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

Ungrounded Concerns

Beanie was a mess. His first date with the delivery girl from Herkle's Auto Parts had been a disaster (see "A Shaky Relationship," SSGM June 2001 issue)."Come on, Bean," I said, "it can't be that bad....

Beanie was a mess. His first date with the delivery girl from Herkle’s Auto Parts had been a disaster (see “A Shaky Relationship,” SSGM June 2001 issue).

“Come on, Bean,” I said, “it can’t be that bad.”

Beanie rolled his eyes and moaned.

Tooner snorted. “It sure coulda been a whole lot better.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah,” he said. “The Bean here tried to sneak his arm around her shoulders at the movie theatre, but wound up spilling his Coke all over her lap.” He hooted with laughter, slapping his knee.

I looked at Beanie. “The whole thing? Ice and all?”

He nodded numbly. “Super-sized, too,” he mumbled. “I doubt Sam will ever want to speak to me again!”

I considered his situation. “Y’know, Beanie,” I began, leaning back in my chair, “that reminds me of the time my brother-in-law’s car broke down in the middle of the night…”

I was working for another shop at the time. It was almost quitting time when the phone rang. “It’s for you, Slim!” my boss hollered above the noise of air guns. I picked up the receiver.

“Slim! It’s me, Jimmy. We’re at the Needles ferry dock and my car won’t start. Can you help me out?”

Needles was a small town on the Arrow Lakes, about five hours northeast into the Rocky Mountains. Being a Friday night in the middle of nowhere, Jimmy had no one else to call. I got a rough idea of his problem (it sounded like a bad starter), packed up some tools, grabbed a couple of Chevy starters off the parts shelf, and hit the highway.

I drove like a madman, dodging deer in the mountain passes, and finally found myself crossing Arrow lake on a midnight ferry. At the dock on the other side, my sister, niece, and nephew were asleep in the car, and Jimmy was pacing back and forth. “What took ya?”

I ignored him and tried the ignition. The starter groaned and then nothing. I cleaned the battery connections and hooked up my jumper cables, but still no change. All the cables and ground connections were tight and even beating the starter with a hammer had no effect. “Must be burnt out,” I muttered. “I’ll have to jack up the car. Everybody out!”

Fortunately it was a warm night, and the mosquitoes weren’t too bad. But that’s where my fortune ended. None of the starters I brought had the proper nose cone, meaning the mounting bolts wouldn’t line up. I groaned. “Now I’ll have to swap nose cones!”

Jimmy just looked at me. “So, what’s stopping you?”

So I went to work in the glare of my car’s headlights. Finally the new starter was in place and I tried the key. Still nothing! I racked my brain, and thought, “must be a shorted battery”. I replaced it with my own battery. “Try it now, Jimmy.” Dead silence.

It was now past one a.m. and I was dog-tired. “Did anything else happen?” I asked desperately.

Jimmy scratched his chin. “Well, there was that small fire behind the air cleaner,” he began.

I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “What? Why didn’t you say something?!”

“You never asked,” he shrugged.

I removed the air cleaner and found the small ground strap to the firewall burnt to a crisp. I held the throttle cable to one side for a better look. “Try it now!” I hollered. Jimmy did, and suddenly the throttle cable began to smoke, burning my hand. I yelled and danced around clutching my wounded fingers. Now I had my clue.

I got out my flashlight and followed the negative cable from the battery down to the engine block. This was where the starter would take its ground. Like before, the connection was tight. “Something’s fishy here,” I said to Jimmy.

I clamped my negative jumper cable directly to the engine block, instead of the battery post or the radiator support like before. This time when Jimmy turned the key, the car roared to life.

“What gives?” Jimmy asked, shutting off the engine.

I unbolted the ground cable from the engine block and held it up. “There’s some old paint on here that’s causing resistance in the ground circuit.” It was weird, because looked like cable had never been removed in the life of the car. Why it would act up now was mystery to me…

“And so,” I concluded, “the throttle cable was starting to melt because it was taking the full starter current.”

Beanie stared at me. For the life of him, he couldn’t see what this story had to do with his disastrous love life, and said so.

“It’s obvious,” I said. “Your worries about Sam are ungrounded.”

“They are?” he said

I turned over the parts invoice that I was holding. “She put a note here: ‘If the geek wants to give it another try, tell him to come by Friday night. Just make sure he eats first”, signed Soggy Sam.

Beanie was in fine form the rest of the day, but my mood turned grumpy. It was all coming back to me now: 10 hours of driving, working in primitive conditions, burnt fingers; if I remember right, I never even got lunch out of the deal.

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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