I know the stories in this blog usually detail some type of egregious design flaw, ignored use-case, or manufacturing defect in mechanical or electronic products, but the product in my story does not have any moving parts or electronics. It is a very simple item, but unfortunately that simplicity does not make it immune to monkeys.
I live in one of the most densely populated cities in the US. One of the consequences of this density is a high demand for parking, but a limited number of spaces on the city streets. To park on the street without getting a ticket, a resident can purchase a parking decal for his or her vehicle. These decals are serial numbered and have the license number of the vehicle to which they are affixed printed on them. So that they can be easily seen by the parking enforcement officers, the decals are attached to the interior, lower driver's side of the windshield. Residents must renew their decals annually on a schedule based on the area of the city in which they live. March is the renewal period for my area. For the region of the US in which I live, March is characterized by changeable weather. It can be cold and wintery one day and warm and springlike the next.
On the first sunny and relatively warm day this past March, I had a spare half-hour and planned to replace my parking decal, wash the windows, and clean some of the accumulated winter dirt out of my car. Before last year, the parking decals were a printed plastic film with an adhesive that was easily removed with an ammonia-based glass cleaner. Removing the decal was a simple matter of peeling-off the old sticker and removing any remaining adhesive with the cleaner. A single-edge razor blade might be needed to help remove the decal, but usually replacing a parking decal would take, at most, five minutes.
Last year, the city changed the material of the decal from a plastic film to heavy paper. With a roll of paper towels, a bottle of glass cleaner, a razor blade, and new parking decal in hand, I set out on that sunny March day to replace my old decal. The new decal came with instructions emphasizing that the old decal must be removed completely and that a single-edge razor blade and a solvent maybe necessary for this. Using the razor blade, I attempted to lift a corner of the old decal so I could peel it off the windshield. Instead of cleanly lifting off the glass, the thickness of the paper tore unevenly, leaving about half the thickness of the decal still firmly attached to the glass. After repeated work with the razor blade, I was left with a somewhat translucent decal and small shreds of paper all over my dash.
At this point, I used the glass cleaner to wet the remaining paper, thinking that would soften the adhesive and enable the removal of the old decal. What I discovered was that the adhesive was not affected at all by the glass cleaner. After more work with the razor blade, I was left with little wet lumps of paper on the dash and a sticky, translucent square of glue on my windshield. It was obvious I was going to need something stronger than an ammonia-based cleaner to remove the adhesive. I made a mental inventory of the possible solvents in the house. I considered using nail-polish remover (acetone) but then thought better of it given all the surrounding plastic. I consider paint thinner (petroleum distillates) but rejected it because of the lingering odor and oily residue. I decided to try rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), since it would leave no residue and would be fairly harmless to the plastic of the dash.
The alcohol dissolved the adhesive and with a few applications, the old decal was completely removed from the windshield. After about 20 minutes of work in an awkward space, my new parking decal was attached to the windshield. Another five minutes of cleaning small bits of paper out of the defroster vents, and I was done.
I have noticed, walking around the city in the following weeks, the number of partially removed parking decals with new decals placed next to or above them. This constitutes a real danger, since the decals can obstruct the driver's view. A more careful consideration of the materials used would have prevented a problem that will only grow larger with every passing year.
Tell us your experiences with monkey-designed products. Send stories to Lauren Muskett for Made by Monkeys.