To Stop a Car Thief

The Puzzler

RAY: I plucked this one from the pile of automotive puzzlers. It was sent in about a year ago by a fellow named Roy Strong and I had to monkey with it a little bit to make it sufficiently bogus.

Back in the 1960s a mechanic I knew had a gas station / repair shop, which meant that many of his customer's cars were left outside in the lot overnight. He had some stolen and couldn't protect them from the hotwire thieves that came at night. You know back in the old days, before we had things like steering wheel locks and the like, hotwiring a car and driving it away was a pretty easy thing to do. So he came up with a quick, simple and effective way to discourage them.

He would pop the hood, reach under and in a few seconds render the car unstartable. The neat thing was that if anyone tried to start it, it would seem to want to start. It would cough and hit on an occasional cylinder, like vroom, vroom vroom, and even if they opened the hood, examination under there revealed nothing obvious. And these are cars that would be presumably coming in for a brake job or a muffler or some such thing, so the crooks assumed that's why the car was in for repair and they'd move on to the next car.

The next morning he would reach under the hood and in 10 seconds or less have the car running. The question is, what was he doing?

Now, he would do the same thing to just about every car. And the thieves would of course move on because they figured it's obviously not starting, we're not going to fool around with this. And they'd move to the next one and the next one, and they'd say, "Gee, he's got a bunch of cars here that don't start," and they'd move on.

Think you know? Drop Ray a note!

[ Car Talk Puzzler ]

Support for Car Talk is provided by:

Donate Your Car,
Support Your NPR Station

...and get a tax break!

Get Started

Find a Mechanic

Promo tile

Rocket Fuel