Auto oddities and hallucination

I was driving home from work the other night in my little Mazda B2300 -some of you may remember this pickup from it’s starring role in my first (and to date only) cinematic production Tailgate: The Movie, which I am embedding right here just in case you happened to miss it at the myriad film festivals that I never entered it into, but probably should have just to be an ass:

It’s been a good little truck for the last couple of years. I have put about 40,000 miles on it since I bought it sometime in 2009, and it hasn’t left me stranded (okay, once). Upkeep has been pretty minimal: I’ve changed the oil a few times, I replaced an alternator a week or so after I got it (that was the once), I had to replace the flimsy, plastic intake manifold along the way, a heater exchange valve was replaced, and now it is leaking a bit of the refrigerant for the air conditioning -so I just keep pumping more in as opposed to getting it repaired because honestly global warming is taking way to long to come to a head to really have any effect on me personally 🙂

60/40 Mazda Seat
Luxurious new seat -nothing like mine
Like all cars, though, this one came with some quirks. Probably the worst of which is that someone had removed the stock “60/40” seat and replaced it with a couple of bucket seats. Why is this bad? Well for one the bucket seats look damn near identical to the 60/40 seat, only without the center compartment for storage, elbow leaning, and cup holding needs. Secondly, the bucket seats they chose came from the back of a mini van. So while they look pretty much identical to the stock seat in shape, and could probably pass for stock in a pinch, they have a cupholder that can only be expanded if the doors are open (and why they put the cupholders on the outside edge of the seats instead of the inside I gots no idea). Thirdly, and probably the only issue of real importance, is that the seats, being from the back of a mini van, do not have the sensor hardware necessary to use the airbag switch cables … so the airbag light on the dash has been on since the day I bought it (and probably well before that, as there is evidence of a piece of electrical tape covering up the position of that light on the instrument console).

As with all things, I told myself I would fix it one day. All it really should take is a seat from a similar Mazda or Ford Ranger to be installed and I should be able to hook the switch back up to solve the problem. Of course finding the seat has been all but impossible. I’ve seen a couple of them advertised on ebay over the years, and have seen them a couple of times on some auto salvage parts websites, but invariably the shipping on them just kills any thought of making it a reality. If I can buy the seats for 200 dollars, but it costs 150 more to have it shipped I simply can’t make myself to it. One of these days though, I will finally fix it for real: I’ll just remove the light bulb in the dash that shows the airbag status. (And here I should point out that this is all conjecture. I bought the pickup for well below low blue book, and it did come with a salvaged title. It could be that the airbag was deployed in an accident years ago and the seats were only changed to get rid of the blood stains from the horrific crash…)

Lockout tool kit - some parts not legal in all statesAnother of the quirks was discovered quite by accident when I was fumbling around for my Slim Jim lockout toolkit. To elaborate on that, I once locked my keys in the pickup, and even though I had never attempted to break into a car, I went ahead and dropped 15 bucks on one to try it out before I spent over a hundred to get a locksmith out. Once I got to the truck and chose my weapon, I had the door opened in under 10 seconds. No one was more surprised than me. Since then I have had a bit of a flair for unlocking cars with the little toolkit (which looks very similar to what you see to the left here). My next break-in attempt was for one of the cashiers at work, she locked her keys in her Pontiac Grand Am -which had electronic locks and I thought I certainly wouldn’t be able to crack, but I tried it to humor her. Perhaps 2 minutes in the door popped right open. Next up was a Ford van from the late 70’s. That one practically opened up just because it saw me coming… But to date I am most surprised that I was able to pop the door on a 2007 Ford Mustang. This one also had power door locks, but this one is certainly new enough it should be using all of the preventive features that are supposed to make the slim jim lockout toolkit obsolete. I’d like to say that I got right in, but I didn’t. This one took me a good 10 minutes of fumbling around to finally get to pop open, but it was all worth while to see the relieved look on the woman’s face when I got in. In fact to date the only car I was not able to get into using the old slim jim method was a 2001 Camry. I was able to get into it, I just had to use a different device to manipulate the electronic door lock on the driver’s arm rest after the attempts with the slim jim had failed. So breaking into cars thus far is a 100% success rate. I would also like to point out that I am doing this for customer service in my official capacity at work -not to go joyriding.

My how I digress… It was when I was reaching behind the seat for the slim jim lockout toolkit (and isn’t it ironic that I now keep the thing behind the seat? So if I happen to lock my keys in the truck again I will have to buy another lockout toolkit to get to both the keys and the lockout toolkit) that I happened across a thick electrical wire with frayed ends from where it had been ripped off of … something … Apparently I must have hit it against the metal on the back of the cab or something, because a huge spark shot out and (as I would only discover later) it blew the fuse to my turn signals. I took the time later to trace this wire up under the dash and remove it from the fuse block -where it had been haphazardly smashed into an existing spot instead of using one of the several empty (but powered) slots. I thought it may have been to an audio amplifier, but unless they had the stereo rigged to make the lights flash with the beat I can’t figure out why they would have wired it on that circuit. Just another quirk.

Of course the quirk that I came across the other night was a factory one.

Mmmm.  Corn NutsI was leaving work at right around 3am -I generally leave anywhere between 3-6am on Sunday morning. Taking a page from the old-school truckers, I keep a bag of corn nuts in the pickup. The idea is that if you are driving a long stretch of straight road in the dark, crunching on seeds or nuts will keep you from dozing off or getting hypnotized by the road. I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced either of those, but the crunch does keep me alert. I was reaching for that bag of beauties just after I left work (Barbecue this time, though they are generally Ranch), but I couldn’t find them. Alone on the road, I reached down to turn on the dome light to aid in my search. There was a bright flash of light, and then … nothing.

Driving in the wee hours and being the only car on the road can make your mind do some pretty neat stuff. There will be times when I am on the road and I literally don’t see another car -going either direction- for the entire 50 mile ride home. Sometimes my mind wanders off and I wonder if maybe there was a Langoliers type event that left me as the only human remaining on earth. Then I generally grab some corn nuts, because that is some bizarre shit to be letting yourself think while you are driving, and thus -in theory at least- at the height of your senses. Such was the case when I flicked the switch and the bright light flashed and faded inside the cab of the truck.

I was still going down the road, but when I looked down I saw that the speedometer was dead set on 0, and the odometer wasn’t moving either. This is what appears to be an old-school, mechanical odometer and speedometer rig, and it’s a touch eerie to look down and see them suddenly frozen in time as you speed down the interstate. In an instant, my mind thought: oh Fuck! That fraction of a second that I took my eyes off the road … There must have been something there … I must have crashed… Maybe this is death… Maybe the crash is so horrific that my mind produced some wicked hallucinogens to keep me from seeing it. Another fraction of a second and my rational mind was able to take over: this isn’t nearly hot enough to be hell, I’m obviously not dead. I pulled off the interstate at the Casa Blanca exit and took stock of my surroundings. Cars speeding past me on the interstate. The ground beneath my feet felt real enough. Maybe a bizarre coincidence caused the speedometer cable to break at precisely the same moment as the bulb for the dome light blew out? Where can I buy a lottery ticket at this hour?

Once I decided that I wasn’t dead, I grabbed my phone and downloaded a speedometer app from the Android market. I put the phone where the speedometer ought to be and was back on my may. Although the story would have been much more interesting if it had been a Langoliers type thing…

Once I got home I was able to fire up google and find a copy of the 2003 Ford Ranger Owner Manual online. While it still took some guess and check, I was able to find that the speedometer and odometer, while they appear to be mechanical, are actually completely electronic, and controlled by a fuse. And, for reasons unknown, the fuse panel remained the same size, shape, and layout for a decade but they moved fuses around inside it year to year. Once I found the correct fuse position for my pickup (fuse 26) and replaced it, my speedometer and odometer came back, and my dome light came on. But what an odd combination of things to have on the same circuit. That is the only thing in the instrument cluster that was affected. All the lights still worked -even the lights for the odometer and speedometer- it was just the controller for them that is tied to the dome light. Nonetheless, the problem is solved.

As I said, it has its quirks. I just hope that next time it’s not like the cigarette lighter gets stuck and when the fuse blows it also takes out the headlights and the power brakes… I can’t be certain of that though, because that would make every bit as much sense as the speedometer and dome light being on the same circuit. But if that does happen I’d like to have some electrodes attached to my head to figure out what the hell part of my brain is causing those insane theories to pop up.

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