14 Jan. 2011
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Problems, Problems

More Car Stuff

It's the old "once I get an idea in my 'ead there's no shiftin' it."  Yesterday was cars, today is car thoughts, ideas, annoyances, and maybe some silliness.  Let's start with a Ford experience.

The Hybrid Brake Problem

You may recall that I bought a Ford Escape hybrid a few years ago.  If you don't recall, I link herewith for your convenience to my review of some of its anti-features.  At that time, I had only put a thousand miles on the vehicle, and spent the blogitem whining about the lack of thought that went into the design of the user interface.  The driving experience, such as it hardly was, hadn't gelled in my alleged mind yet, and I was comment-free about it.  Now, three years later, I'm still almost comment-free.  Shared between two drivers, it only has about 13k miles, and except in the winter, typically gets driven only weekly, mostly to keep it from getting bored. 

I've never liked brakes.  Their joblet's face itis to waste energy.  When I'm driving, I consider their use to be a personal failure, either of timing or of foresight.  If I were more psychologically frail, I would keep a log of the days on which this makes me a "bad person."  On the occasions when I have a passenger, I am reminded of my anti-brake fetish often; sometimes the gouges in my arm take days to heal.  When I happen to be passenging, I keep a roll of duct tape handy in case I need to gag myself to avoid ejection.  This fetish of mine has pluses as well:  good mileage, and in the 100k miles the Prius has accumulated not once has the service department mentioned "brake pads" to me.  Not so for the Ford.

As a quick refresher, hybrid vehicles have a dual braking system.  Electrodynamic braking is used under normal circumstances to slow the car and simultaneously recharge the battery.  This is still inefficient, hence my dislike of braking at all, but far less so than friction braking, which is 100% waste.  It's only at very low speeds or in panic stops that the friction brakes are used in a hybrid, which is why there is so little wear.  In the Ford's case, apparently there was no wear, or so little that the braking system got rusty!  During its most recent service department visit, I was given this datum with the suggestion that I would have to pay to have the brakes fixed, notwithstanding that the Ford was still under warranty.  Of course, the dealer pointed out that brakes are excluded from the warranty.  Since they are "normal wear" items, the customer is responsible for them, just like batteries, light bulbs, fluid replacement, etc.  I explained to him that "normal wear" isn't exactly what we had here, since the Escape had very low mileage and the problem wasn't wear, it was rust!  I petitioned them to call Ford, explain the problem, and ask them to pay for the repair, since I considered this to be a design deficiency. 

They claimed to have called Ford, and further claimed that Ford turned down my request.  With the standard consumer suspicion of car dealers, I suspect that neither happened, but have no way of being sure.  Either way, this rusty brake problem is one I haven't seen reported before, and thought I'd mention it here.  Clearly it is a design deficiency, since hybrids are designed to make little use of friction brakes, and this is entirely different from the "normal wear" which properly is not covered by warranty.

The Maintenance Warning Problem

Nowadays, cars remind you when they want service.  Every 4500 miles the Prius blinks at me, giving me 500 miles of driving to schedule an appointment and get whatever it's most recently whining about done.  This is a "good thing," but I've always wondered about why they notify you the way they do.  It works thus:

  • I get in the car and turn on the ignition

  • The yellow light requesting service blinks for a bit and then goes off

  • I drive to my destination, during which time I completely forget about the alert

It's only after 5000 miles that the warning light comes on and stays on.  At this time, I see it when I get to my destination and am much more likely to remember it when I'm able to do something about it!  To be sure, it really doesn't make much difference whether the car is serviced a little bit late, but how much of a challenge could it be to blink the yellow light when you're about to get out of the car instead of when you get in?

The Codes Problem

A periodic question seen on internet car forums goes like this:

"My car isn't working right and I'm getting the following diagnostic codes.  What do they mean?"

A periodic question I would put to all auto manufacturers is this:

"Don't you now have alphanumeric LCD displays?  Can't you spare a few kilobytes of memory and a few programmer-months to translate these stupid codes into English and display them instead of making owners grovel?"

If only one manufacturer would do this, they would all fall in line for competitive reasons.  Codes were designed in the days of expensive computing and memory.  We don't use Teletypes any more and we shouldn't tolerate cryptic codes, either.

The Boursin Problem

I just found a box of half-eaten Boursin cheese in the refrigerator.  The uneaten half will remain thus, since it is so moldy that even I, normally reluctant to waste salvageable food, won't eat or photograph this specimen, for my equanimity and for yours.  The box bears this legend:

  Somewhat ambiguous but nonetheless long-passed cheese expiration date

I suppose one could interpret this to be 2008 or 2009.  I don't think the 14:56 is particularly relevant any more.  Given how food prices keep going up and electronics prices keep plummeting, do you think Mr. Boursin and others could include a little timed blinker with each food item?  The message "eat me soon" would be implicit, and Penn Jillette's theory about space alien leftovers would be less compelling.

Neil Young




I must have picked this up in Reseda.  I'm so cinematically unaware that I had to look the company up.  But I have heard of their competitor Hanna-Barbera.

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