By on September 11, 2010

Ur-Turn is your weekly opportunity to contribute to TTAC. Every Saturday we select a different piece submitted to our contact form, and publish it as a showcase for the diverse perspectives of TTAC’s readers. Today’s contribution is a cautionary tale about knowing your (mechanical) limits, from reader Ross Schold.

I saw an interesting thing recently. While in a parking lot I noticed a couple clearly having mechanical trouble with their van.  Being only two spots away I was able to determine in just a few seconds that they were not stranded, but working through the process logically.  I gathered that even with the turn of the key their vehicle showed no signs of life. The hood was up, Mr. Van was peering into the engine compartment with a look that bordered on wonder and complete confusion. Mrs. Van, however, was clucking into a cell phone to arrange roadside assistance. They surely seemed to have everything under control.
While I loaded my own car I kept one eye on Mr. Van, curious to see if he would glean anything from his extended engine cavity viewing session. First he rocked back and forth with his hands in his pockets and assessed the inventory of the under hood area.

1- Engine – Got It – Check – Accounted For. Well at least that is still there. Next his hands came out of his pockets – Mr. Van raised his hand over the radiator support and curled his sausage fingers into a loose fist and proceeded to Knock .. .Knock… Knock on the air filter housing.  After the knocking was complete he peered around the open hood to his wife in the driver’s seat with a look that said “Ok Honey Bunny Try it now.” – Still nothing … Damn – How did the “Triple Knock” not work?

Just then I heard Mrs. Van give their coordinates to the tow truck company via the cell phone. – Help is on the way.

As I drove off, the “Triple-Knock” technique got me thinking of the urge that most people have to touch something that they don’t understand. This is especially true when it comes to cars. My opinion is that the “Triple Knock” is only one step removed from the “Tire Kick”. Why are so many prospective car buyers drawn to kicking the rubber?  This occurs so frequently that it spawned the term “Tire Kickers” to be used in other areas of sales where prospective buyers are not serious and just testing the market.

Now I am not an automotive expert. I am an enthusiast. I know the basics and generally enough to get myself in trouble.  Some of this experience has been gained through amateur mechanical work and restoration projects resulting in varied levels of success. Much of the knowledge I have is because I have paid my fair share of repair bills over the years. Some of these repairs I have paid for repeatedly and with enough frequency that I can now diagnose certain issues on my own. My diagnosis also includes a quick calculation to the estimated checking account damage.

I must admit that I have fallen into Touch It trap before. My first reaction to a mechanical problem is generally open the hood and check out the situation. This would only be helpful in a case where there is a liquid pouring from the engine compartment or chunks of metal scattered in a trail behind the car. If Mr. Van is really honest I bet he would admit the same thing.  Although he never would have been able to live with himself if he had not tried the” triple air filter knock”. Mrs. Van had it right. Call the tow Truck.

I am all for learning more about the things we don’t understand, especially cars.  However, it seems to me that there are ways to go about it. If you are going to touch something make it worth while.  Start by reading your owner’s manual you will certainly find out a few things you did not know about your own car. If you still really want to touch something, Change the presets on the radio – The only place you can get stranded there is  99.9 FM   ALL POLKA – ALL THE TIME.

Then you can trade in the car and kick some new tires.

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60 Comments on “Ur-Turn: Look… But Don’t Touch...”


  • avatar

    Well, he kinda had the idea.  My Dad was a mechanic among other things, and he would solve stranded issues by tapping…but it had to be relevant.  Wont’ start?  Tap on the starter.  Air filter housing?  Probably not gonna do much.

    Of course, maybe it was clogged up….

    John

    • 0 avatar
      turbosaab

      Fuel pumps, too. Saab 9000 owners take note: if it won’t start, jump the appropriate fuses and see if you can hear the fuel pump. If not, try carefully kicking the gas tank or whacking it with a lug wrench. I’ve gotten home this way more than once.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Whacking the gas tank with a hammer works on some pickup trucks too. The fuel pump on my father’s truck stopped working. The mechanic told him he might be able to get by without calling a tow truck if he got under it and whacked away.

      Sure enough, it worked. Once at home, and once two blocks from the mechanic’s shop, and he made it without the tow.

    • 0 avatar
      The Walking Eye

      There’s an old engineering parable/joke that addresses this.  Here’s a version I vaguely remember a professor telling.
      A large piece of machinery was not working in a guy’s plant.  He had his maintenance technicians and engineers look it over and no one could figure it out.  They eventually called a man who was an expert on these machines and had him come in asap.  When he showed up, he looked at the machine for a few minutes and then grabbed a sledge hammer and hit the machine three times.  He told them to try it now, and it started up working perfectly.
      The owner asked him how he did that, saying anyone could have just hit the thing with a sledge hammer.  The man told him, “yes, but you pay me to know exactly where to hit it.”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    All good points.  I know a little about mechanics, mostly learned on engines that are MUCH simpler than what’s under the hood of a car.  Air cooled scooters and lawnmower engines.  I’m not afraid to attempt repairs myself but it would be on 2 decade old machines (beyond regular maintenance.)  I buy code readers for my vehicles so I can at least know what’s wrong before I bring it in.  That would likely be a good investment for most Americans.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    Wasn’t the purpose of kicking tires to make sure the various suspension components were in order or atleast well enough to drive the car away and not die?

    I’ve never seen it work on any newer cars though (even ones that I’ve known to have problems).

    Maybe I don’t know the art of tire kicking, and what to look for when kicking a tire. Maybe it worked better on cars made in the 50’s? I’m sure if you were buying a Model T kicking the tires would be very informative.

    Every time I’ve kicked a tire I’ve been frustrated by a lack feedback from the kicked tire. It didn’t fall off I guess, but how do I decipher the other subtle noises the tire and associated bits make? Maybe I’m not kicking the tire hard enough?

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    Looking under the hood in a no-start situation is perfectly reasonable once common causes of a dead battery like leaving the headlights on have been ruled out. It never hurts to try giving the cables a twist at the battery. Besides, you can start to get an idea of the logistics involved in a jump start (what side of the car is the battery on? Do I have any open spaces across from me?) and what would be involved in replacing the battery if it is bad. If it’s not a maintenance free battery, he may be able to check the water level and run into a nearby store for some distilled water. While there, he can also pick up some baking soda to take care of corroded terminals.
    Looking at the little indicator light on maintenance free batteries, in my experience, is useless. I’ve seen plenty with a green light fail to start a car and more with no green light work fine.
    In the end, though, putting the hood up is sort of a signal. It could mean that you are looking for help. In this case, it sounds like it may have been a way to say, “No, we are not just hanging out in the parking lot because we like it here. As is evidenced by the open hood, our car is not operational at the moment. No, as you can see by my visible wife speaking on the phone, we do not require assistance. Thank you, anyway, though.”

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    What’s the harm in touching? In knocking on the air filter three times when a van won’t start? In kicking the tires of a car you’re thinking of buying?
     
    Just a guess, but these people probably do not think they are going to accomplish much. The man with the broken van is just trying to come to grips with the fact that he has deal with a broken van. The man kicking the tires of a car is trying to decide whether to buy the car.
     
    Moving, touching and doing often help with thinking. Better to do that, I think, than to sit on your butt.
     
    Of course, if the man with the broken van took out a hammer and beat on his engine until parts went flying, then you should criticize. That’s stupid.
     
    But three knocks on an air filter? Can’t really criticize that.

    • 0 avatar
      mistrernee

      I’ve had to beat the crap out of starter motors before.  Hammers, or long metal poles are good for some things.
       
      I always found it kind of comical in busy parking lots.  Getting the click when turning the truck over, cursing, getting out and grabbing the 4 foot metal pole out of the box, opening the hood..
      BANG BANG BANG
      getting back in and starting it up.
       
      I always wondered how it looked to someone who wasn’t aware of the joys of old starter motors. Car doesn’t start? Get out a hammer and smash things until it does!
       
      When I finally got that starter rebuilt it was like driving a brand new car! I got so excited every time I started it and didn’t need to get violent to make it go.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    I kind of suspect the knocking on the filter thing is from something he saw somebody do under the hood while he was behind the wheel. The filter housing is, often, near the battery. I am not really sure what he may have seen, though…

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    While I certainly don’t expect everyone to be able to change a cylinder head gasket or troubleshoot a driveability problem, we’ve gotten to a really sorry state in this country when it comes to at least basic knowledge of the things we depend on every day. It’s pathetic to me that an able-bodied grown adult can’t change a tire and would rather end up wasting up to a couple of hours for roadside asistance to show up and do it for them.

    I do all my own maintenance on all of my cars/Jeeps and am generally not afraid to tear into practically anything….I do know my limitations though. I would never attempt to rebuild an automatic transmission, but I can and have removed and installed them, and I have pulled valve bodies and installed shift kits on my own transmissions as well as on friends cars. Having said that, I tend to avoid automatics in my “fleet” since manuals are easier to deal with.

    My Father wouldn’t let my Sisters drive until they went through a few basic lessons where he showed them how to change a tire, how to jump a car, how to hold a stuck choke open to get the car started (yep, me and my Sisters are that old), how to check for the basics like fuel and spark if the car wont start and how to check the fuses and major wiring for integrity.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      There is no logical end point to this philosophy – unless you  literally do everything your self.
      Why would you call Geek Squad  if you had computer problems?    Or call an electrician if you had electrical problems?  Plumbing problems – hell everyone can sweat copper lines can’t they?    Why pay someone to re-shingle your roof?   Why ask your wife to sew a button for you?
      Every day you depend on your computer, your wiring, your pipes, your roof, your buttons, etc.   Yet do you take care of everything yourself?
      None of us know how to do it all.
      Cars are just transport appliances to most people.   No reason the average guy should be able to fix one any more than he could fix his washing machine (which could literally be a computer problem)
      One of my hobbies is restoring old bicycles.  It amazes me that people are timid about pulling their bottom bracket and overhauling it -until I stop and realize that an accountant would probably rather spend his weekend riding for exercise than installing new bearings.
      There is nothing pathetic about lack of mechanical knowledge/skill.   We all have gaps in our knowledge and lack certain skills.
       
       
       
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      revjasper

      Dynamic just listed what I’ve been doing for the past year, but it’s the dryer instead of the washing machine.  Getting someone in to help is not necessarily an admission of not knowing how to do something, but the rational decision to place a value on your own time.  But sweating copper is too much fun…

    • 0 avatar

      Dynamic, the only reason I don’t service my own bottom bracket is because I don’t have the specialty tools. Park Tools seems to do pretty good business. I don’t know why bicycles need different tools than cars, but they do and I don’t have them (well, other than a spoke wrench).

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Wheeljack,
      I’m glad that the neonatal nurses and trauma surgeons I work with concentrate on taking care of premature babies and putting broken people back together rather than waisting their time learning and doing things they no aptitude for or interest in.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Apparently you didn’t catch the part where I said “basic knowledge”. Everyone, and I do mean everyone (‘cept those with physical issue that would prevent it) should be able to change a tire. And a basic knowledge doesn’t mean you feel confident enough to tear it apart, just that you conceptually understand how it functions. Seems to me like more people used to have this basic knowledge years ago. Heck, even my Mom (a city girl from NYC) knew how to get our Torino wagon started when the choke would stick shut, which it often did.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      >>” I don’t know why bicycles need different tools than cars, but they do and I don’t have them (well, other than a spoke wrench).”

      Funny you should mention that! My 36mm socket fits two things that I own: the oil filter on one of my cars and the old bottom bracket on one of my bikes. And it’s new bottom bracket? Yep, it has it’s own tool, but it’s the same tool for my other bikes.
       

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Wheeljack,

      ” Seems to me like more people used to have this basic knowledge years ago.”

      I think that’s because cars used to be far far less reliable than they are now.  Someone who buys a new Accord and drives in for 12 years and 140k miles might never experience a breakdown.  I know I’ve been driving VW’s for 12 years and 200k miles and I’ve only broken down once.

      Someone who was driving a 70’s LTD or Malibu or God help you an MG, AMC or Fiat, etc. would have to deal with much more frequent break downs and maintenance issues.
       

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Thanks to a healthy dose of youthful poverty, a skilled father, and some formal training, I’ll attempt just about any repair on a car, except for things that require a myriad of specialty tools or abilities, such as the guts of an automatic transmission.
       
      My other limiting factor these days is the value of my time.  I spent several months in 2005 trying to diagnose what amounted to an engine wiring harness problem in our Plymouth minivan.  The breakdown frequency increased – stranding my wife several times – and I vividly recall spending a night in a pouring thunderstorm under the hood of that car trying to diagnose it.  When I learned that the parts alone cost more than the car was worth, we finally moved on to another car (an awful Honda).
       
      When the same problem occurred this year on our Dodge minivan, we immediately decided to bail on that car, rather than go through the same misery again.  Sometimes valiant efforts just aren’t worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      Someone who was driving a 70′s LTD or Malibu or God help you an MG, AMC or Fiat, etc. would have to deal with much more frequent break downs and maintenance issues.

      Thank God then that I started driving in 1989! Since then (counting the cars also driven by wives), my six Faits have never broken down on me, out of my 3 Fords one broke down with the wife and only one of the Renaults left me stranded. Though one of the other Fords didn’t actually break down it had a myriad of problems on a trip that made said trip much more fun (in retrospect). However, I was always able to keep it going til finding a mechanic. So I don’r count it as a full breakdown (as I also don’t count batteries going dead as a breakdown either, that’s a normal wear thing).

      So 6 Fiats. 3 old Unos all perfect, 2 Palios 1 had an aceleration issue that took a while to pin down, but otherwise perfect. 1 Siena that was perfect. So really no big problem.
      3 Fords. 1 Ranger that was perfect. 1 Escort XR3 that “partially broke down” and 1 Ka that stranded my wife once and spent an inordinate amount of time at the dealer fixing things.
      2 Renaults. 1 Logan never broke down though had engine rebuilt also staying much too long at dealer, 1 Clio that broke down on a trip a very long way from home – faulty ECU)

      Either I’ve been very lucky with my Fiats or as the oldest was a 1989, it goes to show that these cars are not your daddy’s car anymore (or grandpa’s as it were). So I’m a fan. And would buy another one in a heartbeat.

      The last Ford I had, which was the God-awful Ka, has made me wary of the maker, even though it was fun to drive (when it worked! as was the Escort). So, could go back if tempted enough.

      The Renaults, despite the problems, the dealership has been mighty helpful with the Logan. And the Clio, even though it had the worst faliure I ever experienced personally, was otherwise perfect and economic and fun to drive. And the Logan is good to drive, too, though not really fun. So I would buy again.

      Curiously enough of all the cars with the worst problems, both the Ka and Logan were bought brandnew. Again, lucky or I’m pretty good at picking up secondhand cars. Though not so lucky with the brandnew ones.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Dynamic88:  It is pretty awesome not being held hostage to the men in the blue/white vans.  Funny, all the examples posted I do myself, unless I don’t have the time or I just don’t want to be bothered.  The bike example is funny because that is the exact thing I don’t ever touch.  My friend owned a bike shop so all repairs were free.  But he has since sold the store so I now have to pay for repairs.  I guess I should have paid attention.  I hate paying people to to things I usually do better myself…

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Wheeljack
      No, I didn’t miss anything.   I’m simply disagreeing with your philosophy – and hopefully I’m doing it in a polite and respectful way.
      I don’t want my wife trying to change a tire by the side of the road.   I’d much prefer she call our local Mobil station and have them send their tow truck, then take it to the station and change the tire.    She’d be safer.   The road obstruction would be removed more quickly.    The cost is relatively small.   (Okay, the cost is large compared to doing it herself, but the cost of her safety and convenience is small)  Besides, neither of us have had a flat tire since the ’70s.   We replace tires when the tread is no longer deep enough, and they last until the next set, w/o blowing out. (I guess there aren’t many nails where we live)   Why be prepared for something that isn’t likely to happen?    In essence, my wife does know how to change a flat – call the Mobil station.

      I don’t encourage her to carry a screwdriver to hold open the choke either.   On an ’04 CR-V this will be of little use.

      My larger point is that in many areas of life there is “basic knowledge” but it isn’t that basic to everyone, and probably doesn’t need to be.    If you grew up working class, like me, then you probably did things for yourself – out of necessity.  If I were an accountant, making 80K a year why would I want to mess with tire changing and get my suit all dirty?   Just call call someone, have it taken care of, pay the bill, and get on with life.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      There comes a time in one’s life when one has enough money to get things repaired quickly and properly (one hopes!) by a professional rather than spend/waste the time it takes one to do the work one’s self and lacks the day-to-day knowledge of all the shortcuts learned and tools/equipment that the pros have. I’ve reached that point many years ago, especially when my knowledge of point adjusting, timing lights, spark advance and dwell meters has gotten somewhat obsolete. Mindless elestrons moving through miniature printed circuit boards simply eludes me! I guess I’ll just have to buy a code reader to plug into my car when something happens. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    The guy’s triple knock might have come from seeing his Dad tapping on a faulty carburetor with a hammer to make the floats unstick and let fuel start flowing again.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say something similar. Another reason for banging on the air cleaner might be to free up a stuck choke. I’m 55 and most drivers my age can recall keeping a screwdriver in the car to jam the choke open so you had a prayer of starting a flooded engine.

  • avatar
    TokyoPlumber

    I think the “Triple-Knock” technique has much to do with male pride.  Most of us men do not wish to appear (or feel) helpless when struck by some mechanical malady … and particularly so when around the opposite sex.  When a car breaks down most guys are hard wired to try to assess and fix the problem (even when we don’t have a clue about where to look or what to troubleshoot).  I generally conclude my Mr. Fix-It charades by mumbling something about a faulty part accessible only after using special tools to clear a path through an impenetrable forest of fasteners, belts, wires and gaskets.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Several years ago we were on a cross country journey in our minivan (an Olds Silhoette we no longer own, but that is another story :)). In the middle of the night, one of the headlights burned out whilst under way. Being in middle America, it turned out that we were not very far from a big 24 hour Wal-Mart.  So, I parked the van at Wal-Mart, looked up the bulb change procedure in the owner’s manual, bought a new bulb and had us on our way all in under twenty minutes. And yes, I did need to look up the procedure as it involved removing the headlamp assembly.

    Pulling away, my wife said something like: “I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m glad I married a real man who knows how to fix things.”  Ah, that was a good day :).
     
     

  • avatar
    findude

    One of the things to look for while gazing under the hood is a loose vacuum hose.  Knowing this has saved me towing more than once.

  • avatar

    I’m just posting to keep a watchful eye on the OP in the hope I can learn somthing about, well, dealing with strangers (obviously stupid) in parking lots.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    I recall, a friend locking his keys in his car once at a liquor store in a poor neighborhood. He attempted the coat hanger trick while a crowd of young men gathered around whilst he was waiting for his wife to deliver the spare key. It was somewhat comforting that, no one could break in that way.

  • avatar
    oboylepr

    Interesting that the picture in this article is of a GMC Safari. I owned one of these POS and damn near paid for it twice in repairs. The best place to knock to fix one of these is on your wallet. A simple job like replacing a spark plug is a nightmare for the DIY mechanic.

    • 0 avatar

      Coming in thru the fenderwell after putting the vehicle on jackstands worked for me. Still a bear. Good four-hour job minimum. And the older ones were even worse. I had an ’85 (first-year) and a ’94 which was easier but still difficult.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      LOL, I sometimes hear people with 60’s Mopars complain because the easiest way to access #7 sparkplug is to jack-up the driver’s side and get it from under the car.  Next time someone complains about this, I’ll recommend that they change the plugs on an Astro van and let me know which job they’d rather do again.

  • avatar

    My kids were so used to me fixing stuff that one of them, when they were about 3, handed me a banana broken in two and said, “Abba, fix?”
     
    The thing that bothers me is when I decide to pay an expert and discover that the expert isn’t much more expert than I am. Or worse, pay them to fix it, they can’t, and I end up troubleshooting the problem myself.
     
     
    Richard Feynman said that good science means being skeptical of experts.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      The thing that bothers me is when I decide to pay an expert and discover that the expert isn’t much more expert than I am.
       
      It is worse when their incompetence screws the pooch worse than if I had done it myself, such as  finding 90 weight hypoid gear oil in a Honda transmission courtesy of Jiffy Lube.

    • 0 avatar

      My kids were so used to me fixing stuff that one of them, when they were about 3, handed me a banana broken in two and said, “Abba, fix?”

      That remids me of my own family story. One day my brother and I were throwing our matchbox cars from the second floor window of our house. When ny mother caught us and, of course, yelled at us for that, we replied with something along the lines, “Don’t worry Mamma, Daddy will fix them up afterwards”. That’s how confident we were in our father’s seeminly magical ability to fix all our toys. From said matchboxes to remote control cars and whatnot, our Dad could do it all!

      Thanks Dad!

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      On the rare occasion when I do pay someone to fix our cars, I make sure I’m going to someone who really knows what they are doing. Luckily after living in the same area for almost 15 years now I know where a few really good shops are.
       

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      “The thing that bothers me is..”

      EXACTLY. That’s why I do EVERYTHING myself. Seems like anytime I quit paying attention – so does the monkey I’m paying to do it for me. Missing hardware, jobs left undone, $175 bearings that I sourced the same day (after I paid the bill) for $25 from an industrial bearing house – even the same brand as the original(!), and tires not even rotated after I paid them to rotate the friggin’ tires! (And then he wanted to argue that the dirty, brake dust covered wheel WASN’T the front tire).

      When I buy a car I buy the factory manual – not a Haynes or other $12.95 book. The $75 Helms or Bentley manual or whatever. By sticking mostly to the same brands I develop good Internet links to people who know more than I do or do a good job of documenting their repairs. I also see similar designs year after year. My ’97 VW is mechanically very similar to what my ’84 VW was. Refinement added but similar designs. I also find good forums where smart people gather to discuss cars just like mine.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Be it a GM starter solenoid or the fuel pump located in the trunk/boot of a MGB, there is nothing more rewarding than giving the offending contraption a sharp rap to get it temporarily on its way.
     
    Of course replacing the offending solenoid or cleaning the breaker points on the SU fuel pump are a better way to go.
     

  • avatar
    nihoole

    I suspect that most folks, when faced with a non-functioning vehicle, will open the hood seeking that elusive “FIX-IT” button.  I myself have sought out this button, miserably without much luck but it won’t stop me from looking for it.  I have to conclude that this is what most folks are doing too.  Those darn auto manufacturers persist in disguising the stupid button so you can’t find it.
    In this case, I think the three knock technique is merely to give the impression that he has found the FIX-IT button and actually depressed it three times.  This is usually done to satisfy the female who can’t park because she has been given erroneous information about how long six inches is – but I digress.

  • avatar
    Ion

    As said earlier the tapping was probably Carburator related. I’ve found that most mechanically uninclined people have no idea their modern car lacks a carb or a distributor/ points.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      A few years back my old Mazda MX-6 was a no-start.  A bit of checking revealed that it had no spark — turned out to be a bad ignition module.  My elderly neighbor, who is a retired mechanical engineer, walked over while I had the hood up to inquire if I needed any help.  I informed him that I knew what the problem was, a no spark condition.  At this time the neighbor said(quite seriously), “You probably have a bad condenser.”  Without saying a word, I grabbed him by the elbow, and walked him back across the street.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Blame it on a stray tachyon beam.

  • avatar
    PVDave

    As a Service Industry professional, I can assure you there is little point in opening the hood on a modern car. As others have noted, a couple of faults may come to life with a little (appropiate) banging, BUT-

    If the fuel pump cycles when you switch the ignition on, and the starter turns over the engine, there’s very little an expert could do without a fully supplied shop. Most modern cars have coil on plug ignition with individual fuel injectors, so fuel and ignition problems typically create a misfire prolem. Locking couplers prevent disconnected wiring problems, and when vacuum lines open up, they set rich or lean codes, rather than a no-start condiiton.

    Outside of fuel pump cycles and starter problems, no starts stem from:

    Opens or shorts in the wiring
    Cam drive belt or chain problems
    Opens or shorts in sensors.

    Without diagnostic equipment and the correct wrench set, even for a technician owner cars with these faults are going NOWHERE.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      I respectfully submit an anecdote to the contrary.
       
      I had a late 1990s Volvo that a bizarre no-start problem: the fuel pump+ignition fuse would melt and deform but not actually blow.  (The cheap fusebox was so flimsy that it did not make good contact with the fuse… Bosch must have cribbed that fusebox off Lucas… do I sound bitter?)  The first time this happened at a freeway rest stop about half an hour past East BFE.  I think I had the hood open for less than five minutes and then I was on my way.  Several months and fuses later, I fixed the problem for good with put a slight bend in the metal feet of the fuse.  That kept them under tension and able to maintain good contact.
       
      Since the car was a couple years and thousands of miles out of warranty, I wonder how much diagnostic equipment, labor, and replacement parts it would have taken to professionally fix that problem using the official troubleshooting flowchart in the factory shop manual?
       
      Internal shorts- yep, you’re definitely going nowhere.  Shorts in visible wiring- maybe, maybe not.  Internal relay problem might go away for a few days if you can whack the relay (or if you’re lucky and your car uses an identical relay for something less important then swap them out).  Broken wiring or even corroded sensor connectors can be fixed (at least temporarily) by any ordinary schmuck if he or she has a bit of gumption and patience.  Timing chain/belt problems are exceedingly rare nowadays- the only timing belt failure I’ve ever experienced was while test driving a sub-$1,000 used car.
       
      I love good independent mechanics and good dealer mechanics, but for the most part I’ll stick to my own self-reliance.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former VW owner I have to call shenanigans on this as well.

      The coil on plug ignition packs failed so regularly on my GTI that I took to carrying spares in the glove box.

      Check engine light came on, throw code reader in socket, R&R coil pack using the small pry bar I kept in the glove box and on my way I’d go. Went through about 6 coil packs in its final 24 months.

      I kept that car a year longer than I would have otherwise using that trick.

      Then I ebayed the last two I’d been keeping in the glove box after I traded away the GTI.

      (And I pulled a similar save off once the same way, but it was a failing temperature sensor.)

    • 0 avatar
      xer 21

      maybe for engine problems, but for many problems, opening the hood helps.  im no mechanic, but with my older cars, if something goes wrong, i usually open the hood if i see smoke to see whats leaking, and maybe where the leak is, or if there is a funny noise or vibration, i canusually pinpoint the source if i open the hood so i can at least no where to start when i get home or bring it in to the shop.

    • 0 avatar
      northeaster

      I would agree with The Comedian that there are certain signature failures for specific cars, though these seem increasingly rare.

      For example, I keep my VW 1.8T coilpacks in the back of the car now.  After the first couple times, you don’t necessarily need an OBD reader to shuffle the spare in and out at each firing position to restore a running engine…

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Yeah I’ve got a 13 year old VW that had the cracked coil problem. Would be easy to fix next time ’cause I’d know. First time I figured it out myself but it took some head scratching and internet reading. Good reasons to stay VW ’cause that episode and other minor ones taught me alot about it.

  • avatar
    NexWest

    Part of my work is doing jump starts. I have started two cars by pulling up on the negative cable. Also we have started about four cars by pounding on the starter. So pull and pound away while we can.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    I’ve read this article twice, and I’m still not sure what is the point, beyond clueless people doing things to reveal their cluelessness.  Is the author recommending that people strive to learn enough to troubleshoot basic problems, or that they should recognize that they’re screwed and just close the hood while they wait for the towtruck?
     
    I have two anecdotes about putting the hood up being the universal sign for car trouble: I ran out of gas once while sitting at a stoplight, on my way to the gas station.  I had a small jerrycan of gas in the trunk which got me going again.  In the meantime, my Chryslers don’t have 4-way flashers (they were an option, not standard equipment in 1966).  How to convey to other drivers coming up behind me that I was “broken down” and to move into the other lane?  I put the hood up!  Worked like a charm.
     
    At least once a week I’ll pop the hood to check the vital engine fluids and give a general blessing to everything in the engine compartment, no matter what vehicle I’m driving.  I usually do this when I go out to the car after work because it’s convenient.  I’ve never seen anybody else doing this with their vehicles, and more often than not, someone will come over to ask me what’s wrong with my car.  While it’s nice that I work with a bunch of good samaritans, nobody seems to open their hood unless there’s something obviously wrong.

  • avatar
    obbop

    “Outside of fuel pump cycles and starter problems, no starts stem from:
    Opens or shorts in the wiring
    Cam drive belt or chain problems
    Opens or shorts in sensors.
    Without diagnostic equipment and the correct wrench set, even for a technician owner cars with these faults are going NOWHERE.”
     
    Is another possible interpretation that one merely needs to beat upon the components harder and faster with a bigger heavier rock?  :)

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Even those who at first appear to look like they know what they’re doing are also often completely clueless. Like the guy who pulled up behind me in a local gas station when I was checking my tire pressure. He used his waiting time up by popping the hood, checking the oil, then pulling out a big tub of Castrol and proceeded to poor it over pretty much everything in the engine bay excluding the oil filler hole. The utter genius managed to slop it all over the nice and hot exhaust manifold… and you can imagine what happens next.
    With what can only described as a ‘minor conflagration’ occuring behind him, the hapless wannabe pitstop mechanic turned to me and asked pleadingly “What do I do now?” To which I pointed at the nearby bucket of sand by the kiosk and said “You might want to use that.”
    So, one bucket of sand later, the fire was out, but he’d managed to burn pretty much everything plastic under the hood, and managed to get quite a lot of sand into the the top of the engine. Again, he turned to me, but this time asked “Do you reckon I can get her start?”


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