Rather than talk about the latest Apple Watch or the new R&D facility that looks like a donut, I thought I’d talk about a more basic piece of technology we all use every day, our cars.
I had a problem with my idle air control last week. Usually my car idles at around 1000 rpm (which works out to 10 miles or less per hour) and rarely goes much above 2000 rpm even when changing gears. This time however, just turning the key shot the rpm over the 3000’s. With my foot off the gas peddle my car quickly accelerated to 30-35 miles per hour (and was continuing to speed up). Thankfully I’d just had the car in for a front brake job because it took stomping down on the brake to get her stopped. I was just down the road from my mechanic so we eased her back to the garage. Fortunately the diagnosis was pretty simple as was the repair.
I drive a 2006 Ford Taurus. On most Taurii of that vintage (the plural of Taurus not Tauruses as some people claim), the idle air control assembly looks something like this:
(Image source: http://www.2carpros.com)
That hexagonal piece with the two holes is what my mechanic took off. It had gotten gunked up with carbon and was sticking, feeding the engine more gas than I intended to give it. Once it was cleaned up and put back on, the car ran great. He didn’t even charge me and was actually kind of excited to be seeing this kind of a problem in person. On that point, I can’t blame him. We’ve all had some problem we hear of happening but never actually see in the wild until one day we do. Everybody has problems with their flywheel, or spark plug misses, or worn out brakes, but few have a car that wants to drive like a runaway horse.
I find it both encouraging and a little disconcerting that so simple a part could be responsible for such an (we’ll go with intriguing) behavior. But on the whole I’m always happy when my car has a problem I can actually understand.
See as a guy and and engineer I feel a need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about cars. This doesn’t just come from a love of Car Talk, but also just from a desire to know how best to maintain my vehicle (which I put 20K on a year). I usually ask anyone who works on my car to show the part that’s broken and sometimes even watch them work (I have a very understanding and knowledgeable mechanic). I’m probably never going to work on cars myself besides changing a lightbulb, windshield wipers or in dire emergencies a tire. But I still like to know how things work.
As for why the problem manifested at that particular moment, we think it might have been the change in temperature between being outside in the teens and below zero cold, then sitting in a warm garage for a couple of hours. I’m just glad it happened down the road from my mechanic, and not on our trip to Indiana.
What’s your last interesting car problem?