"Hope I've seen the last of him for a
while," muttered Stan as he closed the big shop door of the Model
Garage behind a car. "A prize fusspot. Came back three times for
adjustment he didn't need."
"On a below-zero day like this," said Gus
Wilson, "maybe he kept coming in just to keep warm."
"It sure is cold," agreed Stan, looking
out of one of the door's glass panes at the snow-packed street. "Hey,
we're getting the carriage trade!"
He raised the door again, admitting a
sleek '66 Cadillac. It moved into the slot Gus indicated, and the
driver, a stranger to Gus, got out. He stood well over six feet tall,
his height accentuated by a high-riding fur hat. Icy blue eyes in a
long, bony face stared at Gus.
"I'm Peter Haskins, of Computer
Industries. You're Gus Wilson?"
"Been having my car serviced by young
Polcheck, who has that garage near the plant," Haskins went on. "But
he's come up against something he can't spot, and recommended you.
It's wheel tramp, or imbalance, so bad it almost throws the car off the
road. It's intermittent-only shows up when I leave the plant."
"Not when you drive in the mornings?"
"Never has. But at lunchtime
yesterday I used the car and there it was. So I left it with Polcheck.
When I went back he said he'd found nothing wrong but a bit of brake
chatter. Now it's back-jounced me all over the road as I was driving
"We'll check it," Gus assured him, soon as
we deliver two cars promised for noon."
"All right, I'll leave the car. It
happens I left the plant early to go somewhere with my wife. She's
meeting me here," Haskins consulted a wristwatch, "in exactly thee minutes."
A guffaw from Stan made Haskins look at
him sharply. Gus's helper managed to transform it into a cough.
"You might fix that brake chatter if you
can," added Haskins. "But the main thing is to get rid of that wheel
"Phone us later," suggested Gus.
"Maybe we can have the car for you tonight."
Exactly three minutes later, a woman
entered the shop. Almost as tall as Haskins, she marched straight
toward the men, heels clicking on the concrete floor, and blue eyes furious.
"I ran out of gas," she said in
flint-edged voice, "because the fuel gauge does not- and I repeat not-work."
"You're mistaken, Gerda," said her
husband. "When I used the Volvo to get cigarettes last night I took
special note of the gauge. It works, but you needed gas."
"It doesn't work, and the car's stalled a
block from here. You take care of it."
"Stan, get a can of gas," said Gus.
Stan brought it to Haskins, who took it
and walked out with his angry wife.
"Migosh," said Stan in awed tones when
they were gone. "She really did get here in three minutes. And
Shortly afterwards a horn sounded at the
gas pumps. It was Haskins, at the wheel of a Volvo fastback. Gus
started gas running into the tank. The tall man watched the dash
instruments in silence.
Gus removed the hose from the filled tank
and wiped the windshield. At Haskin's request, he opened the rear door
and took out the jerry can, catching a glimpse of the fuel gauge. It
It was afternoon before Gus turned his
attention to the Cadillac, surrounded by puddles where snow had melted off
it. He drove out, alert for the vibration Haskins has described.
There wasn't a trace of it.
On a clear road, Gus increased speed.
The ride was dream-smooth even at 65.
He applied the brakes to pull over for a turn.
Immediately the car shuddered, the brake
pedal pulsating under his foot. Vibration shook the car at 60, at 55,
at 50. Below that the chatter ceased.
Instead of stopping, Gus speeded up.
With a clear roar behind, he again put the brakes on at 60. Shudders
shook the big car until speed once more dropped below 50, the pedal
throbbing like a live thing. Gus turned and drove back to the shop.
There, he jacked up the front end.
Both front wheels had balancing weights on them. He rolled his wheel
balancer into position, fitted the gauge unit to one wheel, and let the
machine spin it at high speed. Balance was good. He shifted the
machine to the other wheel and got the same result.
Marking both wheels so they could be
replaced exactly as before, Gus removed and set them aside. Then he
pulled off the right brake drum. Its surface was clean and unmarred,
the brake lining hardly worn. He removed the left drum. Its
lining was discolored at the middle of each shoe. At two diametrically
opposite places, the drum surface showed a bluish tinge. Gus got up,
checked the part number, and sent Stan for a new drum.
While waiting for it, he put the right
wheel back as marked, tightening the lug nuts in a crisscross order and
evenly. After installing the new drum, he took care to pull all its
wheel nuts up to the same torque reading. Then he drove out again.
On applying the brakes at 60, he sensed
the same chatter and pedal pulsation, though much less severe. Gus
pulled off the road, jacked up the left wheel, removed it and turned it the
space of two lugs on the drum before retorquing the nuts.
There was no chatter or pulsation when he
tried the brakes again at 60, nor did any repeated tests produce any.
"That intermittent wheel tramp never
showed up," Gus reported when Haskins appeared at closing time. "But
wheel chatter above 50 suggested a front brake drum was out of round.
We found hot-spotting on the left one, so I installed a new drum."
"Don't see how a drum can wear off center
in the mileage I have," said Haskins.
"Not off center. That wouldn't cause
brake roughness unless the run-out was bad-say a hundredth of an inch.
With less eccentricity than that, the brake shoes float back and forth to
follow the wobble. As one piston moves in while the other goes out,
the amount of hydraulic fluid in the cylinder stays the same, and no back
talk is transmitted to the pedal."
"But an out-of-round drum is oval," Gus
continued. "When its' bigger diameter is across the shoes, hydraulic
pressure shoves them out that much farther. When the narrow diameter
is across the shoes, it pinches them in, squeezes the pistons together and
forces fluid back, pushing out the brake pedal. All this happens twice
Haskins craggy face was a study in
concentration. "Then the brakes grip and ease off twice a turn, too,
"Yes. You have uneven brake effort
that causes the chatter. The narrow sides heat up more, and after a
while that uneven heat makes the drum take on a permanent set. The
only cure is a new one."
"I still don't see why a drum should go
oval on a low-mileage car like this."
"It probably came that way from the
factory," said Gus. "A drum that's oval by as little as 1-1/2
thousandths of an inch can cause chatter-in other cars as well as Caddies,
though you mightn't feel it as soon. Cadillac front drums are trued
within half a thousandth, but a new drum can be distorted just by mounting
the wheel, because the contact faces aren't exactly flat and even."
"Don't they test-drive the cars?"
Gus shrugged. "No assembly line has
the time for that. It's up to the dealer-or the buyer, if he notices
chatter. Sometimes the cure is simply shifting a wheel around on the
lugs to find a seating that doesn't warp the drum. I had to do that
with the new drum I put on."
"I'll remember that next time I buy a
car," promised Haskins. "And I'll be back here if that wheel tramp
turns up again."
More snow fell that night, but about noon
the next day, Gerda Haskins drove in. She stopped the Volvo, letting
the engine run.
"Did you get a look at the gas gauge
yesterday?" she asked.
Gus nodded. "It read full."
The woman smiled. "Look at it now."
Gus did so. To his surprise, the
gauge wasn't registering. He switched on the radio. Mrs. Haskins
smiled a Mona Lisa smile. The radio stayed dead.
"I hardly ever listen," she said.
But I do like to know when I need gas. How can the gauge work for my
husband and not me?"
Gus stopped the engine and switched to the
"accessory" position. The fuel gauge needle swung over. Seconds
later the radio came to life. Gus turned the key clockwise and started
the engine; the radio and fuel gauge cut out as the starter churned.
But they didn't come on again when he released the key to running position,
and he had felt a little drag in turning it.
"Is this one of the original keys?" he
asked, removing it from the lock.
"I lost the original recently.
That's a duplicate made from my husband's key. It works all right,"
replied Mrs. Haskins.
Gus saw a slight burr on two of the keys
notches. He got out and used a fine file to remove the roughness.
After cleaning off filings, he handed over the key.
"The switch opens the accessory circuits
while the engine is cranked," he explained. "It's supposed to close
them again afterwards. But your new key hung up before it did, leaving
the circuits open. Try now."
She got in and started the engine once
more. Everything functioned.
"Wonderful. I'd like a bill."
"There's no charge, Mrs. Haskins."
She smiled. "Thank you. But
please give me a bill. I've got to show my husband he was wrong,
just this once."
It had been dark for some time when a horn
sounded at the shop door.
"I said I'd be back again if that wild
vibration started up again," Haskins barked. "Well, it did, the moment
I left the plant."
The car was clean of snow except on the
front bumper and wheels. Gus shut off the engine. Then he lay
down on a crawler and rolled under the car. There was nothing on the
right side, but on the left wheel he found what he expected.
He rolled out, in his hand a chunk of
frozen snow weighing at least two pounds.
"There's your wheel tramp," he told
Haskins. You probably park at the plant with the front end in a snow
pile shoved up by a plow. When you cramp the wheels over to back out,
one picks up a chunk inside the rim, where you can't see it. If it
sticks you've got a king-size imbalance."
Haskins slowly turned red. "Why
didn't you or Polcheck find it before now?"
"Because both of us had your car standing
in a heated shop for a while before we test-drove it. By then, the
warmth had melted away what lawyers call the weight of evidence. I'll
bet your own garage is heated, so any snow in the wheel when you came home
was gone the next morning."
"It is," nodded Haskins. "I
"All in the day's work," returned Gus,
waving him on his way.
"How about that?" asked Stan as he slammed
down the big door. "Still think come-backs in zero weather come back
just to warm themselves up?"
"No. Actually, Haskins needed to
cool off," quipped Gus. He thought I'd goofed on his car - and that made
him hot under the collar."