Yet another example of a clearcut fix right in front of your nose that somehow you just can't see. I wonder with today's modern vehicles if there's any kind of equivalent problem that occurs. It seems like easy to fix switches have been replaced with software code that may be just as simple, but nearly always requires dealer intervention.
Yes. What I find charming about this story is that the engineers -- and management -- of the late 1950s and early 1960s had no idea their products would still be around and loved decades after rolling off the line. Their customers loved these little Fords. Reminds me of the Bob Seeger song "Makin Thunderbirds," sung from the line workers' POV: "We were young, we were proud, we were makin' Thunderbirds."
"... no idea their products would still be around and loved decades after rolling off the line."
Most manufacturers today seem neither to know nor care whether their products will last beyond the warranty; in fact, given the bailouts that some companies received for bad products, they might not care if their product lasts longer than it takes to drive it off the dealer's lot.
I can't wait for the day -- coming soon -- when everything from starter to brakes, from accelerator pedal to air bags, communicates through a single high-speed bus; when a stalling problem might result from a latched tire-pressure sensor or a bad dome light switch. Happy days ahead! (-:
That's funny Gafishder. I think large appliances are already suffering from your description of one item shutting down the whole system. The mechanics of washers, dryers, dishwashers seem to be in good shape for running smoothly for years. It's the control pads that seem to fail early.
I agree Rob. I wish or maybe I should say hope consumers voice calling out for quality would be heard by manufacturers who maybe take a few features off of their products and focus on building a durable product. I would much rathe have a phone that never drops calls, than a phone that can take pictures, text, go on-line and all that other stuff, but drops a call every 5 miles.
The purpose of phones has changed dramatically in just the past two or three years. I went to a holiday light show last week and tons of people were using their phones to take pictures and videos. I didn't see anyone talking on the phone. You see the same thing at concerts now. When users are not taking pictures, they're texting more than talking, especially kids. The ability to talk is now just one among many features. Often it's not the primary feature.
In one of your comments you mentioned "....those little Fords....". Correction- The 1961 Ford Fairlane was a full-sized vehicle model of its era. There was a whole series based on the same platform, starting w/ the low-end Fairlane, and progressing to the more appointed GALAXIE 500. Back in those days, FORD, as well as the other major manufacturers were only beginning to respond to the increased popularity of imports" with their own versions of compact cars. In 1960, FORD had the FALCON, Chevrolet had the CHEVY II, Plymouth had the VALIANT. Later on Dodge had the DART, Buick had the SPECIAL, Oldsmobile had the F85, Pontiac had the TEMPEST. It wasn't until the 1964 model when Chevrolet introduced the CHEVELLE (MALIBU) that they became a 3-platform industry.
I had a 1960 FORD FAIRLANE. One Sunday we decided to take a ride w/ the new car. So, we set out w/o any problems. After arriving at our destination, and eating dinner "on the road", we decided to return home. While driving, we were forced onto an unpaved section of roadway due to construction. When we motored over this, the tailpipe became separated from the muffler, causing it to drop, and creating an instant "hot rod". Much to our dismay, a local gas station had a mechanic on duty, but he could not repair it since the tailpipe proved to be several inches too short, with no possibility of stretching it to fit. We wound up driving about 100 miles home w/ the muffler in the trunk. Needless to say, it was a very noisy ride home. The dealer eventually was able to replace the pipe w/ a longer one, and we were reimbursed for the mechanic's bill since it was an obvious manufacturing defect.
Sad but true. And the worst part is how many of the "features" are really necessary. Rather than ice and water, I'd rather my fridge just keep the fridge part cold and the freezer part frozen. I'd like my washing machine to wash and my dryer to wash.
And don't even get me started on the fact that I'd like to be able to drive 30 miles without dropping a call on my cell phone, rather than be able to take a picture or bring up a web page that's so small I can't read it anyway.
Then I'd love to see that extended to a survey to ask the consumer how important that feature really is to a consumer. I remember when automatic doors and windows first came out in cars. My grandpa never wanted to buy one because he just knew it was something else that could break. And why would you want to buy a car with more stuff that could break on it. Of course, now try and buy a car that doesnt have those extra features. You'll probablly have to speacial order it.
The toughest part about fixing something like this now is the fact that there are two million switches on the average car. Back then there was this one switch. Now if something goes wrong on my car or truck I cringe at the thought of an electrical problem. Because electrical problem has become synonomous with the term costly.
It appears this is not just an automobile issue though. Everything has more switches, buttons, timers, and cycles. Just look at the average coffee maker. You can't just get one that turns on and off.
Switches and software--the lifeblood of any product today, no matter how basic. We write about all of these do-it-yourselfers in the Sherlock column, but I'm wondering how many folks out there really still try to troubleshoot and fix their own cars, appliances, and gadgets today, especially those that are current generation (i.e., lots of switches and embedded software) vs. tinkering with the products of past generations.
Good point, Beth. I would guess very few consumers are tinkering with their failing products. That is, with the exception of Design News readers. I think our readers leap at the chance to dig into a product, find out what's not working, and try to fix it.
Both my wife and I still like to dig in as far as we can go. I think the most frustrating part is taking something apart and finding out the trail ends at an electrical component that you can't find or replace.
As a kid, we had the same symptons with a late 70's model Plymouth. It would "stall" at any moment. My dad spent multiple hours and a lot of money at garages to figire out the problem to no avail. I never remember him checking the shifter. To bad this vehicle has since been recycled, or I would tear it apart now.
Thie switch that your uncle was talking about is called a safety neutral switch, which was a common problem with older cars.
Some people would often move the column mounted gear lever from drive to park in a fast motion in hopes it would move the switch enough to make contact allowing the car to start.
But they would end up changing the switch or retighting the switch after seeing that the movement of the gear lever fixed the problem.
Its always amazing how a simple things are easy to fix when you understand their function and what its purpose is.
Today alot of kids are missing out on autoshop classes in high school as later in life the simple skills they learn in this class will help them save money and time by being able to repair their own cars.
Interesting Mdefonce. I hadn't heard about shifting quickly from drive to park as a way to make the car start. I did find out in those days that you could jump-start a car with an automatic transmission if you could get it going fast enough down a hill. You slammed it into drive from neutral. You had to get it going faster than you would with a standard transmission.
I've never run across a neutral safety switch that interupted the ignition circuit.
The neutral safety switch is there to prevent running the starter motor with the engine in gear and thus ruining the stater or flywheel. The safety switch is in series with the starter relay (solenoid on GM cars).
As to the engine stalling problem, I would suspect 1 of two causes:
The coil ballast resistor.
Ignition coils well into the 60's were 6 or 8 volt coils and would draw too much current if connected directly to 12 volts. There was usually a ballast resistor on the firewall to drop the voltage and limit the current. Odds are that the resistor was cracked and moisture would seep in and cause an intermittant.
Cars also used to have a ground strap that ran from the engine to the firewall or chassis. If the ground becomes intermittant, the same symptom of the engine stalling would happen.
For the 70's vintage Plymouth, Chrysler made a big deal of their new electronic ignition systems. However, after a few years the potting on the module would crack and water would seep in causing the same type of intermittant operation. As the epoxy potting was on the firewall side of the ignition module, most mechanics never noticed that it had failed.
The problem of the failing inition system could not have been from a neutral safety switch, since that function switches the cranking motor circuit off when the selector is not in neutral or park. Of course it is also likely that the switch had an additional set of contacts that were intended to bypass the ballast resistor during cranking, since the cranking motor will draw the battery voltage down quite a bit. Some poorly designed systems may have had a transfer switch instead of one to simply bypass the ballast resistor. That would have gone along with the very poor choice of having a resistor wire in the harness to serve as the coil dropping resistor. The problem was that the resistor would fail and be difficult to diagnose, and impossible to repair.
At one time a number of auto manufacturers did have the entire ignition switch assembly mounted down on the steering column, which I think was a poor choice. There have been some recalls due to vehicle fires caused by switches in that location.
William, did automakers back then tend to implement similar design solutions? Were these industry-wide problems. Or did the automakers work in individual silos? Has that changed with automakers these days?
In the mid-70's I had a rental Ford. While driving on the freeway, the engine would randomly die. Throwing it into neutral, I'd turn the ignition key and the engine would start right up. The fellow I was driving with asked me how many miles were on the odometer. I said 23,000. He said, "That's the problem. They forgot to change the fuel filter at 20,000 miles. The fuel filter on these models is inadequate and starts clogging at 20,000." We checked when we returned the car, and indeed, they had not changed the fuel filter.
Wow, that sounds dangerous, StuDent. I'm a bit surprised that a fuel filter would go out at 20,000. If it's going to fail at 23,000 you'd think they would recommend replacement a bit early to avoid putting drivers in such a precarious position.
I totally agree, Rob. But then, in the mid-70's car design took a cynical nosedive when the auto manufacturers tried to brute-force, edge around, or cheat the new emissions standards. It went far beyond the engine. A co-worker rented a Ford Granada with 2,000 miles on it. He opened the door to climb in—and the door fell off the hinges! I rented a Mustang II and wondered why I was passing everything on the freeway when the speedometer said I was only going 45 mph. I realized that somehow the wheel size had probably been changed and the speedometer calibration had never been synchronized. Finally, Ford assumed that if the wheels were turning and the hood was raised, the car was likely being tested by CARB for new car emissions certification. CARB found the switch under the hood that changed the engine's programming from tiger to pussycat.
That's pretty wild about the tiger-to-pussycat engine, StuDent. The 1970s were a rough time for the American auto industry. There was sabotage going on along the line as well. If the workers were unhappy, they managed to mess up the vehicles.
There was a widely held view that you didn't want to buy a car that came off the line on a Monday or a Friday. I'm not sure how consumers could tell what day their car came off the line, but I do remember that view.
I remember the Monday-Friday discussions, Rob. I never found out if they were true. I had a 1976 Plymouth Volare that was a perfect example. I bought it used, mostly because it had the slant-six engine that was so satisfying in my old 1966 Dodge Dart. What a mistake! If the 1966 engine was like a frisky puppy, the 1976 version was like an old tubercular dog. The Volare had many little problems, mostly due to poor assembly and cheap components. It was also scarily unstable when driven over 50 mph. I cheered—secretly—when the car was totalled. The '80's were like a rebirth of the American automotive industry.
Yes, StuDent, the 1970s were rough for the American auto industry. I had a friend who had a car shop in the 1970s. When it failed, he took a job with GM. He worked in the group that looked at cars that came off the line with problems. Having been an entrepreneur, he was accustomed to working at a speedy, industrious clip. The existing crew sat him down and told him he had to learn to work at the "GM pace," meaning slow, very slow. They taught him the "GM walk," where all movements were slow. He was both surprised and uncomfortable with the situation, but the existing crew was not going to let him show them up. You can't build decent cars with that attitude.
Rob, we could probably expand this discussion to the the loss of certain words and phrases from the language, such as "the bigger picture," "courtesy," "trust," "honor," etc. On the other hand, the following is a quote from Socrates: "Children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers." Hopefully, we're in the trough of an ethical cycle.
I agree, StuDent. Although, as a father of two teenagers and a young adult, I find a good number of today's kids are more interested in your words and phrases than adults my age who have grown a tad cynical.
Rob, if your children and my grandchildren are a good enough sample, then perhaps we are on the upward leg of the cycle. I'm a congenital optimist. In conversation with others, I sometimes reflect their cynicism, but reasonably quickly bounce back. The pessimist says that the glass is half empty; the optimist says that it's half full—but the engineer says that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
My point with the Socrates quote is that adults have been downplaying the next generation for thousands of years, and, with few exceptions, have been wrong to do so for thousands of years.
I agree completely, StuDent. I too am a congenital optimist. I thought I was the only one who used that term. I mean it literally. I inherited it from my mom. Two of my kids have it. It truly isn't my choice. It is a gene.
I once heard a pessimist say, "Pessimists are right, but optimists live longer."
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