Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2004   by Rick Cogbill a.k.a. Slim Shambles

Where to Start…

The '91 Sonoma pickup didn't look very happy when it arrived on the back of Dutchy's tow truck. "Ja, I mean you've got a seized engine here," the burly Dutchman growled as he unhooked the chains, his stubby cigar butt clenched in his teeth. "I eve...

The ’91 Sonoma pickup didn’t look very happy when it arrived on the back of Dutchy’s tow truck. “Ja, I mean you’ve got a seized engine here,” the burly Dutchman growled as he unhooked the chains, his stubby cigar butt clenched in his teeth. “I even tried jumping it with Helga, but it won’t turn over.” Helga was the gas-powered charging unit Dutchy had rigged up on the back of his truck deck. Its massive jumper cables carried enough juice to make even the weakest battery come screaming back to life. “Ja, I mean the starter just clicks.” He tossed the towing invoice on the front seat. “Have fun. The owner will call you in an hour.” With that, he ground his old 3-ton Ford into gear and roared off through the winter slush.

“Great,” said Tooner, staring at the truck. “There’s enough water dripping off this wreck to drown a fish.” Yesterday’s snowstorm was warming up into a slushy mess, and Tooner wasn’t looking forward to getting underneath this vehicle at all.

I wheeled over the AVR unit while he opened up the hood to expose the 4.3 litre engine. “Well, let’s get going,” I said. “Time to find out of Dutchy’s diagnosis is right.” It’s common for customers and tow truck drivers alike to tell us what they think is wrong with a vehicle. I don’t blame them for trying, but you can never take their word for it — to keep yourself out of trouble you pretty well have to start from scratch.

Tooner clamped the tester on the battery and dialed up a load with the carbon pile resistor. Faint smoke spiraled off the battery connections as they heated up. “Nothin’ wrong with this battery,” he said. “It takes a full load without dropping below 9.6 volts.” He moved the amperage connection to the negative cable of the battery. “Okay, fire it up. Let’s see what happens.” I got in and tried to start the truck, but all I got was a loud clunk from the starter.

I could see the red numbers of the digital readout from where I was sitting. “Whoa — 500 amps!” I exclaimed. “I’d say Dutchy’s right about that engine. It sounds like the starter’s trying to work, but it can’t.”

Tooner just grunted, and taking his water pump pliers, he grabbed the big nut on the alternator pulley and tried to rotate the engine. The pulley just slipped on the belt. “Why don’t you get underneath and put a socket on the crankshaft damper?” I asked.

He glared at me. “Have you seen the drips coming off this thing?” Tooner pointed at the pool of water spreading across the floor. “I ain’t going under there unless I have to!” I sighed. I could see his point; it was only Monday, which made it four days early for his weekly bath.

Turning to the power steering pulley (which was larger) Tooner tried again and this time he got a better bite. At first it wouldn’t move, but as he rocked it back and forth, something began to give. Suddenly the engine broke loose and rotated. “Hmm,” he said. “I don’t like that grinding noise coming from the bell housing.”

I came around and listened. “Hey, maybe we don’t have a seized engine.” I slapped him on the back. “However, I do believe you’re going to have to remove the starter for a closer look.” And that meant getting under the truck.

I escaped to the front office for the next hour to let the blue air leak out of the shop. Finally Tooner came through the door looking very wet and disgruntled, and holding a very sorry looking starter motor. “Found the trouble,” he muttered. “The starter drive broke into three pieces and was jamming into the flywheel.” Fortunately the ring gear wasn’t damaged, so a new starter brought the little truck back to life.

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” I said. “The customer will be real happy to know we don’t have to replace the engine.”

I got a loud snort in response. “Easy for you to say; you’re not the one walking around in soggy underwear.”

This time it was my imagination that seized up, as a mental image of what he’d just said assaulted my brain. There are some things in life you don’t want to think about, and this was one of them.

Tooner turned to go back into the shop. “There’s one consolation, though,” he said over his shoulder. “Since I’ve already had my bath, I can skip a week until my next one.” He began to whistle. “And if this weather keeps up, maybe I can skip a whole month…”

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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