Joe Clark's voice over the wire was
waspish. "That highbinder charged me twice what the job was worth to
put in those new rods - and when he got 'em in the engine it wouldn't even turn
over. I told him that I wouldn't pay him for work that hadn't done any
good, and he said he'd hold the car until I did pay him. Then I told
him - "
The thought of Joe Clark on the
customer's end of an argument over a repair job bill made Gus Wilson grin.
"Never mind what you told him. What did you do?"
Joe's voice went up three notes.
"Do?" he yelled. "What could I do? I had to pay him, of course.
But I wouldn't let him touch the car again. A fellow helped me push it
out of his shop, now it's standing in the street. The engine won't
start, and the next garage is 10 miles away. They'd charge plenty for
a tow and probably won't be any better than this nitwit! You or
Stan'll have to come with the wrecker and tow me home."
"That's quite an order," Gus hedged.
"Where did you say you are?"
Joe named, in highly uncomplimentary
terms, a very small town.
"That's well over a hundred miles from
here," said his partner after a brief tussle with a road map. "It's
almost closing time now, and it'll take most of the night to bring you in...
Well - O.K. I'll send Stan.
By the way, Joe, is there a college handy
to that burg you're in?"
"How'd I know!" Joe yelled. "And
what difference does it make?"
"I was just thinking that while you're
waiting for Stan it would be a good idea to take a quickie course in
The receiver was slammed on its hook at
the other end of the line. Gus grinned.
Then he went serious. He was a prey
to the vague uneasiness that assails every conscientious mechanic when he
hears that a car he has worked on has conked out. "I checked Joe's bus
before he started on this trip to Pittsburgh," he thought, "and it was in
good shape - considering it's a '39 and has clocked over a hundred thousand
Well - we'll see."
Stan and Joe reached home sometime in the
course of the night. When Gus got down to the Model Garage next
morning he found his partner's car in the shop and its owner, still
simmering, waiting for him.
"You're a swell advertisement for our
business," Gus grinned. "What happened?"
"Nothing happened until I'd got three
quarters of the way home," Joe growled.
"I was driving along at about forty with
the car running swell - just like it had been running ever since I left here
- all of a sudden there was the darndest clatter you ever heard. The
sound seemed to come from the crankcase. I figured it was a burned-out
connecting-rod bearing that was just about to let go. This happened
way out in the sticks, but I spotted a sign saying there was a garage and
repair shop 15 miles further on. I decided to take a chance that the
bearing would hold out until I got there. The clatter didn't let up,
but it didn't get much louder, and I made it.
"The fellow who ran the garage could
probably find a flat tire if you pointed it out to him, so to save time I
said I thought it was a burned-out rod bearing. After he fooled around
for 15 minutes he reckoned I was right. I let him go ahead and fix it,
and went down the main drag to get something to eat. When I got back
he had the crankcase all unbuttoned. He said that all six rods were
bad and I'd have to have new ones. Frankly, they didn't look too bad
to me, but I was still hoping he knew what it was all about, so I asked what
the job would cost. He quoted more than twice what we would have
charged for it, and we had an argument. But in the end I told him to
"He sent his grease monkey 20 miles to
get the rods, and when he finally got started I could see he was strictly a
left-handed mechanic. At last - late in the afternoon - he got the
rods installed and the engine back together. Everything was fine -
except that she wouldn't run! That reformed blacksmith stood there
scratching his head. He suggested one thing after another that might
be the matter, but I could see he was up a tree. I told him that if he
found out what was wrong and fixed it I'd pay him for the job, but I wasn't
going to pay for putting in six new rods that weren't needed. We had
another argument. He threatened to phone the constable and have my bus
held, so in the end I had to come across. By that time I was so sore I
wouldn't let him try anything else. I found a fellow to help me roll
the car out into the street, and then I called you... What do you think can be
the matter with the old bus?"
"Soon find out," Gus grunted.
H raised the hood, and went over the
engine. While he was doing it Stan came in yawning widely.
Gus told him to touch the starter. "No use, boss," Stan protested, but
he did as he was told.
The starter ground over with no response
from the engine, not even a cough. Deftly Gus checked the fuel and ignition
systems, both were operating properly. He thought for a moment and
then, on an impulse, removed the valve cover plate and touched the starter
solenoid. As the engine was cranked over, Gus was startled to find
that the valves remained motionless. Frowning as he worked, he took
off the housing on the camshaft timing gear.
"Here's the trouble!" he exclaimed.
"Look - five teeth have been stripped off this timing gear. I wonder
what caused that? It's made of laminated plastic, so it'd probably
give before the steel crankshaft gear, but - hey! The jet that's
supposed to spray off in here is plugged solid!"
He cleared the oil passage with a piece
of wire, and rolled what he got out of it between his thumb and forefinger.
"Solid sludge," was his verdict. "It stopped lubrication of the gears;
heat and friction did the rest. I wonder - "
He got an old drinking glass from his
bench, washed it, drained a little oil from the crankcase into it, and held
it up to the light. "Your oil is foul with sludge and muck," he said.
"No wonder you had trouble - the surprising thing is that you didn't have
more of it." He looked hard at his partner. "I told you to fill
up with fresh oil before you started. Did you forget to do it?"
"Of course I didn't forget to do it!" Joe
snapped. "What do you think I am - a dope?
Why, I even used heavy-duty oil - that
new premium stuff we got in just before I left. The oil company
salesman had been telling me how it keeps sludge and such stuff suspended
instead of letting it settle in the oil pan, and I figured that using it on
my trip would be a swell way to clean out my engine. When I got to
Pittsburgh I checked the oil level. The dip stick was as shiny as new,
the oil had cleaned all that sticky brown stuff off it, so I knew it was
doing the job the salesman said it would."
Gus stared at his partner. "And you
didn't change the oil?"
Joe looked surprised. "No, Why
should I? I'd gone under 1,000 miles and there was plenty in the
crankcase. What's all this about, Gus? Aren't the new premium
oils any good?"
"Sure, they're good," Gus assured him.
"So is dynamite or TNT or atomic power - if you know how to use 'em.
But premium, or heavy-duty, or detergent oil - they all mean pretty much the
same thing - can cause a lot of trouble if you don't use it right. So
much trouble in fact that some of the oil companies aren't recommending it
for passenger cars."
Joe looked horrified. "That's bad!"
he said in a worried voice. "I haven't sold any of it yet, but I've
talked it up to several customers. We'll be behind the eight ball if
any of them take my word for it and get in trouble, the way I did."
"That's all right," Gus reassured him.
"You can go right ahead recommending it for cleaning out engines, and for
all the time use by drivers who make long darn sure that the people you sell
it to know how to use it."
Joe pointed to the broken timing gear.
"That doesn't look as if I know how to use it. If it's that tricky - "
"There's nothing tricky about it," Gus
interrupted, "if you stop to think that a detergent oil is just what it
claims to be - a purging oil. While it lubricates, it cleans off the
sludge and other muck - the waste products of combustion - that accumulate
on the innards of an automobile engine. Usually there is a dispersant
in these oils, a chemical that is added to keep dirt and sludge suspended,
instead of allowing them to settle into the oil pan. What you've got
to remember is that the detergent cleans the accumulated sludge off the
engine parts but not out of the engine until it is drained off with the oil.
"Your car has been driven over a hundred
thousand miles, mostly short runs, without ever having its oil pan down, so
its engine must be pretty dirty. I've been meaning to clean it up for
you, but since we've always babied the car and it continued to run well, I
never got around to it. You put in detergent oil and then drove from
here to Pittsburgh and three-quarters of the way back - say 750 miles.
That long run gave the purging oil a good chance to do its job, and it did
it. The trouble was that it cleaned so much sludge out of the engine
and into the oil that the oil passages couldn't digest it. They
clogged up. The jet that sprays oil between the crankshaft drive gear
and the camshaft gear was plugged solid with hard, high temperature sludge.
If the resulting breaking of the timing gear hadn't laid you out on the
road, you probably would have burned out a bearing - the bearing lubricating
tubes are nearly filled up."
"And still," Joe growled, "you say
there's nothing tricky about detergent oil!"
"There isn't," Gus said. "Not if
you change it before the sludge it has cleaned off the engine parts has a
chance to do any damage. For an engine that's just average dirty, the
oil should be drained, and the crankcase flushed, after about 500 miles, and
again after another 500 miles. But for an engine that's really dirty,
the first change should be made after only about 100 miles.
You can't do any harm by changing the oil
too soon - but you can do a lot of harm by not changing it soon enough."
"You've got something there, "Joe
admitted. "Now if you can get my bus rolling maybe I'll take a little
"What for?" Gus asked apprehensively.
"You aren't figuring on trying to collect
the dough you spent for the con-rod job?"
"Naw," The co-owner of the model garage
smiled sheepishly. "We got a college right here in town, and I'm
thinking it's about time I took that quickie course in mechanics you've been