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Amelia and the White Knight from Utah

Why did her car konk out climbing that hill? Hypothesis: A high power transmitter on the top of the hill was strong enough to cause electromagnetic interference in the engine controller. When the White Knight shut it down and came down the hill, he told em to try it again. Need to find out if there is a big radar on that hill.

Bob… its was electromagnetic pulse…The guy in the white was from the NRC…I was in the military for awhile and Utah used to have…uhh…underground testing…

I only caught the latter half of the story and didn’t hear if the Toyota had a standard or automatic transmission. If it was a standard, perhaps the clutch somehow overheated, which caused the car to shut down until it cooled sufficiently to restart. When I was much much younger (and stupider), I had a 1987 Mazda 626 with a standard transmission. One day, I got the bright idea I could pull a fence post out of the ground in my front yard by wrapping a rope around it and attaching it the rear end of my car. Well, of course it didn’t work, but in the process of smoking the clutch, the engine completely shut down…and wouldn’t restart. No turn over, no clicks…nothing. I concluded I had destroyed the transmission. I called a tow truck and had the Mazda towed to the dealer. The mechanic came out, got in the Mazda, turned the key, and it started right up! He then explained to me that the car was designed to shut down in the case of an overheated clutch.

Same thing happened to me (almost). My wife and I bought our seventeen year old son a five year old Passat as his first car. He didn’t have it for a week when I got the call. Dad, the car won’t start! So I drove to the fast food place where he was and sure enough the car was dead, would turn over, no radio, no wipers but the head lights worked. After fifteen or twenty minutes of try this, try that I broke down and called to have it towed. It was a nice fall afternoon so the tow truck got there in a very respectable two hours. (Our stories begin to merge.) The tow truck driver dressed in coveralls gets out and asks if I mind if he tries to start it. I say go ahead but it isn’t going to start, I tried dozens of times and the last time wasn’t more then 15 minutes ago. So he pops his head through the window (doesn’t even sit in the seat) turns the key and it starts right up. Two weeks and $600 later, the mechanic says he found a problem with the anti-theft controls. I can’t say that it was actually fixed since my son totaled the car a week later.


Vapor lock.

Definitely the heat, likely the starter solenoid. I had a VW Bug that did this all the time. When the solenoid is too hot it gets stuck before it can engage the starter.

As for the guy dressed in white…hey, it’s Utah.

High altitude, a hot climb. Her starter was working, her engine not. That sound to me like a vapor lock in her fuel pump intake line, Where in this car is the fuel pump located? Might it be on top of the fuel tank? After a while standing, cooling, the car started. The white knight had nothing to do with it,other than being a hydrodynamics expert!
Hans Stern

A Nephite. If you’ve lived in Utah for a while you’ve heard stories of guys in white showing up to help motorists, etc. They always disappear. Never get a thanks or payment. They are supposed to be a mystical figure left over from about 300 AD.

Extra terrestial operation. Non-Humanoid on mountain top in required white clothes for lab work in secret surveillance project. Masquerading as angel, government agent, or white terrorist. Detected car approaching and stalled the engine. Completed surveillance and descended on mountain road, allowed engine to restart.

You didn’t hear this from me.


The lady with the stalled car in Utah who had the White Knight stop to
help her start her car can be easily explained.

The car had a vapor lock.

The White Knight was a Mormon heading to Salt Lake to enter the Mormon

I deserve a prize.

Lee Raguz

The lady whose auto died after gassing up with 85 octane
fuel and then started up an hour later ((I missed part of the
story but it may have involved some sort of "miracle"
intervention) fell victim to technology.

I ran into the exact same issue when, after gassing up in
Las Cruces, NM at about 2500 ft, I drove toward Ruidoso,
NM. As we reached the middle of nowhere (just short of
Mescalero, NM) about 25 miles from any town with
automotive services, the car (1999 Avalon) sputtered, then

Fortunately, we were able to pull of onto the wide
shoulder. Even more fortunately, we were able to get cell
phone service and contacted AAA. After waiting for about
45 minutes and still not seeing anyone with a tow truck, I
figured I had nothing to lose, so I got back in the car (it
was a pretty hot day-90+ degrees) turned the key and
presto… we had ignition!

I drove the 25 miles into Ruidoso Downs with no
difficulties, and since we still had several hundred miles to
go (to Lubbock, TX) stopped at AutoZone, the first auto-
related business we saw.

I asked the young fellow at the desk if he could connect to
the car’s computer and figure out what was wrong. I
described what had happened and he said, “Ahh… I’ll bet
we get a ‘no errors’ reading.” He was right.

He then told me that we were about the tenth travelers
that week to have shown up with similar difficulties. It
seems that whenever you start a modern auto, the
computer chip reads the air density and sets up the fuel
injection system to provide the proper mixture. But as we
then drove uphill for about an hour (to approximately
6400 ft) the mixture was then too rich and the car
essentially flooded. (or, vapor locked)

As it turned out, we need not have waited any significant
time before restarting, and the healing process has
nothing to do with things cooling down. Restarting simply
allows the chip to reset the mixture… no miracles

does this car have a barometric pressure sensor? if not the low readings from the map sensor would have screwed things up as they climbed to the higher altitude and flooded the motor.

BobGardner is almost certainly correct, and I was surprised Tom and Ray didn’t think of this. I’d guess the culprit was one or more broadcast transmitters at the top of the mountain. What likely happened was that Amelia’s car went around a bend in the road and all of a sudden was in line-of-site to the close-by transmit antenna. The radio frequency interference (RFI) was then strong enough to knock out the car’s electronic fuel injection and/or ignition system, and it stalled. (This is/was a pretty common problem with cars of late 1980’s vintage when they got in very strong RFI environments.) Why the starter would then not work is somewhat of a mystery, but I’ll bet that there was some electronic module, perhaps associated with the brake pressure sensor or neutral safety switch, that was also affected by the strong RFI.

The “white knight” was most likely a radio site technition that saw Amelia’s car approaching and then stalling, and who knew the probable cause. He then likely lowered the transmitter power, but by that time Amelia and her husband had given up trying to restart their car. So the tech drove down in his service Jeep to tell them to try again. After they did so successfully, they took off before the tech could explain what happened.

What about the white Jeep and white clothes? Coincidence.

High altitude, hot day, long drive, old car… Vapor lock. When gasoline gets to hot it can go from liquid to vapor - on a hot day, with the extra heat of the engine. The fuel pump doesn’t more vapor and the engine stalls. After it sits for a while and perhaps cools down a few degees, the engine might readily restart. You see this sometimes when folks not familiar with mountain roads push there cars too hard. Maybe one of the rangers at Rocky Mountain Nat Park will comment - during the hot days of summer, on the way to 12,000 feet on Trailridge Road, you sometimes see cars overheat or have vapor lock issues.

Vapor lock doesn’t explain why the Camry wouldn’t even crank when they tried to restart it.

I had an 88 Tercel that I drove from Spokane, WA to Seattle. When I tried to leave a gas station near Seat/Tac airport, my car wouldn’t start. After a bit of troubleshooting, I discovered a bad alternator. Basically, the battery had been drained enough that the car wouldn’t start. Because I wanted to catch my flight, I found a good Samaritan to jump start me, which gave me enough juice to reach the airport parking lot. I returned to the airport a week later (after visiting family in North Carolina) with a new alternator. I was about to start swapping the alternator out right there in the parking garage, when I decided to try and start the car. It started right up and made it all the way back to Spokane!

This story may sound like an absolute lie, but the exact same thing happened to me about 10 years later with my 1965 Triumph Spitfire. This time I had a mechanic with me who verified it was a bad voltage regulator (combined with a generator performs a similar function to an alternator). The next day, before we went to push the car into his shop, we thought we’d try to start it up. It started, and I managed to drive from Cody Wyoming all the way to Bozeman Montana!

I think the solution is simple. The car shut down from overheating because of the low octane gas, and the starter overheated and shut down as a result. I used to drive an '89 Golf II. Once it got to 100k or so, it started to burn starters, and I discovered that if I drove it hard on the highway without premium gas it would run hot and cause the starter to shut down until it cooled off. I never had the car stall, but I often couldn’t restart before a half hour rest. As long as I kept high octane in the tank I had no problems. I think that running low octane in some modern cars will cause them to run hot, and that’s where the problem lies.