Dashboard confidential
Now, you ain't gonna believe this…

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

Every driver worth their chain drive wallet (Does anyone still carry one?), has a secret stash of ideas and magic fixes for when things go wrong or break on the road. A small tool bag with a few screwdrivers, channel lock pliers, the mandatory roll of duct tape are standard.

Not to take away from the many years' experience and knowledge of all things truck maintenance as noted by esteemed colleague and longtime friend, "Perfessor" Paul Abelson. Please allow me to share some of what I have seen and heard from many years on the road.

The aforementioned duct tape needs no introduction, considering the number of fenders, mirrors and headlight buckets held in place by the magic "tool box on a roll." Choice of colors is not all that important, as silver goes with any paint scheme.

I have been told you can fix a pinhole in a fuel tank with a toothpick or a small twig that has been whittled down. I have, in fact, seen it done but doubt it would be a big hit in a scale house inspection. I'm just saying.

Speaking of leaks, I have also heard that a leaky radiator can be sealed with black pepper. I have never seen it done, have no idea how much pepper would be needed, and highly doubt it would do anything other than cause a major sneezing attack and overheating.

From leaks to squeaks, how about that squeaking fan belt? On three separate occasions, I have had drivers tell me that a squealing fan belt can be silenced by pouring orange soda on the noisy belt and pulley. Not cola or root beer but orange soda. And they all said it with a straight face. They believed it, so I should as well. Oh please…break out the 9/16 and adjust the darn tensioner.

I have also had several drivers over the years tell me that if you have a tire out of balance, a couple of golf balls will do the trick to keep the wheel from wobbling. Centrifugal force and all that would be the supposed logic. The idea is just as stupid today as the first time I heard it.

And as long as you are crouching down to steer tire level, you can prepare your big rig to dodge and evade the always present Smokey Bear radar traps. How do I do this, you ask? Simple. You just follow the instructions of several gear-jamming rooster cruisers I met years ago. Wad up a ball of tin foil, put it in the hub cap, and, like magic, it will scramble those pesky radar beams. Don't forget to do both sides for double protection.

Personally, I use the Star Trek cloaking device that makes me invisible. It seems to work, as I haven't had a ticket in more than

10 years. That would also explain why most car drivers drive as if I am not even there, as they swerve and dive in front of my hood.

Back in the early '70s when I was a company driver for a small outfit, way back before we had radial tires, checking tire pressure was even more important. Bias ply tires had a nasty habit of sucking the valve stem inside the tire. Obviously, the tire was now flat.

But, in a manner of sheer genius, one of our guys swore that he could keep the tire from disintegrating by filling it with water to keep it cool. I followed him down the N.J. Turnpike once as he made it from service plaza to service plaza. At highway speeds, the tire full of water was turned to steam but it did enable him to make it the last 75 miles. Adding up the time for multiple stops for the water hose, it seemed a better choice to get the tire fixed but he wasn't interested in logic, only making more steam.

The ultimate roadside fix story I ever heard was the open-rack car hauler running across the backroads of Louisiana. An electrical short kept tripping the circuit breaker and the truck's headlights would go out. Nighttime in the bayou gets pretty dark, so the driver wasn't about to give up and wait for daylight. Climbing up on the front head rack, the driver turned on the headlights of the top front car on the trailer and he was able to continue the trip.

A few miles down the road, the driver met an oncoming car that, upon getting closer, veered off the road and out into the swamp. The trucker stopped and ran over, pulling the guy out of the car. Asking what was the problem, the old boy says, "Man, I saw you coming and I knew if it was as wide as it was tall, I'm getting out of the way." Budda-bump.

The above mentioned fixes are written with a sense of disbelief and humor. And although they have been told to me in good faith, do not attempt any of these magic fixes. Except for the Star Trek cloaking device. I swear that one works. LL