A man in his mid eighties drove a 92’ Mercury into my shop this morning. He’s an old customer of mine. I usually need about half an hour to talk with him, and not because he’s slow on the uptake. I’ll call him Bo for the purpose of anonymity in this post. Bo likes to come in, tell me about a problem he has with the car, and then argue with me about what I think might be wrong. Today was no exception. He gets right out and launches in that sing-song whiney voice I’ve come to love over the last couple decades.
“You know… I’ve been having a problem with my car stalling for the first couple start ups in the morning ever since you tuned it,” Bo tells me.
I tuned his car in June of 2006, and although I’ve seen him a half dozen times since then, he’s never mentioned the starting problem. I know the date because he’s blamed the tune-up for his radiator leaking six months after the tune, the front brakes squeaking a year and two months after the tune, and last August for his right headlamp going out. He only drives about 5,000 miles a year, and sometimes doesn’t drive his car for days at a time. This can lead to a rough start at first, especially if you add Bo’s love of cheap gas. I decide on a solemn methodical approach rather than laughing out loud.
“How does the car run and start after it’s warmed up?”
“Ah… pretty well… but when it’s cold it stalls at first.”
“From then on it starts and runs okay after warming up?” I hone in on this point for reasons which will become apparent.
“Yeah, it runs like always after the first couple minutes.”
“What brand of fuel are you using, Bo?” I ask, because his Merc has over 150,000 miles on it. The fuel injectors have never been touched on it, nor has the electric fuel pump.
“Regular from Rotten Rooster Gas (fictional name) on High Street.”
“Here’s what I’d like you to do. Run out this present tank full of gas and put in a tank full of either Chevron Supreme or Union 76 Super. If that solves your problem and the car starts better in the morning, you’ll know it’s fuel quality causing your rough start-up. Then you’ll have to decide on whether to put up with the problem or use the better quality fuel.”
“You mean I’ll have to use the more expensive gas?” Bo’s face twists in agony and the whine resonance makes my teeth start to ache.
“If putting in the better fuel eliminates the problem… yes… or put up with the problem.”
“I was talking to a truck driver,” Bo tells me, taking a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket. He unravels it and points. “He said I need to have the throttle body cleaned and everything will be okay.”
“You can’t skip to that step, Bo. If the quality of fuel is causing the problem, you could have the throttle body rebuilt, cleaned, and spit shined, but it won’t solve your stalling problem. I believe the morning sickness is because of the fuel injectors’ age, and the engine mileage.”
“It’s not just when it’s cold.”
“According to what you said it is,” I remind him of my narrowed down point of contention.
“Oh… yeah,” Bo concedes. “But the truck driver says…”
“What can it hurt to isolate the problem by what I just suggested, Bo?” I ask, tired of being upstaged by his truck driver/diagnostic expert. :)
“Because then you’ll tell me I have to put the more expensive gas in it when the car runs better on it,” Bo whines.
“I can’t make you put better fuel in it,” I reasoned. “That will be your decision. If you don’t want to try the better fuel, I can bring you in for a seventy-five dollar diagnostic check.”
“Fine! I’ll try the fuel.” Bo gets in the Merc and backs out.
Mama Mia! :)