2006.07.06 Can Big Brother tell when thighs are done?

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

It got my attention recently when someone wrote the “Click and Clack Talk Cars” newspaper column regarding their Ford Focus. The heated seats of the Focus worked so well that they burned the car’s seats, his wife’s winter coat and untold damage to the wife herself. Click (or was it Clack?) checked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and found that there had been a few other similar reports attributed to the Focus.

Clack (or maybe Click) added that while it may be a fine trick to play on your passengers, it would be a good idea to get the seats fixed. I immediately thought of the similar seats on my Buick and the similar fun I’ve had with them.

I once had a passenger who asked me to turn off the seat warmers as a warm seat made her feel like she needed to visit the restroom. Of course, after that admission, I always tried to turn on the seats on her side whenever possible. Finally, she learned where the switch was and I couldn’t get away with it anymore.

But what if I had overheating seats like the Focus? I always said the seat warmers would come in handy if I was bringing home hot food in the winter, but it might be a good idea to check for any comparable complaints about the Buick’s seats.

Luckily, I couldn’t find any seat warmer complaints by Park Avenue owners, but almost all of the problems mentioned seemed familiar. Like the person complaining about the ash tray, for example.

Yes, one person’s biggest complaint about the car was that the ash tray wouldn’t stay closed. They said it was because of a poor design and claimed a new ash tray cost $125. I’m thinking this person must have been a smoker. I noticed the same thing when I test drove my Buick, but after confirming I don’t smoke, the dealership offered to make sure it never opened again, no charge. A strategically-placed screw later, the ash tray has stayed in place for two years. And $125 stayed put in my pocket, to be spent on car repairs another day.

A second person complained that the intake manifold went bad at 120,000 miles and cost $1,300 to fix. I had the same problem at about 110,000 miles and it cost a little over $1,200. The similarity in timing and dollars spent seemed a little spooky.

A third owner claims to have had the intake manifold problem twice, but doesn’t say at what point or how much it cost. He also said that his power steering unit just fell off the car and he doesn’t know what could have caused the bolts to break, although he admits he also recently ran over a recap off a truck tire at high speed and bent a rim in the process.

And yet, he doesn’t understand how the power steering bolts could have broken? What’s more, the poor car has 179,000 miles on it, which I’d consider a miracle the way he seems to drive it. And I’ll bet he doesn’t have his car insurance at the same company I do.

My insurance company recently offered me $50 if I’d attach some gadget called a TripSensor to my Buick’s computer diagnostic port for six months. The TripSensor is designed to record information for every trip I take, such as start and end time, distance traveled, top speed, etc.

It sounds like a good way to incriminate yourself, but the company promises that any information gathered will not affect your policy status or premium. However, if you are involved in an accident, they may be required to provide data collected to investigating police or parties opposing you in a lawsuit. Do you suppose the lawyers would settle for the $50 I was paid to gather the evidence?

That prospect doesn’t concern me as much as the possibility that Big Brother at insurance headquarters might find a way to use his connection to the Buick’s computer port to start sending me messages over the car’s warning system.

I can imagine it now...I accidentally hit 56 mph and the insurance police set off the Buick’s warning alarm. Or they send me a notice, complaining about my choice in compact discs. Or the message display starts flashing “Did you mail in your premium check?” Or the worst of all, “Turn off the seat warmers, your passenger is on fire!”

  - July 6, 2006 
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