Cooking the Brakes

Most guys don’t care to see their accountants more than once a year, but we make an exception for Bookie Bob. An accountant by day, and a mechanical wannabe on the weekends, he creates enough problems to justify keeping the tow truck phone number on speed dial.

“Morning, Bob,” I said cheerfully. “What’s up today?”

Bob looked a little sheepish. “I’m trying to fix my brakes, Slim, but things don’t add up.”

Tooner began to choke on his coffee. He always gets a sadistic thrill out of poor Bobbie’s misfortunes. I glared at him and tossed him a rag to clean up the spill. If there’s anything I hate, it’s my staff making fun of the customers when they’re standing right there.

“What seems to be the problem?” I asked.

Bob jerked his thumb towards the parking lot. “The farther I drive, the more power I lose, and the brake pedal gets real hard.”

I looked out at his six-year-old Isuzu Rodeo. “Sounds like the brakes are sticking and heating up. I’ll just take it for a little test-drive.”

A quick run around the block didn’t help; everything seemed to be working just fine. So I decided to head out on the highway, and it wasn’t long before things began to turn ugly. I had to keep giving it more fuel to keep up speed, and just like Bob said, the brake pedal felt like a rock. I was lucky to make it back to the shop. All four disc brakes were smoking hot.

Bob came over, with Tooner in tow. “I’ve checked everything, Slim. There’s lots of brake lining, and I know the hydraulic fluid is okay, because I topped it up two weeks ago.”

Tooner’s ears perked up. “What did you top it up with?” he asked.

“Well, that power fluid stuff. You know, for power brakes.”

Tooner and I looked at each other, the same thought going through our heads.

“You don’t mean power steering fluid, do you?”

“It’s all the same, isn’t it?”

“Is a debit the same as a credit, Bob?” I asked.

Bob’s face fell. “What are you telling me?” he asked.

“Let’s take a look,” I suggested, opening the hood. I popped the lid off the brake master cylinder. A swollen black rubber gasket fell out of the lid, almost twice its normal size. “Just as I thought; you’ve mixed hydraulic oil with the brake fluid.” I held up the distorted gasket. “If oil comes in contact with these rubber parts in the brake system, it causes them to swell.”

Bobby began to look a little green as he mentally calculated all the places that an engineer could hide rubber pieces in a braking system. “Uh, what’s the bottom line here?”

I crunched the numbers. “At the very least, you’ll need a new master cylinder. Due to this contamination, it’s not releasing the hydraulic brake pressure to the wheels when you take your foot off the brake.”

“Yep,” chimed in Tooner. “And hopefully you haven’t ruined the brake calipers and wheel cylinders yet.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Not to mention the brake proportioning valve.”

After changing the master cylinder and flushing the brake system, we sent Bookie Bob on his way, with a warning to keep an eye on things. I felt compelled to give him a nice discount, especially after he agreed to let me claim donuts as a legitimate office expense.

Besides, I know he’ll be back. The weekend is coming, and he just can’t resist finding something else to fix on his car.

About The Writer

Rick Cogbill is a freelance writer living in the Okanagan valley of Southern British Columbia. A licensed technician with over 24 years in the automotive repair industry, including ten years as a shop owner, Cogbill creates his comic scenarios with Slim, Basil, Tooner, and The Bean out of actual case histories from his shop. “What you have just read is true,” drawls Slim Shambles. “Only the names have been changed to protect my hide!”

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