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Member Article: Shitbox Rally – Engine repairs

Words and Photos by Daniel Borton.

It had all the hallmarks of the Clarke and Dawe sketch of ‘The front fell off’……

I was heading home, and as I turned right something felt wrong. The engine sounded like the muffler was a bit broken, but there was a strange grinding sensation like the tyre was flat. I pulled over, everything looked fine, but on start up it didn’t sound right. A few more looks, not being able to see anything amiss and being only 150-200 metres home, I decided to nurse it home. Upon opening the bonnet again, the engine wasn’t really where it should be. It was quite a few cm lower.

From my newfound mechanical experience from passing tools when we replaced the clutch, I was able to diagnose it as the engine and the car disconnecting at the engine mount. From that I also knew how to remove the battery, the battery tray, the coolant overflow and a number of other parts to get to it. I also thought that it would be an easy fix, jacking the engine up so it slotted in, putting the bolt through, and overall an easy fix.

Wondering why eveything looks normal, but isn’t.

My non car friends have long given me shit about driving shitboxes. I guess this was further emphasised when I was given a car for the Shitbox Rally, then decided that was too good and I’d take my daily. Which had the clutch fail (completely expectedly), the air con fail (not unexpected), and now the engine sort of fall out. 

The Alto was only ever meant to be a short term temporary car while I bought an apartment. Skyrocketing used car values delayed upgrading it, and having only paid $1000, it just wasn’t worth fixing. Things deteriorated, but I had the club rego Camry as a back up if it failed, then I got accepted into the Shitbox Rally, and suddenly the car had to last 9 months and about 6000km of daily driving and a 6000km road trip taking in outback Australia. After being neglected for 18 months.

It turns out the easy fix wasn’t so easy. The engine had also moved forward toward the front of the car and rotated slightly when it dropped and was wedged on the subframe and jacking it up from below resulted in the bracket on the engine hitting the mount. After a day of trying unsuccessfully, I was stuck.

Team mechanics contemplating the task

Fortunately Trent offered to assist. Being a former mechanic, he knew exactly where to push the engine, and that it was smarter to remove the engine mount off the frame, reattach the engine to it, then attach the mount to the frame. All up the whole process took less than 15 minutes.

I still have no idea how it happened. The bolt going through the centre of the engine mount somehow came loose, and vibrated all the way out. Except it couldn’t really go all the way out because the back  of it end hit the radiator before it got out of the mount, another reason why we couldn’t reattach it without first removing the mount from the frame. It’s really something I’ve never heard of happening before. The mount was in good condition, and replace less than 3 years ago.

Back to normal operating mode and proceeding again

But as much as I felt useless with the clutch replacement, I obviously learnt something, and I was pretty pleased to be able to diagnose and have a go at fixing this myself. Many of the photos are a bit dark, as most of the work was done after work.

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