Thursday, 27 May 2010 21:02

Mr. Gorillalilla

Written by Gonzo Weaver

With all the talk about the cars with push button starting systems and the runaway acceleration problems it made me think of what everyone has been talking about as the best method to safely stop a vehicle in these instances.

Most everyone will agree that turning off the ignition is NOT the best solution, however, not everyone can agree on whether or not a driver in a panic situation will remember to put the car in neutral instead of reaching for key, or that they shouldn’t turn the key back to the “steering” lock position.

And for those vehicles with push-to-start, would an operator remember that you have to hold the “start” button down for several seconds before the car will shut off unless it’s in park position.

So a lot of these conversations I’m involved in cycle back to the steering lock mechanism, which, in a panic situation is the deadly “lose control” factor. Let’s not forget that during this so-called emergency situation you might be traveling at close to 100 miles per hour, which could be scary enough without having to worry about shutting the car off.

The conversations I get involved in usually end up with whether or not the “general public” will remember and follow the procedures each and every time they are in an emergency situation.

This made me think of a situation I had with a customer a few years ago. Let’s call him “Mr. Gorillalilla.” Gorillalilla is a nice guy and all, but he was a huge muscular dude and as strong as an ox. His mid-80’s Jeep CJ was equipped with a key and lock setup that allowed you to turn the key off without it going all the way to the steering lock position. There was a lever that had to be pushed down in order to rotate the key back to the off position. You could then remove the key from the ignition lock.

Mr. Gorillalilla had brought his CJ in because he couldn’t get the key out of the ignition lock. Examining the problem led to the linkage arms inside the steering column that had been bent, which allowed the key and tumbler to rotate around the lock-out mechanism. No parts were really needed; I just had to take it apart and straighten the bent section of the mechanism, then reinstall everything. He was relieved that the problem was nothing major and was soon off on his way.

The very next day he was back, but this time he wasn’t a very happy rock crawler like he was the first time.

“It’s doing the same thing,” he angrily yelled back to me.

“Hmm, I wonder how that could be,” I said, curious as to how it left in perfect working order but now it’s back they way it was.

“Let me get it into the shop and check it out.”

Once I had pulled the steering column back down to where I was the day before I noticed the same parts were bent in the same manner as they were when I first seen them. Now how can that be? Not knowing the whole story I went ahead and put everything back to working order again.

“Here ya go, I haven’t a clue how in the world that happened sir, sorry about that,” I said.

Mr. Gorillalilla thanked me for my time and proceeded to leave. Before he left the parking lot he tried it several times to make sure it was working. It wasn’t long before he was back through the door yelling at me again.

“What do I have to do to get you guys to fix this right?” he shouted at me.

I was totally taken by surprise. I went out to the parking lot and looked at his problem again. This time he followed me out to his car. Just a few minutes ago I had personally seen the switch move just like it was supposed to and I tried it myself several times.

This time, I’m not moving the car. I went back into the shop and grabbed my tools. Right there in the parking lot I pulled it down as he watched me perform the operation on his steering column. I tried it several times myself before I let him try it. As soon as Gorillalilla got behind the wheel and grabbed the key, I knew right away what the problem was. He wasn’t using the lever to release the key mechanism!… Somehow, someway his vice grip hands were strong enough to rotate the key over the lever mechanism and that was what was causing all the problems.

The astonishing thing was he couldn’t see that he was the cause of the problem and insisted that it was a defect in the column. After all the debating I told him that I could remove the “safety” and then he could turn the key off without using the lever anymore. That was fine with him. I tore into the column for a fourth time and removed the latching arm that was attached to the outside release lever. Now I want to complain, but complaining about it doesn’t do any good. This big brute had such strong hands he could pull the tumbler back across the stops. The whole thing could have been avoided if the vehicle operator was even slightly aware of how to operate his vehicle correctly. It seems no matter how many times I run across a problem like this I’m the one that ends up putting the labor hours in even though the whole time the problem wasn’t my workmanship but this Gorilla’s brute strength.

My point about this whole affair?

This was a personal experience of a safety system that failed because the owner didn’t follow the procedures, and didn’t seem to notice that the key might feel a tad hard to turn. This wasn’t even a panic situation. I’m glad I’m not the engineer because I don’t know how I would solve these issues we are having with these latest designs and technologies (drive by wire). But, when it comes to adding or changing the systems in the cars to alleviate problems from the driver’s seat, I hope they go all the way and make the designs and procedures “Gorilla” proof.


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