Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2013   by Jim Anderton, SSGM Technical Editor

When Quick-Start, isn’t

One of the great things about this industry is that, no matter how long you’ve been spinning wrenches, something amazing will always cross your path. I recently saw a beauty. The owner, driving a ’97 F-150, was trying to get just a...


One of the great things about this industry is that, no matter how long you’ve been spinning wrenches, something amazing will always cross your path. I recently saw a beauty. The owner, driving a ’97 F-150, was trying to get just a few more weeks out of a dead plug wire set that made the vehicle harder and harder to start. Finally, a –10C morning proved too much for the .250 effective plug gap from the corroded wire terminals and the truck simply refused to fire. Of course, no one has time to deal with a no-start, so the lazy man’s automotive defibrillator, ether, came to the rescue. It’s been used to fire cold diesels for years, and used in moderation, flashes to a gas that will move pistons at the slightest hint of a spark, perfect for cold weather drivers in a hurry. Like all modern vehicles, there’s no longer a convenient place to spray the ether without disconnecting a vacuum line or interfering with the MAF sensor, so this owner pulled the rubber elbow off the manifold and dosed the intake directly, neatly bypassing the MAF unit. The engine started immediately and settled into a decent, if not perfect idle. The owner left the Ford to warm up while he gathered up his luggage.

His nose was the first sense to detect that something was wrong. The smell was acrid, like burning tires … but who would be burning rubber in the neighborhood, and early in the morning? Curiosity drove him to the front door where he saw the thin wisps of black smoke curling out from under the hood. Fire! The engine was still idling nicely but the smell was clearly burning plastic, the kind of plastic that formed most of the cold air intake ducting. Running to the cab, a quick pull of the hood release did the obvious; it fed more oxygen to the fire and when the hood was thrown open, the flames rushed to full open hood height. The next 30 seconds were straight out of Mr. Bean as the hapless owner threw handfuls of snow and ice onto the smoldering wreckage. The paper element of the air cleaner was still burning with a low flame and he yanked it easily out of the gaping hole in the air cleaner housing and hurled it into a snow bank. With the fire out, the damage was easy to see. The round plastic intake was gone, with much of the plastic melted around the MAF sensor, blocking its air flow port completely. Its harness was also charred and hardened globs of resin coated the power steering pump reservoir.

What to do? A new air cleaner element was handy, but there was no housing to hold it … and the housing supports the MAF sensor so it’s a necessary part of the system. The answer was classic Red Green. A round plastic ice cream container was pulled out of the recycling bin, along with a margarine tub and a yogurt container to hold the sensor. And lots of duct tape. Amazingly, the cobbled up system not only worked, but is still running in the system with no codes and a smooth running engine. Of course the air filter element is trapped, but that could wait. I can’t say who would be crazy enough to overdose the engine with ether, but I will say that I’m pretty handy with duct tape.