The Vanilla Ice Cream Allergic Car
Some time ago a complaint was received from a customer of the Pontiac division of General Motors. It was passed to a customer-care executive. His is what he read:
You see, every time I buy vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car won't start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts just fine. I want you to know I'm serious about this question, no matter how silly it soundsâ€¦
"What is it about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice-cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind of ice-cream?"
The Pontiac executive was understandably skeptical about the letter, but sent an engineer to check it out anyway. The engineer was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well educated man in a fine neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinnertime, so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice-cream store. It was vanilla that night, and sure enough, the car wouldn't start when they returned to it.
The engineer returned three more nights. The first night they got chocolate. The car started. The second night was strawberry, the car starting straight away. The third night was vanilla again, and the car would not start.
The engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this car was allergic to vanilla icecream, so he arranged to continue his visits far as long as it took to solve the problem; toward this end, he began to take notes, jotting down all types of data: time of day, type of gas used, journey times, temperatures, and so on.
It wasn't long before he found a clue: the man took less time to buy the vanilla icecream than the other flavours because, being the most popular, it was stored in a case near the front of the store. The others were at the back, at a different counter, and it took considerably longer to check out the flavour.
So the question became why wouldn't the car start when it took less time. Eureka. Time was now the problem, not the vanilla ice-cream. The answer was not long in coming. Vapour lock!
It was happening every night, but the extra time taken to get the other flavours allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start straight away, but not when the vanilla was bought.
Even crazy looking problems are sometimes real. Impossibilities do give way to reason and insight. It is our attitude and perception that determine the resolution of our problems.