Wednesday, November 22, 2006

from the "my car is on glue" dept.

Several months ago I bought a 1995 Dodge Status. It's a plain-Jane sedan but it was in good shape and cheap like borscht.

Until recently, it worked like a dream. It stalls the odd time, though this is more due to me blowing shifts than the car. Plus, it desperately needs a tune-up.

Regardless, I've been driving to and fro in a vehicle that a) isn't embarrassing to drive and b) is dependable.

About a month ago, things changed.

If you know me, you know that I suffer from what I like to call an "electronic hex".

Throughout my life I have had problems related to electronic or electrical devices not working properly in my presence.

I'm not alone: read more here.

I've had computers, tills in grocery stores, bank machines, electronic gas pumps and, just last week, the till at a liquor store in Winnipeg shut down or crash in my presence. Coincidence? Maybe.

Back to the car.

About a month ago I parked in front of my house. It was pouring and I made a quick dash inside. When I looked out the kitchen window, I noticed the headlights and taillights were on.

I figured I had left the lights on, and went back to the car to turn them off. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they were off. Then I noticed the electronic door locks wouldn't function.


I hopped back in, started the car up and went for a spin around the block. After parking again, I noticed that the interior light would not go off. I switched it to manual mode. The door locks still wouldn't work but this time when I cut the engine and turned off the lights, they actually went out.


I was perplexed (read: mad) about this latest electro-hex, but figured the recent Vancouver monsoons had done something warped to the electrical system. The car seemed to work fine the following day, with the exception of the door locks and the interior light. Life was good.

About a week ago I travelled to Winnipeg and left my car with a friend of mine. We'll call him Randy.

I thought nothing more of the car until I returned to Vancouver this past Saturday and Randy picked me up.

While driving home he explained that he had had some weird troubles with -- you guessed it -- the electrical system in the car.

One night he parked it in his underground garage only to find the battery was flat the next morning. After getting a boost, the problems with lights not turning off resurfaced. This time even pulling fuses didn't help.

But then the problem suddenly cleared up and the Stratus has been trouble free.

Until this morning.

I was putting on a pot of coffee when I looked out the window. Through the driving rain I noticed that the taillights on the Stratus were burning brightly. Damn!

I pulled on some monsoon-wear and ventured outside to investigate. The lights were switched off. There was no key in the ignition and yet the lights were on.

I hopped in, drove around the block, turned the car off. The lights stayed on.

I opened the interior fuse panel and started pulling fuses. The lights stayed on.


I had to turn the lights off so that I wouldn't have a flat battery later in the day. I needed wheels to drive cross-town for a meeting with two other folks who are headed to Ghana in January.

I thought I'd disconnect the battery, but some bright bulb at Chrysler designed the Stratus with the magical hidden battery. Maybe it runs on a nugget of plutonium.

Then I found the Holy Grail of the electrical system: the main fuse box. I started pulling fuses with glee.

Air Bag? Who needs it!
Brakes? Whatever!
Heater? Pfffft!

But removing the fuses did squat. The lights burned on as the battery slowly discharged. I could hear the evil laughter of Lee Iococa.

And then: BINGO!

Removing fuse #16 - a 40 amp orange baby - did the trick. The lights went off.

The manual says this fuse is for the "Run/Ignition Feed". Although I have a feeling it will be more like a light switch in the next few days. Whatever works.

For no real reason I wondered if the car would work with the fuse pulled. I hopped in, turned it over and -- voila -- it started. I turned the lights on and they worked. I tried the auto door locks and they worked too.

The only thing that didn't function was the heater fan. Ah, shades of the old Buick and memories of last winter without a heater. And radio. And -- wait a minute! -- these are the same problems I had with my last car.

I AM hexed!

However, at least now I have a temporary solution (I think). Every time I park, I'll turn off the ignition and the lights, then pop the hood, pull a fuse, and really turn off the lights.

Cumbersome, dirty and a pain -- but the silver lining here is that I can put off taking it in for service for another few days.

And for a car that I paid $1500 for, it's still been a good deal.


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