By Martin Bunn
From the July, 1965 issue of
This story was donated by
Gus Puts a Stop to a Swap
It looked like an ideal trade
On his way to get a wrench, Stan Hicks happened to look out the shop door of the Model Garage. Instantly, he veered off toward Gus Wilson.
"Boss, Id sure like to start my vacation."
Startled, Gus looked up. "Right now?"
Stan nodded eagerly as the murmur of an engine entered the shop. Recognizing the car and its driver, a pretty, middle-aged woman in a fruit-basket hat, Gus grinned.
"The answer," he said, "is no. Get out there and find out what Mrs. Allen wants."
Stan smote his forehead in mock dismay and walked over to the 1964 Ford Galaxie.
"Morning, Mrs. Allen. Need air? Or a lube job, maybe?" he asked hopefully.
"Oh, no," replied Daisy Allen. "But the car is using more gas than it used to, and before I trade it to that nice Mr. Fleming Id like you to fix it."
"What makes you think its using more gas, Mrs. Allen?" asked Stan.
"I have to stop at my gas station more often!" she said triumphantly. "Ever since it ran out of gas two months ago, it takes more than it did before."
"Maybe youre driving more."
The colorful hat shook vigorously. "Oh, no. All my clubs meet the same days, and I still do my shopping twice a week, at the very same stores. But I do have to get my tank filled more often."
"Ill check it out," murmured Stan.
Fuel connections were tight. The fuel pump, fuel lines, and carburetor showed no signs of leakage. The automatic choke was wide open.
Stan attached a vaccum gauge, then rolled out the exhaust analyzer and coupled its pickup to the exhaust pipe. At idle, the needle indicated a reasonable 12:1 fuel-air ratio. At moderate cruising speed, the indication went to a leaner 12:7 ratio. Stan detached the instruments.
"Id better test-drive it," he said.
"Ill make a phone call meanwhile," said Daisy Allen.
She relinquished the wheel and headed for the phone booth. Stan drove out. The automatic transmission upshifted at the proper points, notched down at the right speed. The engine returned to idle at every stop. He returned to the shop. Mrs. Allen was volubly engaged at the phone.
Driving onto a lift, Stan got the car off the ground and turned each wheel by hand. No brake drag was apparent. Tire pressure was just right. Knowing how Mrs. Allen drove, he didnt believe poor mileage was due to a heavy throttle foot. He lowered the car and hooked up an ignition scope. Its oscilloscope pattern showed the uniform crests characteristic of clean, correctly gapped plugs.
"All those funny little spiked lines," remarked a feminine voice at his elbow. "Are they whats wrong?"
"No, maam," said Stan. "They show that your ignition is okay. So is the carburetor and everything else. Your gas mileage should be as good as it ever was."
"But I ran out of gas! Wouldnt that make a difference? Once, when I had a dog, I unexpectedly stayed at a friends overnight, so he didnt get fed that day. Ever after he seemed hungrier. See what I mean?"
"UhIll look into it," muttered Stan.
"The friend I phoned is coming to take me to a sale, so you just take your time," said Daisy Allen brightly. "Ill feel better about trading cars if you fix it first."
She fluttered out.
"She thinks it uses more gas," grumbled Stan, "because it ran out once."
"Could be," remarked Gus.
"Aw, no, Boss. Not you, too!"
"It wouldnt be the first time Daisy Allen told us where to find the trouble," said Gus. "Like the tank, maybe."
Without a word Stan got a crawler and rolled under the car. He was back quickly.
"The tank bottoms caved in," he said in a thin voice. "It doesnt hold as much. She did have to fill up oftener."
"Uh-huh. Bet you she says fill it up and charge it, so she doesnt realize that shes buying less gas each fill," said Gus. "And her gas gauge probably shows about a quarter of a tank less than it shouldall since she ran out of gas."
"Ill put in a new sending unit," said Stan, "so the gaugell read right. But I wont have to explain the whole thing to that goofto Mrs. Allen, will I?"
"You sure will," retorted Gus, "unless you blow out the dent in that tank. If you dont, shell still have to stop for gas more often than before, and shell be back to tell you so. To make sure the tank doesnt collapse again next time she runs out of gas, you better drill some extra vent holes in the cap."
Disconnecting the fuel line, Stan plugged the opening, then wrapped cloth around the nozzle of an air hose to make it a tight fit in the filler neck. Cautious application of air pressure eventually resulted in a clanging pop. He inspected the tank again. The dent remained only as a ghostly outline.
After reconnecting the fuel line, Stan removed the sending unit. Its float linkage was deformed. He put in new unit, and the gas gauge promptly read higher. In the brass diaphragm under the filler cap he drilled two 1/16" holes. They would admit enough air to prevent pump suction from collapsing the tank again.
An hour later, Mrs. Allen was back inquiring about her car.
"It checks out find," said Stan. "You wont have to stop for gas so often."
"Oh, thats just wonderful!" she said as she turned on the engine.
"You didnt put in any gas, did you?"
"Well, then youve certainly done a fine job of making it use less. The gauge already shows more than it did when I came in."
Stan swallowed. "But how couldyes, maam," he amended quickly. "Thats what I meant when I said it checks out."
It was near closing time when a 1963 Chevrolet six drove into the shop. The man who got out was tall, and had a prominent Adams apple. Sad eyes and flabby jowls gave him the lugubrious look of a bloodhound.
"I know its late," he said apologetically. "But could you spare a minute?"
"Of course," said Gus.
"My names Jeff Fleming. I live near the Allens, whore customers of
yours. Id been wanting a more powerful car, and my wife must have told this kookie
dameI mean Mrs. Allen. She came around a couple of days ago and said her car was
using too much gas, so shed trade it for mine and a cash difference. Before I say
yes, how much would a valve-and-ring job cost on mine?"
"Well, I dont know," the man mused. "It wouldnt be a bad deal, even if I paid that and the difference she asked. But it would cost more than I first thought. Maybe Id better forget the deal. Anyway, it could be riskydealing with Daisy."
Gus opened the hood. The engine was clean, the whole car well cared for.
"What makes you think it needs a valve-and-ring job?" he asked.
Fleming massaged his throat. "I saw this 64 Ford I liked at a dealers. He talked a pretty fair trade-in figure, but then wanted to try my car out. After he did, he said it had no pep and chances were the compression was poor, so his mechanic would have to check it.
"This mechanic took out the spark plugs and turned the engine over with a gauge in the plug holes. He wrote down what it said. I was watching and heres what it read."
Gus took the smudged card he was offered. The penciled figures read:
Cyl 1-76, Cyl 2-160, Cyl 3-162,
Cyl 4-160, Cyl 5-110, Cyl 6-62.
"The dealer asked me what I thought of an engine with low compression in three cylinders. He explained the highest and lowest shouldnt be more than 20 pounds apart."
"Hes right there," admitted Gus.
"Yeah. He said the motor definitely needed a carbon-valve job and most likely a ring job, too, so he took 200 bucks off the trade-in figure. It would be different it I traded the car to a stranger, but this Allen womanwell, shes a friend of my wifes. Besides, it would be like taking candy from a baby," concluded Fleming.
"Suppose I make a compression test?" suggested Gus. "Might find out whether its just valves, or if you need a ring job."
Fleming agreed. Gus pulled off the spark-plug wires and loosened each plug one full turn. He started the engine at a fast idle. Turning it off after a short run, he removed the plugs and the air cleaner. With the throttle blocked wide open, he inserted the nozzle of a compression gauge in the number one cylinder, and using a jump switch made the starter turn the engine over several times.
The gauge needle went to 158 pounds. On number two cylinder it hit 162, on three 161, on number four 160, on number five 154, and on number six 155 pounds.
Flemings eyes popped. "Hey, did you fix it just by loosening the plugs and running the engine?"
"Didnt the other mechanic do that?"
"Uh-huh. He just took the plugs out."
Gus shook his head. "Unscrewing them usually loosens bits of carbon. If just one gets under a valve, it can hold it open and give you a low compression reading. Thats why we break the plugs free first, then run the engine so it will blow out any loose carbon particles."
"Ill bet that dealer knew that."
"I guess he did," chuckled Gus. "But your compression is okay in all cylinders. If it were low in any, wed pour in a little oil and check it again. If the reading came up, that could mean worn or stuck rings. If it stayed the same, wed suspect sticking or leaky valves."
"Guess I can trade with that woman after all," Fleming said. "How much do I owe?"
Gus replaced the plugs and their cables and made out a small bill.
Early next morning Fleming walked into the shop, his doleful face longer than ever.
"Morning," greeted Gus. "Your car okay?"
"Yeah," was the glum reply. "Its outside. I just want to ask you a question. Mrs. Allen told me you did something to her car that put gas back in the tank. Did you, or is she mixed up as usual?"
"Partly," agreed Gus. "But the gauge did read higher. Stan here can explain how it happened."
Stan did. "She wanted it fixed so you wouldnt be getting a lemon. The cars all right. You neednt be afraid to trade."
"Whos afraid?" returned Fleming morosely. "When I went over to
close the deal, it suddenly hit her that since the bum gas mileage was fixed, and that was
her only reason for swapping, why should she trade for an older car? The deals off.
Like I told my wife, that Allen dame may be kookie, but shes not dumb."