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March 2013 Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on March 1, 2013
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

[Editor’s Note: To avoid any unseemly content from befouling these pages, I’ve made sure the good doctor’s column contains no naughty words or sly insults. Doc may think he’s funny, trying to slip inappropriate comments past me, but I’ll show him who is smarter. For any words I’ve bleeped out, I’ve put (editor) to show where. And now back to this month’s column, already in progress.]

...and so I had no idea the bear had also stopped at that exact spot. When I got out of my Jeep, I stepped in a big pile of (editor) and it was still warm! Besides regretting going barefoot that day, I was also very nervous knowing the bear was still nearby. That’s what got me to thinking how nice it would be if Jeep saw fit to actually include useful warning features on all of their products. I realize a “Bear Proximity Alert” might be a bit tricky to implement, but certainly Jeep could still add some other useful features.

For example, my ’48 CJ-2A left the factory with a full set of gauges, but not all models over the years were so well equipped. On many models, instead of a gauge that would alert you if oil pressure was dropping towards the danger zone, you were stuck with a useless (editor) light that only illuminated after the damage was done. Who’s the inept (editor) that came up with that concept? Here’s how I suspect it happened. Imagine an executive conference room at an automaker’s headquarters. The supply department is worried because gauges are expensive items. The production guys are whining because gauges take a lot of manpower to install. Despair settles over the room, until a gray-haired gentleman leans forward and clears his throat. Chatter ceases, and the clouds of gloom are parted. Rather than installing an expensive oil pressure gauge in each vehicle, he suggests installing a worthless little red light. All problems are solved. Diabolical laughter erupts, and then everybody goes back to working on a bulletproof pension plan for the senior management team.

Notice I didn’t specifically say Jeep was responsible for imposing the despised (editor) light on motorists. I’m sure some automotive historian could track down the first such usage, but that’s beside the point. It’s here, and it’s not going away. I wish I could say the miserable (editor) light wasn’t used for any other systems, but that’s not so. Consider the brake warning light on my trusty old pickup. Since this is a Jeep magazine, I won’t mention the company, but it is the only one of the Big Three whose name is a four-letter word.

When it comes to brakes, I would like to extend a special thanks to my dad. As the person who patiently taught my impatient teenage self to drive, he included a few extras not normally covered in driver’s ed. To this day, I won’t park next to a Camaro because those extra-long doors are likely to ding my vehicle. He also taught me how to hit the windshield washer spray at the exact instance you sneeze, to thoroughly gross-out your passengers. Most important of all, he taught me to drive as if I had no brakes. I don’t mean as in plowing down the sidewalk or careening off parked cars. No, he meant one day, when least expected, my brakes would indeed fail, and so I was to always be prepared for that.

So back to that pitiful (editor) light for the brakes on my pickup. Pressure sensors monitored the system and would in theory turn on the worthless (editor) light if only one side had pressure. Notice I said, “In theory.” In practice, for smoother operation, a metering valve holds off pressure to the front brakes until pressure first builds up to the back. Raise your hand if you can see where this is heading. Guess who found the one scenario where a leak at the rear brakes could also take out the front? Meanwhile, with no pressure in either system, the inadequate (editor) light stayed off because it didn’t sense any differential when I first stepped on the brakes.

At this point, it was quite the surprise when the brake pedal, normally a useful apparatus, suddenly transformed into an extraneous footrest way down on the floorboards. Actually, as I relive those moments, I think a slight amount of pressure must have built up in one of the systems. That’s slight, as in not enough to perform any useful braking action. Too late to do any good, there was apparently just enough pressure to turn on that laser-bright red light, which was conveniently situated to blind me while on my way to the crash site. Luckily, I remembered my dad’s advice. No, I didn’t aim at a Camaro for revenge, although it was tempting. I simply downshifted and then used the parking brake to bring the truck back under control. As I waited for my heart to start beating again, I wondered if truth-in-advertising laws apply to dashboards. If that pathetic (editor) light wasn’t going to provide any warning ahead of time, instead of being labeled Brakes, it should have said Change Underwear. [Editor’s Note: What is this “underwear” of which you speak?]

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