Conquering the Alcan 6-11-2010

          As a follow up to last week’s column, we made it successfully to Alaska in the $600 truck! The only difficulty encountered was failure of the starter drive in a very remote section of lower/middle British Columbia. When actuated, the starter would spin rapidly but not drive the engine’s flywheel/ring gear. After several dozen rapidly repetitive starting attempts it finally engaged, and I drove without stopping until a replacement starter could be purchased in the next town several hundred miles up the road. Bad weather precluded replacement until the following morning– I did the job on my back beneath the truck, parked on a gravel bar adjoining Burns Lake BC.

          The Cassiar Highway is a very remote and occasionally bumpy road leading between the Yellowhead Highway (from Prince George BC) to the Alaska Highway near Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. Many thoughts went through my head regarding the durability of the well used truck as I dodged almost foot deep potholes and pinged our way up some very long and steep hills (fuel in BC is of lower octane than back home and premium is often not available). I tried to imagine the cost and inconvenience of a 500 mile tow truck experience, should something serious occur. One problem with knowing about the things that can go wrong with a car or truck is you have more things to worry about as the long driving hours pass.

          Wildlife was plentiful. Black bears, wolves, beavers, porcupines, moose, caribou, lynx, fox, and eagles were spotted, along with waves of mosquitoes, which at one point looked like fog. Side trips to Stewart BC and Hyder AK, along with Carcross Yukon and Skagway AK provided breathtaking views of glaciers, snow covered peaks, deep blue lakes, and meeting some very nice folks in these quite interesting and rather isolated towns. The climb out of Skagway, a steep, transmission burning and incredibly beautiful drive, was taken carefully with the heavily laden truck and trailer, pausing several times for a cool down.

          After encountering  some very bumpy, frost heaved pavement, then washboard and  dusty gravel sections of roadway on the final stretch of Yukon Territory approaching Alaska, we were pleased to have made it through with an undamaged windshield and the original set of Kumho Road Venture tires (very sturdy and personally endorsed). This is a trip I’d highly recommend!

Q       Is there a good way to test the coil packs on my coil-on-plug ignition system? I’ve had two replaced already and have heard from a few forums they can crack and leak spark. I frequently take long trips and don’t need trouble from them.

Jason Lam

A        Check with a heads-up auto parts store to find and purchase a ST-125 or equivalent spark tester. This inexpensive tool resembles a spark plug with a very wide gap and an attached alligator clip for grounding.  Remove each coil one at a time, reconnect the attaching wires, install the spark tester and snugly wrap the coil’s spark plug boot and coil body with a section of aluminum foil. With the spark tester clipped to engine metal and the foil also touching engine metal, briefly start the engine. If spark jumps the tester, you have a strong coil with no insulation leaks. The aluminum foil acts as an attractive target for spark to leak to, should a crack or burn-through (insulation fault) be present.   acerun:

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