After arriving at Trial Bay Gaol Campground (in Arakoon NP near South West Rocks on the mid-north coast of NSW), we didn’t use the car for a couple of days, there being plenty to do on foot and a fair bit of rain. On starting the vehicle for the first time after that, it exhibited a number of concerning symptoms.
- check engine indicators alight and beeping;
- engine temperature gauge beyond the red zone;
- a message warning us that cruise control was not available.
The engine was patently not warm let alone hot, so “instrumentation error” was top of mind, but that was also the first response to the Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion, so I called the NRMA. Tom arrived in seemingly less time than the NRMA call centre took to fail to find the vehicle on either of its two(!) computer systems, telephone the RACV and finally agree that yes, the vehicle did indeed have roadside cover. Tom confirmed with his OBD tool that the engine management system thought the temperature was at extreme levels even though it was not. We located a black-box attached to a radiator pipe and awarded it the “most likely to be the temperature gauge” prize. Its electrical connectors looked clean but I gave them a bit of a rub anyway; that did not clear the fault. Tom checked all the fluids and pronounced the car OK to drive with a recommendation that it be checked by a mechanic soon in case a genuine fault was to occur and go unnoticed. My tentative diagnosis was confirmed.
A couple of hours late, we headed out in the car for our planned day trip. The windscreen was dusty so I gave it a squirt – water from the passenger-side jet went everywhere except onto the windscreen. (“Houston, we’ve had another problem.”) Being extra cautious as a result of the earlier events, we returned to camp to investigate. A few days earlier the rear window washer had failed due to a push-fit pipe join coming adrift, so something similar was assumed. On inspection, this fault was obviously different: there was hole in one side of the rubber pipe that carried water from the pump to the passenger side sprayer. Looking closely at the hole (with the aid of cameras, magnifying glasses, etc. given the official heritage status of our eyesight) we could see what the folk on CSI call striation marks: parallel grooves, in this case made almost certainly by teeth. Did some animal hop up there while the bonnet was raised in the universal “here I am” signal to the NRMA guy? I asked our neighbours on that side whether they had seen any wildlife displaying a rubber-fetish in our engine bay, but no, they had not. After sealing the hole in the pipe with Recovery Tape(*), we rescheduled our day trip to the next day and test-drove the car to the nearest pub. (*) A particular brand of self-amalgamating tape that is even more expensive than generic self-amalgamating tape but if applied according to the directions will not only repair leaks in a radiator or holes in a crank case but will also contain nuclear accidents and ebola outbreaks)
Having a spare 5 minutes before we set off the next morning on the rescheduled day trip, I had a look around under the bonnet, this time sensibly with the aid of a torch to (refer to earlier comments about eyesight). This revealed some interesting new facts …
- the black, outer insulation was stripped from a section of wiring harness;
- chunks of coloured insulation were missing from some of the inner wires;
- a 5cm length of one inner wire was entirely missing (and later found lower down in the engine compartment) ;
- a collection of blades of grass and shells from some type of nut;
Lastly, there were droppings of a size and shape that I recognised from previous crusades against the evil empire that the Romans named ratus ratus. Ever the clinician, Helen spotted a dropping in which an undigested piece of black insulation had been passed. After noting that the insulation on the severed wire was the same aqua colour as that on one of the wires to what Tom and I had previously decided was the temperature sensor, my trusty multi-meter confirmed that they were indeed one and the same circuit. So, here was not only the cause of the engine temperature “instrumentation error” but a root cause shared with the windscreen washer fault. Whether it is also the cause of the lack of cruise control or air conditioning (did I mention that?) is yet to be determined. We set off for the trip later than intended. The lighthouse at Smoky Cape was nice but the snorkelling adventure was a write-off due to the recent rains pushing copious mud out of the rivers and into the ocean.
I considered repairing the wiring loom on the spot, but to do so would require removing things I didn’t recognise and may struggle to replace, and we were in what is best described as a “one tow truck town”. Given that the vehicle is drivable, we will seek expert assistance at our next stop, Coffs Harbour. We look forward to driving there tomorrow, towing a 2 tonne caravan with the temperature gauge beyond the red zone, the check engine warning lights aglow, no cruise control and no air-conditioning. But it is only two hours away, so could be much worse. If the Ford dealer at Coffs can’t accommodate us this week, I hope to find an auto electrician that will. Otherwise, I will “DIY” it, comfortable that if it goes badly Coffs is large enough to have multiple tow trucks, mechanics and auto electricians, even if that means being forced to stay longer than we had intended in the city that claims to have the most liveable climate in Australia.
Not knowing where the vehicle’s comprehensive insurance policy was comprehensive enough to cover rodent damage but mindful that insurance companies don’t like retrospective claims, I made a coffee, took a deep breath, and made the call. After the advertised human answered the call within the advertised time and then promptly put me on hold, I spent 15 minutes learning about how much they cared about my call, how they were experiencing an unusually high call volume and how lucky I was to be with them. Eventually “Level 1” answered, reminded me of the policy excess and explained the process of getting the vehicle to their assessment centre etc. etc. After convincing said agent that the vehicle was not in Victoria, that Coffs Harbour was not in Victoria, and that no, the assessment centres in Sydney were not really appropriate, I spent a further 10 minutes on hold, presumably while a supervisor and/or atlas were consulted. The agent was then pleased to advise me that, there being no assessment centres near the suburb(?) of Coffs Harbour, the assessor would come to the vehicle rather than the vehicle to the assessor. Deciding that even the most liveable climate in Australia would wear thin by the time that happened, I got my reference number and bailed out, making a mental note to locate our policy document and determine whether rodent damage is excluded as force majeure (a term invented by Roman lawyers meaning “Act of God” because saving one word was worthwhile in Roman times, there being so many gods and them being so active). Samples of wire, fur and poo have been saved in a clear, zip-lock plastic bag for the CSI team.
The next morning there was a knock on our door. Aforementioned neighbours had packed up and were setting off for their next adventure when their vehicle exhibited a number of warning indicators: no cruise control, no traction control, etc. but fortunately also still drivable. Armed with my information of the previous day, they were able to diagnose the cause somewhat more quickly than I did. Coincidentally, we met again two days later at a caravan park in Coffs, when they had just collected their car from repair and I had just dropped off ours. Suffice to say that the rat contributed a joint total of about $1,000 to the local automotive repair industry …