Dear Car Talk:
Please settle this question for my daughter Abby and me. Many years ago I bought her a Toyota Solara for her high school graduation. It was only a couple of years old, with power everything. She loved it (Dad wins points!).
All went well for a couple of years. Then, suddenly, she started hearing a “thunking” sound in the rear of the car. She took it to her mechanic, and the two of them went for a test drive. They took a couple of corners, and the noise was quite apparent. He then said, “I think you have a golf ball banging around in your trunk.” Sure enough, that’s what caused the noise.
My daughter was quite impressed by the fact that he identified it as a golf ball. I, on the other hand, was not (Dad loses all previously earned points). My position is this: Anyone can tell the difference between a golf-ball sound (compact and dense-sounding, with a slight “thwack” to it) and say a tennis ball (soft, with a slight fuzzy greenish timbre), a baseball (a good “crack” like Ted Williams hit it with a bat) or a football (depending on if it was in Tom Brady’s car, which would be a slightly softer sound due to lower inflation than the usual “thud”).
I maintain that in order to call this mechanic a “genius” like my daughter wants me to, he not only would have to identify the noise as coming from a golf ball, he would have to identify the ball’s make and number (like Titleist No. 2). Please give us the definitive answer so we can go back to talking to each other. — John
The guy’s pretty good, John. And even if he’s not a genius, he’s certainly watched a lot of reruns of “Columbo.” Here’s what likely happened: He heard something rolling around in the trunk. He probably tested his theory by taking a couple of sharp corners and seeing where the noise came from after each turn. That allowed him to narrow it down, generically, to “ball.”
I mean, it could have been a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup that fell out of a shopping bag, but a ball moves across the trunk more quickly and evenly than a soup can, based on my previous soup-can diagnoses. From its sound and timbre — as you say — he probably could tell it was small, and of medium weight. And then he made an educated guess. What’s the most likely ball to be rolling around a trunk of somebody’s car? A golf ball that fell out of a golf bag, right? In fact, he’s probably had other customers who came in complaining about the same errant golf-ball problem.
So, even if he’s not a genius, he’s an astute observer. He’s also honest. He could have said, “Oh, Abby, it sounds like your struts and struts mounts are all worn out. I’m going to have to keep it for a couple of days, and it’s gonna cost you a thousand bucks.” But he didn’t.
So I’d call him an excellent mechanic, John. And I’d call him a good guy. And I’d encourage Abby to call him whenever she has future car trouble.
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