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

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Monday mornings at Slim Shambles Auto Repair are the same as anywhere else. The weekend's always too short, and the week ahead is far too long. So we were huddled around the coffeepot, swapping war st...

Monday mornings at Slim Shambles Auto Repair are the same as anywhere else. The weekend’s always too short, and the week ahead is far too long. So we were huddled around the coffeepot, swapping war stories while trying to find some enthusiasm for the day ahead. As usual, Tooner was the last employee to drag himself through the front door, looking more worn out than when he went home Friday night.

“What happened to you?” asked Beanie, brightly. “Too much party time on the weekend?”

“I wish!” Tooner growled at him. He hates morning people. “I didn’t sleep a wink all weekend. First the mother-in-law showed up for an unexpected visit, and then the neighbour’s dog wouldn’t stop barking.”

Basil was intrigued. “Do you think the two events were connected?”

Tooner just grunted and shuffled off to find his coveralls. The subject was too raw and fresh to even joke about, so I changed it. “Well, Buck Pincher did it to me again on Saturday.”

“Buck Pincher? Isn’t he the one who’s so cheap, he can squeeze a dime until the sailboat takes on water?” asked Beanie.

“That’s him,” I replied. “He owed me a favor, so he offered to pay my way to a movie. But when we got there, he discovered his free movie passes had expired two years ago.”

Basil chuckled. “And since he doesn’t carry cash, you had to pay for both seats, right?”

“You got it.” I looked out the window as a ’93 Toyota pickup drove onto the lot. “Well, speak of the devil, here he comes now.”

The office bell tinkled as Buck sauntered in. His nose began twitching. “Is that fresh coffee I smell?”

“Forget it, Buck,” I said. “It’s for paying customers only.”

He ignored me and poured a cup anyway. “My truck is having troubles, Slim. Sometimes it won’t start and I think it’s the spark.”

“How do you know that?” asked Basil.

“I got my wife to hold onto a spark plug wire while I cranked it, and she didn’t holler the first time.”

“What about the second time?”

“Well, she wouldn’t talk to me after the second time, but it don’t matter ’cause the truck started.”

I sighed. “Leave it with us, Buck.” I knew we wouldn’t get paid for our efforts, but I felt sorry for his wife. Helping Buck with anything was generally costly or unhealthy.

The 3.0 litre V6 engine had over 100,000 km on it, but was still in pretty good shape, considering Buck maintained it himself. He bought white box parts from wherever he could get the cheapest price, but at least things were serviced on a somewhat regular basis.

Over the course of the day we started the Toyota a number of times, and we did verify the intermittent no-spark condition. But it always started before we could find the source of the problem. The scan tool showed no codes, and even elaborate testing with the lab scope gave us no clues. The waveforms on the distributor pick-up, module and coil looked normal.

“Any one of these things could be causing an intermittent no-spark condition,” complained Tooner. “Which one should I replace first?”

I held up my hands in protest. “Don’t replace anything you can’t verify,” I said. “Buck will whine so bad you won’t know what hit you. If you think that barking dog was annoying, you ain’t heard nothing yet.”

Basil came over for a look. “Like most imports, there’s probably a power relay supplying current to the computer, which controls spark and fuel. Maybe it’s getting tired.”

“I can relate,” said Tooner, as he squinted at the relay box under the hood. “Yeah, the Electronic Fuel Injection relay is right here. Hey, the headlight relay right beside it looks identical.” He pulled them both out and studied the diagrams on the side. “They are identical. How about I swap them for a test?”

He did just that, and the truck ran perfect for the rest of the day. Buck was ecstatic when he showed up. “And you didn’t even have to buy new parts!” he exclaimed. “Slim, I’m impressed.”

“Now hold on,” I cautioned. “Nothing’s fixed yet. We robbed Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, just to see if it would work. I’ve ordered a new relay…”

“Oh, don’t bother,” he broke in. “I’m sure it’ll run just fine as it is. And to show my appreciation for your efforts, I’ll treat you to a movie on Friday night. I’ll even bring money this time!” And with that, he jumped in his truck and was gone.

I sighed. Buck had chiseled his way by me again. And to add insult to injury, the free movie never happened.

“It’s my headlights,” whined Buck on the phone. “They’re acting funny, so I can’t drive at night. But if we take your car…”

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *