July 16, 2020

An Ounce of Prevention

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’ve finally gotten all the sludge out of my Land Rover’s engine.

I hasten to add, the fact it was there at all is my fault.  This vehicle was stored for 18 years while I raised a family, gathered the financial where-with-all and built the facility ― my garage ― to complete its restoration.  It sat in our barn all that time, growing ever more layered in dust, hay and bird droppings.

Because I knew it would be waiting years for some desperately needed attention, I filled its engine with as much used motor oil as would fit in its body cavities.  That’s right, I embalmed it.  You know that line on your car’s dipstick with the stamped instruction, “DO NOT OVERFILL”?  I ignored that.  I even removed the sparkplugs and, using a funnel, filled all four cylinders brim-full with the same stuff.  I did the same thing to the transmission and transfer cases.  Then I set it up on blocks, under cover and waited.

Its day finally arrived.

I washed it before moving it into the garage.  The mud that activity created is still layered in front of our barn.  Then, once it was in the garage and up on the lift, I drained all the fluids.  My.  There certainly was a lot.  Then I flushed the cases and even removed the oil pan.  An oil shale occupied the bottom three inches, a miniature geosyncline.  I cleaned all that out and, using the compressor, blew as many of the oil ways clear as could be reached.

I removed the fuel pump and end cap, blowing out around the camshaft as well.

Then I turned the engine over by hand, pumping the oil out of the cylinders and waiting while any remainder drained to the base.

My.  That was easy to write; ‘Then I turned the engine over by hand.’

Please understand, the fact I could turn it over at all was a huge triumph.  An engine ― any engine ― left quiescent for even a year, never mind eighteen, stands a serious risk of freezing.  All those moving parts become locked into position, requiring complete disassembly, cleaning and re-lubrication before they’ll move again.  The situation is referred to as a ‘stuck engine’ and is much more common ― and serious ― than you might think.

All that used motor oil made an enormous difference.

Then, of course I rebuilt the carburetor, had the radiator re-cored, installed new belts and hoses, rebuilt the starter and generator and so on.  It was quite a list.  The point here, rebuilding the power plant wasn’t included.

Eventually, one day, I tried starting it.  According to my notes, that was May 23rd, 2013.  It didn’t start immediately.  That would have been asking too much.  But it did start that morning which was impressive enough.

It’s been four years since that date.  I changed the oil and filter in that vehicle again yesterday.  For the first time, there wasn’t a bit of sludge in the canister.  None.  I’ve finally gotten it all.  Amazing.

But much more to the point, that embalming worked.  Sure, it was a pain-in-the-ass draining all that oil and scraping out the sludge but imagine all the work that would have been required otherwise.  Half an hour’s effort eighteen years ago saved me untold amounts of toil and expense once all that time had elapsed.

My mother used to tell me, “John, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I never thought so as a child but, you know, that woman was right an uncomfortably high percentage of the time.