That Time I Was Stranded Between Pennsylvania and Michigan

It was bitterly cold outside and I just left Frankie’s house a couple hours earlier for my journey back to Michigan; that’s when my Saab 900 decided to throw a temper tantrum.

A few months prior to this frost-bitten voyage, the shift linkage on my Saab 900 broke. I was able to rig up a quick fix, but it was a real damper on my final track weekend of 2017.

Now, I was on my way back after a relaxing two-week holiday break back in Pennsylvania. I typically stop off to visit Frankie to break up my journey, and this time was no different. I was experienced with this drive by now, so consequently, I had my podcasts downloaded, a fresh coffee in my thermos, and some holiday goodies for snacking in the passenger seat.

About a half hour into my drive I heard a “rotational” noise. I suspected a wheel bearing was starting to show it’s age, but I figured it would be fine until I was back in Michigan. Thanks to a brutal cold front, I decided it wasn’t worth freezing to diagnose further, and I continued on. After all, it wasn’t the first noise I ignored on my $850 900.

I had finally gotten to Interstate 80-West, and I was making great time. That was, until my battery light lit up on my dashboard. Great, my alternator took a shit. But then, my steering gradually got stiffer and my coolant temperature started to rise. I quickly pulled off to the side of the highway, shut off the car, and popped the hood. Upon inspection, I found that the serpentine belt was limp, and a pulley had been completely chewed to pieces.


I felt like a sitting duck on the side of the freeway, so I decided I would try to nurse it to the next exit. Thankfully, I pulled over early enough that the battery still had enough juice to start one last time. I creeped up a hill as I watched the water temperature climb into the danger zone. I immediately hit a decline, stayed off the throttle, and cooled off the coolant as much as possible. I continued this pattern for the next mile and a half until I was able to pull off the next exit, and wound up in front of an unattended garage.

I threw on some additional clothing since I no longer had heat, got in contact with AAA, and waited. Eventually, a fellow car enthusiast showed up to work on his Jeep half apart in the garage and welcomed me inside. About two hours later I arrived back where I started, this time, with my car being loaded off a flatbed. I grabbed a flash light, determined it was the tensioner pulley that was damaged, and ordered one with the fastest shipping I determined economical.

I had made arrangements to telecommute the remainder of the week until my tensioner pulley arrived. I headed outside in sub-zero temperatures to begin the repairs. Halfway through I realized it was the idler pulley that sat directly above the tensioner that was damaged. Additionally, the battery would not take a charge, so I also had to replace that. Luckily, both of these parts were available at the local auto parts store.

After an misdiagnosis and a week spent telecommuting in PA, it was finally time for me to head back to Michigan. It shifted my plans, sure, but you have to roll with the punches sometimes. And what’s better than some extra time with your best friends?

Feel free to share similar stories of your not-so-pristine Saabs in the comments below; we’d love to hear them!

If you enjoy content with stories like this, keep an eye on our That Time I Was segment, because we’ve got a few more ‘stranded’ stories.

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