2006.07.06 Can Big Brother tell when thighs are done?

Written by David Green.


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 
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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