Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2003   by Rick Cogbill a.k.a. Slim Shambles

Calling Dr. Slim…

"It's just not fair," grumbled Tooner, throwing down his cards as Beanie trumped him again at Go Fish."Aw, c'mon, Tooner," scoffed The Bean, "it's only a game of cards."Tooner unwrapped another sandwi...

“It’s just not fair,” grumbled Tooner, throwing down his cards as Beanie trumped him again at Go Fish.

“Aw, c’mon, Tooner,” scoffed The Bean, “it’s only a game of cards.”

Tooner unwrapped another sandwich and took a huge bite. “Ain’t talking about cards, Sunshine,” he said, spraying crumbs in all directions. “I’m talking about doctors, and how it ain’t fair that they make more money than we technicians do.”

Basil and I exchanged glances. Where did this come from?

“The way I see it,” he continued, “our professions are almost the same. We have to listen to people’s complaints, take down a list of symptoms, and then cure the problem.”

“Ah, Toon, I think the average physician puts in a little more time getting his education than…”

“Nonsense!” he interrupted. “We’re always taking upgrade courses, ain’t we? In fact, those doctors have it easy; at least when the new models come out, all the parts are in the same place.”

He had a point. I don’t recall my family doctor having any component locator manuals in his office, just in case the spleen got moved behind the kneecap.

Basil cleared his throat, “But you’ve forgotten to mention the one major point that ties us most closely to those of the medical profession, and that is we can hardly go to a dinner party without being asked to solve somebody’s mechanical problem.”

“You’ve got a point, Basil,” I said. “Just the other night I had to fix my buddy’s heater after band practice, right in the middle of a parking lot…” Everybody groaned as I began to reminisce.

Music was meant to get my mind off pulling wrenches, but it doesn’t always work that way. “Go ahead, Animal. What’s the problem?”

He opened the door. “It’s my heater. Hop in the other side and I’ll show you.”

I set down my guitar case and climbed in the passenger side of his 1995 Mercury Topaz. It was a decent little car, and for a musician he kept it remarkably clean. Animal started up the engine, and the stereo came on full blast, almost blowing the windows out. “Oops, sorry ’bout that!” He turned it off. “See, I’ve only got heat blowing down on the floor. When I turn the controls to vent or defrost, nothing changes. Got any ideas?”

I was relieved; at least this wasn’t going to take long. “Sounds like you’ve got a vacuum leak somewhere in the heating controls,” I said. “These Heating and Air Conditioning Systems use vacuum pots to move all the vent doors inside the plenum. If you lose your vacuum source, then the system defaults to the full floor heat position.”

Animal was impressed. “So how do I fix that?”

I put my ear to the dash. “Well, I don’t hear any vacuum leaks inside the car, so maybe a vacuum hose has come off in the engine compartment. Open the hood.” But 15 minutes of searching with a flashlight produced no results. All the source hoses were connected and there were no audible vacuum leaks. The V6 engine ran smooth to boot, with no hint of a lean mixture.

“There’s not much else I can do here in the parking lot, Animal. I’m afraid you’ll have to bring it in to the shop tomorrow.”

I took a closer look at his new deck, especially how it was mounted directly below the heater controls. “Hey, Animal,” I hollered, “When did this problem appear?”

He lowered the volume. “On Monday, dude. I remember ’cause it was the same day I put in this totally awesome stereo. Man, don’t you love those sub-woofers?”

I reached over and turned it off. “Take it out,” I said, “and let’s see what’s behind it.”

Animal looked at me like I’d lost my crackers, but he popped the clips and slid the stereo unit out of its holder. The car was still idling, and immediately the heater switched to the defrost mode. Shining a flashlight inside the cavity, I could see some vacuum hoses hanging down from the back of the heater control panel.

I gave him the bad news. “It’s your stereo; it’s too big. When you push it in, all the vacuum hoses get pinched against the firewall.”

Animal’s face fell. “You mean I gotta get a smaller stereo? Bummer, man…”

“Wow,” said Beanie. “And I bet you didn’t get paid for all that free advice!”

Tooner grunted and reached for a new pair of those surgical gloves that many technicians are now wearing to protect their hands from harmful chemicals. He pulled them on. “See, I even look like a doctor.”

“Not quite,” said Basil. He reached for a box of dust masks on the shelf behind him, took one out and tossed to Tooner. “Here, put this on and you’ll really look like Dr. Stock.”

Tooner put it on. “Is this so nobody can tell who I am when I’m workin’ on their car?” he asked in a muffled voice.

“No,” replied Basil with a grin. “It’s to hide your ugly mug!”

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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