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

Floaty Things

"I don't think much of your coffee, Slim. It's got floaty things in it."I glanced into my mug. "What are you talking about, Woody? It looks fine to me."Woody Barker spent his days in the forests, figh...

“I don’t think much of your coffee, Slim. It’s got floaty things in it.”

I glanced into my mug. “What are you talking about, Woody? It looks fine to me.”

Woody Barker spent his days in the forests, fighting fires in the summer or burning slash in the winter. Rumor has it he sleeps with his chain saw under his bed.

Thrusting his Styrofoam cup under my nose, he growled, “Look. There’s chunks all over the place.”

I peered inside. “That’s sawdust from your toque. You must have leaned over when you filled your cup.”

He tried another sip. “Huh, Douglas Fir. You’re right; I should have recognized the flavor.”

Leaving Woody to chew on that one, I went into the shop to see how Tooner was getting along with the woodsman’s 1991 Ford F350 4×4. The crew-cab truck was a little beat up on the exterior (not bad for 199,000 kilometres of bush travel), but the main trouble was all the blue smoke from the tailpipe, and only 60lbs compression in cylinder #4.

Tooner wiped off his compression gauge. “Time for a new engine,” he said. “The rings are shot, and I suspect a burnt valve in that low cylinder.” He gazed at the 7.4 litre V8. “Changing these engines is major work.” He closed the hood. “Just the kind of job for an apprentice…”

“Nice try,” I said. “But Beanie is off to Trade School for six weeks starting tomorrow. You’re stuck with this one.”

I stayed out of Tooner’s way for the next few days. As a tune-up and electronics expert, engine Re & Re’s were not his idea of fun. But by Friday things were back together. “How’s it run?” I asked him at coffee time.

“Fine,” he grunted. “I’ll test drive it after coffee break.” He winced.

But when Tooner got back from his test drive, the air in the shop turned thick and blue again, and it wasn’t from any oil-burning engine. Fortunately, no customers were in the waiting room. “What’s the matter?!” I asked.

“Argh!” Tooner glowered at the truck. “It’s running rough again, as soon as I accelerate. And the higher the revs, the worse it runs. Where’s my sledgehammer…”

Basil and I gave Tooner some creative space, or whatever it was he needed. I knew he’d figure it out eventually.

“I can’t believe it,” he moaned, coming into the office. “The miss is back on cylinder #4. And the ignition system checks out fine.”

“Low compression?” asked Basil.

“No! All cylinders are 155lbs.” He took off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m wondering if there’s a problem with the fuel injector. If it’s running lean, that could be what burnt the valve in the old engine.”

“If that’s so,” commented Basil, “then it’s lucky you caught it now, before it ruined Woody’s new engine.”

Tooner brightened up. “You’re right. I’m going to send the injectors out for rebuilding, just in case Woody got some sawdust into his fuel tanks. That could plug up the injector screens…”

But such was not the case. Even with rebuilt injectors the engine ran rough off idle.

“There’s no vacuum leaks,” lamented Tooner, “and I’ve plugged off the EGR valve. What else could it be?”

Basil had been silent, thinking things through. “Maybe it’s mechanical,” he said. “It’s odd, because your compression is good. But why don’t you call up the engine rebuilder and see what he says?”

Tooner didn’t have any other options, so he put the call through. A few minutes later he came back and started pulling off the right hand valve cover. “They say it might be a broken valve spring, so I’m gonna check it out. So help me, if I have to pull this engine out again…”

No broken springs, but Tooner did find that he could push the #4 exhaust valve down with his thumb. Suspecting a weak spring, he replaced it, but the same thing happened. He put a straight edge across all the exhaust valves and called us over. “Look at this! The assembled height of that valve spring is 1/8″ higher than all the rest.”

Fabricating a temporary metal spacer, Tooner put it under the valve spring to see if it would run better. “Smooth as silk!” he hollered a short time later over the roar of the engine.

I called Woody to tell him we had a valve float problem and needed more time while the rebuilder sent us a new cylinder head. “Take your time!” Woody hollered over the roar of his saw. “I’m busy mixing up sawdust with my coffee beans. I’ve developed a taste for them floaty things!”

I’m glad he likes them, because I know Tooner doesn’t, neither in his coffee nor in his engines.

(Thanks to John Cornett-Ching of Summerland Auto Tech in Summerland, BC, for this month’s technical solution)

Illustration by Ben Crane

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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