Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 04.27.09
Stanstead, Quebec


Hey, I know it goes vroom

Hey, I know it goes vroom

I love holes. When I worked at the local newspaper, fewer things gave me more pleasure than killing time at the edge of a trench cut deep into the pavement as town workers struggled to patch a problem. There's a certain fascination about what lies beneath, especially when, with one wrong swing of a shovel, some kind of utility line could be pierced and God knows what kind of gushage might occur.

And yet, I've never understood a similar pursuit: staring at engines.

Everywhere I go I see men standing around cars with their hoods popped up (the cars, not the men). And they (the men) are staring intently at the engines.

Am I missing something?

They stare with such reverence. What do they see? The metaphysical magnificence of the internal combustion engine? The face of Lee Iacocca?

So I decided to see for myself. Last weekend, I popped the hood of my 2004 Chevrolet Venture. And gazed.

First impression: dirty.

I've heard about frying an egg on the manifold. Or maybe it's the manifilter. Whatever. I wouldn't stick a sausage on that thing.

Okay, focus. Stamped on the -- whatever it is, the enginizer maybe -- is the phrase "3400 SFI." What does this mean? "3400" is probably power, more powerful than 3300 SFI, at least. But "SFI"? Standard Fuel Injector? Could be. Could also be Speedy Fish Inside or Some Fine Ingine, as far as I know.

Not everything is foreign to me. Over there, clearly, is the windshield washer reservoir. Which got me thinking: why is it that you can never pour an entire bottle of washer fluid into your car? No matter how low the washer level, you always end up with a little left in the bottle, which you then throw into the back of the vehicle along with all the other bottles with about an inch of fluid swirling around the bottom of them...

Oil goes there, transmission fluid goes there, radiator coolant there. But I have no idea what that dipstick is for. What if it's important?

I flash back to my teens. Recently licensed, my buddy and I and some girls (girls! real girls!) were driving a beat-up second-hand car when the oil light came on. We pulled over and lifted the hood. We had the oil but... we couldn't figure out where to put it.

Oil! The most important fluid that goes into a vehicle after gasoline and coffee. And we had no idea. In front of girls!

It got worse. Some dudes pulled over and gave us a hand. Then they drove off with our girls. No, that's not true. They did, however, drive back and forth a couple of times over our egos and self-esteem.

You'd think that after such a humiliating experience I'd become more engine-savvy. In fact, I did learn the basics of vehicle maintenance, but when it came to truly understanding the engine, really appreciating it, I was too easily distracted by more important matters (see "girls" above).

Back to the engine: What's that valve for? And that little green knob? And why is there a "no-fire" symbol on this particular part? Is it a reminder not to set your engine on fire? Good advice. And is that wire coated in tinfoil? That's my kind of repair job, and that ain't exactly reassuring.

Hoses and pipes. Spark plugs, filters. A diagram on the proper way to thread the fan belt that looks like an illustration of the small intestines. Impressive. Complicated. But no religio-mechanical epiphany for me.

"What's that?" It was Abby, my seven-year-old.

"The engine."

"Whoa! That's cool."

She stared for a moment.

"Looks dirty."

"Yeah," I said.

"Want to play catch?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, and slammed the hood shut.

Stare all you want, fellas. I'd rather get the girl. \