Today: Tom and Ray tag-team a stuck distributor.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray: It was a rainy afternoon ... I had driven a couple of miles when the car stalled. I opened the hood and stared at the engine. What else is there to do? After 15 minutes and a few more tries, the engine started and I limped home. It was really wet a few days ago, and again the car just would not start. I decide to pop the distributor cap and have a look. In the process, the clip at the back of the distributor broke off. Of course, the friendly folks at my VW dealership say the clip is part of the distributor itself, not sold separately. Sigh. So I got another distributor on eBay, and went out to remove my old one. No luck. It's frozen to the block and won't budge. So far, I have tried repeated applications of PB Blaster and Liquid Wrench. I have tried prying it out with a crowbar. I got the engine running and let it run for a while, hoping the heat from the engine might help the goop work. I also tried tapping it with a hammer, and when I couldn't get a decent swing due to tight quarters, I moved up to an air chisel, and tried to rotate the base of the distributor with that. It is still stuck solid. Any suggestions for me? -- Jim

TOM: Well, these all are things we would have tried, Jim. Our next step would have been to set the car on fire.

RAY: No, you've far from exhausted your options, Jim. If you haven't already chiseled Teddy Roosevelt's profile into the distributor with the air chisel, one option is to simply forget about the broken clip, and glue a new distributor cap to the base of the old distributor.

TOM: What we do is coat the bottom edge of the cap with a silicone adhesive, and then use the remaining clip and a couple of wire ties to secure it. And once that adhesive sets, the distributor cap won't go anywhere.

RAY: If it's already too late for that (I'm guessing it is), the next thing to try is, with the cap off the distributor and the remaining "good" clip folded out of the way, grabbing the distributor with an oil-filter wrench. An oil-filter wrench has a round metal strap that you can tighten, and is specifically designed to turn a round object.

TOM: If that doesn't work, then you start double-teaming it. Engage a friend, and have him apply the oil-filter wrench while you work the air chisel. The air chisel also will create vibrations, which may allow the penetrant (the PB Blaster or Liquid Wrench) to work its way in. So keep squirting more of that stuff while you're chiseling and pushing.

RAY: If all that fails, you can attack it from underneath. If you get the car up on ramps, from underneath the car you can apply the air chisel to the bottom of the distributor. That may help work it loose.

TOM: But when you start getting frustrated, make sure you stop and take a break, Jim. It's easy to take out your frustration on the car, and become overzealous. Remember, you're air-chiseling right near the engine block, and you don't want to accidentally get excited that you sense movement, and then realize you've just chiseled off a piece of the block!

RAY: Right. That'll result in what we call a "2,000-dollar distributor clip."

TOM: So fight with it, but fight with it judiciously, Jim. And when you get to the point where you're stringing more than four curse words in a row before you get to the word "distributor," that's the time to wave the white flag and take it to a professional. Good luck.

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