Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2002   by Rick Cogbill a.k.a. Slim Shambles

A Batch of Trouble

"Mangez, Monsieur Slim, mangez! Eat! You are wasting away to nothing!" Madame Pinchette's eyes twinkled as she piled more French pastries onto the lunchroom table. Basil and Tooner were already reachi...

“Mangez, Monsieur Slim, mangez! Eat! You are wasting away to nothing!” Madame Pinchette’s eyes twinkled as she piled more French pastries onto the lunchroom table. Basil and Tooner were already reaching for their fourth helping, while Beanie was slouched in the corner, looking green around the gills. He had been the first to arrive.

I held my hands up in defense. “Really, Colette, I’ve had plenty!”

This ritual of pastry stuffing had become a regular monthly occurrence, because once a month, almost to the day, Madame Pinchette’s ’94 Volkswagen Jetta would act up. “Oui, I am driving along and, voila, my petite voiture just stops.” Fortunately, it would restart immediately. Colette would drive straight home, bake a batch of French pastry, and come right over.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t located the problem yet. At 96,000 kilometers, the 2.0 litre gas engine was just nicely broken in. All of our testing on the fuel and ignition systems had produced nothing. We even borrowed a scanner from Dieter at the import shop down the street to check for trouble codes. Again, nothing. I was beginning to wonder if the Jetta was really acting up, or if Madame Pinchette just liked bringing us baked goodies.

“About your car…” I began, brushing the crumbs off my shirt.

“Ah, oui! I was just going to tell you, Monsieur Slim. I’m going away for a month to the south of France, so I will leave you my car to drive. Then when it quits, bon, you can fix it!” She looked very pleased with herself.

Basil began to choke on his eclair. Tooner gasped. “A whole month! Y-you mean we won’t be getting any home baking?”

She laughed and patted his shoulder. “You are a rascal, Monsieur Tooner. I’m thinking you don’t fix my car because you like my cooking too much, n`est pas? Au’revoir!”

In the days that followed, two significant events happened. First, the Jetta never skipped a beat, no matter how much we drove it. And second, Beanie tried making cupcakes in the lunchroom microwave oven.

“Sacre bleu! What did you put in these?!” bellowed Tooner as he ran for the bathroom. Basil had tried a tentative bite and was looking queasy. It was a good thing I had let the others do the taste testing.

Beanie gulped. “We didn’t have any bowls to mix the ingredients, so I emptied out one of those old coffee cans we store bolts in. I thought I had cleaned it out pretty good!”

“What did you clean it with,” I asked. “Varsol?”

Beanie looked away. “Well, I…”

After the bad batch of cupcakes, Tooner was even more determined to fix Madame Pinchette’s Jetta. “Maybe she’ll bring us some real baking as a reward!”

With the owner due to return, I finally called up Dieter again at the Foreign Car Clinic. “Well, we have had lots of relay problems,” he said. “Want to try some new ones?”

We had nothing to lose, so Beanie drove over and picked up new relays for the ECU and the Fuel Pump, just to be sure. He came in the door, reading the boxes. “Dieter didn’t have any OEM relays, but he says these aftermarket ones will work and they’re less expensive.” The brand was one I hadn’t used before, but then we didn’t do as much foreign car work as Dieter did. We put the relays in and gave Colette her car back.

But a month later, she returned, not wearing her apron and noticeably empty-handed. The Jetta had quit again. “Monsieur Slim, I’m losing my patience, non? There will be no more French pastries until my petite voiture runs properly!”

Beanie watched her leave. “D’ya want me to try my hand at baking again?”

“No! I want you to go on-line to iATN and see if anyone else out there has run into this.” The International Automotive Technicians’ Network ( is a group of nearly 40,000 professional automotive technicians from 128 countries around the world who provide help to other technicians through an on-line help forum. It was one place we should have tried sooner.

The next day, we had a reply from a technician in Missouri. “According to this,” said Beanie, reading his printout, “there’s a bad batch of aftermarket relays floating around. This guy recommends using only OEM relays from the dealer.”

“Well, doesn’t that frost yer cookies!” exclaimed Tooner when he heard. He looked at Beanie. “From a bad batch of cupcakes to a bad batch of relays. I guess you’ve redeemed yourself.”

With the OEM relays installed, the Jetta never quit again, and out of gratitude Madame Pinchette began sending over regular installments of her baking. However, Beanie had gotten the bug and showed up one morning with a box of Instant Brownie Mix. “How ’bout I take another stab at baking!” he asked hopefully.

“Sorry, Bean,” said Basil as he munched a croissant. “We only use OEM baked goods around here.”

(Thanks to Klaus Kahl of Valley West Automotive in Summerland for this month’s technical problem)

About The Writer

Rick Cogbill is a freelance writer living in the Okanagan valley of Southern British Columbia. A licensed technician with over 25 years in the automotive repair industry, including ten years as a shop owner, Cogbill creates his comic scenarios with Slim, Basil, Tooner, and The Bean out of actual case histories. “What you have just read is true,” drawls Slim Shambles. “Only the names have been changed to protect my hide!”

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