In my many years of repairing cars I’ve helped out a
countless number of other shops with their electrical
problems. Some shops I would see a few times a month,
and others only once in awhile. This was years before the
internet was around, and cell phones were only a fad
and way to expensive to have. So, most everything was
done by a land line or over the CB radio.
Back in the mid 80’s and 90’s I had one shop that I talked with nearly every day. Great guys, but not so great as mechanics. The owners name was Joe. His shop was small and seemed to be a place for wayward towed vehicles and obscure customers looking for dirt cheap repairs. His main business was his tow service, and the repair shop seemed to be there just to fill in the gaps on those slow days.
One afternoon I got a call from Joe about a car his crew had given up on. They threw the parts cannon at it, but couldn’t get this car to come back to life. Joe was with tows, and needed the mechanics he had to drive the other tow trucks. This particular car had been in his shop for quite some time and I don't think the customer was too happy about it. So, to speed things up a bit, he dropped it off at my shop.
“I’ll be on the road all day. I've got to get back out there. I've got tows lined up all day. If you get it going, could ya run it back to my shop,” Joe said, as he made a dash for his tow truck.
“No problem Joe, I’ll get right on it,” I said, just as he drove off.
The car was an 80’s GM. I could see all kinds of shiny new components under the hood, and could tell they put a lot of effort into swapping parts to find out what was going on. The symptom was; if you flipped the key to the crank position it would immediately start, but die just as quickly.
The parts they changed were the predictable parts cannon fodder that the typical parts slapper would try. Tune-up parts, an IAC, TPS, MAP, ECM, etc… etc… all of which might, could, should’ve, probably, maybe, and of course, eventually with enough darts thrown at it, could have hit the target and fixed it. But it didn’t. I wasn’t about to go that route. Time for some real diagnostics and not just shoot from the hip. Why not start with the basics- fuel, air, and fire.
Spark was good, timing looked good, and the intake had a good air pull. I gave it a shot of carb. cleaner, and as long as I kept spraying… it kept running. Ok, time to check the fuel pressure. Interesting... there was pressure. Hmmm, now what to do? The next obvious thing (to me) was to check fuel volume.
I disconnected a fuel line and gave the key a flick into start. The fuel shot out into the drainage bucket, but then trickled to a stop. I did it a second time. Not as much fuel made it out this time, but the scenario was basically the same. It was always a quick burst followed by a trickle. Maybe I should look at that gas gauge. Well, wouldn’t ya know it, the gauge is ready E. It had just enough in the tank to pressurize the fuel lines but not enough to keep it going.
Might as well grab a gas can, and put some in the tank. I’ll try it again… vroom, vroom, vroom, alright! It’s running great! Looks to me as if the entire problem was that it was out of gas. However, with all the new parts they installed, I couldn’t be sure if this was the 'only' problem or an after affect of having the car in the shop so long while trying to solve another problem. It could have been any one of the other components (within reason) they changed that really 'did' need to be changed.
Later that day I drove the car back to Joe’s shop. He wasn’t there, but his dispatcher was in the office sorting out tow tickets and monitoring the CB with the volume up full blast. In the background you could hear the CB chatter from all the area’s tow companies.
About then I heard Joe’s voice over the CB, “Did Gonzo call yet? Need to check in on him, we need to get that car back to the owner.”
“He just walked in Joe, over,” the dispatcher told him.
“So what was wrong with it,” Joe asked between the squelch of the CB radio and all the other chatter from the other tow companies.
The dispatcher turned to me and pointed at the mic. So, I told him . The dispatcher, with a stunned look on his face, said, “I can’t tell him that. He is going to be so pissed.”
“I don’t think you should either. At least not until he gets back,” I said, while breaking into an ear to ear smile.
The CB comes back to life with Joe’s voice again; “So what did he find out, over,” Joe's frustration was showing through as his voice barked out of the CB speaker. The dispatcher said to me, " Old Joe sounds pretty pissed."
I don’t know whether it was the way his day was going or how much time and money he's spent on this car. Either way, he’s not going to like this answer.
“Go ahead… tell him,” I said to the dispatcher, still sitting there hold the mic button, “He wants the answer, so let him have it.”
“Alright, Joe, are ya ready for this, over?" the dispatcher said, then waited for a response from Joe.
"Yea, go ahead, over."
"It was out of gas.”
A dead silence came over the CB. No chatter, nothing, not another sound for what seemed to be an eternity. Then, all hell broke loose. Tow drivers from all over the city were razing poor Joe. The CB was full of laughter and goof ball comments, but not a word from Joe. Poor Joe, you asked for it, and now you got it.
“Tell Joe to stop by the shop, he can settle up with me then,” I said, while trying to hold back the laughter.
As I walked out the door, the CB chatter could be heard all the way to the parking lot, and the comments were still flying. It was one of the funniest moments I’ve ever had for doing nothing more than putting gas in a car.
When Joe came up to pay the bill I told him I had a little something for him. I handed him a little tiny gas can on a key chain. I figured it might be a good reminder for him to always check the basics before loading up the parts cannon again.
After all these years I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about it, and I’ll bet he doesn’t tell too many people where he got that little gas can key chain from… but now, it wouldn't be so much on the CB, but over the internet.