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What Does My Overheated Transmission Have to Do with Admiral Grace Hopper?
Kirt's Cogitations™ #330 - On Trak Automotive Services

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my ranting on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR (U.S. Navy photo) - RF Cafe

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR

(U.S. Navy image)

Last week Melanie and I drove down to Greensboro, North Carolina, to attend our daughter's wedding. The weather was typically hot there, but not out of the norm. All went well at the small ceremony. Both bride and groom showed up, as did the minister and necessary witnesses. After the blessed event was over, we headed back northward to our humble abode in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Our route upon exiting NC is I-81 for a few miles in Virginia, then north onto I-77, up to Rt. 19, then I-79 all the way home, up and down mountains roads for a few hundred miles. We have made the round-trip at least twice per year for two decades. Our 2011 Jeep Patriot has never had any mechanical issues. There are only 81k miles on it and is normally stored in the garage. That day, though, the transmission overheating idiot light illuminated while on I-81 - not a particularly hilly stretch. The outside temperature there was about 80 °F. I had noticed a slightly higher pitch sound from it while going uphill, but didn't think anything of it until the light came on.

After making sure the CVT (continuously variable transmission) had not been inadvertently knocked into a lower gear, I slowed down a bit hoping that would cool the transmission and extinguish the light. No such luck.

Location of RF Cafe's breakdown on I77 - RF Cafe

Location of RF Cafe's breakdown on I77 (Google Map).

Turn-off from Peppers Ferry Road to On Trak Automotive Services - RF Cafe

Turn-off from Peppers Ferry Road to On Trak Automotive Services, 133 Reed Lane, Wytheville, VA

On Trak Automotive Services, 133 Reed Lane, Wytheville, Virginia - RF Cafe

On Trak Automotive Services, 133 Reed Lane, Wytheville, Virginia, 1-276-228-9197

Their motto: "Worst Location, Best Reputation"

All above images are screen captures from Google Maps

2011 Jeep Patriot - RF Cafe

A couple miles up I-77 the engine began losing power and wouldn't maintain speed. Rather than risking damage, I pulled over at the 45.4 mile marker and called the roadside service. The dude on the phone told me I would need to locate a repair shop to have the Jeep towed to or I would incur an additional charge for a second tow if the place couldn't take it right away. The first number I called in Wytheville, Virginia (the nearest town) was out of service, so I called the next in line - On Trak Automotive Services. After explaining our dilemma, the nice lady, Rene, who answered the phone told me they would be glad to see what they could do to help. Since the tow service the roadside service wanted to call was 30 miles away with a two hour wait, I asked Rene for a referral, and she offered 103 Towing & Recovery, also in Wytheville.

Clay Bush, owner of 103 Towing & Recovery (1-276-613-0997), told me he had just dispatched his man for another tow, but that since we were stranded he would divert him to our location. About 15 minutes later, Eddie arrived and winched our crippled ride up onto the truck bed. Eddie was quite a nice fellow and we had a few laughs on the way to On Trak Automotive Services - only about 6 miles away. As he slowed down and put on his turn signal to pull into a shady lane, thoughts of the movie "Deliverance" came to mind and I thought I heard dueling banjos playing in the background. I checked my trusty sidearm to be sure it was accessible (yes, I have a valid CCL).

Once past the shady lane, the area breaks out into a very scenic, open vista where surrounding farmlands abound. I have always loved the Wytheville area because of its open, rolling hills filled with sheep and cattle grazing, and bountiful food crops - including one of the largest pumpkin fields I've ever seen. The safety immediately went back on ;-)

Eddie unloaded the heretofore trusty Jeep Patriot (our only vehicle), wished us well, and headed off to collect his initial charge in town.

Rene welcomed us and promised their ace troubleshooter would begin work as soon as he returned from lunch. In the mean time, another fellow plugged the OBD (on-board diagnostics) analyzer into the dash receptacle and reported no error codes of any sort from the onboard computer, which was not surprising since the engine trouble light never came on. It did seem kind of strange that the transmission overheat sensor trigger did not record in the system. According to the mechanic, the Patriot is known to have throttle body issues, but this didn't appear to be the problem.

Mechanic / technician Matt took over and assessed the situation. He, too, could not immediately find a reason why the beast had acted as it did. Incidentally, while at On Trak Automotive Services, the engine started easily and everything worked perfectly, with no indication anything had ever been wrong with it. I told Matt and Rene that if I hadn't had Melanie as a witness, I might have been talked into believing the whole thing was imagined.

A little while later, Matt called me over to the car and showed me where he had pressure washed the radiators for the engine, transmission, and air conditioner. They had been utterly clogged with bug bodies, but were now clean as when it came off the car lot in December 2010. Matt searched the Internet for other people who had experienced the same problem and came up with the bug-clogged radiator cause. I immediately saw how reasonably that could explain the overheating episode, and was quite impressed that Matt resorted to an online search for a solution. I do almost all my own car servicing and routine maintenance and, myself, rely on the Internet for instructional articles and videos others post for everything from brake changes to transmission and transaxle fluid replacement. Of course I also felt like an idiot for not keeping the radiators free of bugs. From now on, the radiators get checked with every car washing.

Matt also explained that the engine bogging down was a self-preservation feature of the software to prevent the engine from over-stressing the hot transmission and causing further damage. I bought into that theory, too.

The First "Computer Bug" (U.S. Navy photo) - RF Cafe

Moth found trapped between points at Relay #70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1947.

After spending at least a couple hours diagnosing and repairing the problem, the great folks at On Trak Automotive Services bestowed upon Melanie and me an act of kindness unlike we can ever remember anyone doing. I won't divulge exactly what it was lest others expect the same treatment. I will say that the situation left us with the feeling that no matter how much rotten behavior you hear or read about in the news, there are still very good people left in the world. That alone was worth the trip delay and inconvenience. Thanks again, On Trak Automotive Services!

Our trip north proceeded without incident and no further failures have been indicated. It appears the bugs in the radiators were indeed the culprits.

Now do you understand why I make the allusion to U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper? She is credited for coining the term "bug" in a system based on a moth which had been discovered as the offending element between a set of relay contacts of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator. Just as Admiral Hopper's woes were caused by a winged insect clogging the works, so, too, was a similar creature (many, actually, but it was that final one that pushed it to the limit) liable for my troubles.



Posted July 7, 2021

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