We're back from Overland Expo West and it was an awesome experience. The Teal Terror was even featured in the Warn Industries booth and made it onto Expedition Portal. More on the show coming up. Half the fun of the show was getting there and coming back. Well, not so much coming back, at least the last day.
We started the Sidekick up at about 4:50am at camp outside of Fernley, Nevada and I heard what sounded like a loose heat shield clanging around. I didn't think too much of it. We departed 10 minutes later, bound for home in Portland, Oregon, 559 miles away.
The Sidekick had felt like it was down on power lately, but when you're towing a trailer into 30 mph headwinds, that lack of power may just be the fact we're driving a 21 year old Suzuki into the wind. I figured a compression test was in order sometime after getting home.
We drove through Gerlach, NV (near the site of Burning Man) with my foot to the floor most of the time. Lots of hills, wind, and the aforementioned 95 horsepower will do that (#nopowerclub). We meandered through scenic Surprise Valley and stopped for some much needed coffee in Cedarville, California. That rattling from the morning had gotten worse. I got under the vehicle and it sounded like the noise was coming from either the catalytic converter or the transmission. I thought, please don't let it be the transmission. I brought my co-worker, and master of all things mechanical, Chad, over to check it out. He also figured it was a heat shield. That was reassuring.
After gassing up, we headed up the steep pass on state route 299 and low and behold, our Suzuki would not go faster than 25 mph no matter what. We pulled over to let the string of vehicles pass us, opened the hood, and couldn't see anything wrong. We popped the air filter out and inspected the airbox. Looks good, but we still didn't figure out what was going wrong. However, we had to get over this pass. Thankfully, I have manual front WARN Premium Hubs, which I kept unlocked, and was able to put the truck in low-range and putt-putt up the incline. I still could barely go faster than 25 uphill. Downhill I was able to go 50. After the pass, we pulled up to the California agricultural border protection station, where they ask if you're bringing in any fruits or meat into the state in order to control invasive species crop-ruining diseases. After passing through, the truck was stumbling violently. Something is definitely wrong.
We pulled over on the shoulder and I explain to Chad over the CB that something is definitely the matter. He asks about the fuel filter. I told him that I replaced it about a month ago. However, in order to eliminate that as a variable, I get my tools out, and remove it.
Gasoline is all over my hands and jacket as I remove the banjo fittings on the filter. Once removed, Chad takes it, blows through it, and a small amount of gas sprays out the end. "Fuel filter is fine," he says. "What about your catalytic converter?" For some time I've been suspicious of the cat, and now, almost totally immobile, the only way to tell is to yank it off and see if my power returns. I reach for my wrenches and disconnect the two bolts from the manifold, and the two bolts to the tailpipe. Immediately as I lower the catalytic converter from the bottom of the trucklet, I hear the cat's busted up internals against the metal housing. The cat had shit the bed.
Chad hands me bailing wire to tie up the muffler and tailpipe. "It's going to be really loud right off the manifold, but we'll be able to tell if the cat's the problem," he proclaims. To which I answer, "This is going to be awesome ... for about 10 minutes."
We start the truck up. It is 1.6-liters of raging fury. All 95 horses come bellowing straight out of the exhaust manifold. Interestingly, the engine isn't shaking as much as it has been in the past few months. Maybe this has been the power-robbing culprit all along. Chad returns to his Jeep, his parents, who were also caravanning with us, get back in their truck, and we pull out onto the highway sounding like a goddamn race car, albeit, a very slow, square goddamn race car.
The noise is incredible. How 95 horsepower can sound this loud is beyond me. Granted, the manifold dumps right underneath my seat. The smell of exhaust starts to burn the inside of my nose. We'd better have the window open to avoid the effects of carbon monoxide. (Note: My window regulator broke on the way down to Overland Expo, so only the passenger's side window works.)
After about 10 minutes on the road, Mercedes realizes that one of the vendors, SHIFTPOD, a manufacturer of some super-cool tents, handed out sleeping masks and, as if they knew this was going to happen ... earplugs. Thank you SHIFTPOD.
For nearly 300 miles, we drove, engine screaming, back to Portland. I apologized to livestock as we passed. Mercedes and I would randomly bust out laughing at the sound of this thing at 5,500 RPM. The three times we stopped for gas, the attendants looked at us with a glare that said, "oh, you're one of those types."
As we motored up Interstate 5, with less than an hour to go until home, Mercedes was humped over with her hands over her ears. With each overpass, each guard rail, and every third-gear downshift, the noise slammed against your ears like a pack of oversize angry wasps ready to attack your brain. Home couldn't come soon enough.
The last part of the video above was taken just before we rolled into our neighborhood. It's amazing how that sound can take a mental and physical toll—it's an assault on your senses. Even putting together these videos made me detest that last part of our trip. As they say, it's not an adventure until something goes wrong. And believe me, this trip was an adventure.
So I'm left needing to fix this along with the driver's side window regulator, and the ever-squeaking speedometer cable, which we affectionately refer to as Gershwin. But such is life; such is travel.
We'll have much more Overland Expo coverage coming soon. Stay tuned.