I Have Half A Mind….And My Car Has The Other Half.

I was born so long ago that electricity was generated by rubbing wooly mammoths together, and dinosaurs delivered it to the house in wooden pails.  That said, I’ve managed to keep up with an amazing growth of technology.  I can dinner-party intelligently discuss black holes, string theory and quantum entanglement.  I think that the strides we have made have been great, but I occasionally see the Terminator/SkyNet drawbacks.  Obviously this post is being done on a computer.  Computers are fine, when they work.  When they don’t, sometimes I feel we would be better off with the simpler life.

I learned to drive cars that had engines in the front, drive wheels in the back and three-speed, manual transmissions, complete with a clutch.  Once upon a time, a 17-year-old kid, with two years of trade school, some spark plug gappers, a pair of Chan-L-Lock pliers and a Phillips screwdriver, could make any car hum like a bee-hive.  Nowadays you need an M.I.T. PhD and five years with Apple, before you can get close to one.  Everything, EVERYTHING, in cars these days is computer controlled.  The small garages are gone, because, mechanics must have fancy, expensive electronic diagnostic equipment.  After spending a hundred thousand, or more, for that, they still have to buy $2000+ modules for each new line of cars, from each manufacturer they wish to service.

I bought an 04 Chevy Impala in 05.  Good solid, reliable car, or so I thought, probably the last one I will be able to afford to buy before I die.  A couple of years later it showed off the first of several little tricks.  I didn’t understand the significance then, but after a couple more years and a couple more tricks, I had a talk with my (apologetically expensive) mechanic and put it all together.

My car (most cars? all cars?) has a segment of the computer control system known as a Body Module.  This little gizmo manages things like horn, headlights, door locks, etc.  Mine has gone psychotic.  Oh, when it’s on its meds, everything works fine, but when it’s not, adventure becomes a four-letter word.

The first inkling I had, was one day when I was on my way to work.  Turned off the big road to the smaller side road where my plant was.  Just around the corner, and opposite my plant driveway, was a Toronto Sun vending box.  I stopped for a copy every day.  I left the car running, (the car, not me) closed the driver’s door, and walked around the car and got a paper.  I went back around to the driver’s side and tried to get back in, only to find that the door was locked.  Shocked the hell out of me.  What do I do now???

I can get to work, but my work shirt is in my carry bag, along with the food and drink for the shift.  My work pants and safety shoes are in my locker, and the keys are in the car.  If I walk away and leave it running, someone else might be able to get into it and steal it.  If I leave it running, it will eventually run out of gas.  When it does that, the lights are on, and the battery will go flat.  I walked back around to the passenger side and prayerfully tried the door.  IT’S UNLOCKED!!  Saved!  That company went bankrupt and I lost another job.  How often would I need to close the driver’s door, but leave the engine running?  It’s happened twice since.  At least I know what to do, until the day it decides to lock all the doors.

The next little surprise it had for me was the dead speedometer.  Apparently the sensor unit “forgets” to tell the computer controlled motor which drives the speedometer cable, how fast we’re going.  This can happen at any time.  It’s not too much of a problem if the needle suddenly flops down to zero.  I can still drive by ear, the sound of the engine and transmission, the hiss of the tires on the road.  All else fails, I just keep up with traffic.  The potential problem arises when I’m doing 60, and the needle only falls back to 40.  If I think I’ve slowed down and try to pick up speed, I could also pick up a ticket.

Next, it learned how to turn off the traction control and ABS brakes.  Usually this only happens at low speed and/or when making a turn.  Backing down my driveway and swinging out onto the street got real interesting there, for a while.  When the brakes go out, it’s as if there was no power assist.  It’s fun getting the big sedan slowed down, especially if you’re not expecting it.  Sometimes I can just be feathering the brakes for a stop at a light, and the ABS kicks in.  What the hell was that about?

The last little piece of drive-me-crazy conduct is that, the ignition forgets to work.  Once in a while, anytime, anywhere, I climb in, insert the key, turn it, and listen to the silent laughter from a car which refuses to start.  It doesn’t turn over.  It just sits there, while I sit there, even though the wife and I should be on our way to a doctor’s office.  Keep trying the key.  It could take ten tries.  It could take a hundred.  Tried all kinds of things to wake the system up.  Roll the windows down and back up, lock and unlock the doors, put the gear lever in neutral(and all other gears) and back to Park.  If it’s on an incline, like the driveway, let it roll a foot or two and stop, and try it again, and again, and again.  Eventually it works.

This has only happened six or eight times, but they seem to be happening closer together.  My mechanic told me about a woman who also has an Impala, a year older than mine.  She went through this too.  It happened more and more often, until she just drove the car into the garage one day, and said, “Call me when it’s fixed.”  It’s like the doctors chasing the cause of my vision problem.  They think they know what’s causing it, but they can’t treat it ’till they’re sure.  They can’t put it on the analyser until it’s broke.  So the mech. essentially told me that whenever it won’t start, I should drive it in, even though the drive could make it start working again.  If it is the Body Module, parts and labor run about $600.

I’m all for technology, when it does what I want and need it to do, but, if you see me driving past with my feet running under the car like Fred Flintstone, you’ll know what happened.