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Fuel Filter Fun

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Kathy and Richard lived in many different places while Richard was in the military. Of course, that meant their children also moved around a lot.

Richard got stationed in North Carolina the year Tony turned eighteen. He decided to stay here in Washington rather than relocate back east with his family. Kathy and Richard gave him their 1987 Chevy Celebrity to help him with his independence, and he took a job in the family business to earn his own way.

Adjusting to independence is not easy, but Tony was doing quite well with it. He resisted the temptations to modify his thousand dollar car with a top of the line stereo and low profile tires, opting instead to heed my advice to save that money for the inevitable maintenance and repairs his car would need. Neither Tony nor I have the mechanical skills of Richard, who would perform those maintenance needs and repairs in his garage. Even with Kathy knowing this, she asked me to assist Tony whenever possible, and told Tony that he could rely upon me for help and advice.

The Friday before Thanksgiving, probably in 1995, Tony came to me and said his car was running sluggish and seemed to lack power. His friend’s father told him it sounded like the fuel filter needed replacing, and he wanted to know if I agreed with that diagnosis. I told him that not only can a fuel filter cause that, but they are one of those maintenance items that occasionally need replacing.

Then he made a huge mistake.

"I haven’t heard of one before," he said. "Is there anything I need to know about them when I buy one?"

"Of course there is," I told him. "The auto parts store will try to sell you the ones with platinum bearings for about $100. You don’t want that one, and you also don’t want the one with brass bearings. Just make sure you tell the counter person you want either the one with chrome bearings or the stock fuel filter."

I then directed him to take some time from work and go to Lincoln Auto Parts to get the replacement filter.

As soon as he was out the door, I called Lincoln Auto Parts to let them know my nephew was on his way down to get a fuel filter. I told them I would deliver a six pack of beer if they will try to sell him the one with the platinum bearings for about $100 before selling him the stock filter. The guy I spoke with agreed.

I could hardly wait for Tony to return with his story about demanding the less costly filter. Apparently, the guy did not hear the part about eventually selling him the stock fuel filter.

"All they had was the platinum bearing filters there," he told me.

"They didn’t sell you a filter," I asked?

"No," he said. "I will go to Al’s Auto Parts after work, but will you write down what I need to ask them so I don’t forget?"

Well, what kind of uncle would I be if I didn’t write it down for him?

There was no way I could wait until Monday to hear his story, so I checked in with him later that night.

"Uncle Tom, I felt like a fool," he told me. "I was reading it to the parts guy, and everyone who could hear me was laughing at me. He told me he had the stock filter, so I bought it and got out of there."

His friend’s dad helped him install it, and, indeed, it had been the issue. That is not the end of the story, however.

Much of the family gathered at Mom’s house on Thanksgiving. Most of us were in the living room catching up on what we all had been doing since the last time we had gotten together.

Tony offered up the story about how embarrassed he was reading the note I had written at the auto parts store the previous Friday evening, and how everyone who heard him had laughed at him for not knowing off the top of his head these things about fuel filters.

"You haven’t figure it out yet, have you Tony," I asked?

"Figured out what," he queried?

"They weren’t laughing at you for reading what you should have known," I told him. "They were laughing because fuel filters don’t have bearings."

"What?! You mean you tricked me into reading that to them," he asked?

"Actually, I tricked you when I sent you to Lincoln Auto Parts," I explained. "I was only doing what you asked when I wrote it down for you."

He asked, "Why did you pull that on me? Why didn’t you pull it on Jay R.?"

I told him frankly, "Jay R. isn’t dumb enough to fall for that."

Kathy called later that day. By then, he had resolved it to be a good joke, and they laughed when he told her about it.

A few months later, he told me that his engine was making a clicking sound and that his mom had suggested he go to the auto parts store and get a product called Engine Honey. I told him that is one brand of oil treatment, but there are others.

"I am never doing what you two suggest again," he exclaimed, and he drove that 1987 Celebrity with that slight tick for a few more years believing there is no such thing as oil treatment - and certainly not one called Engine Honey!

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