Today we talked about some car problem diagnosis horror stories. But how bad would you feel if you missed the most basic problem of all?
Here’s reader Gonemad to tell you what that is:
The worst one I heard was the most basic one, and a legend retold by every Jaloper out there, and it must be retold every now and then, to every generation of Car Tinkers:
Girl tows a Camaro 5.0L V8 on the shop saying the car won’t even start. It cranked, but never started running after 2 weeks of use, bought used. The mechanic simply doesn’t connect the dots that the girl knew nothing at all about cars, and had just won the car from Dad as 18-year gift.
Having asked the lady to try to run the car while he takes a peek under the hood, he just asks her to leave it there. Next day, he takes it apart. Everything up and running, the usual culprits: battery (he knew it would be OK, but you just double check for rust, right?), spark plugs, alternator, distributor, oil in place and good condition. No weird noises when cranking. Never bothered to check the dash.
Checks the carburetor. Pours some gasoline there to try again. It purrs like a kitten until it stalls again, after the carb ran dry. So, the fuel pump or hoses are shot, but nowhere near the engine he had already checked, and probably clogged since it didn’t have any smell or leakage, who knows. Still didn’t check the dash.
Opens gas tank. It is dry as a James Bond Martini. It dawns on him. Hurries back to the dash and the gas needle is all the way as far from the E as it can go - on the wrong side. The F side was a barren wasteland that wasn’t visited in a month, at least.
If you didn’t figure it out by now, he had a freaking empty tank V8 in his hands. And he took it apart to learn it. Facepalm wasn’t invented to describe it back then.
He fills the car, that chokes a bit before the whole system fills with dinosaur juice, purring like the small block Chevy it is. Girls comes back, he just charges for the gas:
“What’s this? Gasoline?” The girl asks while taking a puzzled look at the bill. The mechanic replies, professional as Priest on Sundays:
“The tank was empty, that’s why it didn’t work. You should check it every other week, or it can damage the car to run very low on gasoline.”
“How do I do that?” At this point the man entered the twilight zone. He held his breath, turned red under the grease, calmed down, and kept professional, calling her to get a close look at the dash:
“See that needle? Never let it reach the E- for empty - , just ask in any gas station to fill your car up, or ask someone you know to go with you”.
The details change, but both had lessons here: The girl didn’t know the car ran on gas, and neither should you assume that anybody already knows that. You never know.
And never take a V8 apart before checking everything. You probably heard that before, with other cars, other details.
Crazy, but not implausible. This actually happened once to ex-Jalopnik editor Travis Okulski when he was running an E30 in an AER race. They spent four hours trying to fix what was, ultimately, an empty tank. Sometimes the best fix really is the simplest one.
And speaking of racing, reader Color-Commentary follows up with a horror story from another event:
Speaking of gasoline...One Lemons race we were running a completely rust-perforated Alfa GTV. We kept having fuel starvation issues. Initial diagnosis was fuel pump, overheated to the point where it burned your hand to touch it and the impeller was actually locking up. The puzzler was that the replacement fuel pump did the same thing. And so did #3, and #4, and - you sense we might have had more spare parts than brains - #5 and #6.
Finally it came time for a fuel stop and we realized that the gas was BOILING! The exhaust pipe was routed underneath the fuel tank and had rusted through, bathing the gas tank in hot exhaust from below. I did a 4-hour stint in that almost-bomb, and am lucky to be alive.