Tim Istock: Car Talk

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

By Tim Istock

For the Clemmons Courier

So I was driving around last week minding my own business when out of the blue my engine light came on. Hmmm … I thought, now that’s strange, the car has been running just fine, and still is for that matter, how serious can this be?

And it got me to thinking.

Many moons ago, back when the earth’s crust was still cooling and I was just beginning to drive, if the engine light happened to make an unscheduled appearance on the dashboard of your 5000 pound Sherman tank on wheels, it was usually accompanied by billowing black smoke and 10 foot flames spewing out from underneath the hood. Nowadays, you can break wind on the seat of your car and 15 different lights immediately begin flashing in the dashboard to warn you of some as of yet to be determined impending disaster just raring to take you and your car out.

And that got me to thinking even more.

If these new fangled computerized vehicles are going to be that overly sensitive, why can’t they at least be programmed to just verbally tell you what in tarnation is going on rather than forcing you to hook up your car via some electronic umbilical cord to a diagnostic code reader, only to retrieve a result that might as well be in Greek all it means to you? I mean, a simple, “Hey Tim, your right front O2 sensor has petered out. You don’t need to know what this little walnut sized $149 (excluding labor) gizmo does, just know that you and your car will be okey dokey until you can see your way to getting it replaced. I wanted to give you a head’s up as I know how you like to procrastinate about getting things like this taken care of, and it just so happens that your annual car inspection is due tomorrow.”

And here’s something else. Times were when having someone “total” their car or truck meant that for all intents and purposes the vehicle was rendered practically unrecognizable owing to the magnitude of the collision, its crumpled body so completely mangled that you seriously wondered how anyone could have possibly survived the accident, and unfortunately, many did not. Fast forward to today, where it seems you hear all the time about someone’s spouse or child or workmate having been involved in an accident and “totaling” their car, only to find out later that a dented bumper or a deep scratch on a left front quarter panel was all that was needed to label the car a total loss. You know, maybe we need to start reserving the word “totaled” for those vehicles that are truly demolished beyond repair, and referring to those cars that have simply had their feelings hurt from a cosmetic standpoint to something more along the lines of, “left somewhat imperfect” or “slightly bruised.”

And before I forget, what’s with the trend towards outfitting vehicles with bigger and bigger in-dash “infotainment” screens? I read where one popular electric car is outfitted with a whopping 17-inch screen that promises exceptional responsiveness for gaming, movies and more! Hmmm… and here I thought the idea was to have less distractions while driving. Silly me. So the newly licensed teenage driver and admitted gaming addict blasting down I-40 in rush hour traffic while navigating the latest version of Fast & Furious? No problem, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Finally, does anyone who has forked over 80 grand on a brand spanking new pick-up truck complete with more bells and whistles than all of my current 15-year-old cars combined, really and truly jerk the leather trimmed, twin turbo powered behemoth off the road and commence to charging up boulder strewn mountains, splashing through remote muddy creeks, and more or less gleefully beating the living snot out of the thing like there’s no tomorrow? I mean, the major truck manufacturers seem to imply such freewheeling happens all the time, that is, if you believe the myriad of commercials parading across TV screens every Sunday afternoon during football season. I don’t know, maybe I’m too far removed from the great outdoors anymore to notice such things, but most of the folks I know who have invested handsomely in these super-sized Tonka trucks for personal use rather than occupational tasks seem to spend more time making sure their babies have a fine shine than 4-wheeling it above the tree line.