Typical Car Information System, circa 2151 AD
Typical Car Information System, circa 2151 AD

by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter in 1998 and the Boston City Paper 2006

Not being a member of wealthy society, my family and I all drive cars that are, shall we say, “vintage,” and most have such unusually high mileage that they make the guy at Jiffy-Lube raise an eyebrow and ask, “Really?” when we give him the odometer reading.

Be that as it may, the cars had all been running fairly well for some time, yet recently Mom, my sister and I all had car problems of varying degrees and complexity. For Mom, it got so bad that she put a little hand-printed card in her car listing not only her mechanic’s phone number but her AAA code as well.

Most cars these days are preposterously complicated and have thousands of unnecessary parts that all must work in harmony or the car just doesn’t move. Most of these parts sound a little suspicious, too. I mean, have you ever really seen a Neutral Safety Valve, Position Throttle Sensor, Catalytic converter, or Subspace Warp Field Regulator?

With car repair in mind, I have devised the following handy checklist for car owners. Using this simple form, you can narrow down car problems, make diagnosis easier, and have a better understanding of why your car is behaving the way it is.

1. THE NOISE MY CAR IS MAKING CAN BE BEST COMPARED TO:
a) Two pounds of marbles spinning in a high speed blender
b) Metal scraping against concrete
c) A wounded animal screaming in pain
d) A 1930 airplane in a fatal spiraling crash dive
e) Can’t hear noise; radio playing “Backstreet Boys” at high volume.

2. WHAT MADE YOU FIRST SUSPECT SOMETHING WAS WRONG WITH THE CAR?
a) Sluggish acceleration / performance
b) Car “felt” wrong
c) Fire coming from under hood
d) Dashboard lighting up like a Christmas tree / smoke from dashboard / “CHECK EVERYTHING” light came on
e) Car doesn’t seem to move.
f) Arresting officer said so in his accident report

3. THE CAR IS LEAKING FLUID. THE FLUID LOOKS LIKE:
a) Mountain Dew cola (anti-freeze)
b) The red stuff you make candy apples with (transmission)
c) Oil (Hmmm… what could this be?)
d) Blood (You may have bigger problems than car repair)

4. YOU MAY HAVE A COMPUTER PROBLEM. CONSIDER:
a) Has the “MAP” sensor failed before?
b) The main computer chip, or “ECU,” may have failed. Are many seemingly unrelated functions not working?
c) Have you upgraded to Windows 95?

5. PERHAPS YOU HAVE BRAKE PROBLEMS:
a) You notice the car never seems to stop at: intersections / red lights / at all
b) People often shout “Look out!” when they drive with you.
c) Smell of burning asbestos lingers around your car and clothes
d) Your car has annoying tendency to hit other cars despite your best intentions not to
e) Arresting officer said so in his accident report

6. ELECTRICAL PROBLEM CHECKLIST:
a) Road seems really, really dark at night
b) Pressing horn turns on left blinker
c) Pressing left blinker makes horn beep
d) Strange burning smell coming from fuse box
e) Lighting seems to strike your vehicle more than the Empire State Building.

7. NEXT, WE CHECK THE TIRES. YOU MAY NEED TO REPLACE THE TIRES IF ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ARE TRUE:
a) Whumpa-whumpa-whumpa sound gets louder the faster you drive.
b) There a lot of metal spiky things sticking out of the tires.
c) The last time you checked the tire pressure was during the Reagan administration.

8. WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING DO YOU REQUIRE TO KEEP YOUR CAR RUNNING PROPERLY?
a) jumper cables
b) extra oil/power steering/other fluids
c) distress flares
d) cell phone with “911” or “AAA” on speed dial
e) tow truck
f) another car
g) Super-Duper AAA Plus membership with unlimited service call option.

Oh, one other thing: Am I the only one who thinks that “Enterprise” Car commercial is really goofy? You know the one: The woman calls up and says, “Hi, I’m at the repair shop.” Behind her is a gigantic sign that says: REPAIR SHOP. Quickly, an Enterprise rental car — wrapped completely in brown wrapping paper (including the windows) — comes charging to her rescue. I know one thing: If you’re driving around with your car covered in brown wrapping paper, my little repair list isn’t going to help you, and your car problems are only beginning!

That’s a good safety tip to leave you with: Don’t drive on the highway with your car windows covered with brown wrapping paper — it annoys other drivers.

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