Tube City Almanac

April 11, 2005

A Light in the Driveway

Category: default || By jt3y

Ah, the life of a swinging, hedonistic bachelor was on full display this weekend. Take Sunday morning, which I spent at Sears, Roebuck, buying pruning shears, a rake, and throw rugs. Then I came home and (you may want to chase the kiddies out of the room now) cleaned out the flower beds and trimmed the rose bushes.

Whoa, Nelly! I have to admit, I'm feeling a little bit dissipated now. But that won't stop me from continuing my sybaritic ways, such as later this week, when I go over to my mother's house and spray pesticide on the lawn. Yowza!

Also this weekend, the sleek, gray Mercury decided to jerk me around. Saturday night, as I washed dishes (slow down, Hugh Hefner!) I saw the interior lights were on. I said a bad word, then put on my shoes and went outside ... but the interior lights weren't on.

Hmm. An optical illusion, I thought.

I finished rinsing the dishes and was about to wipe off the counter when I noticed the lights were on again. This time I watched them slowly fade out.

So I kept watching. About 10 minutes later, they came on again, and then slowly faded out. And I said another bad word.

A word here about modern automobile technology. Years ago, someone (perhaps Henry Ford, when he wasn't writing anti-Semitic claptrap for the Dearborn Independent) realized it would be a good idea if when you opened the door of your car, the lights came on inside.

So, they hooked up a little switch that was activated when you opened the door, and turned on the interior lights. The circuit diagram looked something like this:

The switch cost about 39 cents, and the bulb was 19 cents, and the wires cost another 79 cents. Sometimes the switch broke, and you'd stop down at the Esso (or Sinclair or American or Gulf) station, and Gus (or Eddie or Stush or Tony) would install a new one. Sometimes the bulb would burn out. But that was about all that could go wrong.

For about 70 years, this is how dome lights in cars worked. Well, this wasn't good enough for the modern American consumer. They don't just want lights that turn on and off. They want them to dim slowly --- they call it "theater lighting" in the auto trade. They also want to be able to turn them on and off with their keyless remote entry doohickey. They want the lights to turn on, too, if they open the trunk. And they want the lights to go off after a certain amount of time, like if little Timmy, age 3, has been playing around in the car and left the door wide open, so that the lights don't drain the battery.

The result is that the interior lighting on the modern automobile is no longer controlled by mere switches and wires. On most cars, they're now computer-activated; the sleek, gray Mercury has something called a Lighting Control Module which controls everything from the headlights to the turn signals to the brake lights to the dashboard hibachi and automatic package shelf bobble-head doll motion detector. Thus, the circuit now looks like this:

There is no switch --- there's a motion detector built into the hinge of the door, which Gus (or Eddie or Stush or Tony) wouldn't know how to service, even if the Esso (or Sinclair or American or Gulf) station hadn't been torn down and replaced by a "GetGo."

And when something goes wrong with the interior lights, you don't just replace the switch or the bulb, you take the car to the dealer, where they (I swear I'm not making this up) hook the Lighting Control Module to the special computer analyzer, which tells them (at a shop rate of $75 per hour) that the Lighting Control Module (Motorcraft Part No. F8AZ-13C788-BA) is fried, and that will be $270.49, plus tax and labor, and can you pay the man on the way out?

Naturally, what I've done instead is pulled the fuse on the dome lights for the time being. The car is still under warranty for another 3,000 miles, but the warranty only covers the power train, not the electrical fizzly bits. If only the dome lights had gone on the fritz because the motor had fallen out of the car, then I might be covered.

There is a slim chance --- very slim --- that the doors are slightly misaligned or the door sensors are dirty, and some futzing around in the driveway this week might fix the problem. I'm going to try it, but I'm not hopeful.

This is progress? Phooey on progress, I say.

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