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


The modern service writer is an often-misunderstood creature. They may have the cleanest fingernails in the shop, that doesn't mean their role is any less important.But when they also solve an unrelen...

The modern service writer is an often-misunderstood creature. They may have the cleanest fingernails in the shop, that doesn’t mean their role is any less important.

But when they also solve an unrelenting technical problem, they almost become demigods. And today was Quigley’s day on the throne.

“Here’s the keys to Maude’s Honda,” said Quigley. “This is the third time in two months that her battery has gone dead, and she’s not too pleased with us.”

Basil started to edge away when he heard what was coming. “Hold it,” I said. “This will be your baby today. Beanie, Tooner, and I have already had a go at this, so now it’s your turn.”

Basil sighed in resignation. “Okay. Did Maude mention anything else?”

Quigley glanced at the work order. “Only that her car keeps winking at everyone.” 1987 Honda Accords have hide-away headlights that lift up when you turn the lights on, and close when you turn them off. Lately, only one light would pop up on Maude’s car. “She did say,” Quig continued, “that if she gets out and bangs the hood, then the other headlight opens up.”

“Maybe we’ve got a bad actuator motor,” Basil mused. “Bring the car inside and I’ll look at that light first. As for the battery drain problem…” he shrugged and went off to search for his coffee cup and something to eat. Basil always thinks better with a full stomach.

We had tried everything we could think of to solve the battery drain problem: Battery load tests, alternator output tests, starter draw tests, all to no avail. Every connection we traced was clean and tight, and even leaving the car outside overnight in cold weather had produced no clues.

I opened the bay door as Quigley drove the Accord inside. Basil returned munching a sandwich and holding a mug of steaming coffee. “Try the lights!” he called. Sure enough, the right headlight opened but not the left. “Okay, turn them off. Pull the hood release and I’ll check it out.”

Basil was bending over to inspect the light as Quigley pulled the hood release handle. As the hood popped loose, the left headlight suddenly snapped up and then closed. Basil was so startled that he jumped back, spilling hot Java all over himself.

“Whoa! What was that?” he hollered. Quigley tried the lights again, and this time they opened and closed in unison. While Basil wiped himself off, Quigley closed the hood, and turned on the lights one more time. As before, the left light didn’t move, so he got out to inspect it. “Hey Basil, it looks like the light assembly is binding on the hood. I can see where some paint is worn off.”

Basil gingerly came closer for a detailed inspection. He didn’t like car parts that had a life of their own. Quigley pulled the hood release again, but this time they were ready for it. As soon as the pressure was off the headlight assembly, it promptly opened and closed.

Looking under the hood, Quigley found the cause of the binding. “The rubber snubber to adjust the hood height is missing on the left hand side. It’s letting the hood come down too low and bind on the light.”

Then he stood back and scratched the back of his head. “I can understand that part, but why does the light open and close when you release the hood, even though the lights are turned off?”

Basil closed the hood once more and climbed into the car. He turned the lights on and off once, then disappeared from view as he ducked his head under the dash area. A moment later, he reappeared and got out of the car with a satisfied smile on his face. “I think we’ve found the cause of the battery drain,” he announced, smacking the hood with his hand. The headlight obliged us by winking once again.

Basil explained that once the hide-away headlight had been energized, it had to make a complete cycle before it could turn off the actuator motor. Because it was jamming on the hood, the headlight assembly couldn’t finish its cycle, and power was still being supplied to the motor. “If you listen carefully,” continued Basil, “you can hear the circuit breaker clicking on and off under the dash. Of course, over time that will run the battery down.”

By now Quigley was feeling pretty pleased with himself. Not only would Maude be happy, but also he could play the hero. To show our appreciation, we sent him down to Tim Horton’s to bring back a box of their best. We even gave him first choice. “Gee, thanks, Basil,” he said, biting into a jelly-filled specimen. “I know these are your favorite.”

Basil waved his hand magnanimously. “Think nothing of it, my boy. Tell you what; the next time you help us solve a tough problem like that, we’ll even pay for the donuts ourselves.”

Quigley sighed contentedly. For a service writer, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

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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