Bringing a Dead Bug Back to Life

May 02, 2005

RAY: This puzzler is automotive, but it's within the grasp of just about anyone.

TOM: Even we could know the answer!

RAY: This was sent in fairly recently by a fellow named Morris Maduro. You can see the degree of obfuscation and declarification to which I had to resort...

TOM: There's a lot of scribbling on that piece of paper!

RAY: Here it is:

My friend Bob used to drive a VW Beetle. It was an old one, from the '60s. One day when he came into work a few minutes late, I asked him what was going on. He said that his battery died. I asked, "So you got a lift in?"

He said, "No, I didn't."

"Well, did you get a boost from a friend?"


"Did you get a new battery?"

"Nope, the dead one is still in the car, under the seat." Which is where VW had placed the battery in the Bugs from that era.

"Did you at least lift the seat?" I asked.

He said, "That's the same question my girlfriend always asks me! No, I didn't lift the seat."

"Did you push start it?"

"No," he said. "You know I park the car in a garage at the bottom of a hill."

"Gee, Bob, it sounds like you willed it to start! Did you even pop the rear hood?"

"No, but I did open the front hood."

"Are you trying to trick me? I know the engine's in the back on a Beetle. "

"No, I'm not trying to trick you. I started the car by myself, but I didn't even touch the engine or the battery. However, I did open the front hood, and I used something I found under that hood to start the car."
TOM: When he opened the hood, he found a pair of coveralls, a spare tire - and a jack.

RAY: He got into the car, and turned the ignition key to the "on" position. There was no point to turn it to "crank," because the battery was what? Dead.

He pumped the gas a couple of times, like you would do in one of those old cars to prime the carburetor.

He then jacked up one of the rear wheels, which are the wheels that receive power from this engine. He put the transmission in gear; probably -- I'm guessing -- third gear. If you put it in fourth gear the engine would turn too slowly. If you put it in first, it would be too hard to turn the engine.

What he simply did was turn that tire that was elevated off the ground by hand with the transmission in gear.

He begins to turn the wheel really fast. Once it began to turn, the engine actually started up and ran and that wheel began to turn on its own.

The reason the other wheel didn't turn is because there's a differential, which will only send power to the wheel with the least amount of resistance.

Finally, of course, he would get into the car, take it out of gear, get out and lower the jack down, and if he was lucky he would drive to work without stalling.

So, do we have a winner?

TOM: The winner is Kevin Powell from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, wherever that is.

RAY: That's right next to Scotch Guard.

TOM: For having his answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Kevin will get from us a 26 dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, with which he can pick up a stainless steel Car Talk thermos.

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