The Creepy Case of the Haunted Car

Feb 21, 2005

RAY: Wayne Newman submitted this puzzler to us, back in October 2003. Here it is.

"It was a dark and foggy night. The thick fog surrendered only to the headlights of a tow truck, illuminating a barn, where a 60-odd-year-old car had sat for the last 20 years. Next to the car stood the driver of the tow truck and a little old gray-haired lady.

'Look', said the driver. 'You should pay me to tow this piece of junk out of here. But, since I like you, and it's late, I'll give you what you're asking for it.' He knew the old car was worth ten times her price.

"The old woman's bony fingers reached into her apron and pulled out the signed title. Her voice cracked, 'Before I give you this I must tell you that my husband died working on this old car some 20 years ago. He loved this car and he told me never to sell it. Some say his spirit still dwells within - but I need the money.'

'Oh, don't you worry about me,' laughed the tow truck driver. 'I don't believe in that nonsense.'

'You've been warned,' said the old woman.

Just then, a coyote howled in the distance. The tow truck driver hastily hitched up the old car before she could change her mind, and drove down the pothole-ridden driveway. When he pulled onto the deserted country road, he noticed a light piercing through the back window of the tow truck cab. Looking in the rear view mirror, he saw the headlights of the car were on!

'How could this be?' he thought. 'Could the old battery still have power after 20 years?'

More than a little nervous, he pulled over so he could disconnect the battery. As he walked back to the car he noticed that the headlights were, in fact, off. He shook his head. He opened the hood. The battery was already disconnected!

A loud scream came from behind. He turned around quickly to shine his flashlight on an owl perched in a tree. A dead tree!

'It must be my imagination,' he thought. He jumped back in the truck and started back down the dark road, only to find the headlights of the car once again illuminating the cab. He pulled over this time to turn off the light switch. Again the lights went out. When he tried to open the driver's door of the old car, he found that it was locked. But, with his flashlight he could see that the passenger door was unlocked. He climbed in the passenger side. It was then that he figured out why the lights were on.

Think you know why?


RAY: When he got in through the passenger's door, the first thing he
encountered was the stick shift. He noticed that it was in gear.

Because it was an old, rear-wheel-drive car, when he lifted the car up
from the front and drove off, the transmission was turning. So, the
engine was also turning - as was the generator. Cars of this era had a
permanent magnet generator that made electricity to run the lights.

Do we have a winner?

TOM: We do. The winner is Heather Sly from Chamblee, Georgia. And
for having her answer selected at random from among the two correct
answers that we got, Heather gets a 26 dollar gift certificate to the
Shameless Commerce Division at, with which she can get a
Car Talk Plaza baseball shirt which says, "Car Talk Plaza, Our Fair
City," in baseball style script.

RAY: It also has three-quarter length sleeves.

TOM: It was going to have full-length sleeves but we ran out of money.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter