occam’s razor

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Honestly, it’s been one thing after another with my car. The shifter got super stiff on humid days. There was an annoying clicking sound in a tire well (not anything serious like bearings or a half-shaft, but still…) The engine stalled when in idle on hot days… etc. etc. etc.

I took it to a garage in early summer to fix these problems. They didn’t relax the shifter but they fixed the clicking for the most part. They corrected the engine stalling which was infinitely more important than an annoying noise. It was fixed just in time for my family’s Independence Day trip to Kentucky, thankfully. But other problems have popped up since then that have left me wondering if I should wash my hands of the car.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my car and I’m lucky to have it. But like anything else, it’s still annoying when things go wrong.

The most recent problems happened at the end of the summer. I decided to use the heated seats during a cold night but they weren’t working. The associated button didn’t light up and the seat didn’t heat up. This was true of both seats. Plus, the ambient lights, AKA “mood” lighting, no longer worked.

I assumed there might be some connection between the heated seats and lighting because the buttons are located next to each other on the instrument panel. I hadn’t done much in the way of investigating it though. It wasn’t essential for driving but I did hope to fix it before the threat of gluteal frostbite became imminent. The plan was to have the same garage fix it but my husband wanted to do it for me. He only needed to find the time.

In the meantime, my low beam headlights stopped working inexplicably which made the car undrivable for all intents and purposes. The problem there was a corroded relay that created an unusable plug in the fuse box. We saved a lot of money by fixing it ourselves.

My husband thought the heated seat and mood lighting problem was likely due to a grounding issue: that somewhere in the electrical circuit for those nonworking features was a loose or disconnected wire. Or something like that. He also suspected that the headlight problem might be tied to the suspected grounding issue. So even though we fixed the fuse box and the low beam headlights were working, he didn’t consider the headlight issue closed.

He tracked down schematics for the car and gathered up all the tools and electrical testing gadgetry he could get his hands on. I’m glad we don’t have an oscilloscope because that might have been dragged out too. (I’m not sure if I’m joking about that.) It was something of an ordeal to prepare for the task at hand.

We headed out to the car and began the work of accessing the wires he wanted to test. We (mostly he) pried off the Darth Vader hood above and over the radio cluster. We unscrewed the ball on the shifter. Finally, we carefully removed the part of the instrument panel that includes the buttons that control the heated seats and mood lighting. It came off with little difficulty.

That’s when my husband noticed that the plugs for the heated seats and mood lighting weren’t plugged into the instrument panel. That would handily explain why those features stopped working. I squealed. Could it be that simple? I really hoped so.

He thought it was likely that one of the mechanics at the garage didn’t plug it back in when fixing the car in early summer. He didn’t write off the need for electrical testing though.

He showed no signs of forgoing what he had so thoroughly prepared for. I hoped to distract him and deter that effort. “Let’s test the plugs to see if it will work,” I encouraged him. We clicked the plugs into place, I fired up the engine and everything worked just fine. After some cajoling, he wrote off the possibility of a grounding issue and we wrapped up our car-fixing efforts for the day.

If only it was always so easy. Now, I’m glad I didn’t take the car back to the garage. Even more dollars would have been shelled out to fix a problem they created. Of course, I wouldn’t have known they created the problem if we hadn’t fixed it ourselves. We would have been left thinking it was another fault in the product rather than the service we received.

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