May 18, 2023

These Are Your Worst Car Projects

Earlier this week, I asked readers about their worst car projects. It’s fair to say that many of you have cars you wish you could forget, but a half-built vehicle in the garage haunts you. For some, a small fix somehow escalated into a repair you were unprepared for. Others bit off more than they could chew. Without further ado, here are your worst car projects.

2 / 18

I have a 74 Mini that absolutely defies any attempt to maintain hydraulic pressure in the bakes. I’ve replaced the master and all wheel cylinders, lines, copper washers, brake shoes, it’s a task I’ve done on other vehicles but that little bastard will not have its brakes bled. It’s insane. I’ve gone on with the damn thing off and on for years. Admittedly it’s not a big priority and life finds more important things to do all the time....and it annoys me because the rest of it is in damn good shape. It runs, the body isn’t rusty, the interior is good, so all it needs is those damnable brakes bled.

Here’s some fun trivia that it did teach me-warm brake fluid in a steaming hot garage feels a lot like blood. I have to check on the off chance I opened my wrists and not the bleeder valve.

Submitted by: Gnomadd

3 / 18

What should have been a relatively mundane front Brake pad replacement on our now gone 1999 BMW 328i turned into a royal PIA. When we bought the car used the dealer had put all new rotors and pads on the car. But after normal driving it was time for the pads to be replaced. Got everything apart easily but was having difficulty getting the pistons to retract. Finally managed and got the new pads on and everything back together. Go for a test ride and damn piston is hanging up terribly now.... Manage to limp it back into my driveway but they’re damn near fused. Ended up calling my local mechanic who came over, tried same as me then called his towing service. You guessed it, caliper needed to be replaced/rebuilt. So my quick and cheap DIY turned into a more expensive than necessary brake repair.

Submitted by: Monsterajr

4 / 18

About 20 years ago I bought a cheap ‘77 911S Targa. The drive home was magical. It sounded good and with the roof off, that car actually feels like a genuine convertible, it’s amazing. Now I knew this thing wasn’t perfect. Someone had lavished it with pearl white paint, a whale tail, pinstripe upholstery, an alarm and a thumpin’ stereo, but had neglected all the basic mechanical and maintenance stuff.

The car was actually not bad mechanically, but it needed every. possible. thing. And everything was priced ridiculously expensive. A grand for all new seals for the targa panel?! The math just didn’t add up. I reached the same conclusion I’m pretty sure the seller did and sold it a few months later. I still wonder how many suckers fell for that car before someone put it out of its misery.

Submitted by: ComehomeMrBulbous

5 / 18

Not mine, but my FIL.

Oklahoma, about 20 years ago. Stopped, grabbed a local rag about cars for sale. Listed under trucks was a ‘63 Catalina Safari wagon. Said it was a super duty when it was a heavy duty. Well, it was spec’d out to a super anyway. He calls, gets the VIN, calls the Pontiac Historical Society (1 guy) and gets the info. Finds out it’s a 1-of-1, calls owner, overnights a couple of hundred dollars, main check to follow. Has it delivered home. Finds out that it’s been wrecked, but no frame damage. Starts tearing it apart in the business warehouse. Parts labeled, but misplaced. Move warehouses. Parts for car gets scattered even more. Took _9_ years to get it back together. Questions about how it came apart, where things go, looking at other cars around the same year. First car show we took it to, the thermostat had seized. Maybe sitting around that long not running might have done something. We get it through tech inspection, and it’s just leaking antifreeze all over. Asks for a picture, which they get one and we’re back off to the trailer. Had to go buy the correct tools, new thermostat and gaskets at the Ames trailer. Decide to not worry about the thermostat, as we really won’t be driving it other than back into the trailer. So, no thermostat in the car, but it’s all back together, it goes into the show, then back into the trailer. He did end up wining a trophy with it. It also went to the MACAN show in Chicago incomplete. No gas tank, no rear window, and a few other things missing.

Submitted by: Keager1

6 / 18

Replacing the spark plugs on my GTI.

I just cannot get the coil packs to unclip from the the connectors. I have watched all the videos. I have pushed, pinched, pulled, shimmed, wedged, every trick I’ve seen, and my hands are just too weak to unclip them. I broke the clips on two of them, and fearing breaking something even more substantial, resigned myself to having a shop do it. I’m not proud of my weak hands, but here we are.

Submitted by: BirdLaw900

7 / 18

For some reason in 2004 I thought a $500 Corvair convertible was a good idea. I bought it from a collector in Charlottesville and dolly-towed it all the way back to Norfolk, Va. I had never messed with a Corvair before and I really didn’t inspect this one closely enough before I bought it. Sure, it looked like a nice enough 1963 Monza 900 Convertible on the outside, but as soon as I started stripping paint I discovered there wasn’t much underneath that paint. There was body filler, crude metal patch panels and rust. Lots of rust. And the floor pans were just pieces of sheet metal that had been pop-riveted in.

It wasn’t a total loss, fortunately. I joined the local Corvair club and they did me two favors... 1. They came over and scavenged the car for parts, paying me back nicely on my little $500 misadventure and 2. They helped me find another Corvair and get it running while I sent this poor shadow of a car off to the junkyard.

The replacement Corvair was a nightmare on its own - a 1965 Convertible that had an aversion to running on all 6 cylinders, a love of vapor-lock and a pretty twisted nose, but it was fun. I just wish I could have enjoyed the ‘63 - That was a pretty cool year for the early. Not the best, but I liked it’s front-end trim the best of the 1st gens and it had the scary suspension, which would have been fun.

Submitted by: Sid Bridge

8 / 18

My most epic projects involve cylinder heads. In June of 2020 my 2002 F150 with a,5 4 Triton launched a spark plug, as they do, and the shop said a repair had failed and quoted megabucks. I panicked, assumed a proper solid insert repair had failed and ordered a reman head and gaskets from Rock Auto

Thus ensued 4 weekends in July cursing and sweating as we fought spaghetti wiring, plumbing and ridiculously cramped quarters to get both heads off after I discovered that 4 plugs had been “repaired” with crappy thread chaser inserts so we lost a few days ordering a second head. I also spent $250 on tools buying the cheap cam timing tools, several 7mm and 8mm sockets and a cordless impact driver. After gallons of Gatorade and rigging a ratchet strap to a 2x4 to lift the heads off the dowels we tried to start and discovered a missed connection on the throttle body and a shredded serpentine belt because the power steering pulley needed more force than I thought.

Going back to 1988 my first epic wrenching job was the supposedly easy job of repairing a failed exhaust manifold to down pipe stud on a 78 Scirocco. This was supposed to involve removing the manifolds and reinstalling after grabbing the offending tud with Vise Grips. It ended with stripped bolts snapped extractors and removing the and taking the head and manifolds to the machine shop. To add insult to injury after reassembly it wouldn’t start because I got the firing order wrong on the distributor.

Submitted by: Slow Joe Crow

9 / 18

Where do I start? My 3 engines in one year FD RX7, my clutch and timing belt 944, my 100 series Land Cruiser starter that I should have just LS swapped, or my C63 AMG that spent more time in the shop in the year than on the road?

The FD was built and tuned by the now defunct-for-fraud Hays Rotary of Redmond, WA. Upon tearing down the engines, half the parts I paid for never made it in, the porting job was a joke, and I sold it before ever really getting it “fixed”. I don’t miss it.

The 944 clutch exploded, which I do take full blame for, but this is pre-internet, and I had no idea what a nightmare a clutch job in that car was. So I figured since half the car was on the ground already, I may as well do the timing, which I did know about. It was eventually towed to a shop on a flat bed in pieces. I was in way over my head. I love the 944 style, but honestly it’s completely overhyped to drive. 50/50 weight ratio be damned if your car is slow as molasses on a winter morning. The Turbo barely makes enough power to be considered fun to drive let alone the non-turbo models.

The 100 series starter is just a pain in the ass. It sits under the intake and requires you to basically lay over the top of the engine with the finest ratcheting socket wrench you have to feel your way around to tighten it down. Speaking of overrated, this has about the same 0-60 as the 944, which I’m convinced is slower than my Honda Monkey. Unpopular opinion here, there’s nothing really great about the 100 Series land cruiser. Its IFS front suspension breaks when you lift it, the locking rear diff is fine, but slow to engage, it’s painfully under-powered, the mileage is so bad it makes TRXs and Raptor Rs look like economy cars, every one of them on the market has every bushing rotted out, and parts are inherently expensive. The 80 series gets the love it deserves (as gutless as it is as well), but the 100 is just a bunch of owners who don’t want to admit they paid too much. I was one of them.

The C63 was basically cursed. I bought it under warranty (thank God), but after having more lights than a Christmas tree almost every time I started it up (when it did start), and the intermittent problem of “Oh I’ll just stop” multiple times, at high speed, I sold it as soon as I could get it running. Mercedes even flagged the car as requiring inspection from a regional service rep every time it came in, and yes, it was stock. The coked out guy who bought it wrapped it around a tree about a week after buying it, but he was fine. That car got what it deserved; a violent death.

Submitted by: DansDrives

10 / 18

It’s happening right now. The input shaft bearing in the six speed of my 2012 Wrangler had been rattling for a while. It has around 187k on the clock so I figured I’d just swap out the trans with a fresh remanufactured unit. This was in November 2021.

I pulled the trans before for a throwout bearing and it really wasn’t a problem. I cleaned out a spot in the garage, ordered the trans and got to pulling stuff. In order to get the transmission out, the upper link (three link front and rear long arms) had to come out, which is mounted above the driver lower control arm, so that had to come out. Since I had two arms out I figured it was time to swap the joints, the old ones were in sad shape, so all the control arms came out. I knew which joints I wanted to use, but they didn’t fit in my existing arms so I figured it was time to try my stainless steel custom control arm idea.

Boom. Six 316 stainless arms with Duroflex joints. Don’t worry that stainless isn’t quite as strong, the lowers are 2" solid bar. The center crossmember had to come out since the trans mounts there, so I had to cut out the single-piece custom exhaust that was in there to accommodate the long arm suspension. Since the axles were out, I figured I’d replace the aging shocks and springs. The wheel bearings were crunchy and one ABS sensor was shot so I bought replacements. Since the trans was out, I figured I’d do the clutch. Since everything was open, I figured I’d replace the A/C compressor that didn’t seem to want to work, but when I pulled it, I found lots of crud in the system so I figured I’d replace the lines and evap core. Which means I have to pull the entire dash down to the firewall. I figured since I was in there I should do the heater core as well. Parts kept rolling in. Two new batteries. New rear track bar, since I was in there so it would match the front. I could barely work with the rusted gas tank skid so I pulled it, pulled the stock skid (which holds up the gas tank), and the gas tank. Both skids were hanging on by hopes and dreams. And rust. Unimpressed with gas tank skid options I thought why not take this opportunity to just have a custom fuel cell fabbed up to stuff under the trunk where the muffler used to be. Then, as I looked at the control arm mounts where the shiny new joints are slated to go, I realized I should take care of the rust that was exploding out from behind the crappy powdercoat. So I started wire brushing and flap discing and dremeling at rust, everywhere I could find. That’s when I noticed parts of my front bumper were only paper thin without the rust so I yanked the winch and ordered a new bumper. The 3D printed custom bi-xenon ballast brackets I had made melted a bit. Printed new ones in a better material. Pulled the fender liners and installed a few rivnuts to make that nightmare easier in the future. Pulled the stock rock rails to get at more rust, broke some bolts. Since so much was out I thought why not change out the body mounts. More parts, more broken bolts.

Work picked up and the Jeep sat. Now, the intake is off and I don’t know why. The oil pan is off and oil continues to inexplicably drip after months and months. Half the underside of the hood is clean and I can only guess that was done out of some sick desperation for visible progress. I had to stash the Miata and motorcycles in grandpa’s garage for the winter. I can barely walk through the garage at this point between the Jeep, the removed parts, and the new parts waiting to go in. I have three tires stashed in my shed by the lawnmower. It’s at the point where the time I spend ‘working on the Jeep’ is time actually spent clearing a path in the garage. I hate living like this and it hangs over my head every day. I just want my Jeep back. And my garage. I’m planning a staycation in a few weeks, ten days where I’m shutting everything out and living in the garage. Even if I can only manage to get started, it’ll be a win.

Submitted by: icrashbikes

11 / 18

So the actual mini project was a success; getting an engine replaced for my friend’s El Camino. However what made it a bit of a failure had nothing to do with the car. It was a good 100 degree week, we took the old engine out the first day and was going to replace it the next day...Well in that span of time, his Washing machine breaks, so he had to buy a new one and wait for that to come in, but in the process, his dry wall was also damaged, so we had to repair that as well. All in all, it took us a week in 100 degree weather to perform the task in 2 days.

Submitted by: darthspartan117

12 / 18

I’ve got a few. I have a 1955 Mercury and the original radiator was leaking. So I went to a local salvage yard and found one that would fit. Got home, installed it and then went to pick up a friend at the airport. The temp gauge started to climb. I could tell something was wrong. So I pull off the freeway and wound up being in the worst neighborhood in Oakland. Then suddenly there was a huge amount of steam that came pouring out of the underside of the hood. What had happened is that I had installed the thermostat backwards and the built up pressure blasted one of the new hoses off, draining all of the coolant. Luckily the engine didn’t overheat. This was before cell phones so I had to walk to a store and use their phone. Not fun.

Second one was replacing the timing belt on my brother’s 1998 Avalon. I’d never replaced a timing belt before. I thought it would be cake. Wrong. First of all the harmonic balancer was held on with a huge amount of torque. I had no air tools or compressor. And to get it off I wound up getting a long piece of square tubing and welded a piece on the end and drilled holes in it to thread through the bolt holes on the balancer. I stuck a pipe in the end and me and my brother just about lifted the front end of the car to crack the bolt loose. It took all weekend to do this job. A whole shit ton of hoses, the intake plenum and valve covers had to come off and it was tight in there.

The last one wasn’t mine but a former housemate. He bought a very janky Corvair. The interior was trashed. So he decided to buy a roll of carpet and some self-tapping sheetmetal screws. So he was merrily driving in the screws when he realized he had been drilling holes right through the firewall and into the cylindrical gas tank in the front. And so now gasoline was leaking all over the driveway. We went to WalMart right before they closed and bought two 5 gallon gas cans. It took forever to get all of that gas out of the car.

Submitted by: ROBOT TURDS

13 / 18

It took me 3 months and half a dozen orders from the usual suspects for German car parts (ECS, FCP, Turner, etc.) to replace the thermostat on my 2002 M5. Yes, a 2-3 hour job took many days of wrenching, ordering parts, wrenching, ordering parts, wrenching, and then bleeding the coolant system. But, hear me out, it was mostly for all the right reasons.

You see, when the thermostat housing is removed, it provides access to lots of goodies like the oil separators, and most of the critical power steering, oil circulation, and coolant lines, all of which are of course made of rubber or plastic. As soon as I had the housing off, my OCD kicked in. For the most part, the lines were in decent shape and probably a few years from needing a replacement but I didn’t plan on removing the thermostat housing again for another 5-10 years so I went crazy documenting all the various hoses and tubes, looking them up on the OEM parts diagrams, and finding the best price online.

Then, I would remove the hoses and tubes to be replaced and find other hoses and tubes that needed to be replaced. So you know how the rest goes.

Then, finally, after trying everything to get the thermostat out of the housing (it was an extremely tight factory press fit), I gave up and bought a new housing with the t-stat already installed. So much for trying to save that $120 for the housing. Fortunately, it only took two sets of gaskets to get the housing back into the car!

By the time I had the coolant filled back up and was ready to bleed the air out of the system, the battery was toast so I of course had to bust out the mobile jump starter. After driving the car a few times on the highway, I thought the battery was fine but wound up having to restore and recharge it with a battery tender.

The irony of this is that the thermostat hadn’t even failed before I set out to replace it but was starting to show signs of wear (the temperature would always sit at the low end of normal) so I wanted to be proactive. The upside is that 90% of the tubing in front of the engine is now brand new and the car stays right in the middle of the temperature gauge, even on 90 degree days.

Submitted by: oddseth

14 / 18

My first was my worst.

Back in 1984-1985 a friend of my father’s was dying of cancer (and self-medicating with gallon jugs of Gallo wine.)

One day, my father calls me up and asks if I would be interested in buying “Uncle Stewart’s” 1965 Thunderbird. I had childhood memories of this car so I immediately said yes, withdrew $500 cash from my bank account and met my father at “Uncle Stewart’s” house.

I regretted my decision immediately.

The T-bird sat forlorn under a tarp in Stewart’s back yard, paint faded, vinyl top peeling and all four tires flat. Stewart took my money, handed me the keys and the title and went back into the house to continue drinking himself to death.

My father called a friend of his who owned a tow truck. Three hours and $55.00 later, that Thunderbird sat in the driveway of the house I was renting.

The first job was to get the tires re-inflated; three of them held air, the passenger rear was off its bead. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just swap it out for the spare.

Thus began my first lesson in car projects - Rust is the tool of the Devil.

None of the lug nuts would break loose, so I sprayed them with PB Blaster and let them sit overnight. The next morning, the lug nuts still wouldn’t budge, so I grabbed a 4' length of pipe from the basement and fit it over the lug wrench. I applied all my weight to the end of the pipe and -POP- the lug snapped flush with the wheel. I tried another lug nut with the same result. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

The following weekend, with the help of some friends, we got the T-bird up on jackstands so we could get a better look of what we were dealing with.

Rust. Nothing but rust.

Trunk pan, floors, exhaust system, brake lines, engine mounts, rear fenders - everything was coated in rust from the car sitting on its belly in Stewart’s back yard for god knows how many years.

Oh, and we also found the engine was seized.

I quietly admitted defeat and threw a tarp over the car and tried to ignore it sitting in the driveway every night when I came home from work.

Unfortunately, my landlord refused to ignore it and after three months told me to move the car. I put an ad in the paper and reached out to the local T-bird club and finally sold the car for $150 to some guy who wanted the car for the interior.

It was another 10 years before I tackled another project.

Submitted by: Earthbound Misfit I

15 / 18

Right now I have my Juke on jack stands in my driveway where it has been for two months. The right front wheel is off and the wheel well lining is peeled back.

The story is this: I was driving one night and I smelled something burning. I stopped, raised the hood, and saw smoke coming from the accessory belt. I got it home just in time for the belt to completely break. So, being a decent shadetree mechanic, I decided to replace the belt. And that’s where the nightmare really started.

Do you have any idea how tight it is to get that belt on? It took my son holding it in position up top on the alternator and me under the car trying to get it on the ribs of the pulleys while simultaneously pushing as hard as I could on a 14mm box end wrench so I could work it over the tensioner. Finally, after a little over an hour, I got it on. Then I told my son to watch for problems as I started it.

Well, it wouldn’t start. So I cranked on it and my son told me to stop because he saw sparks fly. Wonderful. So I told him to start it. He cranked it and this time it did start, for 5 seconds until I told him to turn it off. The air conditioning compressor pulley turned 180 degrees, froze, did it again, froze, and then started to eat the belt, melting the ribs to the pulley and smoking. I checked the belt tension and it was so ridiculously tight I can no longer loosen the tensioner.

So, it was either the wrong size belt, a bad tensioner, or a seized AC compressor. If it’s the belt, I’m lucky. If it’s either of the other two I’m screwed. And because the likely outcome is me being screwed, I’m putting it off because I’m afraid of the answer and riding my motorcycle into work every day.

So that’s the story of the simple repair that I’m putting off because I can’t afford to pay

Submitted by: Dave C.

16 / 18

As you all may know I have this JDM Pajero Diesel that I picked up a few years ago. I have learned to fix a handful of things on it, and almost all of those have gone well. The thing they dont really tell you is how hard non essential parts are to find.

Alternator, radiator, fans, all easy stuff. Right now I am chasing a leaky fuel line and there seems to be more than 1 down there. I have no idea what to order, even if i had a parts catalog i wouldn’t know which one to pick - is it the return line or the main line i have no idea.

The other thing no one tells you about JDM ownership is NO one will look at it. I cant find one mechanic near me that will even have a look at it. To get an oil change i have to lie and tell people its a Montero. Same thing even for getting shocks replaced. If they can’t get get a good VIN number they simply shit their pants and wont work on your car.

At this point i just want to fix a couple things and sell this to the next weeb - i am ready to move on

Submitted by: the_AUGHT

17 / 18

My Alfa GTV6’s clutch was stuck. This is actually a pretty common problem and normally not a huge deal, although annoying. Some revving and engine braking on jack stands can usually break the disc free. In my case, nothing would work. Weeks of trying every technique in the book short of live animal sacrifice. The thing was fused together like it had been welded. No choice - it had to be removed.

Once I got the car on stands I realized my front driveshaft giubo had an entire section missing and the rear was badly cracked, so kismet. I also discovered BOTH of my rear brake calipers had seized and two bleeders broke when I tried loosening them. Since they’re inboard and difficult to remove in situ, I made the call to just drop the entire rear suspension, which includes the transaxle, and take the opportunity to clean it up, replace all of the bushings and mounts, and treat the deDion with POR15.

I start ordering parts from the usual sources. No giubos available in the country. No rear brakes either (I was just going to swap cores and get rebuilt calipers). No new CV boots available anywhere, so universal cut-to-fit had to be the answer.

It wasn’t just the parts supply that was a problem, but the age of most of the components. The driveshaft was stuck to the flywheel and required a slide hammer to loosen it, flattening the threads on one of the studs in the process. The clutch line was seized to the slave cylinder and then the line sheared off while working on it. THEN while unsticking the clutch disc I lost alignment. The GTV6 clutch is factory balanced. Normally with a clutch this old you’re just going to replace it, and a few years ago I would have, as they were $500. Now, post-COVID and Clarkson, I couldn’t find one for less than $2,200 shipped. I had to call 20 shops to find a place that could rebalance it, as clutch balancing is not a service offered by any local transmission or rebuild shops (I finally found found a crusty old diesel rebuilder way up north who had an antique lathe balancer and did it by hand and decades of practice - God save these people).

More parts are ordered and start to arrive - the brake rebuild kits, new rubber and poly bushings and mounts, giubos - although almost all had doubled or more in cost since COVID, with many coming from England or Italy because Stateside inventory was wiped, so I also had to pay import duty. A job that would have cost $300 a few years ago was now $1,200, just for two rubber giubos, mounts and bushings, etc.

To add insult to injury I accidentally cleaned off the marks on the transmission input shaft splines for the shift linkage. It’s certainly not impossible to realign them, as folks swap transmissions all the time, but dear god is it tedious and frustrating.

Then, worst of all, the two old guys who were the local Alfa gurus both died within weeks of each other. Cancer + COVID for both of them. The local Alfisti were devastated. These two guys had generations of knowledge and experience, and would help out anyone with whatever problem they had. Now, gone.

Anyway, this was a year and a half ago. Somewhere around the time I realized I had to reinstall everything by myself, I decided I just wanted to sell the car. It no longer brought me any joy and was just a near constant source of anxiety and frustration. But knowing I was going to sell it caused me to not want to work on it, because part of me absolutely does NOT want to sell it (even though I’m definitely getting a Vox AC30 and a new Jazzmaster with some of the profit). So it’s still sitting in the garage, while we’re facing the worst heat we’ve ever had in Texas. It’ll be October at the earliest before I have the guts to go back out and finish it. And that’s just mechanical! It needs some interior work and paint correction before I can even think about listing it.

Anyway, 1982 Alfa Romeo GTV6 for sale. Ran when parked (technically).

Submitted by: Chairman Kaga

18 / 18