Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2001   by Rick Cogbill a.k.a. Slim Shambles

Jeepers, Creepers

(Thanks to John Cornett-Ching of Summerland Auto-Tech, Summerland BC, for this month's solution. If you've got a sticky solution you'd like to share with our readers, contact Slim at r_cogbill@telus.n...

(Thanks to John Cornett-Ching of Summerland Auto-Tech, Summerland BC, for this month’s solution. If you’ve got a sticky solution you’d like to share with our readers, contact Slim at

My paperwork was interrupted by a horrible sound that drifted into the front office from the shop bays. I’ve heard some pretty awful noises emanating from our customer’s cars before, but they were nothing compared to this.

Tooner came in holding his ears, grimacing in pain. “Don’t tell me,” I said. “Basil is singing?”

Tooner nodded and groaned as he fumbled with the coffeepot. “He’s on a cultural binge again. He went to see Phantom of the Opera last night and he’s determined to share the experience with the rest of us.”

Beanie ran in and cranked up the local rock music station on the radio, but it only made Basil sing louder. It looked like we were doomed to suffer.

But salvation arrived in the unlikely form of a 1986 Jeep Cherokee. Hank Brink had been having a problem with too much fast idle on startup ever since he’d had it worked on last spring down in California. I figured Basil could use the distraction. The rest of us could use the silence.

It worked, and before long Basil was singing a different tune. His views on AMC products weren’t so culturally acceptable as he poured over the sensor values in the electronic database. I wandered over to poke my nose in.

“What’s the matter, Bas, that Jeep got you speechless?”

Basil put down his pen with a growl. “I’m getting some phantom sensor readings on the scan tool,” he said. “With the key on, engine off, my Coolant Temperature Sensor and Air Charge Sensor both read around 30C, which is low since the engine is already warmed up. That makes the idle stepper motor raise the idle, as if the engine were cold. After startup, the temperature readings rise to normal and the idle drops.” He scratched his head. “It’ll do it every time I start it, no matter how hot or cold the engine is.”

“How is the resistance on the sensors?” I asked.

“That’s another mystery,” Basil replied. “The ACT sensor is shot; has an open circuit, but the CTS reads fine. The 5-volt reference signal is good and so is the ground circuit. But when I plug everything back in, I get readings from both sensors, even though one is bad. It’s like the computer is creating it’s own readings.”

“Sounds spooky,” I agreed. “Maybe if you sing to it, you’ll scare the ghosts out.”

Basil gave me a look of disdain. “Very funny. But just you wait; I’ll figure this little soap opera out.” He went back to work and I went back to my books.

About an hour later, I heard the Phantom in full swing again. It could only mean one thing; Basil had solved the problem and was celebrating. Tooner and Beanie had donned their protective earmuffs and were sweating it out. Five o’clock wouldn’t come fast enough for them.

Fortunately, Basil had to stop singing long enough to tell me what he did, so I could make out the bill.

“The Ghost of Repairs Past has been found and purged,” he announced proudly. “Somebody messed around with the wiring and had plugged the CTS sensor into the ACT sensor. The two connectors are a perfect match!”

“So much for sensor-specific connectors,” I said. “What about the wiring connectors in the harness?”

“They were plugged into each other, creating their own little electronic loop.” He filled his coffee mug and sighed contentedly. “I must say, it’s hard to be humble. Sometimes I even amaze myself.” He wandered back out into the shop and launched into The Barber of Seville.

I finished Hank’s bill and called him to say his Jeep was ready. Hank said he’d be right up, and did I want cash or credit card?

I whistled my own tune as I hung up the phone. If anything can drown out Basil’s bad singing, it’s the sound of money in the bank.

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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