When you go to a big event, any kind of car related happening, you always have to take the 'cool car', don't you? It's like an unwritten rule that when you go to a cars and coffee or a race track even to spectate, or an international gathering of aftermarket parts manufacturers like SEMA, you have to drive the enthusiast car. I couldn't rightly take my runabout Mazda3 to SEMA, it's still got stock wheels even. No, that just won't do, so that's why I found myself bombing across the Nevadan desert in our Project Boxster Clubsport on a Wednesday evening trying to make it to the show for Thursday morning. I left my home-station of Reno in the mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and planned for a 10:00 PM arrival in Las Vegas, as it's a much farther drive than anyone gives it credit for. Nevada is a big state.
The sun had gone down, and there was very little traffic. It was the ideal time for high speed motoring and making good time. Nevada's desert and the Sierra mountain range look absolutely beautiful at twilight, and with a long playlist pulled up on my phone, I was ready for 7 hours in the car. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men... Well, you know the rest. It always seems that when I take the Boxster on a long trip, something small sidelines me for a while somewhere extremely inconvenient. I was 20 miles outside of Tonopah, Nevada when I heard a disturbing noise coming from the engine compartment of the bright red steed. With trepidation I immediately put in the clutch and the noise slowed with engine revs, but did not disappear. Half a second later, there was a pop and the dashboard lit up with the familiar warnings letting me know that I'd lost the serpentine belt; power steering, alternator, etc. Here we go again, I said to myself.
With our last major failure on this car, the water pump was the culprit. The symptoms, initially, were quite similar, and I was afraid I'd made the wrong choice by installing a non-OEM water pump as a replacement. Fortunately I always keep a 10mm wrench in the car with me, and I was able to remove the engine access cover on the side of the road to assess the damage. Once the cover was off, it was clear that the cause of my problems this time was actually the upper idler pulley between the alternator and the power steering pump. The bearing on the pulley had gone bad, heated the bolt that it rides on, caused the bolt to back out, and dropped all of its ball bearings on the interstate, then separated the pulley from the bearing race. Obviously, without a pulley there to ride on, the belt was shoved out of alignment and didn't run any of the accessories anymore.
So there I am, standing in the dirt on the shoulder of the highway with no way to get to SEMA and no way to get home. My best hope was to be able to get the car into Tonopah and get myself a room for the night and begin the search to source the replacement parts. 20 miles without a water pump can be nerve wracking, but luckily I had a reasonably new battery with a full charge to start the car a handful of times without needing to run the alternator. Once all of the broken parts and the mangled belt were swept out of the engine compartment, I started it back up and made my way toward the distantly visible lights of tiny, middle-of-nowhere, Tonopah. Once I booked a room at the Tonopah Station Hotel And Casino And Grocery Store And Restaurant And H&R Block, I started calling in favors. I checked with NAPA, being that there was one in town, and they of-course did not have any in stock, and a special order would have been a handful of days away. I made sure to jot down a few numbers to Porsche parts places in Vegas to call in the morning if need be, and I put out a few feelers to friends of mine with Porsches in the Reno area.
Luckily, since moving out to Reno, I've become friendly with the owner of a Porsche and BMW repair shop called Reno Rennsport. I sent him a message to see if he had the pulley, bolt, and belt that I needed in stock, and he replied he'd check in the morning. The next morning after an early breakfast, he sent me this photograph of the exact parts I needed. Praise be to whatever deity you subscribe, any and all of them! A timid and polite call to my wife had her calling in to work to tell them she wouldn't be in today because her idiot husband had a broken car 300 miles away, and she had to rescue me. She stopped in to Reno Rennsport, and they not only supplied her with the needed parts, but also the 15mm wrench needed to reinstall the pulley, and the 24mm wrench needed to move the tensioner pully to install the belt. If it weren't for my lovely wife and the guys at Reno Rennsport (Brian and John), I'd probably still be holed up in lovely, but homely Tonopah.
So, with the parts and tools in hand, my wife left Reno at 9AM, and all I could do was wait until she arrived. 4 hours is a long time to wait, but probably a lot longer time to drive through the lonely desert on your way to deliver parts, I imagine. When she showed up at about 1 in the afternoon, I set to work. The pulley was reinstalled by about 1:05, and the belt was in place by 1:15. After a fuel tank fill up for both cars, we were back on our way home. Thursday at SEMA was gone, Friday at SEMA is a waste of time, and after the Thursday I'd had, it was time to just get home and put this mess behind me. The simple fix was enough to get home without issue, and the car is back to running like a well oiled machine.
So, while you won't get any SEMA coverage directly from me, we'll have more on the Porsche content from the show later this week, as provided by my good friend Jason Connor. There were some really cool cars there that I'm bummed I didn't get to see in person, but that won't stop us from bringing you the sights and new releases from the show.