By on April 29, 2013

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One of the things that I’ve learned from going to car shows is to try to remember to not act like an expert, to listen more than talk. That way I might actually learn something, or at least not embarrass myself in front of someone that’s a real expert. That’s a nice way of saying that it’s better to keep my  mouth shut and have people think that I’m a fool, than to open my mouth and prove their point.

Yesterday, novelist Bruce Holbert published an opinion piece on guns in the New York Times. Apparently Mr. Holbert mishandled a gun and accidentally killed a friend when he was a teenager. If you want to debate the firearms issue, you can go over to this site’s founder’s newer digs, but this is The Truth About Cars and Mr. Holbert does touch upon car culture at one point in his op-ed piece.

Discussing his upbringing, Holbert says,

Where I grew up, masculinity involved schooling a mean dog to guard your truck or skipping the ignition spark to fire the points, and, of course, handling guns of all kinds. I was barely proficient in any of these areas.

Skipping the ignition to fire the points? I’m not sure that even rises to barely proficient. I’m not even sure what the heck he means. Perhaps Holbert is a artist whose medium is bovine fecal material and he assumes that the average reader of the NYT opinion section knows as little as he does about cars. Or, perhaps there’s some tiny kernel of automotive knowledge underneath that gobbledygook.

What do you think? Was it just an overwrought way of describing “hotwiring” a car, or is it akin to installing a forged Knutson valve in your muffler bearing?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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58 Comments on ““Skipping the Ignition Spark to Fire the Points” – Say What?...”


  • avatar
    jz78817

    with rare exception, I find that journalists are basically worthless. Most of them don’t know shit about what they write about; worse, they don’t know that they don’t know shit.

  • avatar
    otter

    I think he meant to describe hotwiring a car.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    I think he meant setting the gap on the breaker points, in order to fire the spark plugs. In other words, an old -school tune-up. I don’t think he’s advocating car theft as a manly skill.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Agreed. Also believe RS is up to his usual utterly obvious and barely useful right-wing trolling.

      • 0 avatar

        In what alternate universe is this post right wing or left wing? I bent over backwards to be fair to Holbert, to try and understand what he meant, and kept the topic strictly to cars. I’m more interested in the Dodge brothers than the Koch brothers.

        • 0 avatar
          dolorean

          Hard to tell by the post mate. Second paragraph launches into the writer’s opinion on guns, not his appeal to automobiles. That came later and was tempered by him being ‘a (sic) artist whose medium is bovine fecal material…’

          • 0 avatar
            carrya1911

            The author in the original article didn’t grasp the important technical details of how a firearm worked. One does not cock the hammer of a double action revolver to see if the chamber is empty…and even on a single action one does not cock it fully. Nor can one fire a revolver (double or single action) by cocking the hammer. The trigger must be pulled to release the hammer.

            The point he seemed to be making was that he knew lingo but had no knowledge about what he was actually doing…and as a result he killed somebody. He may have grown up in a “culture” of firearms, but none of it imprinted on him anything of practical value, like how to not kill someone by mishandling a firearm.

            The exact point the author was trying to make about guns is…well…unclear. What he’s managed to communicate clearly is a complete lack of familiarity with the important details of how a lot of things work.

            …but in this specific case he doesn’t even seem to be able to get the lingo correct in reference to the points comment. If you know anything about guns, his description of the tragic events leading to killing someone by accident is a complete mystery.

            Just as his comments about the points is thoroughly puzzling. So even if we assume his point was to show that knowing the lingo doesn’t mean you understand the topic, he kind of fails because he doesn’t even understand the lingo well enough.

          • 0 avatar

            If it’s hard to tell, perhaps you need to brush up on your reading comprehension. I was writing about cars, not politics.

            ‘OMG, he made my knee-jerk knee jerk. His dog-whistles are so shrill. He must be a troll.’

            I offered no opinion at all about Holbert’s position on guns and specifically said that if you want to debate the firearms issue there are other venues for it. The only reason why I mentioned guns at all was to give some factual context for the post.

            To be honest, Holbert kinda lost my attention with his meandering, so I’m not really sure whether he’s pro gun or anti guns, but this the The Truth About Cars and I was writing about cars. You’re the one with politics on the brain. As the Zen master (in some versions it’s a Rabbi, the story is universal) said to his student, “I set that woman down at the river’s edge and you’re still carrying her.”

            Also, I never said that Holbert was a BS artist. You missed the word “perhaps”, an important modifier. Perhaps he knows nothing about cars or perhaps he inarticulately described something real. I at least gave him the benefit of the doubt.

            However, even if I had explicitly said that Holbert was a bullshit artist that wouldn’t have made the post political unless I extended that to the topic of politics, which I didn’t.

            The only thing that makes this at all political is your own belief that it’s morally wrong for me to show anyone you perceive as being on your side as less than perfect. Perhaps the word “tribal” would describe your behavior better than “political”.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        I didn’t see anything regarding politics, either right or left.

        But I think we know who the troll is.

      • 0 avatar
        Piqutchi

        I don’t think you know what that word means.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Given that in the rest of the article he talks about how he “faked” all those indicators of manliness, I think he’s deliberately talking nonsense to emphasize the point.

  • avatar
    David Hester

    I would guess that he means performing a spark test, probably by shoving a plastic handled screwdriver into the sparkplug boot and then grounding the blade to see if it sparks instead of using an actual spark tester. It’s one of those “kinda- dangerous- but- not- really” things people do that makes you nervous if, like me, you have a “thing” about electricity. Not a phobia, exactly. Just a very, very healthy respect.

    “Points” don’t have anything to do with it, though. That’s probably just writerly gobbledygook he threw out there in an attempt to say something more poetic than “shoving a screwdriver into a spark plug boot.”

    This YouTube video demonstrates it at about the 01:45 mark.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    It sounds like he was so “barely proficient” at hotwiring a car that some good ole boy decided to pull his leg, and he never caught on. Fortunately, he used the phrase in just about the only venue where it will be taken seriously.

  • avatar
    alan996

    He wanted to appear as a “Manly Man” not just an East Coast wuss whose knowledge of the real world is lacking. What he did show is that his expensive education didn’t equip him with the ability to write short descriptive prose…

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      From a quick Google search it looks like he was born in Washington state, went to college at Eastern Washington University and the University of Iowa, and is now a resident of Washington state.

      You may want to reconsider your “East Coast wuss” descriptor, as it seems as though he has spent the majority/entirety of his life quite far from the east coast.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Ok, “Left Coast Wuss”

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          You realize that Spokane is more than 300 miles from the “Left Coast”, right?

          It’s about as coastal as Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Pittsburgh. That is to say not at all.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Funny, I’ve spent 20 years in the Army, deployed more times than I have fingers and yet was born on the East Coast and never received my ‘expensive education’ nor the wuss badge. Perhaps what alan966 is dealing with is impudent rage leading to his irrational jealousy?

  • avatar
    mikey

    I was born in 1953, and cars have been my passion since I was about three. Never have I heard that expression. I’ve done the check for spark screwdriver test. I’ve hot wired from the coil, bypassed the solonoid and used my palm for a choke. I’ve taken a nail file to spark plugs,and points. On one occasion we used ahhhh? How should I say this?
    “Bodily fluids” to top up a rad. Its been said “necessity is the mother of invention”

    Spark was part of the process,ya just couldn’t skip.

    Right call Ron…B.S.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    Maybe he meant to say ( skip the points to fire the ignition ) that is,install a point eliminator kit like the Pertronix unit.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Awwww Hell, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it would help…

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    If his statement had contained a line about matchbooks, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt – but without even that qualifier, he was simply spouting gibberish.

  • avatar
    alan996

    Washington State west of the Cascades–Massachusetts not much difference.

    University of Iowa–well you can get a degree in Leisure Studies

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I’d dispute that but either way it doesn’t matter since his birthplace of Ephrata, the location of EWU in Cheney, and his current home in Mead are all located well *East* of the Cascades.

      Cheney and Mead are both outside of Spokane, which is about as far East in Washington as you can go.

      You seem to make a lot of inaccurate assumptions. Why? This sort of information is readily available – it’s not hard to get your facts right.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Why? My guess would be a persistent anti-intellectual bias with a willful blindness to facts. It’s very typical of many commenters on the internet who just want to spout their ideological nonsense.

        To the point, I would have interpreted along the lines of what David Hester or mikey said and let it go — I’m with dolorean here. A lot of writers don’t know what they’re talking about, but this one probably just mixed up 2 or 3 different concepts (which some might argue actually helps his point, rather than hurts it).

      • 0 avatar

        Spokane is about an hour from the Idaho panhandle–by bicycle. (I rode from Spokane into the Idaho panhandle in ’75, on my way from Seattle to Boston). The Idaho panhandle is known for survivalists and people who are to the right of Michelle Bachman.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Having lived in Massachusetts and Washington I can tell you right now you’ve got it wrong. West of the Cascades, Washington is much, much, much worse than Massachusetts.

      When it comes to politically correct arse hattery, the only city that comes close to holding a candle to Seattle is San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. Boston is a rough and tumble scary place in comparison.

      At least in Boston someone will look you in the eyes when they tell you to go f’ yourself, in Seattle they just pretend to continue to be your friend – seeing you once every six months.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        APaGttH, I find the same political correctness in the southern areas of the US, except there its geared towards religiousity, gun love, and various tin-foil hat theories. Either end of the spectrum sucks.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          Amen to the Southern analogy (pun intended). It’s politeness that can be incredibly tedious. Don’t BS me with what you think is regional charm and tell me whatever you have to say straight up.

          That being said I love the South for its weather and food.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Agreed — every end of a political spectrum almost always sucks.

          But there are also people who don’t understand where the ends of the spectrum are, so that also makes things difficult (e.g. people who call things socialist or fascist and don’t know what those terms mean).

      • 0 avatar
        Timothy

        Haha. You are right about that… we will tell your GFYS real fast. Usually because you are full of shit.

        Not sure which is worse, being told to GFYS or disingenuous relationships.

  • avatar
    carrya1911

    People in newspapers are always rabbiting on about technical matters for which they have no practical grasp. Even worse, politicians often legislate with the same lack of knowledge. This applies to guns, healthcare, automotive regulations, technology, mining, and any number of other things in which perhaps a few people with very deep knowledge are actually able to determine the real issues and discuss the merits/drawbacks of policy proposals intelligently.

    Fools rush to regulate where angels fear to tread.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Never heard that phrase. I suspect he’s trying to describe jumping the starter solenoid as found on many Fords to “hot wire” a car in an effort to build some credibility. Unfortunately the wording causes him to lose credibility if any even existed.

    I’ve heard some interesting regional descriptions for problems like “steppin’ on a peach” to describe a mushy brake pedal down south, or “cassée les vaisselle” or “breaking the dishes” to describe really bad vibrations in Quebec, but I’m not sure this falls into that category.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Loved the muffler bearings. What I’d really like to see are the instructions on the bottle of blinker fluid.

    The Times writer is obviously inept at more things than firearms handling.

  • avatar
    osalt2

    I think he ment skipping(or by passing) the Ignition Switch with the hor wire to start the car.

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “I think he ment skipping(or by passing) the Ignition Switch with the hor wire to start the car.”

      “Hor wire” ?.

      They’re putting hors in cars now as optional accesories ?!.

      Man, and here I was all set to get one of those Honda minivans with the wet/dry Shop-Vac to amuse myself with on long trips.

  • avatar
    dwford

    That line falls in the same category as Obama holding a gun or Dukakis in the tank. Made up shit that makes the person look stupid while trying to appear manly.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, I was born in 1949 and I have set the spark advance my aircooled VW using a 12v lightbulb with wires soldered to the tip and the base. Also have used a dwell meter as well as a feeler gauge to set the points on a number of cars.

    I think our NYT writer (lemme guess . . . I bet he went to the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Ioaw after he graduated college), reached into his bucket of automotive-sounding words, pulled out a few and strung ‘em together in a sentence that had good grammar if not good sense.

    ‘Cause I never heard these terms used this way, by anybody in the car repair/customization/whatever, business.

    Every profession/occupation has its secret lingo. Usually, a failure to master the lingo does not have lethal consequences. Messing about is fine with boats; not so fine with firearms and high B+ voltages in vacuum tube electronics, especially televisions.

  • avatar
    ixlar8

    Don’t cha just love the KaleCoAuto (Your home for the rare, unusual, and hard to find auto parts)website??!!

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Don’t cha just love the KaleCoAuto… website”

      That’s a great site. Not many web sites sell such essentials like Butt Dynos, a $19.95 lowering kit, cross drilled brake lines, and left handed metric screw drivers.

      kalecoauto.com

  • avatar
    Charles T

    Man, it’s been a while since a Saab 9-2x has been featured on this site, even if barely.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Actually I was thinking he might have meant pulling the coil wire which stops the spark. Then Political Science broke out and I realized the thread was lost. In most issues involving politics both sides seem to be very full of crap. Nobody in particular. Just saying….

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    You need both points and spark plug to “spark” for the engine to run. Skipping either will result in the starter motor running the battery dead. Not helpful…

  • avatar
    wmba

    My question is: what was the point of this post in the first place? My day would have been better had I not wasted time clicking on the post, and then reading meandering comments trying to work out what in hell was going on and why it was relevant to anything at all.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    This is one radio prank on chick that this reminds me of:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlP291qcWY4

    This one is off topic and is on how to better deal with telemarketers, but I couldn’t resist:

  • avatar
    AFX

    I understand what he was talking about now, he was trying to bypass the Turbo Encabulator to start the car.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Well that’s your problem right there. You used cheap, after market muffler bearings. Should have used genuine AC Delco parts. Yeah, they cost a bit more up front, but you’ll appreciate the quality in the long run. These sort of things also insure a higher resale/trade in value.

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    Love the illustrations with automotive gobbledy-gook. Too bad you don’t have a clip of George Costanza saying the infamous “You need a new Johnson Rod” line from Seinfeld.

    When I was a kid I used to love to read Mad Magazine, and they’d publish some of their old articles into compilation books, one of which was all about cars. There was a funny send-up of auto repair rip-offs, and they had an illustration of a repair bill. I’m guessing here on the charges listed, since the original article was back in the 1950s, but I’ll never forget the text:

    Plugs and points pitted: $25
    Pits and points plugged: $25
    Plugs and pits pointed: $25

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Probably thought the relay module on an old ford was the “points” and using a screwdriver to bypass it and get the starter motor spinning.

    Was always fun doing that to people who had no clue what you were doing. They always thought it was something akin to magic.


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