December 18th, 2009

Obscure but readily fixable car problem (1970s)

Scenario: It's the late 1970s, a snowy midwinter day. Two guys are driving in a rural area, somewhere within a day's drive of New York, in an American car that's not more than a few years old (doesn't matter what model, as long as it's an American car). They either hear something go wrong with the car and pull over, or they pull over to get something out of the trunk or change drivers and the car refuses to restart. One of said guys knows a bit about cars, changes his own oil and the like and could easily diagnose commonplace problems; he pops the hood and takes a look, but can't figure out what's wrong with the car. Shortly afterward, a professional mechanic drives by (in his own car; he can be carrying his tools if neccessary). He notices the car with its hood up and pulls over to help; he is able to diagnose and fix the problem in a few minutes, or at least get the car to a point where they can safely drive it to a repair shop some miles away, and the guys drive off.

What could go wrong with the car that would be annoying aand hard to diagnose, but easy to fix? It can't be a battery problem, since they could push-start the car; it can't be lack of gas, because they'd have started walking, and I want them still sitting there arguing when the mechanic shows up. It's too new to have fan belt problems. Is there something that could come loose that wouldn't be obvious looking under the hood? A similar question on the comm ages ago mentioned a PCV joint coming loose, but I got the impression that anyone who knew about cars would be able to spot it.