Few things in life are more costly or cause more aggravation. There are few things that we adore more – we even name them! – even though they often defy our wishes and blatantly misbehave.
No, I don’t mean kids. I am talking about the great American obsession called the automobile.
Some years ago, I began to listen to a weekly radio show called “Car Talk.” The program was hosted by brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who handed out jokey yet astute automotive advice to people who called in.
Tom has since gone to that great junkyard – I mean, automotive recycling center – in the sky, but the program continues to be available as a podcast. My Saturday mornings feel incomplete whenever I’m deprived of an episode of “Car Talk.”
Like Tom and Ray, I grew up in an era when a guy could perform most of his own automotive repairs. A person didn’t need a Ph.D. in computer science to diagnose his car’s maladies. When you lifted the hood of your vehicle, everything underneath was simple and made sense and wasn’t buried beneath an incomprehensible jungle of sensors and data cables and doodads. The majority of delicate and nuanced automotive repairs could be carried out with a pair of pliers, a cutting torch and a ballpeen hammer.
I hate to brag, but back in the day I was able to attempt numerous do-it-yourself automotive repairs. “Attempt” is the operative word here. Many repairs weren’t successful.
For instance, we once owned an ancient Ford grain truck. The truck’s engine began to run poorly, coughing and chugging and displaying a marked lack of power. That is, more coughing and chugging and a lot less power than usual.
I concluded that there was some sort of issue with the carburetor. I’m usually hesitant to disassemble anything more complicated than a clothespin but decided to make an exception due to the fact that we were in the midst of harvest and in a hurry. Plus, I couldn’t afford the services of a professional mechanic.
Dissection of the carburetor revealed that its float, a brass cylinder that was about the size of an M-80 firecracker, had taken on a quantity of gasoline. The gasoline that had sneaked into float instead of staying outside where it belonged had affected the float’s buoyancy, causing the engine to run rich. I congratulated myself for successfully diagnosing the problem.
Most people would simply go to an automotive parts store and purchase a new float. But most people aren’t broke and in a hurry.
The end caps of the float were soldered in place. I figured that a guy could simply re-solder the seams and quickly be back in business. But first I had to address the issue of the trapped gasoline.
I decided to bore a small hole in the float and drain out the gas. I could then repair the hole and re-solder the seams. The venerable Ford would be hauling corn before you could say “emergency room.”
I drilled a hole in the float and shook out the fluid. Knowing that gasoline fumes are extremely dangerous, I waited a judicious amount of time for the vapors to dissipate from the float. I reckoned that five minutes would be plenty.
A millisecond after my soldering torch kissed the float, I noticed that my ears were ringing. And once my flash blindness had receded, I perceived that the float had mysteriously vanished.
I soon found one of its end caps on the floor of the shop. The main body of the float, which now resembled a miniature version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, was ten feet away, lying near the base of the wall. There was a fresh divot in the shop’s wooden siding where something had impacted it with considerable force.
There was no longer any doubt that we would have to buy a new float, so I went into our farmhouse to get the checkbook. My wife eyed me suspiciously and asked, “What’s going on?”
“It turns out that we’ll need a new float for the Ford after all.”
“I see. What about your plan to fix the old one?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“I see. You look as if you’ve been surprised. What happened to your eyebrows?”
“I’d rather not say. And this has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but I need a change of underwear.”
“I see. Is this related to that loud bang I heard out in the shop just now?”
“I’d rather not say!”
That’s the trouble. As Tom and Ray might say, SOME people just don’t understand the delicate nuances of do-it-yourself automotive repair.