Harley Hay

Harley Hay: Be glad you don’t have a carburetor

Remember carburetors? Pretty much every car back in the day had a carburetor, I’m pretty sure. I’m quite a “car guy” in that I took Automotives 10 back at the Comp just after cars were invented.

Everybody called the class “shop” and it was there that my three months worth of mechanical knowledge formed my car-guy future. One month taking apart a “master cylinder” that has something to do with brakes, or possibly windshield wipers, one month “packing wheel bearings,” which involved mostly grease fights when the shop teacher went outside for a smoke, and one month attempting to repair a wind-up window (and breaking the glass). Oh, and I also very nearly set my friend Jim McGuiness’s arm on fire with a wayward acetylene torch during welding class. All these years later, I’m pretty sure his scar has healed fairly well, which is a bonus.

So for those that aren’t quite as car savvy as I am, a carburetor is a metal thingy on top of your engine which mixes gasoline and air to make carbohydrates. So when you press the gas pedal (the one on the right) the carburetor (known as a “carb” in car circles) shoots carbs into your engine and makes the car go faster. Like in humans, carbs can be too high or too low and in old cars too many carbs from the carb often drowns the pistons, camshaft and block heater. This is called “flooding” and it used to happen just about every single time the temperature dropped cold enough to bring out the ole parka-and-toque combo.

So what us car-guys would do when the ’57 Ford or ’63 Pontiac was flooded in the frigid freezing cold was to remove the top of the “air filter”. This was the round metal thingy about the size of a large pizza (from Tom’s House of Pizza) that sits on top of the carburetor so that the engine looks cool. I’m not sure why they call it an “air filter” but once your remove the lid and your fingers are 90 per cent frozen you get your friend, Better Half or reasonable facsimile to get in the car and crank the old beast up. Whereupon you put the palm of your frigid hand on the open mouth of the carb or maybe stick your frozen fingers in there to open something, and voila! – the car still won’t start.

And so you keep going, grinding away, fiddling with the carburetor and getting asphyxiated by gas fumes until the battery goes what we call “dead”.

Whereupon you head back inside for a cup of hot coffee and a phone call to a friend with jumper cables. Or, if you’re smarter than me, you call the AMA.

But why am I rambling on about carburetors? Because we just went through one of the wickedest cold spells and our cars mostly started except for the Better Half’s and the Rotten Kids, whereupon I had to jump more cars than an Olympic pole vaulter. I mean, I was out there like a cold and demented snowman practically wearing out a new set of jumper cables. But believe me, if this had’ve been the good old days every street would have been littered with dead cars and angrily discarded air filter lids.

So thank goodness cars these days don’t have carburetors that create harmful carbohydrates that cause flooding (and don’t get me started on something called “vapor lock”). Because nowadays, thank goodness, we have a non-carbohydrate combustion system instead that works way better in the Canadian winter.

I believe it’s called “fuel injection”. Whatever that is.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.