A reader lets us know about a new car related money-making scheme...er, scam.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

Here's a story I think most people should know about. I went to the doctor's
office to seek help for a sinus infection the other day. I parked my '91 Jeep
Cherokee on the street. When I got done, the car would crank but it wouldn't
start. The gas-gauge needle had dropped off the dial, and the "low fuel" light
was on.

I noticed that there were four or five homeless-looking people on the block. One
of them came up and offered to help me. Figuring why not, I let the guy try a
few things. I was nervous, because the neighborhood wasn't great, and I was
having trouble understanding his accent. After playing with several different
things under the car, he got the car started.

Next came his pitch: "If you took this to the dealer, they'd want to replace
your computer and charge you lots of dough. But I'd be happy with $35 for
helping out." The smallest bill I had was a $5, which I gave him. I told him
he'd volunteered to help and couldn't expect to be paid. I think this was a
scam. My question is, without having access to the interior or the engine
compartment, how did he disable my car so he could "help me" start it again? --

RAY: Geez, Ted. You've got some very clever homeless people in your town.

TOM: I'll tell you exactly what he did. He crawled under the car, and unplugged
the electrical harness that powers the fuel pump.

RAY: And by unplugging it, he killed the electric fuel pump, which prevented the
car from starting. And since that same harness powers the gas gauge sending
unit, your gas gauge also registered empty.

TOM: Then, when he saw you cranking away, he crawled back under the car, plugged
the harness back in, and voila! Everything was fine again.

RAY: So it is a scam. And a lot of cars have external harnesses and are
vulnerable to this kind of thing.

TOM: And no -- all of you would-be scammers -- we won't tell you exactly where
the harness is so you can go out and make a few extra bucks this weekend. At
least not until you agree in advance to send us half your earnings!

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