What’s the one repair you couldn’t successfully overcome?


It really doesn’t matter your level of under-hood or under-body expertise: all of us gearheads find ourselves frustrated to the point that we quit on an automotive repair or project. Sometimes we take a pause for a little self-care, and successfully finish the task once our head clears. Other times we decide it’s better to let someone with more time, experience, and training get the job done for us.

If all else fails, we realize this is the moment when we give up on the vehicle entirely. That may mean one last trip to the dealership, a classified ad, or a donation to someone else. (And that someone else might be a junkyard, especially when rust repair is involved!)


I chose the ill-fated Twin Dual Cam as the photo for this story because this engine is pretty hard to work on for most folks. A timing belt change wasn’t easy like it was on a Taurus SHO four-cylinder Toyota, nor was changing the spark plugs akin to a walk in the park. So yes, it was “poorly designed” relative to other engines in the GM 60-degree family of V-6s. Perhaps, compared to older Chevrolet products, you could say the Twin Dual Cam was impossible to repair.

I suspect GM technicians from that era can regale us with even more horror stories of these engines, but I’d like to think the Twin Dual Cam’s legacy might have a happier tone in 2023. I mean, it could be worse.

You could be trying to get a VW/Audi product from the last 20-ish years into its Service Position. That singular task looks about as labor intensive as any work you need to do on a Twin Dual Cam Chevy Lumina. Even worse, obtaining proper Service Position is only the first step of many needed to accomplish a task that’d be far simpler darn near any other vehicle of the era.

Then again, I’ve never poked around a Twin Dual Cam that wasn’t in a stripped-out race car (i.e. it’s a nice upgrade to a Fiero). And I’d rather assume the position than try to put an Audi A4 into its service position. I could have this all wrong, so the question is still before us: What’s the one repair you couldn’t successfully overcome?




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    I welded a broken crankshaft from a Ford 8N tractor once, on the advice of a “tractor guy” and based on the assumption that the RPMs never got over 1500, therefor, little stress. I clamped, braced, measured and remeasured about a hundred times for straightness, even welding three rods along and around the counterweights, then stick-welded and air cooled in small increments, and really thought it’d hold. Which it did, for about 2 weeks of mowing and light blade work, at which time the engine had to really torque down for a stump pull, and SNAP, clatter, clatter, thunk. The replacement (engine, not just crank, as the internal damage was pretty extensive) is still running fine, some 15 years later. Turns out it wasn’t RPM I should have been considering, it was workload.

    I don’t know that I would try it on a crank, but my gasless flux-core wire welder does a remarkable job on cast for reasons I cannot explain

    Timing belt on a 944 Porsche…

    Now I did successfully complete the repair. I pulled the engine for other reasons that I don’t recall (I believe it was leaking balance shaft housings), and the timing belt replacement on the mileage-unknown engine (estimated north of 200K) was a collateral repair. There is a timing belt tensioning tool for the 944, but the repair cost was already pushing too close to the value of the car and I elected not to get a tool I would likely only use once. I tightened the timing belt using the sage wisdom of the internet (tighten until you can barely turn the long run of the belt 90 degrees). I reassembled the car, and had a fairly loud howl coming from the timing belt area. I backed off of the tension a little and the howl went away. I left the top of the cover off for inspection, and eventually forgot about it. Now about 2 years later, the belt failed catastrophically and bent my valves into a literal S shape. I replaced the head, but damage had apparently been done in the lower end, and that is when I threw in the towel on the 944. Something I think about frequently as my replacement 1-Series approaches due for a timing belt. Wing it and ride with the original belt? Take it to the dealer and pay close to half the value of the car to get it replaced… ?

    An oil pressure sensor for a 2003 Cadillac Deville with the Northstar. The sensor had about half an inch of clearance between the end of the sensor and the subframe, oil filter housing bracket, and the exhaust manifold; there was a bunch of stuff for me to curse at while I was trying to get it.

    I got it out finally after a couple of hours and then when trying to screw the new one in, the wiring harness for the plug snapped in half. My Dad, who was nearby heard me drop the wrench and said, “Troubles?” and I said, “Nope, not anymore. I’m calling a tow truck I am done.”

    Being of sage wisdom, he said, “Now it can’t be that bad,” and crawled under there with me, looked up at it, and said, “I think this engine was designed by Satan. Call the tow truck and pay them whatever they want.”

    Best $500 I spent.

    so speaking about the “dreaded NORTHSTAR engine”, The starter started to make a grinding sound, crawled under the car…no starter… Well, i found out that the starter was under the intake manifold so i had to remove EVERYTHING up top… next i found out that the starter killed the flywheel (teeth) so the trans had to come away from the engine.. its been almost a year of 5 more simple things on this barge and now the blower for the Heat/AC went out… Have to remove coil packs, wire harness everything between the engine and firewall, tilt the engine 3″ forward…. Do you know anyone who wants a 2001 DeVille with 77k miles!!!!

    I feel your pain! I inherited a 2003 Deville with 96k and kept it till 170k. In my time with it, I did regular maintenance and several repairs. Including:

    Oil Level Sensor
    Oil Pressure Switch
    Coolant Reservoir Tank
    The Water Pump
    Intake Manifold Gaskets
    Coolant Crossover gaskets
    Fuel Vent Tubs
    All Actuators for the HVAC system
    Blower Motor (that was easy, less than 10 minutes): you can get to it from under the dash on the passenger side.

    Things I didn’t fix:
    Solenoid For the Overdrive for the Transmission
    The HeadBolts began to stretch (nobody was willing to take on the job around my area)
    Oil Leaks from every single gasket on the engine

    I loved the car, and I’m not upset about the work I did to it keep it as my daily driver for 7 years, as all that was cheaper than a car payment. I got to the point, though, that the whole driveline really needed to be replaced, and I couldn’t find anyone willing to do the work. If I tried to do it myself, I was worried I’d have to haul it to the Junkyard, which would break my heart.

    I replaced it with a Buick with the 3800 V6. Repairs I’ve done to it in the past 3 years:


    When the time comes, I know on the Buick, I can work through any needs it has and remind myself at least I’m not working in the Deville Engine bay.

    Well I can say knocking on wood I have overcome all repairs. Now that is not to brag on my expertise but more about knowing my limitations before I start.

    The greatest danger is that many will start into a job that they do not investigate before they start and then end up with a box of parts and an unrepaired cars.

    Also I never owned a car bad enough to give up on.

    The Twin Cam was not easy nor a good engine. GM even back in the day had dealers replace them vs repair most of them. But there are a number of engines still like this today.

    The second gen MR2 turbo you have a hose that needs replaced around 80K miles and to fix it the engine has to come out. Wo while apart it is a good time to replace the timing belts and water pump. Same on many Hyundai’s. The timing belts need replaced and you need to change the pump now as you have it out.

    Some jobs look worse than they are. My Supercharged Bonneville had a belt that went around the engine mount on the front. You support the engine remove the mount and put the belt on. Not something to do along the road but in the garage not bad.

    Other jobs the right tool is the matter of success or failure. Working on a Fiero to many looks impossible but it really is not all that bad. Changing plug is easy if you have a long handle ratchet with a swivel head.

    Also don’t let the plugs rust in on the back from water leaking in. Change them once a year if you drive in all weather.

    My new C5 is really easy to work on for the most but if the Torque Tube has an issue I think I will leave that to a shop. I just don’t have the lift to do it correctly.

    It is not about being smart but working smart. As Dirty Harry once said
    “A man needs to know his limitations.”

    My aforementioned 944 has essentially the same drivetrain configuration as the C5 and is not terribly hard to get out… as long as the Corvette folks didn’t attach a lot of electronic wonderfullness to it, it can probably be done on a set of cinderblocks

    Fixing my hatch on my 82 Corvette Collector Edition so it doesn’t leak took me years. After many attempts I may have done it but I am afraid to call it a victory just yet. Always nervous when I wash it but the true test will be if I ever get caught in a surprise heavy rainstorm. The problem is that there is only one source for the weather stripping and it’s up to the OEM specs.

    My dad and I had to give up on our Nash Metropolitan. We had already successfully rebuilt the engine TWICE – once for pistons, then 200mi later for crankshaft – the cost of trying to save money by only doing “what’s necessary”.

    But when we tried to fix this nasty clicking sound that happened in the front end on left turns, we discovered it was a large (2-3in) crack in the unibody where the upper a-frame was mounted. We could not weld, and no welder we knew (and we knew some really good ones in the O&G industry) would touch it. Plus we knew the weld would not pass safety inspection.

    So we sold the car “as is”. This was long ago in the early 1970’s when welding tech somewhat more primitive, at least where we lived.

    Oh, I have one for the conversation. I purchased a good running 1957 F100 short wide a year ago. 272 Y Block, factory auto trans. I drove it 250 miles home with no problems! Put another 100 miles around town and one day it had an issue starting. Well, got i fired up, drove home and parked it. Next day, no fire. So, into the garage and I start chasing ghosts. Starter, new solenoid, I yanked the points and installed Pertronix ignition and coil, changed carb, fuel lines, battery cables, cleaned the tank and sending unit. Nothing. I pulled the valve covers to discover 3 bent pushrods. So, a year later, till no fire. Hopefully, I will solve this.

    ive got a 2004 silverauto ss been in the garage 2 years. goes into low power mode you clear the code so you can get it home. replaced the gas petal sensor the box on the firewall the sensor on the throttle body all twice . ran grounds to everything, checked all the wiring . I work on it till I’m frustrated try to drive it somewhere close to home. works for a couple of trips then screws up again. its sentimental because my wife bought it for me when new for my birthday, made the payments on her waitress money till it was paid off. still nice to look at. the red rocket! anyone got any ideas?

    Double check the ground wire that is on one of the bell housing bolts. You can access this wire through the passenger side wheel well with the inner liner removed

    My ’73 Lincoln starts erratically. I need to turn the key to start several times before it cranks. Not so bad, but when the engine is hot and I shut it off when I try to start it again all I get is dead silence. What wire or connection when hot separates to cause this. I’m frustrated by driving the car to an event and waiting till it cools down before it may or may not restart to get me home. Anybody have recommendations? I thought it was the ignition switch, but it is on the steering column and should not be effected by engine heat.

    I had a similar issue on my ’66 Pontiac. As Sajeev suggests, I suspected the old, rebuilt OEM starter was giving up due to age and constant heat soaks. I decided to replace it with a mini-starter. When I was re-routing the battery cable/solenoid wire to the mini, I discovered that the ignition wire had a “cooked” spot in the insulation (it had been bundled with the battery cable and wrapped with silver heat tape, but the proximity to a header tube obviously overcame the protection). When stripped back, this revealed only TWO of the multiple strands of wire connected. The ends of the others were in close proximity, and SOMETIMES made enough contact to let the voltage/amperage through – sometimes NOT (likely due to heat deforming the insulation a bit which changed with cooling, or maybe me just not holding my mouth right). I replaced the wire and re-routed to better clear the header and voila! Issue solved. I now think I could have left the OEM started on, but I LOVE the mini, so the old one is on the shelf as an emergency spare.

    Ford solenoids are easy enough to check with a flathead screwdriver. Leaky valve covers put an early end to more starters than most folks realize. A lot of parts stores will not honor a warranty on a starter if there is any trace of oil on it

    On an older car that has the “hot starter” issue…. cranks easily when cold but barely cranks (if at all) when when the engine is hot. My ‘70 Chevelle SS had this problem years ago. So did a friend’s ‘68 Cutlass. Culprit was just an intermittent ground. Clean up all the ground connections, especially the ground to the engine block. The old cars were usually easy to fix, not like anything now.

    Volvo 240 red block crank position sensor thoughtfully mounted on top of the bell-housing. I thought mine had gone bad. Ordered a new one. Not cheap!

    Step 1) buy multiple 1/4″-drive u-joints and extensions. 3/8″ are too fat. You have maybe 3/8″ of clearance between the back of the head and the firewall.
    Step 2) spend half a day figuring out the best mix n match of above to reach the single 8mm bolt holding the sensor in place.
    Step 3) remove bolt. Aha!
    Step 4) be unable to pull the sensor out of the bellhousing because it’d become stuck after oh 30 years.
    Step 5) spend a few hours getting the little bolt back in
    Step 6) give up on the bolt, because the sensor wasn’t the problem and it’s not going anywhere anyway.

    Woulda been easier to remove the transmission…

    Many decades ago, I had a 1975 Buick Skyhawk with a 3-8 L V-6 engine. For all of 11.5 months, the car’s transmission would jump out of 1st gear… especially if I was trying to cross a busy street. The car went back to the dealer to be fixed. It continued to jump out of 1st gear.. The clutch was replaced; the transmission was replaced. It still jumped out of 1st gear; then it jumped out of 2nd gear ; then 3rd gear. Long story short.. after 4 new clutches and 5 new transmissions, the transmission still jumped out of gear and my patience wearing out, I decided to trade it in for a Plymouth Duster. I was fed up with GM. As I was in the car wash getting it primped up to deal, I looked down at the transmission boot and pushed it ALL the way down the shift stick. As I drove out of the car wash and onto the highway shifting from 1st to 2nd and so on, I drove for about 10 miles for one last drive, the darn thing never jumped out of gear! and it never did for the 10 years I owned it. The rubber transmission boot material was too stiff and after a while the seams on the boot ripped and was “perfect” for the duration I owned the Skyhawk! I never went back to the dealership as I was embarrassed with the situation..

    Whatever accursed computer/sensor problem that killed my Lexus SC400.

    I chased down every Error Code, replacing part after part, while amassing a formidable library of information throughout.

    Finally, in desperation, I had it towed to my mechanic’s, who had sophisticated diagnostic equipment.
    Said equipment turned out to be “agnostic”, as nothing faulty could be detected.

    The Lexus went off to NPR as a donation.
    The whole ordeal still bugs me.

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