I was speeding along to an appointment when the red “check engine” light flashed on my dashboard. Only a few short blocks from the dealer and on the verge of needing an oil change, I rolled into the car lot and pulled up to the service entrance.


The automatic door cranked open and I drove into the garage. Matt, the “Star Service Man of the month” leapt from his desk, grabbed his clip board and jogged to my door. He quickly lifted the latch and stuck his head in my car. “Good morning ma’am. What’s going on with your ve-hic-le?”


“Well the engine light is on and…”


“Oh, don’t worry your pretty head about that indicator. Why don’t you climb out and let me have a look.”


Why don’t you crawl back into your cave and break some boulders Fred Flintstone.  I thought, but then remembered I needed my car back sometime this century. I held my tongue and got out.


Matt slid into the driver’s seat, turned the key, scribbled some numbers on his board and    sighed. “Ah ha, just as I suspected.” He boosted himself from my lowrider and leaned against the door. He pointed to the hood. “Well you know, the engine on this one is in the front.”


Matt the serviceman, killed in the maintenance bay with a tire iron. (You guys play Clue right?) I shook off my writer’s intuition. Besides, it’s hard to conjure a really good story once you’ve killed off the villain in the opening scene.


Now I may not be a great plumber, packer or even an exotic chef. But I know engines. 


I was tempted to rattle of the compression ratio of my souped up four-cylinder, light alloy block, double overhead cam, variable valve machine, when I had an epiphany. (Compression ratio is just a fancy way of measuring the difference of space in a cylinder when the piston is at the top or at the bottom–higher the ratio, greater the horsepower)


I wondered how unnerving Grand Master Matt might be if I hadn’t taken engine classes in college and spent most of my adult life around airplanes. And considered how daunting bringing my car into the dealer might be. So if you aren’t so (or don’t care to be ) mechanically inclined, here’s all you need to know.


–Most cars have internal combustion engines.

–Most cars have four to eight cylinders. (Check your owner’s manual but rule of thumb dictates if you get good gas mileage you probably have a four cylinder, medium, a six and if you hit the gas and loose a quarter tank, then most likely eight.)

–Most cars have a two-stroke or four-stroke engine (two stroke=one spin of the crankshaft to get power, four=two trips around the block to make haste).


To explain how your engine works just remember this simple acronym:


Suck (intake), Squeeze (compression), Bang (ignition), Blow (power/exhaust)


Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow


*note to self: If you go to a dealer, trade the “Fit Flops” and work out clothes for horn- rimmed glasses and a pocket protector. (Yes, it’s sad but true. There are still some people unfamiliar with the bra-burning in the 60’s–and yes, I realize that women didn’t actually burn their brasseries until 1968 and it wasn’t for suffrage–it was in protest of the Miss American Contest.)


*fun fact for dinner conversation (or irritating service people): The first reciprocating engine was developed in Europe during the 18th century. The internal combustion engine followed nearly a hundred years later. Today the most common version of the reciprocating engine is the internal combustion engine that can run on gasoline (diesel too), liquefied petroleum (LPG) or compressed natural gas. (for the “green beans”)


*ancient family saying: add more clarity to any statement by throwing in an action verb. For example, one I frequently use is suck, squeeze, bang and go blow.


E.L. Chappel author of Risk

Viper enthusiast

aka The Glamorous Wife

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