A history of auto maintenance, or how to short out your dashboard without trying | Blogs

I thought I would give the Hawkins Boys a rest this week and write about something different.

My first car was a 1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom that I bought from my Uncle Bob Tom in 1975. It was later replaced with a 1974 Ford LTD after it came to an unfortunate end. Ah yes, those teenage years.

I could do some of the maintenance on these cars, especially the ’74 Ford, which was in the family for 12 years. Things like changing a burned out headlight, dead battery or putting in a C.B. radio with a trunk mount antenna wasn’t a big deal. Most times, it was an excuse to stand in the driveway and joke around with friends.

In 1985, I traded the LTD in on an ’85 Subaru. It was my first experience with a foreign car.

At first, things didn’t seem that different. That is until, I decided to change out the radio.

After ordering a new radio, with cassette deck, out of the ever-present Crutchfield catalog, my friend Ron Campbell and I got together to install it in the car. The first thing I noticed was how little space there is under the dash of an ’85 Subaru compared to a ’74 LTD. You could just about curl up and take a nap under the old Ford’s dash.

Things went well in the beginning, except a few of my tools wouldn’t fit the Japanese parts. That “metric” thing you hear about. But Ron had the right size tools for the job, and things continued on uneventfully until we had the radio installed and turned it on.

With the push of a button the radio came on — along with every light on the dashboard.

There were a lot more wires under the dash of that ’85 Subaru with the push button on the shifter to electrically engage the four-wheel drive. Somehow we hooked the radio to the wrong one and more-or-less shorted out the dash. No damage was done and after more time twisting in the most uncomfortable positions possible, we tracked down the offending wire and soon had music for future road trips.

As time went on, I did less and less to the car myself. With work and all the other things life brings, it was just easier to run by a Jiffy Lube or a good mechanic’s shop for the bigger jobs. If a service job were to take most of a day, I would rent a car. No more standing around the car shooting the breeze.

Fast-forward to December 2020. I was leaving work and heading home one night, when the headlight on the driver’s side burned out. Years of working night shift as a photographer/page designer has made me very picky about my headlights. I used to have spare bulbs in my ’74 LTD.

The young me in my head said, “No problem. Buy a new bulb tomorrow and pop it in.”

I went online when I got home that night to look up the type of bulb and checked to see if you removed screws or if it was a bayonet socket to get to the bulb. I was surprised by what I learned.

You don’t open the hood to change the bulb like you would on my ’74 LTD.

On my 2014 Subaru, you remove part of the wheel well, which gets you to a plastic disk at the back of the light. After removing that, there was a clip on the back of the light socket and on and on and on.

Years ago my friends and I would have gotten together and made a day of it. Now I went by Courtesy Subaru, and they took care of it in a very short time. I was happy to pay the $40, which included the bulb. It was worth it to avoid the hassle.

Then came the cold weather at Christmas. The 6-year-old battery in my car was having trouble cranking the engine. The young me in my head woke up again and said, “Just stop by Advance Auto near work tomorrow, buy a new one and pop it in.”

When I went in at Advance Auto, I again learned that things are no longer like my old ’74 LTD. Gone are the days of just opening the hood, removing the battery cables and replacing the battery. Things today are computerized.

Just like when you turn your computer off and back on to reset it if it locks up, disconnecting the battery in your car can reset its computer. This changes everything from how your engine runs, your transmission shifts or what stations are on your radio.

The man at Advance Auto brought out a battery saver that plugged in under the dashboard. (No, my dashboard didn’t light up.) After the battery was installed, he unplugged the battery saver and I started the car. Everything worked just fine, and I didn’t have to reprogram my radio or reset my clock.

It’s interesting how advances in technology have made many things better, but more complicated at the same time.

But hey, I can still change a tire. How can they make that more complicated?

Wait! Why is there a symbol lit up near the speedometer that looks like a flat tire?

Never mind.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@timesnews.net.

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