”Dude, why do half the cars on the lot run like sh*t?”
The Raver was in my office at Dishonest Used Car Dealership, complaining. Usually complaining about our inventory was my job, so this meant that something serious was up.
Me: “Well, we buy garbage, we put garbage parts on the garbage, and we don’t do any maintenance on the garbage, so…”
TR: “Okay, fine, why do half the cars on the lot run like even more sh*t than usual?”
Me: “Now that, my friend, is a good question.”
Time to investigate. I followed The Raver outside and he attempted to fire up a blue Jetta sitting in the corner. It spent its time trying to start – atypical for a TDi, which are usually pretty quick about getting going – and eventually settled into a rough, clattery, smokey idle. I waved at TR to shut it down.
Me: “How many others are like this?”
TR: “Two others, so far. I haven’t fired up everybody yet today.”
Me: “Alright. I don’t want to run them if they’re running that rough. Go grab the Dodge and we’ll pull them into the bay.”
TR disappeared back behind the service bay, but walked back around a moment later and shouted my direction.
TR: “You’re not going to be a happy camper!”
Me: “Something wrong with the truck?”
TR: “Same thing, it’s running like balls.”
Me: “What the f*ck!?”
I ran over to the service bay to grab a technician. The only one who wasn’t elbows-deep into tearing down some horrible car was Splinter. He was our fourth technician. He was a talented guy, but very odd. He was a good technician when he could be bothered to get work done, though his work ethic was abysmal. His only hobby in life seemed to be keeping a collection of rats, which was also the only thing he would talk about. In fact, extracting diagnoses on cars from him was as often as not like pulling teeth, since he really just wanted to be talking about his rodent collection. In another life, he could have been a comic book supervillain, chewing up the city’s power grid with the aid of his super-rats, making rodent-related puns at every opportunity.
The three of us walked over to the Dodge, and The Raver tried to get it started again. This time, it wouldn’t even catch. Splinter pondered for a moment, popped open the fuel filler, and took a big whiff.
Splinter: “It is exactly as I suspected. Someone has filled the tank with gasoline.”
Well, that would do it. Diesel engines are generally pretty grumpy about running on gasoline. Anything beyond a 10% mix or so will produce a rough idle, and beyond that, you risk engine damage. On an old mechanical diesel like the 6BT in the Dodge, the injection pump is lubricated by the sulfur in the diesel fuel, sulfur which is not present in gasoline. In addition, gasoline is easier to ignite than diesel, and has a habit of igniting in the cylinders before the piston has reached the top of its travel. This is a Very Bad Thing.
Splinter: “You know, this reminds me of back at home, I have this rat named…”
Me: “Yes, thank you. We’ll take it from here.”
Sorry dude, this episode of RatTales® (RatTails? I dunno.) will have to wait for another day. Splinter wandered back to his bay and The Raver and I pondered.
Me: “So… how?”
TR: “I’ll bet I know the common denominator here.”
The Raver hopped up into the back of the truck and popped open the filler on the big transfer tank we kept in the bed. You see, we boldly and openly promoted the use of biodiesel as a green alternative fuel, even to the point of having a questionably-legal biodiesel pump in the back of the shop for customers to fill up, but biodiesel was $0.20 more a gallon than pump diesel, so we also kept a big transfer tank of pump diesel hidden in the back of the tow rig to fill the cars on the lot with. God forbid we don’t eek out that extra $0.50 of profit for the sake of helping save the environment or something.
TR: “All three of the cars that are running like sh*t are the ones I brought around and filled off the transfer tank yesterday. I’ll bet they’re full of gasoline.”
We investigated, and sure enough, they were. Mystery solved. But a bigger question remained, how did the transfer tank get full of gasoline in the first place?
”Hey boss, do you know who drove the tow rig last?”
I was in my office, IMing Rom to try and get to the bottom of this mystery.
Rom: ”LADY APPLEBEE’S”
Me: “THANK YOU”
One of the supreme privileges of my office was that I had the microphone for the PA system. It was installed sometime during the rule of Emperor Hadrian and made terrible feedback noises whenever you used it, so we didn’t use it much, but it was pretty hilarious to shout at someone across the parking lot at 200dB.
Me: skreeeeeeeeee “ATTENTION CITIZENS, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. LADY APPLEBEE’S TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT, LADY APPLEBEE’S TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT IMMEDIATELY PLEASE.”
Lady Applebee’s waddled into my office a moment later. If I knew anything about Lady Applebee’s, is was that she would never in a million years own up to a mistake. One time I caught her with my actual lunch in her actual mouth, and she still denied stealing my food. I’d have to be sly to catch her, though luckily she was dumber than a bag of hammers, so I wouldn’t have to be that sly. I put on my shiny retail smile and welcomed her into my office.
Me: “Hey, you had the Dodge yesterday, right? Did you happen to fill the tank?”
LA: “…yes… why?”
Me: “I just need the receipt from when you filled up so I can enter it into the database.”
LA: “Oh, I’ll take care of that myself.”
Me: “It’s alright, Rom asked me to punch it in since I’m writing up a bunch of stuff on the Dodge anyway.”
LA: “Oh… uh… yeah, let me see if I can find it.”
She turned around and began rifling through her purse. When she turned back around, she had in hand a receipt, carefully folded as to obscure the fuel type. She gingerly set it on the desk and I glanced it over.
Me: “120 gallons… looks like you filled the transfer tank too, thank you!”
LA: “Uh, yeah, Rom said it was getting empty, so I took care of it. You guys should be glad to have a sales department that takes such good care of you.”
Yeah, that was totally the dynamic, Sales taking care of us.
Me: “You didn’t happen to notice the truck running a little rough yesterday after you filled the tank, did you?”
There was a long pause. I watched as her face drained of color.
Me: “Hm. The Raver ran the truck this morning and it’s running very poorly. Just wondering if it was doing that on your drive yesterday.”
LA: “Uh… no! No, it ran great.”
Lady Applebee’s got up and started scurrying for the door.
Me: “Hey, one question real quick. How come this receipt shows that you filled the Dodge with gasoline?”
She turned slowly back around and laughed nervously.
LA: “It, uh…”
I could hear the gears turning as she searched her feeble mind for a hasty exit to this conversation.
LA: “That’s not my receipt.”
You dumb stupid idiot. I would have hoped she had more faith in me as an investigator than to try the same kind of excuse that kindergarteners use.
Me: “Wait, what?”
LA: “Yeah, that’s a different receipt.”
Me: “This is the one you just handed me.”
LA: “No, that’s a different one.”
Me: “You can’t be serious. 120 gallons. Yesterday’s date. Look, it says ’87 octane’ right here.”
A vacuous silence filled the room for what seemed like an eternity.
LA: “There must be some kind of mistake. It just printed the wrong kind of fuel on the receipt!”
Me: “Look, I’m going to level with you. We found the Dodge this morning with the tank and the transfer full of gasoline. We also found three TDis that had been filled off the transfer and are full of gasoline as well. I’ve got the techs working on them now and we’ll know in a bit what the damage is. Just understand we’re going to have to bill this to Sales, and Rom and The Amazon will have to decide how to handle it from there.”
Just then my phone rang. Colossal Redneck was on the other end of the line, calling from the bay. He had an early verdict to share. Each of the TDis needed their tanks purged and a fuel filter swap. No big deal – maybe $150 of work for each of them. But the Dodge was the big one. It had been driven upwards of 40 miles on nearly pure gasoline. Not only was the very expensive injection pump probably toast, but one of the technicians had put a scope in the combustion chambers and found heat damage on the pistons. We were looking at a new engine. I relayed the news to Lady Applebee’s.
Me: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but CR thinks we’re looking at $5000-$6000 worth of work between the four. The Dodge is going to need a new engine.”
LA’s demeanor instantly shifted from evasive to hostile.
LA: “Fine, so I accidentally put gas in the tank. And why, exactly, should Sales should pay for this?”
Me: “Maybe because you, a salesperson, did the damage? Look, this isn’t up for debate.”
LA: “But you’re not explaining why Sales should pay for this.”
Me: “Because. You. Filled. The. Dodge. With. Gasoline. I know it was an honest mistake, but I’m not going to eat that much damage out of the Service budget.”
LA: “I know, but whyyyyy is this Sales’s fault?”
This was clearly going nowhere.
Me: “Here’s a better question. Why is this not Sales’s fault?”
LA: “Because it doesn’t matter.”
Me: “What doesn’t matter?”
LA: “This ‘gasoline or diesel’ thing. It’s dumb. It doesn’t matter. They’re the same thing. It’s all just oil.”
Me: “Yeah, but plastic bags are ‘just oil.’ Tell me how good you think your car would run on plastic bags.”
LA: “Well, it doesn’t matter, because I wasn’t the one who filled it with gasoline.”
Me: “But you said you did just a second ago!”
LA: “No I didn’t.”
For Christ’s sake, this was like arguing with a not-particularly-clever child. Thankfully, just then The Raver walked by, briefly distracting me from the tornado of stupidity that was occupying the space in front of my desk.
Me: “Yo, dude, c’mere!”
TR: “What’s up?”
Me: “Hey, can you do me a favor real quick? Go and fill up Lady Applebee’s car with diesel, will ya’?”
TR: “Isn’t her new 4Runner a gasser?”
Me: “Yep, but she says it’ll run on either.”
The Raver quickly figured out what I was up to, and ran out the back door toward the parking lot. Immediately Lady Applebee’s jumped up and yelled toward him.
LA: “NO! STOP STOP STOP!”
Me: “You don’t want a tank of fuel for free?”
Lady Applebee’s whipped around and glared at me.
Me: “That’s what I thought. Well, I’m afraid, The International Court of My Office finds Lady Applebee’s guilty of filling the Dodge with gasoline with a secondary charge of being an asshole about it. The punishment is hereby set at Sales paying for the price of repairs.”
Lady Applebee’s got up, swiped a few papers off my desk in anger, and stomped back to her office.
In the end, the damages totaled nearly $8000, since the replacement Cummins engine we got turned out to be a basket case. I pushed for all of it coming out of her commission checks, but the owners, being sales people themselves and forever beholden to their slimy brethren, did nothing. The consequences of this were that she twice more filled diesel cars with gasoline in the time I worked there, though the damage was never quite as spectacular as the poor Cummins turbodiesel that was sacrificed on the altar of stupidity.