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This illustrates exactly why you shouldn't mess with your car before a long trip, IF it's running fine. This is Humphrey, Rob's 1969 Beetle, dead along Interstate 80 about 40 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming. Notice the huge storm looming in the background. My brother and his wife took me into Laramie, where I bought the hideously overpriced fuel pump for Humphrey, from a "helpful" local VW dealer and Rob installed it in the storm. Hump was not too happy with this long trip from California to Nebraska and back, and behaved badly for the entire 3,200 miles.

IF IT AIN'T BROKE.........
Story and Photography by Lois Grace

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This has got to be one of my favorite sayings. In fact, it's become my own personal motto. I have fixed and improved things that were perfectly fine, rendering them nearly non-functional in the process. And all because of good intentions. How many times has this happened to you?

It's pretty hard to render a VW Beetle non-functional. It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done. A perfect example: The year after Rob and I got married, most of my family decided to caravan to Nebraska, to visit my grandmother. My mom and dad carried my older sister and her 9-month-old daughter in Dad's '78 Peugeot wagon. My older brother and his wife drove Bruce's '65 Chevy pickup. Rob and I foolishly departed in Rob's 1969 Beetle, Humphrey. I have written about Humphrey before; he was the "Oscar Madison" Bug to my own Bug's "Felix Unger". Full of dents, dings and bondo, we chose to drive this car 1600 miles east instead of the favored Bogie (my car). Why we did it this way is still a mystery to me. Maybe I just didn't want the wear and tear on my car and figured Humphrey would be good for It. Well, he probably would have been fine for the trip if we hadn't tried to help him. The week before we left, Rob tuned him up. He seemed to run fine, and I couldn't find anything else wrong with him, so on the evening before we left (BIG mistake) I decided to clean up the filthy engine compartment. This car leaked oil (don't all VW's mark their spot now and then?) and most of it was blown around inside the engine bay. I got to work, liberally applying Gunk Engine Brite to the warm engine. I let it sit for a few minutes, as directed, and then went at it with the hose to wash the nasty scum off. Apparently Humphrey didn't think too much of this idea, and had become quite fond of his oily coating. In fact, I think it might have been what held most of his parts in place. After he was nice and clean, I turned the key and found that he was also........nice and dead. The car REFUSED to start. Here it was, less than 12 hours till we were going to (supposedly) be cruising East on Interstate 80, and I had killed the car we would be taking. That should have been a clue but Rob got busy then, fixing my handiwork and for some reason Hump forgave us and turned over. Rob forbid me to go anywhere near the car until the next morning.

We departed on schedule the next day, on what would later come to be known as The Vacation From Hell. Humphrey proceeded to show his disdain by just shutting down every 100 miles or so, all the way to Omaha. My dad's Peugeot wagon was also not trouble-free, requiring many stops to let the overheated diesel engine cool off before proceeding. My brother and his old Chevy pickup were the only ones to arrive at Grandma's calm, cool and collected. I swear, if we'd had the pink slip for the Beetle along with us I would have happily put it in the glove box and left the car at the curb in some out of the way spot. I hear Amtrak has a nice route through the Feather River, and I would have been on the next train west.

The problem returned, over and over again, all the way home even after installation of a very overpriced but brand new fuel pump from some VW dealer in Wyoming. This was when you could still buy Beetle parts at VW dealers. The problem was solved when we got home and realized the gas tank had corroded so badly the rust and sediment was fouling everything when the car was running. So, it wasn't my fault after all. But I still couldn't help thinking back and shuddering when I thought of that cold water running all over that black engine tin.

A few years ago, Rob and I were preparing to attend a press premiere for the new Herbie movie, "Herbie: Fully Loaded". Part of the deal was driving a Bug to the event in San Francisco, so for the better part of one afternoon I spent time getting Bogie, my '69 Sedan, ready to go. It occurred to me that I hadn't changed the oil for quite a while, and a quick check of the record book confirmed that. I had the time, I might as well just get it done. Or should I??? Bogie's got a full-flow oil filter system, and a deep sump. With his 7-quart capacity, I only have to change the oil about every 7500 miles. It was an hour's drive to San Francisco for the movie premiere, and wouldn't it be nice to get his oil changed for the trip?? It'd be all done and I wouldn't have to think about it again for a while. All this and more went through my mind, and then the "what ifs" started crowding the more reasonable thoughts out. What if I stripped something, putting on his new oil filter?? What if the filter leaked and I lost all 7 quarts midway along the route??? I began thinking like this because I've done all sorts of things in the past that caused me to hesitate now. Remembering the clean engine debacle, I thought maybe I should just leave well enough alone. There would always be time to change the oil after we got home. So, I resisted the oily urge, turned the light out in the garage and went inside. After all, Bogie really needed to be with his friends on that cruise.

My advice?? If it absolutely, positively HAS to get there, then don't mess with it. At least till you get it home.

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