This story about a car that wouldn't start after its owner purchased vanilla ice cream has been used as an example of how customer service matters. (TL;DR The vanilla ice cream was faster to buy, so a vapour lock didn't clear).

Is this anecdote true?

  • 10
    This is not "notable". We once had a car (don't remember which one) which would get vapor lock and refuse to start if stopped for about 5 minutes, under certain weather conditions (I'm thinking cold). It was a common problem back in the 70s, before auto manufacturers implemented electronic fuel injection. (Odd that the problem would have occurred in a newer car, though, so the story may have been "modernized" by the story teller.) Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 13:24
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    What are you asking? Is the anecdote true, or did a man just claim that it happened? The title and body text don't quite match...
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 20:48
  • According to Wikipedia, the last Pontiac was built in January of 2010. The "Pontiac Division" of General Motors would have had other things on their mind than a customer's troubles with vanilla ice cream that year.
    – Eric
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 21:38
  • I have a car that would refuse to start when leaving a quiet service station. If there were a lot of cars fueling, it would start okay. Cause, engine had been rebuilt with new piston rings and they were tight, so a hot start meant the rings had too much friction. If the service station was busy, there was a wait to pay, so the engine had time to cool and then would start OK.
    – Criggie
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 4:33
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    I legitimately had a client tell me that the car ran fine going west, but not east. It turned out that his morning drive was five minutes east in traffic, then half an hour west on the highway. And with the bad plug wires the car ran poorly until the morning dew steamed off. There was another problem, which I've since forgotten, for the drive home.
    – dotancohen
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


If I'd spent 30 seconds looking instead of 2 minutes posting here I'd have found the answer on Snopes. Its an old legend dating back to at least 1978.

Origins: This legend surfaced in print in 1978, but an anecdotal sighting places it even earlier than that, in 1971. Though its exact beginnings can’t be pinpointed, according to Brunvand:

The June 1978 issue of Traffic Safety magazine printed the story, citing as its source the car magazine Automotive Engineering.

  • 6
    You can delete the question...
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 10:39
  • 28
    @DevSolar But why? According to Snopes, it's at least somewhat notable. And just because Snopes answered it, doesn't mean it's off-topic here.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 11:48
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    @MechMK1: There is nothing in the claim to be skeptic about. It's not about whether it is possible that an engine doesn't start when turned off for a short break instead of a longer one; it's about whether the story around it is true or not, which I do consider OT.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 12:12
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    If it's so common so as to become an urban legend on Snopes, then it is indeed notable. And there is indeed something to be skeptical about--whether the story actually happened or not. This is, in fact, what many Skeptics Questions are about.
    – trlkly
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 17:29
  • 7
    @DevSolar OT means both off topic and on topic FYI.
    – Krupip
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 20:09

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