My First Trip in the $800 Daewoo Involved Building a Makeshift Power Steering Line on the Side of the Road
Despite some hardships this cheap orphan car did make it home. And soon, it will be racing.
So I spent entirely too much money on a ramshackle example of a subcompact car from a dead brand, to participate in a rallycross challenge for queer people held in the middle of Virginia. But first, it had to get home. That turned into an adventure in of itself.
Is any of this a good idea? Uh, probably not, we’ll see.
The initial inspection of my $800 Daewoo Lanos was done by yours truly. It was immediately apparent that the tires were super low (damn near flat), the power steering was making an awful noise (and hemorrhaging out fluid, as I’d learn on my maiden test drive), but the rest of the car seemed to be a good enough template to rehab into a forlorn rallycross star for a weekend of fun.
The previous owner didn’t know that much about the car; he accepted it for payment for a job he had completed for someone. He tried to pass the Daewoo off to his son, who promptly rejected it, and bought a Honda Civic. Good choice, my guy.
I had driven to see the Lanos alone, which meant I didn’t have the manpower to somehow limp the car home. Still, I needed to get a more substantial test drive than the little strip of farmland I drove to make sure the Daewoo could even move under its own power. Could the Daewoo drive itself home?
I took a quick drive, about six miles round trip to get the Daewoo’s seriously underinflated tires some air. The drive there was slow and cautious; I’d guess and say the front tires had maybe 10 psi of air in them. Still, I learned the Daewoo stopped well enough, the transmission worked fine (even if the first to second upshift was a bit syrupy and slippy for my liking), and the car didn’t overheat. Things were looking good, I thought the Daewoo would make it!
While on my short drive, I noticed the steering wheel get harder and harder to turn. When I got to the gas station air hose, I popped the hood and noticed the power steering fluid was nearly completely out of fluid. In a mere three miles, the whole system had nearly completely dry. Dammit. Frustrated, I sat in silence, figuring out how the hell I was going to get myself out of this one; where the fuck was this thing leaking?
Luckily, the leak revealed itself, in the form of a piddling red spray misting from a metal hardline under the middle of the car.
Sure, a leaking power steering system isn’t exactly good news, but, now I knew exactly where it was. The leak was visible, not buried behind something strange or hard to remove. The bad news is that in the six miles round trip to get the tires filled, the Lanos had pissed out the entirety of its power steering fluid.
Cautiously, I returned the Daewoo to the previous owner’s home, then hightailed it back to Columbus, with plans to fight another day.
I couldn’t tow the car back home, I was out of AAA service calls, and my wallet wasn’t feeling the triple-digit fees that would’ve been a nearly 90-mile tow back home. I had no choice, I had to fix it on the side of the road.
And by fixing it, I mean, bring my superiorly mechanically inclined roommate, to figure out how to patch this up and get it on the road. And no, not by using duct (Duck?) tape. Power steering fluid will eat right through it.
The Lanos’s power steering pump and other accessories are on the passenger’s side, but the power steering reservoir is on the driver’s side. So, the engineers at Daewoo routed a return line, partially rubber, partially metal down the driver side frame rail, then underneath the radiator fans. Then, the line goes up the passenger side frame tail and then terminates at the power steering pump. Directly underneath the radiator, and exposed to the elements, lies a metal hardline that in theory is hardier than one made of rubber. In a sunbelt state or Daewoo’s home market of South Korea, this sounds like a perfectly sane idea with no downsides.
Yeah, I don’t live there.
In a rust belt state, this line is exposed to the elements, namely road salt. After years of salt, slush, and ice, the metal hardline has rusted and disintegrated, and mine had a pinhole leak, spraying out fluid like one of those pissing Calvin bumper stickers.
My roommate had an idea: we’d bring (or in our case, buy) some rubber hose, pair it with some generic couplers and hose clamps, and make a new power steering return line. It’s not like we had much of a choice, not like there’s a Daewoo dealer nearby to get an OEM-quality part!
The process was easy; only costing about $26, and maybe 30 minutes of our time. After his not-so-hacky fix, I was on the road, limping a car that hadn’t been driven in a year, on a 90-mile hour and a half drive back to my home.
It was fine. Ish. I quickly learned the gas gauge didn’t work, the turn signals didn’t work correctly (a field mouse may have chewed on some of the wires), I only had one speaker, and the rearview mirror was somehow missing, but the car went.
Oh, and it was leaking gas, but only when I filled the tank. The fuel filler neck is toast.
Once the car was moving again, the drive was uneventful. The suspension made a bit of noise. Sometimes the first to second upshift under full throttle was a bit soupy. The brakes worked, but they vibrated, and I think they may have been whatever pads and rotors Daewoo installed back in 1999.
But it made it, just fine. The car didn’t vibrate, and it tracked straight and true at speeds of 70 to 75MPH. Even with all the dash lights on, I never felt unsafe, and I think the car could have done that all day with no real issues.
It’s not perfect though, and I’ve got a lot of work to do in a limited amount of time. Wish me luck, y’all.