days ago a car-owner from out of town paid me a bill of about $125.
The bulk of the work for which the charge was made consisted of reboring a
scored cylinder and refitting it with piston and rings. To me, though, the
most interesting item on the bill was the last, and one of the smallest
"One fan belt and fitting same, $1.25." For neglect to supply that car
with a new fan belt - even a new lacing might have been enough - was the
cause of all the trouble.
The owner of the car had noticed that the metal lacing of the belt was
cutting through the leather - a sure sign that sooner or later they would
part company - but instead of replacing the belt, or the lacing, he merely
tightened up the belt with the adjusting device. This, of course, just
put an additional strain on the weakening leather, and one day the lacing
cut clear through the belt, and the fan ceased to revolve.
This happened somewhere on a country road, just where, the owner doesn't
know. Eventually, though, he saw steam issuing through his hood, and
when he got out to investigate, he found that a couple of gallons of water
had boiled off from his radiator, the steam being forced out through the
lower hose connection. He had no materials with which to make repairs
- not even a piece of wire - so he attempted to hold the fan belt together
with a couple of hairpins that he borrowed from his wife.
You can guess how long that "repair" lasted! By various makeshifts he
managed to get the car to within a few blocks of my garage. Then the
car stopped because one piston was "frozen" by expansion to its cylinder.
That, of course, was the cylinder we had to rebore.
Neither was that an extreme case. Rather, I'd say, after handling many
thousands of cars in the last several years, it was almost typical.
For in nearly every case where a car is brought to this shop for extensive
repairs, the fault lies not in the automobile itself, but in the ignorance
of neglect of the owner. There is probably no article of equal value
in the world that is treated so carelessly and so recklessly as the average
Take the matter of lubrication. There are some 60 essential parts of
an automobile that require either oil or grease at intervals that very
roughly between every few days and every few months. Every car-owner
has received from the manufacturer an instruction book that explains by
means of a simple pictorial diagram just where and just how often oil or
grease must be applied to the car. Oil companies also send out similar
charts, and publish booklets and advertisements telling exactly what grades
of oil and grease are required by different makes of automobiles to get the
There is, in fact, no reason why every car-owner should not know everything
about lubricating his car, which is a simple job though not the most
pleasant in the world. Not more than three cars in 10, though as far
as I can judge from those I see, are properly lubricated.
Not long ago one of my customers noticed that the oil gage on his dashboard
was not working. He was in a hurry to go somewhere, so he paid no
attention to what should have been a warning. He got through the
day without mishap, and continued to drive his car for about a week.
Then one day the car began to behave like a bucking bronco, and he brought
it round to us for an inspection.
The reason the oil gage hadn't worked was that the pump gears were worn,
and, of course, oil hadn't been circulating through the motor. If he
had brought the car to us immediately, we could have repaired it for about
five dollars. As it was, though, it cost him more than $100 in labor
and materials to replace burned-out bearings.
Another man heard a little noise in the rear of his car and paid no
attention to it, even when it grew louder. In fact, he didn' run the
car into the garage until it showed unmistakable signs of readiness to quit
for good and all. We took down the transmission, and found what might he
described as a pile of powdered steel sawdust.
It's almost unbelievable, yet this man, who had an instruction book telling
him to fill his transmission case with a certain grade of grease every 3000
miles, had never inserted an ounce of grease in the two years he had owned
that car. Small wonder that the gear teeth began to break off,
circulate through the mechanism, and "chew up" everything within reach!
His repair bill was about $75 - and less than a dollar's worth of grease
would have saved it all!
Another man paid me around $30 recently for a new spring and for resetting
the spring on the opposite side that went out of shape when its mate broke.
Another case of failure to lubricate! Any mechanic could have spread
and oiled that spring in 15 minutes when it first began to squeak.
I sometimes think it's too bad that most cars aren't equipped with
non-adjustable carburetors or with some kind of locking device that would
make it impossible to change the adjustment, once it was made by a competent
mechanic. Haphazard tinkering with carburetors by people who don't
know what they're doing causes more trouble than you'd ever imagine. I
wish I had a small percentage of the cost of the gasoline that's consumed
unnecessarily every year, due to improper carburetor adjustments!
The carburetor is easily accessible and you need no tools to monkey with it.
For that reason it's usually the first part of the car that the average
inexperienced driver starts to play with when his car begins to run badly.
A man in my town bought a second-hand car a few months ago. It was in
good condition, and he drove it without trouble for several weeks.
Then one day on the road the motor began to lose power and to miss and
cough. The owner didn't know what to do about it, and was standing by
helplessly when another motorist stopped beside him and asked if he could
help. The man who was in trouble explained what had happened, and the
other, without making an inspection or a test of any kind, announced
immediately that the trouble lay in an improper carburetor adjustment and
that he could fix it.
He did fix it, too. He gave the gas adjustment couple of turns, and
the car immediately began to hum like a racer. The owner completed his
trip, then when he got home, related his experience to a neighbor. The
latter had been driving for about a year, so of course, "knew everything
about automobiles." He decided that he ought to look over the work the
volunteer repairman on the road had done, and was very gleeful when he
discovered that the filter in the top of the vacuum tank was clogged with
"See, your trouble wasn't in the carburetor at all," he reported, removing
the filter to clean it.
Like many amateur repairmen, however, he forgot something - to readjust the
carburetor to compensate for the greater amount of gas that was being fed to
it through the clean filter. The result - one of them, anyway - was
that the owner of the car ran out of gas about a week later 10 miles or so
from home. The car had been giving from 15 to 16 miles to the gallon;
now though, with the new carburetor adjustment, it was giving only seven,
and he found himself without gas when all his calculations indicated that
his tank should have been half full.
Of course, he had to pay for having his car towed in from the road; also for
the removal of carbon from the cylinders, for the excessively rich mixture
he had been using had caused his motor to carbonize alarmingly. All of
that expense and trouble could have been obviated by spending about 75 cents
to have that filter cleaned and the carburetor properly adjusted.
Batteries supply an enormous annual list of unnecessary casualties. A
good storage, battery on a car that is run regularly ought to last for
years. Few of them do, however. Not a week ago I replaced a $25
battery that was only a year old. Never once had the owner put
distilled water in it, nor tested it, as he might have done with a 50-cent
hydrometer. Any garage or battery service station would have tested it for
him and added water for 25 cents, or charge it for him when it was necessary
for about two dollars.
He neglected it, though, with the result that, after a few weeks of
idleness, the battery proved incapable of turning the motor over. When
we inspected it we found its plates so badly sulphated that it was useless
to attempt to charge it or repair it. Whey anyone should prefer to spend
from $10 to $40 for a new battery rather than from two dollars to five
dollars for needed battery service, I can't understand; yet they do it.
Almost any set of standard tires sold today ought to last for between 15,000
and 20,000 miles. How many motorists, though, can boast of getting any
such tire mileage? Once again ignorance and carelessness are to be
blamed. To get 15,000 miles, at least, at least, out of a tire, it is
necessary only to supply yourself with a good gage, to keep the tire pumped
up to the pressure specified by the manufacturer, and to repair all small
cuts as soon as they occur.
Recently an indignant customer came to me complaining that a cord tire I had
sold him had blown out at the end of 4000 miles. I gave him a new
tire, but actually he didn't deserve it. On one of his first trips he
had gashed the side of the tire by running over a trolley switch. He
made a great point of the fact that the blowout had not occurred at the
place that was cut. Nevertheless, the cut was responsible, for
moisture, entering the fabric through the break, had traveled along within
and settled at the place of the blowout, gradually rotting the fabric away
until at last a sudden jar caused the rubber casing to give.
Those small cuts, to which the average owner pays no attention, frequently
result in expensive tires blowing out before the tread shows any appreciable
wear. They are caused generally by sharp stones on macadamized roads,
steel slivers in car tracks, and the rough edges of curbstones. You
should inspect your tires at least once a week, and if any small cuts are
disclosed, the break should be cleaned thoroughly with gasoline and repaired
with rubber cement. Either that, or have the place vulcanized.
Backing into a curbstone may bruise your tires so badly that a couple of
thousand miles are taken from their life. Scraping the curbstone may
produce a similar result. Misalignment of the front wheels, which
causes the tires to wear on the relatively thin sides, likewise soon may
make them ready for the scrap heap. A man who keeps his car at my
garage recently destroyed an expensive balloon tire because his brake rods
were improperly adjusted. The right-hand wheel was doing all the
braking, with the result that the tire wore out in record time.
How many cars are ruined almost irreparably every year because ignorant
owners drive them too fast when new, I wouldn't care to estimate. The
man with his first automobile is more likely to "drive it to death" than the
man who has owned cars before.
Manufacturers advise not to drive a new car faster than from 20 to 25 miles
an hour for the first 1000 miles. I'd say don't do it for the first 2000
miles. You'll have plenty of chance to try your car out after that,
and if you curb your impatience you'll find you have a faster and more
A man who bought a new model of a popular make of car the first of this year
has been running between my garage and the service station of the
manufacturer ever since, because he drove it too hard when he first had it.
The bearings, of course, were excessively tight, and when he drove at high
speed, naturally the bearings became "starved" for oil. Eventually
they gave way, the "stiffness" disappeared from the car and the owner went
on his way happily. But his happiness was short-lived for he has had
nothing but trouble ever since. The bearings are pitted, and
almost daily some new "defect" discloses itself.
These are only a few instances from thousands that have come under my
attention of the harm done to cars and the unnecessary expense caused by the
ignorance and carelessness of owners. Automobile engineering has
advanced wonderfully since the days when a motor trip, no matter how short,
was a hazardous adventure, but engineers are not yet able to produce a car
that is proof against flagrant misuse. They can and do produce cars,
however, that ought to last a great deal longer and cost considerably less
Gas, oil, and grease, water for the cooling system, frequent inspection of
the battery, the ignition system, and the tires and an occasional check up
of the carburetor adjustment - if intelligent care is taken in these
particulars, necessity for repairs is not likely to arise at all.