Stranded on the Side of the Road

For the first time in seven years of ownership, my grey Aston Martin V8 Vantage left me stranded on the side of the road.

Up until then the car has been incredibly reliable, especially for a car from a company whose reputation is haunted by the hearsay and cynicism of an internet that feeds on gossip, second-hand stories, and half-truths. This is the same car I abuse with a sadistic smile every time I drive it. The very same car that I wrecked at a track only to drive it home without issue. It's the car I point to as a stalwart example of Aston's quality and durability. The car I proudly proclaim without hesitation is in fact dependable did indeed break down on me 150 miles from home.

The Clam Rally

It was a painfully hot day in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, when I coasted into the parking lot of a kids' dance studio. I was on a rally with a group of friends, headed to our buddy's house in New Jersey. This wasn't really a rally for us, but we decided to call it one in a twisted homage to our friend in New Jersey, who organizes our rallies, and an ever-devolving joke about clams and pineapples. Don't ask.

Everything had been fine until I slammed an admittedly aggressive shift from first into second gear. The car went into neutral and my shifter was rendered useless. I was on a busy street and was lucky to safely make it into the empty lot. I grabbed my walkie-talkie and called out to my friends that I had no clutch. They circled back and found me, asked what happened and what needed to be done.

I knew the problem could only be rooted in a few things. The clutch pedal felt fine, so I assumed the clutch and slave cylinder were okay. The shifter was completely loose, so that was most likely the the affected part. My buddy Ben keeps a handy-dandy pink toolkit in the frunk of his 996 Turbo. It's not the first time this pink toolkit has saved me. I had an incident on a previous rally that involved a flaming pizza box and repairing my front undertray with a piece of firewood. I grabbed the pink screwdriver and pulled apart the lower center console to get access to the shifter and cables. They were just fine, which meant the problem was under the car. Chances were that one of the shifter cables had popped loose at the gearbox.

While I was raining sweat over my lower console, my buddy Prasad got a AAA tow truck to head our way. The rollback showed up and we tried to get my car on its flatbed, but my car was too low. So the driver called a coworker that was right down the road to bring some extra wooden boards. He showed up a few minutes later and we got things sorted.

Yes, that tow strap is functional!

Yes, that tow strap is functional!

At this point I want to take a moment to thank the tow truck driver, whose name I hate to say I've forgotten. The guy was fantastic, professional, and willing to work with me to get the car fixed even if it wasn't the normal haul-away job. So, a big thank-you to A&R Towing based in Coatsville, PA.

While we waited for the second tow truck to show up, I chatted with the driver of the first one. We were in a stupid-hot parking lot, an immobile Aston Martin, a pair of Audi R8s, a Maserati, and a Porsche 996 Turbo. He had commented about how we were some of the nicest people he's dealt with (understandable, given the nature of a tow truck driver's job), and we were just thankful that the guy actually new what he was doing and could handle a super-low Aston without damaging it. We chatted about Astons and I told him how reliable it'd been, and that I was almost certain I knew what the problem was with my shifter. He said he could get the front of the car on the flat-bed then lift it up enough for me to get under the car if I thought I could actually fix it.

So that's what we did.

I've gotten a lot of questions about this whole incident because of that picture. I was laying there in a hot parking lot, on hot pavement, under a hot car, reaching up through a hot gearbox and hot exhaust. It was hot.  It sucked. It sucked badly. But after about 5 minutes and several mild burns, I was able to get the shifter cable reconnected. We put the car back on the ground and tested shifting through some gears and declared success. From losing all control of my clutch to being back on the road took about an hour and a half in total. Not bad. Not bad at all, I think.

Something I deal with on a near-daily basis is troubleshooting problems that people are having with their cars. It's very difficult to do more often than not. I'm trying to give advice based on information provided to me, which is often incomplete and occasionally inaccurate. I do my best to help, but diagnosing a car over the internet is a tough task. I do learn quite a bit from it, though. The lessons learned are something I can then take with me to help other people that have similar problems. Or, as I experienced, I can take those lessons learned and save my own ass.

To be able to completely lose control of your shifter but be back on the road in an hour and a half is pretty awesome. For many people, an incident like this would have resulted in having the car shipped to a dealership, paying for diagnostics and repairs, and dealing with all the hassle of a breakdown in general. Although it was absolutely miserable under the car and I got a few mild burns on my arm, it was a really simple repair. And in the end, I made it to Stephen's house where a cold drink and some leisurely activities awaited me.

What Had Happened Was...

What happened to me isn't unheard of. I shifted too hard going from first to second gear and that made the shifter cable pop off its mounting point at the gearbox. The mounts for the shifter cables are simple ball-and socket connections. There's nothing securing the ball in the socket, so shifting too hard can make the two separate. In severe situations the cables can break, so I got really lucky that mine didn't.

Reconnecting the shifter cables is just a matter of popping the socket at the end of the cable onto the ball. The difficultly I had was 1) getting under the car, and 2) everything was so hot. Yes, the car did sit for over an hour before I got under it, but it was also extremely hot out and the ambient temperatures didn't do me any favors in regard to the exhaust and gearbox cooling off. The shifter cables sit on top of the gearbox, so I had to reach between the transaxle and an exhaust pipe to get to the cable, and push it upwards to reconnect it. It was like a game of Operation but instead of a buzzer, it was my arm and hot metal all over the place.

After reconnecting the shifter cable, I drove back and forth a few times and worked through the first few forward gears to make sure everything was okay. And that was it, problem solved!

Hopefully this helps someone else out if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Redpants Updates

I've had to raise prices in a few places. The British pound, which is used to buy most of my inventory, has been fluctuating quite a bit over the last year. Plus USPS has raised their rates in a few areas, especially for international shipping. I've only had to increase prices in a few areas, but it's worth mentioning as a reminder that prices are subject to change.

I've got the BC Racing prototype coilovers on my red V8 Vantage project car. Installing them can be a DIY job, and I'll have a guide and video covering it soon enough. I'm really happy with them so far, and based on my initial impressions I think they'll be very popular.