Oddly enough, it was a Volkswagen, too, upon which I was working.
The 1974 412 was a fun car. It was made of pure butt uglium, but it was an air-cooled VW and it was fun. I got it for nothing: a friend dickered the used car salesman down to $360 (from $450) for me and I bought the car in February; July came and the lot had never cashed the check. The check was invalid after six months, so I got the car for free.
It needed everything, anyway--the rear tires were mismatched, the engine vacuum plumbing was FUBAR, there was a huge hole in the driver's side floor.
If I plugged this one hose in, the car got excellent fuel economy, but had no power. If I left the hose off, the car sucked gas, but had plenty of power. It remained thus until springtime.
Come spring I got out my Haynes manual and tore out all the vacuum piping and then reinstalled it according to the diagram in the manual. I also replaced spark plugs, wires, cap, and rotor. The car then ran well, had plenty of power, and consistently got 27 MPG.
The car used 165R15 tires, which (at the time) could be had for $25 each. I used my income tax refund to replace the mismatched rear tires.
Little by little I improved its drivability and utility--for mere pennies, as most of what it needed was labor--until one day I got around to replacing the fuel filter.
The car was fuel injected. It had an analog computer to determine injector timing, and a pair of points in the distributor was dedicating to bank-firing the injectors. The fuel system ran at about 30-40 PSI. The most interesting bit was how the fuel system worked: low-pressure tubing ran from the fuel tank to the fuel pump, which pressurized the fuel line running to the engine at 30 PSI or whatever; the return line (running at a very low pressure) then returned excess fuel to the tank. The important part was that fuel pump was outside the fuel tank, and the fuel filter was plumbed between tank and pump.
When I went to replace the filter, gasoline spilled from the line until I elevated the end above the fuel tank. I had to get a gas can and let the fuel drain into that while I changed the filter.
But the rubber fuel hose between tank and filter was 15 years old, and brittle; and when I tried to put the fuel line onto the new filter, it broke, and gasoline spilled all over the driveway. I was laying in a puddle of gas.
Finally getting the end back into the gas can I let it drain all the way. My skin was sore--chemical burns from laying in gasoline--and I was fuming as I went back to take the fragment of fuel line off the filter.
I cracked my forehead against the corner of the gas can, hard enough to see stars. "WHAT ELSE IS GOING TO HAPPEN?" I hollered.
...I ended up going to the auto parts store (twenty minutes each way) to get new fuel line so I could re-plumb the entire operation there, because I wasn't about to risk having another old, brittle hose break like that.
The high pressure lines from the pump back were steel, and intact; it was only the low-pressure plumbing between the tank, filter, pump, and return lines that needed to be replaced. I replaced all of it.
A couple months later, one of my fuel injectors started leaking. It was not a big leak, but it was not something one could afford to ignore, either--not when you've got fuel spilling onto the cylinder head of an air-cooled car, mere inches from the spark plug. No.
Price for new fuel injector: $90.
The fuel injector was attached to the fuel rail via a short length of mesh-covered hose, which was permanently crimped to the injector with a brass collar. A radiator clamp held the end of the hose to the fuel rail; and since it was just the hose part that was leaking, I reasoned, perhaps I could get some high-pressure fuel hose and use that to replace the leaking hose.
High-pressure fuel line: $10 per foot. You couldn't buy it by the foot; you had to buy a package of 4-6 feet at that price, when I needed about two inches of the stuff. It would have cost me $40-ish to buy the package.
...and then I looked at the hose itself and its pressure rating. The high-pressure stuff was good to about 80 PSI; the "low pressure" hose was rated at 40 PSI. And I just happened to remember that the VW's fuel system wasn't pressurized to more than 40 PSI; so I decided to give it a try.
I cut myself trying to get the ferrule off the fuel injector, but it did come off, and I snipped off a 2" segment from the $10 worth of fuel line I'd bought. Two $0.40 radiator clamps later, I had the fuel injector back in its place. I gingerly turned on the car's ignition and stared at the fuel rail.
Started the car; it ran fine, and there was never another fuel leak while I owned it.
So I guess this isn't such a horrible story after all, but WTF, it's not like you paid anything for it.