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Sherlock Holmes Smarter Older Brother Fixed My Car

November 6, 2017

Sherlock Holmes had a brother. Not only did he have a brother, but his brother was smarter than the great detective. Mycroft Holmes appears in four stories by Arthur Conan Doyle: “The Greek Interpreter”, “The Final Problem”, “The Empty House” and “The Bruce-Partington Plans”.

Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one.

The difference between the two is that Sherlock will go out and work to find the answer to a problem, Mycroft will reach the same conclusion based on nothing more than hearing a description of the problem.

My car broke last week. Now, typically when my car breaks down, it makes a weird noise, or a gauge shows an issue, or it flashes the CHECK ENGINE light and I use a code reader or pull it apart to find the issue. Not this time. This time the car refused to start and when I opened the hood I saw this.

Those ignition modules send power to the spark plugs in the six cylinders. You might have noticed the middle one is cracked.

When I opened the hood, I couldn’t help but notice the middle one. It was shooting sparks out. Then, that little plastic blob oozed out and then it started smoking. It’s as if my car were trying to tell me something.

Hey! This part, yeah ME, RIGHT HERE!! I’m broken!

Unfortunately, simply replacing that module didn’t fix the car. Although, I did get a new tool out of the process. The bolts that hold those modules down are 5.5mm. I’d never see a fraction of a metric size. I now own a 5.5mm socket. But, that didn’t fix it. So, we towed it home and it sat in my driveway for a week while I went off to Louisiana on business. I got back last Saturday and it was still broken. I couldn’t work from home today. I had visitors coming in from our client. I had to be at work. I work 40 miles from my house.

It was time to call in some reinforcements.

My cousin Nick is much younger than me and a much better mechanic.

Hey, Nick. This is Rodney. Remember, when you said you’d be happy to come help me work on cars? Are you available tomorrow?

That’s the nice thing about family. They might grumble if you call them Saturday night to come over on Sunday, but they’ll show up.

Nick very quickly diagnosed the issue that while this ignition module was fried, it was actually caused by a failed master ignition control module. That’s the piece that runs under the three of these modules. We tested it and it was definitely shorting out. When we pulled it out of the car it looked like this.

It’s a $138 dollar part that our local auto parts store just happened to have in stock. I spend a lot of time there. The frequent shopper discount knocked $8 off the price. We also discovered, after putting it back together that we had fried the replacement module. Fortunately, they exchanged it “under warranty.”

And just like that, a couple of hours and my car was running again. I was pretty impressed with Nick’s quick diagnosis of the problem.

Well, I had an idea it might be that, so I talked to my dad yesterday and described the symptoms you told me. He was confident it was the master control module. All I did was verify what he’d already suggested.

The man who figured out how to fix my car, didn’t talk to me. He didn’t need to look at the car. He didn’t even really need to know what kind of car it was. (It’s a 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix.) He heard a second-hand description of the symptoms and that was enough.

His name is Paul, not Mycroft, but maybe someone should write a story about him.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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