Burned by the Explorer
RAY: Here's the answer. He turned off the defroster. What was wrong is that the air conditioner compressor had seized.
Most modern cars now have one belt that runs everything. The air conditioner pulley is turning all the time whether the air conditioner is on or off. But when you turn the air conditioner on, you engage a magnetic clutch which makes that pulley that is spinning via the belt, turn the compressor. But if the compressor is seized the pulley can no longer turn and the belt will begin to screech and slip around that pulley and cause smoke and heat and eventually fire!
But if you turn off the air conditioner, that compressor pulley will go back to free wheeling because the magnetic clutch is disengaged. And the reason that thing was hot enough to burn his finger is that the defroster was on. As soon as he turned off the defroster, all was fine.
We'd also accept turning off the air conditioner as an answer. But since it was a dark and stormy night on a fall evening, the defroster seemed like the more appropriate answer. Do we have a winner?
TOM: Yes we do. The winner is David Sternberg from Chittenden, Vermont. Congratulations, David!
[ Car Talk Puzzler ]