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

A Rockin’ Good Time

A peculiar odor wafted through the front office as I dug through the filing cabinet in search of my lunch-I usually hide it there out of Basil's reach. I stopped to look up at Quigley with suspicion."...

A peculiar odor wafted through the front office as I dug through the filing cabinet in search of my lunch-I usually hide it there out of Basil’s reach. I stopped to look up at Quigley with suspicion.

“It ain’t me this time!” he protested, holding his nose. “It’s coming from the lunchroom.”

I peered cautiously through the lunchroom door. “Tooner, would you mind putting your work boot back on; you’re peeling the paint off the wall.”

“Very funny!” Tooner had his wrist jammed inside the offending piece of footwear, searching for something.

“What’s the matter,” said Beanie. “Looking for your milk money?”

Tooner gave a grunt of satisfaction and pulled his hand out. He held a small stone between his thumb and finger. “Found it. This rock has been irritating me all morning, but I’ve been too busy to dig it out.”

Basil munched his sandwich contentedly. Not even the sight of Tooner’s petrified socks could ruin his appetite. “So that’s why you’ve been grumpier than usual. And here I thought it was that van you’ve been working on.”

Tooner opened his Thermos. “Don’t remind me. It’s been almost four hours, and I still can’t get it to idle smoothly.”

“Gee,” I said, “I’m glad somebody else noticed. I’ve got work backed up outside and you’ve been playing footsie with an ’87 Safari Van.” I opened a window to let some fresh air in. “You told me it was a vacuum leak problem.”

“Well, it sure looks like one,” he protested. “The manifold vacuum is low and the MAP sensor is showing out of range, setting the Service Engine Soon light. I tried a new MAP sensor, but it didn’t help much.”

Basil took a sip of his Earl Grey tea. “Any other trouble codes?” he asked.

“Yeah,” replied Tooner. “An EGR circuit code. I’ve tested the EGR solenoid and it’s normal. The EGR valve itself opens and closes with a vacuum pump, so that looks fine. I’ve checked everywhere for vacuum leaks, but can’t find a thing.”

I pried apart the sandwich my wife had made me: liverwurst. Even though Tooner had his boot back on, I still wasn’t up to it, so I ate the apple instead. “Sounds to me like you should check the basics, like compression, ignition system, and maybe even the timing chain.”

“Whaddya think I’ve been doing all morning?” Tooner protested, glaring around the room.

The room was silent for a moment. We all like to kid each other, but nobody dared touch that one with a ten-foot pole.

I cleared my throat. “Well, Basil, got any ideas?”

Our resident guru was chewing a carrot stick with his eyes closed. When Basil went into his meditative world, he usually returned with some helpful words of wisdom.

After a moment he opened his eyes. “I take it that the van runs well off idle?”

Tooner nodded.

“And are you sure the EGR valve isn’t stuck open?”

Tooner threw up his hands. “I told you I tested it. It opens and closes just fine!”

Basil persisted. “Yes, but does it close all the way?”

“Well, of course…I mean…” Tooner stopped chewing. “Now that you mention it…”

After lunch, Tooner went back to the van and removed the EGR valve. We all crowded around the workbench. Normally, the valve sat on its side when mounted on the engine, and that was how he had tested it. Now he held it upside down and depressed the diaphragm with his fingers. A small stone dropped out and landed on the workbench. We all looked at it silently.

“That stone has been holding the plunger off to one side,” Tooner groaned. “Now I suppose you’re going to tell me that the rock in my shoe was sent to get my attention.”

Basil shrugged. “Maybe. They say when you drop a stone into a pond the ripples reach out to the furthest edges.”

Great, I thought. This is a repair shop and now we’re discussing the Circle of Life. I took Beanie out to the front counter to get the next job. It was Mrs. Belushi’s Buick that lacked power on acceleration. At that moment, Quigley came out of the washroom, holding his stomach.

“Still not feeling too good?” I asked.

“No. Ever since I drove Mrs. Belushi home this morning I’ve been constipated.”

I had an eerie feeling that the pond ripples were speaking to us again, so I handed Beanie the keys. “Here, bring this in and check for a plugged exhaust.” Let it never be said that I’m a slow learner in the lessons of life.

(Thanks to Mike Duguay of Duguay’s Auto Repair Service in Surrey, BC, for this month’s technical problem. If you’ve got a good story to tell, e-mail Rick at

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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