by PBS NewsHour
December 14, 2010
New York, N.Y.
FROM PBS: NEGROPONTE ON HOLBROOKE
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The car died. Just choked, sputtered, and died right there on the highway.
So, we had it towed back to the house where our oldest son declared he would fix it and save the cost of taking it to a garage.
"If given enough time, I can fix anything," he declared. "It's just a process of elimination."
On the first day of elimination, he checked the battery, all fluids, the rocker arm gaskets, then took off all the belts, hoses, and wires, massaged them, and replaced the ones that looked worn out. And then he swore.
On the second day, he replaced spark plugs and set the gap, checked the hoses and wires, and called in reinforcements.
Mark, his best friend, knows nothing about cars, but lives close by, and always has a good-looking broken down car. Collins works on high voltage telephone transformers.
They bent over the motor, hmmmmmmm-ed a few times, took everything out, put everything back in, and then decided the problem was the carburetor. That afternoon, they cleaned the air filter, screen, cover, jets, and choke. They could tell anyone the history of carburetors, including the fact that the inventor was French and had based it on a perfume atomizer. But they couldn't get the car running again.
They concluded the problem was a bad module. Now, the module, which regulates the spark and timing, breaks down maybe once every decade. But once you decide it's the module, then it has to be the module. So, they bought a new module, carefully put it in, started the car and heard ... absolutely nothing but a horrible whirring and grinding sound. Just like the whirring and grinding they had heard when the car died.
"Parts store sold us a bad module," they uniformly declared.
That afternoon, they exchanged the new "bad" module, and triumphantly put in the replacement. Whirrrr and grind were all they heard.
"Take it to the garage," my wife and I suggested.
"I can fix anything, no matter how long it takes," my son testily replied.
On the third day, they brought in Brian. Brian was studying auto mechanics at a community college. He took everything apart, put it all back together, and declared, "It's broken."
"Maybe it's in the electrical system," said Mark, "but I don't know what to do with it." I reminded Mark that he had been a U.S. Navy electrician. "I was a Marine electrician," he declared.
"Then take it to the river and float it," I suggested.
On the fourth day of repair, the team drained the oil pan, and put in new oil and an oil filter. It didn't fix the car. They knew it wouldn't, but said it needed it anyhow.
By the fifth day of repair, they had collectively figured the only thing left was the distributor. For half a day, they moaned and groaned and put their hands and arms into places that hands and arms usually don't go.
Then they got smart, found a 9/16" wrench with a 90-degree bent, and lifted the distributor out. No question about it. A new distributor cap and coil, rotor, and something I thought they said was an "electrical pick-up" would do it.
"What do you mean you don't know how to put it back together again?" I asked Collins incredulously. "You work on high-voltage telephone transformers."
"I only tear them down," he said. Nevertheless, with schematics and "how-to" books, they had managed to put most of the distributor back together, and proclaimed the job done. Whirrrr, grind proclaimed the car.
On the sixth day, they retraced their steps, took everything out that could come out, looked everything over, and put it all back in.
On the seventh day, it rained and thundered; sheet lightning filled the skies. I interpreted it to be a sign that the Auto God was angry.
The next day, we took the car to the garage where a mechanic looked at it, proclaimed the motor dead, but said if we'd leave the car and our bank account with him, he was sure he'd be able to fix it, if given enough time,
Dr. Brasch claims a mutation in his gene pool has prevented him from having a desire to fix cars. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and author of 17 books. You may contact him through www.walterbrasch.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org)