from the 30s. This to me is one of the greatest replicas ever made.

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