Friday, July 14, 2017

Correcting My Thinking: A Car Story

As a preface to this story, I have to tell you that I'm a Rip Van Winkle when it comes to the electronic systems cars have these days.

I drove a 2002 Honda Civic for 12 years, and after I killed that car I inherited a 2005 Volkswagen Golf for a couple of years, until I killed that one off as well. (It seems I am hard on cars.) Through the winter, I had no car: I rode the Greyhound between Las Cruces and Deming, and walked or rode a bike.

In May, I purchased a slightly-used 2015 Jeep Renegade. Biggest car I've ever owned, but it was a sensible purchase for my current job, which sometimes requires me to drive off the pavement and navigate dirt roads and large puddles - for instance, the photograph above was taken during a reporting trip out on the western end of the village of Columbus, New Mexico, near the border. There is also my growing family: a new baby brings us up to two parents, two little boys, and an infant in a car seat.
For me it has been like learning to drive a 3,000 pound iPhone. I'm getting used to a car that can tell me the temperature of the oil and coolant, and the air pressure in the tires. Not being highly informed about the latest in automobile technology, much of this is new to me even though it has been standard in cars for a while.

This is why I couldn't figure out why my seatbelt alert kept going off.

During the first several weeks I owned the car, it would randomly alert me about the seatbelt, incessantly going "ding ding ding ding ding ding." It was awfully annoying and worried me - what other sensors might be loose? Had I made a bad purchase after all?

I called up the dealer and described the problem. I think probably an attentive mechanic might have been able to guess at the cause, but all they would say to me was that I should bring my car in to run a complete diagnostic - which would run me $114. Nothing beats you like a Sisbarro deal.

Yesterday, I was driving around - ding ding ding ding ding - and I examined my own thinking. I noticed that I was assuming this whole time that the ding ding ding was a symptom of something broken. What if the ding ding ding was symptom of something working properly?

So I began asking a different question, and sure enough, I learned that modern cars have sensors in the passenger seats. No, I did not know that. It did not take long to test this hypothesis. Eureka: the bag I use for work, which is always pretty heavy, was fooling the car into thinking I had a passenger. When I moved the bag to the floor, the "symptom" disappeared.

No more ding ding ding. And it didn't cost me $114. Take that, Sisbarro.