The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update


March 29, 2014

Jim Bailey: Today’s autos don’t conk out as frequently as they used to

Remember the last time you got in your car, turned the starter and the thing wouldn’t start?

That’s less frequent these days. Usually it means you’ve run out of gas, a sensor has failed in the computerized electronic ignition system or the engine has been abused to the point something has broken. Or maybe that antique model you’re driving is simply ready for the scrap heap.

Today’s vehicles cost an arm and a leg. But they work, at least most of the time. Fuel injection, electronic ignition, super-efficient cranking motors (developed right here in Anderson back in the day), on-board computers and incredibly efficient, trouble-free batteries have made the corner full-service gas station a thing of the past.

In my boyhood it was much different.

Some older models actually had no built-in starter. The driver had to set the ignition, then get out and insert a crank in the engine. If everything worked right, a few herky-jerky tugs caused the engine to fire and you were in business.

In 1948 my dad bought a brand-new Plymouth. It had a 90-day warranty, and two or three times during that period he had to have it towed in when it wouldn’t start. At least the battery in that car was more accessible than in his old 1940 model, where you had to remove the front seat to service it. Batteries in those days required adding water to keep the acid working properly, and failure to do so meant one morning you’d come out to go to work and you wouldn’t even get a groan when you stepped on the starter.

And, yes, the starters used to be on the floorboard. The driver had to put his foot on the starter, mash down with his heel on the gas pedal and hope it fired. In cold weather you had to pull out a manual choke button on the dash to enrich the mixture in the days before cars had automatic chokes.

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