While I was working on my MSME at Purdue, my old Chevy that got 10 miles per gallon started falling apart.
Three consecutive weekends it left me stranded, including the weekend I was driving to see my then girlfriend to ask her to marry me. Gas had tripled in price in a few months, and soon after, my new wife and I went out and bought a brand new Datsun 1200.
It was a cute little two door, bright orange, with a stick shift. It used about a third of the gas the Chevy did. My brother had owned a Datsun 510 that performed quite well. I wanted to get one of those, but they had discontinued them by the time I was looking. (Yes, fellow engineers, I should have found a used 510.)
After owning the 1200 for about eight months, one day it wouldn't start. I unsuccessfully used my engineering prowess before having it towed to the dealer. In about two days, they "fixed it" under warranty. They provided me no paperwork, just the comment that "it was a bad wire under the dash."
One night after work, my wife and I were driving to a local ski area to take night skiing lessons. We were driving up a mountain road -- lots of snow and ice. I drove over a bump and the car died. We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from any human, and my little orange "bad wire under the dash" car was dead.
I took a quick peek under the dash and not a single wire was tagged "bad." The ignition switch was on the dash in a perfect location to pound on it with my fist. I put the key back in after a few ignition switch pounds, cranked it, and the car fired right up. It took us skiing, and got us home in the cold blizzard. I carefully avoided bumps after that.
Two days later, while my wife was driving the car alone, she drove over a railroad track and the car died mid-track. She managed to cross the track with the car's momentum. She looked under the dash, and saw this Molex-type connector just dangling suspiciously behind the ignition switch. She looked at it, and saw how it could fit behind the switch. She plugged it in. It seated it well and the car started.
I figured that one really strange failure with a car would meet my quota, but the Datsun 1200 wasn't one of your only-one-strange-failure type of cars. About a year later, I slowed down for a stop light and the car died. I started it up, and the next time I came toward an intersection and slowed down, it died again. It died every time it slowed down.
After a few incorrect diagnoses and repairs, the fourth mechanic diagnosed a defective solenoid. When I picked up the car, the mechanic noted that the 1200 would need brakes and a clutch in the next few thousand miles. The rear side windows hinged open, and the hinges and brackets were breaking on both of the rear side windows. I glued everything I could back together to give the appearance of functionality. Several other controls, such as the front window knobs and control knobs on the dash, unceremoniously snapped off. By this time, it had all of 32,000 miles on it.
Then one day, the key jammed in the ignition lock. I called a locksmith. After about 40 minutes into the repair, the locksmith said he needed to rebuild the ignition lock. About an hour-and-a-half later, the ignition lock was back together. After that incident, I figured my life was too short to own this car. We traded it in for a Chevy Chevette.
This entry was submitted by Jeffrey Antman and edited by Rob Spiegel.
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