Sunday, September 7, 2014

The good days never seem to last

And so it went for a year or two.  The FIAT 500 ran great, looked great, people stared and asked questions.  It became my daily driver and I was proud to be in on the ground floor of FIAT's triumphant return to the continent.

But then in March of 2014, something very strange happened.

While sitting at idle in a fast food drive thru with my children, the display on the dash beeped and gave a low oil pressure warning.  And then it went away.  And came back again.

It went off and on like this for a minute or two, but adding a few RPMs would make it go away.  As soon as I got out of that drive thru, I parked the car and checked the oil.  It was 3/4 of the way up the full section on the dipstick, so I knew I was in good shape.  But just to be safe, I added a 1/4 quart of oil.  This made the car happy.

But a week and a half later, while sitting at a stop light, the oil pressure warning came back, only this time it was accompanied by sounds in the engine that did not make me feel good at all.  I was very worried that my little FIAT was sick.

So I drove it straight back home to my mechanic who just happens to have a shop across the street from me.  He got underneath and made a noise I can only describe as unhappy.

"There's oil all over the place under here", he said, "and it seems like it's coming from under the timing belt cover".

After taking off the cover, we found that oil was EVERYWHERE.  It had coated the timing belt and gears and seemed to be coming from the crank seal.  My mechanic gave me one of those looks - maybe you know the one I'm talking about - and I looked around for something to sit on.

"I think maybe we better drain the oil and have a look at it", he said.

Ten minutes later, we were both looking at a bowl of oil that had a strange metallic sheen on the surface.  Some of that metal would stick to a magnet and some wouldn't.  He explained that babbitt (the material engine bearings are made of) is an alloy that is not magnetic, but crankshafts are definitely made of steel.  It would seem that my engine had spat out a mixture of both.

And that was when I knew I was in trouble.

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