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

The Malicious Miss

I don't know of a car that gets less attention than the lowly shop vehicle; unless it's the one driven by a mechanic's wife.Our '89 Cavalier had been misfiring slightly in the mornings for weeks now, ...

I don’t know of a car that gets less attention than the lowly shop vehicle; unless it’s the one driven by a mechanic’s wife.

Our ’89 Cavalier had been misfiring slightly in the mornings for weeks now, but I ignored it, having much more important things to do. Besides, I argued with myself, it always clears up after a block or two. But with an important early-morning flight to catch the next day, I finally had Beanie, our apprentice, pull the plugs to see what he could find.

To be honest, I suspected a head gasket problem, but didn’t really want to know.

“Here’s the culprit, Slim,” announced The Bean, coming into the office with a rusty spark plug in his hand. The outer electrode was split down the middle, and when I touched it, it fell right off on the ground. “Wonder what could have caused that,” he wondered.

Tooner gave a grunt from the general area of the coffee maker. “Probably too much maintenance, like everything else around here,” he said. “I’d bet those are the originals!”

“Are not!” I retorted in defense. “I’m sure I put in new ones, back in ’95.”

Tooner added another sugar to his brew. “I rest my case.”

“Beanie,” I said magnanimously, ignoring Tooner’s rudeness, “throw a new set of spark plugs in after coffee break.”

Basil looked up in surprise from his magazine. “What, not going to use the second-hand ones from Mr. Bates’ last tune up? Gee, while you’re in the mood, Boss, how about those water separators we’ve been asking for on the air lines…”

“Don’t push your luck,” I growled.

The little car ran great, for about a week. Then the miss was back. After another month or so, I got on it right away. This time it wasn’t good news.

“Spark plugs #2 and 3 are wet with antifreeze, Slim,” announced Basil. “Looks like a head gasket after all.”

“I have all the luck,” I groaned. And it only got better. When we pulled the head, we discovered cracks into both combustion chambers. Apparently a common problem on 2.0 litre GM engines of that vintage.

“Wally at the wrecking yard has got a used head you can have for $200,” hollered Tooner from across the shop, the telephone in his hand. “D’ya want him to send it up?”

“Oh dear,” sighed Basil. “There goes the water separators.”

After the crew put everything back together (along with a few new parts that I’m sure they didn’t need, like a serpentine belt, an air filter, and even new oil!), Beanie took the car out for a run. He came back with a puzzled look on his face. “It still misses,” he said.

I made a decision based on my years of experience. “Just leave it; it’ll get better after I drive it for a while.”

But it didn’t. The new plugs had become damaged from the antifreeze and had to be replaced again. That finally got rid of the miss.

“Speaking of water damage,” Basil began, “how about those separators…”

“Forget it!” I hollered. “You make it sound like I don’t spend any money on maintenance…” Just then Tooner interrupted.

“It’s your wife on the phone; her car is stalled on Main Street and she wants you come right away.” He tried to suppress a grin. “Apparently it’s been running poorly for the last month!”

I tell you, there’s no respect in this world.

About The Writer

Rick Cogbill is a freelance writer living in the Okanagan valley of Southern British Columbia. A licensed technician with over 24 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 from his shop. “What you have just read is true,” drawls Slim Shambles. “Only the names have been changed to protect my hide!”

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