Collapsing Clutch

Apr 17, 1999

RAY: A guy came into the shop with his Volvo on the back of a tow truck. He walks in and says, "Oh, I'm in trouble, guys. I need your help." So we immediately do a Dunn & Bradstreet on him and finally agree to take his case. He says the clutch cable has broken five times in the last five months. I asked what happened, and he said, "I don't know. I had a new clutch put in six months ago. When they put the new clutch in, they advised me to put a new cable in. I said go ahead. A month later they closed up shop and headed for some unknown Pacific Island when the clutch cable breaks." So the guy continues the story. He says that he puts a new clutch cable in, thinking the one that the shop put in was defective. A month later that cable breaks. Another month goes by and that cable breaks. By this time, he says, "I was at my wit's end. I figured the clutch had to be defective, so I brought it to another shop and, what? They install a brand-new clutch. And, of course, what? A new clutch cable.

TOM: I just want you to know, I still don't remember this Puzzler.

RAY: Well, I don't either. I'm hoping that reading it here, my memory will be jogged. A month later the cable breaks again. He says, "Sonja Henie's tutu!" I asked him under what circumstances it breaks. He says, "I start the car, I go to drive it away, I step on the clutch or I go to shift it into gear. I get to the corner, for example, and I shift into neutral. I wait for the light to turn green. I step on the clutch and the cable breaks." I said, "Oh, my God." I asked him if the car starts now. He said, "I don't even bother to start it. Since the cable was broken, what was the sense?" I say to him, "I bet it won't start." He said, "Why shouldn't it start? It started yesterday; it has nothing to do with the clutch." Anyway, we go out to the car and turn the key--dead. Starts right up--no. It won't start. He asks, "What does that have to do with my clutch cable breaking?" I say...

TOM: Everything.

RAY: Everything.

TOM: Is this the same old chestnut that we've used about five times?

RAY: You have to spoil everything. You wonder why I have no sympathy about your Dart. You wonder.

TOM: You understand now why I remember the Puzzler--because you've used it five times.

RAY: I haven't used it five times. It just seems that way.

TOM: Twice.

RAY: This is the second time it's ever been used. The first time was 19 years ago when I first saw this happen.

TOM: Excellent. What a memory I have.

RAY: Well, what had happened was when the original guys put the clutch in, they failed to put in a little tiny piece of wire that goes from the engine block to the body of the car. It's the conductive path for electricity that goes from the battery to the starter motor, through the block, through the body of the car and ultimately back to the battery. In the absence of this cable, the electricity must find a new conductive path to get from the battery, through the starter and back to the battery. Because this cable is missing and there is no other conductive path, it uses the clutch cable, and it burns it up. It makes it brittle.

TOM: You ain't got no path for me, I'm going to find one.

RAY: Right. What finally happens is it burns up the cable. You step on the cable that one last time and the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back comes into play. The cable breaks and then it won't start. That's why I asked him if the engine would start. When he said, "I don't know," I bet it wouldn't. Because now he had no conductive path because the cable was broken, and the car wouldn't start at all. We put in a new clutch cable and a 25-cent piece of wire, for which we charged him $80, and he was on his way. Who's our winner this week?

TOM: The winner...

RAY: Tommy!

TOM: What? The winner is what? Tom Toutchavis [SP?] from Lincoln, Rhode Island.

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