Stalls – Nov ’88

Stalls – Nov ’88

by | Nov 16, 1988

Volvo – A Car For Lawyers

Attentive readers will recall that a certain Volvo wagon took up smoking on a trip to Oregon last June. I as­ cribed this to the lack of a fuse in the headlight circuit together with chaffed wires behind the headlight bucket, where Volvo does, in fact, pass a pair of unprotected wires behind a razor­ sharp flange.

I wrote to Volvo about this. About six weeks later a reply came, stating that they were u nable to get hold of me and if  I wished  to pursue  the matter. After another 3+ weeks of playing telephone tag, (by which time I had repaired the damage) an appointment was set up for the end of September for them to look at the car. Which they did. What follows their  explanation for why my Volvo cooks.further I should call a 1-800 number. 1 called, not because I thought Volvo would help (I had given up on them by this point), but in order to learn why they could not get hold of me. They said they did not have my telephone number. I pointed out that it was on the top of the letter I send, and in the phone book, too. I did not point  out the obvious, that it was right  next to my address on the letterhead from which they wrote me. Curious folks, these Volvo purveyors.

The high/low headlight has two filaments. One side of the pair is joined and is served by a common wire, and the other sides are separate, so the high / low beams can be turned on and off independently. Every manufacturer in Europe (so far as I know) except Volvo uses the common lead as ground, and feeds B+ into the separate leads to turn on the beams. Volvo does just the opposite. It feeds B+ into the common lead and grounds the separate leads to complete the headlight circuits.

None of this mattered until I installed Cibie lights. The reflector of the Cibie, it turns out, is mechanically connected to the common lead (the base) of its H-4 lamp, and is mechanically connected to the three locating tangs on the rim of the headlight. The tangs locate the headlight within the metal bucket, which is bolted to the car body. Thus, on a car which feeds B+ into the common lead, the current can travel through the reflector and tang straight into the chassis, causing a dead short. In fact this had happened (again) since I replaced wires on the Volvo in question. Volvo reported that the bucket wires had again burned out, though the relay, switch and harness wires I had replaced had survived.

Volvo said they had seen this happen a number of times. Which causes me to wonder, (1) why d o they wire it this way, (2) why is there no warning in the owner’s manual or, more appropri­ately, in the headlight bucket itself, and (3) why not use a plastic headlight bucket? I did ask why the circuit was not fused, since even without warnings this would protect the consumer,  not to mention the car. Volvo’s answer? “We’ve never fused that circuit.” Their rep could not say why not, just that they never did.

As a consumer I am grateful to Volvo for solving this riddle  before disaster recurred. As an attorney, I am grateful that Volvo does not warn con­sumers of known problems, nor take the most basic precaution to avert their consequences. For this is the stuff that successful product  liability  suits are made of, and Volvo seems hellbent on enriching my profession.

Click ‘N Clack

In case you haven’t found it on your own, the two most retrograde “car guys” in the  country may be found from 10:00 am to 11:00 am Saturday mornings on KPLU, 88.5 FM. Replete with an accent only the Red Sox could love, Tom and Ray Malliozzi (pho­ netic spelling) answer questions, pro­ pound puzzlers, and engage in sophic discourse. That discourse includes such topics as the religion of E. Ron Tappet, espousal of a 35 mph speed limit, an intense dislike of the CRX Si (too small, to fast), of BMW’s, of GM pro­ ducts, of anything which burn diesel oil, etc. The pair are true automotive neanderthals.

The show would be unbearable except that these clowns really are funny and know a lot about cars. So I listen every week, sprinkling salt liber­ally on the radio all the while.

KPFK in Los Angeles has a really good car show, which we can’t get up here. The last time I heard it an extremely knowledgeable engineering type from Jaguar spent an hour or so discussing the hows and whys of new systems in the XJ-6. (Iwas passed by a new XJ-6 this week, with a custom license plate: MEOWW.) There was much greater depth than you get in the magazines, so maybe such a show is unsuitable for a mass market.]

Tune in these meatballs on Saturday morning and see if it isn’t the next best thing to Satch Carlson’s column.

Department of Autoweek Department

Even as nordic days grow shorter and darker, the October 3rd issue of Autoweek enlightens us on Sweden’s latest contribution to the advancement of the automobile: “Also for 1989, Saab is reintroducing the 900 Turbo four-door, last seen here in 1985. It shares all the features of the 900 Turbo four-door, especially the engine which produces 160 hp -except in 165 hp, SPG trim.” I am told by usually­ reliable sources that the 900 Turbo two-door shares all the features of the 900 Turbo two-door as well, but please don’t tell Autoweek.

It’s Only A Wrapper

It has been a fairly well preserved secret, up until now, that my telephone is listed under the name “Eduard Hanslick.” You see, I can’t justify  pay­ing the telephone company every month not to list my name in the direc­tory, and Hanslick is a character we would d o well to remember. You d on’t remember him? He was a music critic in Vienna in the 19th Century, perhaps the most respected critic in a town which took its music seriously. And, in yr hmbl & obd svt’s opinion, time has shown that his skills at bombast well exceeded his understanding of music. A gentleman worth remembering.

(An additional benefit of such a listing is weeding out the telephone solici­ tors the answering machine doesn’t catch. If the call is for Mr. or M r. Hanslick, the response is, “What are you selling.” But I’m not trying to start a movement here.)

What brings  all this to mind  is a postcard I received in September. It is the third such solicitation I have received. It is for the book “Hanslicks Across America”, which “represents our informative edition of knowledge about the location of Hanslick Fami­ lies in America.” After describing the rarity of the name and how few of these books will be printed, Mary Whitney shovels out the following: “Each book is serially numbered and accompanied by a letter authenticating the collection of data for this one and only edition.

P.S. You are already in this book.” So, thirty bucks get me a compila­tion of names listed in various tele­ phone directories, the only edition of a book I have been offered at least twice already. No, thanks.

Maybe I am making too much out of this, but it seems that this is but one more example of selling dreams and delivering feces. This one is obvious; if they think I’m a real Hanslick, ob­viously their “knowledge” ain’t worth paying for. But increasingly, more  of America seems to be built on the same quicksand. From politics to products, it seems that once the surface is scratched we find rust underneath. Insurance companies (any of ’em) pur­ port to settle claims quickly, but d rag their customers through years of costly litigation; manufacturers (like Phone Mate) build defective  products they won’t fix; others (like Chrysler) sell used cars as new, and sell proven lem­ ons (cars they had to take back) as good used cars; retailers (like Embee of Atlanta, which “sells” used Mercedes parts) misrepresent what they sell, and refuse refunds when called on it; the government promises us “safe” reac­ tors, which are revealed to leak tons of radioactive debris; or sells us “deregulation”, which triples telephone rates and cuts airline safety threefold as well. I could go on, but I was told to leave some room for other articles.

America has always been a land which attracts hucksters, and vener­ates the good ones (like P.T. Barnum). May be there isn’t any increase in dream merchandising, it’s always been like this -maybe I’m just more sensitive to it this month. Maybe this is the purgatory to which a consumer society is inevitably doomed. But from one Hanslick to another, it looks bad and me thinks it’s getting worse.


This article was originally published in the November 1988 edition of Zundfolge