Your filthy, dirty, throttle body

Published on July 4, 2014

Last Thursday, a man in Charlottetown offered to clean my throttle body for a little less than one hundred dollars.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have rarely, actually never, had my throttle body cleaned, nor have I ever contemplated paying cash-money to have my throttle body cleaned. And to be honest, and perhaps this makes me look like a naive fool in the ways of the world, I couldn’t really tell you where my throttle body is. And felt a little obscene trying to figure it out.

At first blush, you might think that men offering other men, or women offering men, or women offering other women throttle body cleaning is affirmation of why the federal Conservative government is so excited about the absence of prostitution laws in Canada. (For if you missed it, the Supreme Court struck down our existing prostitution laws a little while back.)

But in fact a throttle body, as delicious as it may sound to the sexually adventurous, has nothing to do with prurient tastes. Rather, a throttle body is a car part, and the man in question was a mechanic at a notable car dealership in Charlottetown who was tasked with recommending that my throttle body be cleaned. And soon.

But that wasn’t all. In a cleverly designed sheet for maintenance of new cars, labelled “Recommended Maintenance for Canadian Driving Conditions”, all kinds of conclusively unnecessary services were recommended every six thousand kilometres or so. Why cleverly designed? Simply because of the term “Canadian Driving Conditions.”

This fancy term seems designed to make the consumer think that Canada is this extraordinary place in all the world, where cars are under more stress than the average country, and therefore more expense in necessary. Subliminally the Canadian consumer agrees that we have the severest of climates in all the planet. What, no winter in all of Asia, Europe, and the Northern United States where the record shows many people also drive cars with throttle bodies?

What is fascinating about this deceptive sheet recommending throttle body cleaning at 42,000 kilometres of a new car, is that this suggested expense appears nowhere in the official service manual of the car.

Nor do scores of other suggested expenses, such as fuel injection cleaning ($149 plus tax) at 32,000 kilometres of the car’s life, or the suggested 42,000 kilometre nearly $200 power steering cleaning. The list goes on. And a profitable little list it is. The official manual of the car simply mentions inspections, and oil changes. Not a dirty throttle body in sight.

When queried about two of these, frankly, concocted expenses, the mechanics relented and admitted that they were unnecessary, although maybe after ten years of throttle body and fuel injection scrubbing, it might improve the car’s condition. After ten years? After ten years and about $8000 dollars of marginally significant service your ten year old car will be in better condition? Halleluiah!

It is a curious thing, that this small, and yet not insignificant scam is being perpetuated in our Island community where we know each other so well, and often celebrate the fairness that can emerge from our familiarity. Of course putting the con on in business is happening everywhere on the planet, but somehow it is a little more startling here, and in other tiny constituencies.

And the mechanics, and their bosses, know exactly what they are up to. As the definitive consumer automotive advocate Edmunds notes, “Although it may be possible to get carbon buildup in your throttle body, it is an unnecessary service and the dealer is just looking for some of the cash in your pocket.” (And when confronted with this statement the Island dealership was thoroughly embarrassed.)

So where is this disconnect? Well, it is probably somewhere between kindergarten and adult greed. For from kindergarten on, as my young children are constantly reminded, fair play and truth telling are honoured values in our society. Until, sadly, you see a chance to rip-off your Island neighbour by offering to suck the crap out of your throttle body for cash.

Obscene, indeed.

Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at