A Knack For Squashing Hard Bugs

Someone asked me what “a knack for squashing hard bugs” means on my LinkedIn profile.

A knack is an ability that is hard to explain or teach. I have a knack for troubleshooting.

It is hard to pinpoint what gave rise to that ability, but I could point to a few early lessons that forged it. Today, let’s focus on an expensive lesson I learned early on.

As a poor college kid, I rebuilt the engine of my old ‘84 Mitsubishi Cordia in the garage of my apartment in Oakland. The car was running poorly, with 100K miles on it. I was broke, so I took it upon myself to fix the problem.

There was no YouTube back then. All I had was an official factory service manual.

The rebuild took the whole summer. I did it the proper way, too, with full machining of the engine block and head, new piston rings, rebuilt carburetor, etc. It should have been a proud accomplishment.

In a sense, it was, and this is what I tell people to this date - that I had rebuilt an engine. But that is not the whole story.

After the rebuild, the car ran a bit better, but it still ran poorly.

The bug laid elsewhere.

An experienced mechanic down the street told me to check the catalytic converter. It was old and clogged, preventing good exhaust flow. After replacing the cat, it was like a different car.

What did I learn? Fully diagnose the root cause before slapping on expensive and often unnecessary fixes.

Published: 2022-03-28

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