A Very Late-Night Emergency Clutch Repair

Jun 26, 2006

RAY: This was one of those puzzlers that I had to rework a little. Well, more than a little, I guess. A lot. A whole lot. It's from Jeff Sager. Here it is:

A buddy and I were out late one night. It was so late in fact, that when we got back to the parking lot, my car was the only one still there. At the time, I was driving an otherwise very reliable Honda Accord. As I was preparing to start the engine, I stepped on the clutch pedal and it sank to the floor. I could start the car in neutral, but there was no way to shift it with the engine running.

The fluid in the clutch master cylinder had been leaking out slowly. I'd been meaning to get it fixed, but I just didn't have any time. I'd been topping off the reservoir with a can of brake fluid that I had in the trunk every two weeks or so, and I guess I just forgot. So, I opened the trunk, while I reassured my friend that just a few ounces of fluid, a few quick pumps of the clutch pedal to remove the air in the system, and we'd be back on the road.

Well, I found my can of fluid alright, but it was bone dry. I guessed that I must have left the cap loose. Desperate, I started rummaging through the contents of my trunk. I found the usual stuff: a jack, a spare tire, a deflated football, my high-school diploma, a picture of my mother-in-law, a can of oil, some antifreeze and a jug of water.

I knew I couldn't use any of those things, especially the liquids, as I was afraid they would contaminate the fluid that hadn't yet leaked out and do damage to the other rubber parts and seals that were still okay in the clutch system.

What to do? I tried scaring the thing back into working by flashing the picture of my mother-in-law but that didn't work. Just then, I noticed that my pal was jumping from one foot to the next, kind of like what little kids do when they have to go.

I said, 'What's the problem?'

He said, 'I have to go!' He started looking for a nearby bush.

Well, rather than risk arrest, and having our wives even angrier, I directed him to an all-night burger joint across the road. I stood there, hood and mouth agape, and pondered my fate.

Ten minutes later, my friend returned with a spring in his step and something in his hand, claiming that what he was carrying would solve our problem and get us home.

What was he holding and how did it work? And, no he didn't pee into the cup.

Here's a hint: He didn't buy anything.
Answer: 
RAY: Remember that I mentioned that the brakes and the clutch use the same fluid?

What he brought back from the restaurant was a soda straw. He placed the straw in the brake fluid reservoir, put his finger on the end, and took the straw out. He moved it over to the clutch master cylinder, took his finger off and the fluid dripped into the cylinder.

TOM: He did that a couple of times, and he was good to go!

RAY: Right. And, that's not enough so that the brakes don't work, unless you are out of brake fluid.

TOM: In which case, you're really in trouble.

RAY: Do we have a winner?

TOM: We certainly do. The winner is Michael Tillman from Glen Rock, New Jersey. And for having his answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Michael is going to get a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at Car Talk.com, with which he can get a set of Car Talk lackey mugs. These are mugs that are covered with the names of people from our credits.

RAY: Like the guy who runs our single mothers' support group, Erasmus B. Dragon?

TOM: Yeah, and our marriage counselor, Marion Haste. There are different names on every mug. It'll give you and your guests something to read when you run out of things to talk about.

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