March 20, 2005

Check Engine Lights and Stupid Computers

The check engine light went off in my Dodge Neon (2000). This always causes a small swell of panic. After all, what kind of failure could you imagine would be associated with the Engine? Thrown rods and leaking head gaskets flooded my mind as I drove home on the highway at just barely the speed limit, fearing the worst was going on under the hood.

...all I can think is that it's going to cost me a new car.

The same car has been in a bad accident. It was a few years ago, and my wife got sideswiped by a van trying to make a right turn from the middle lane. It was pretty bad, but the car was mostly fixed up. I found out way too late that the alignment in the front end was permanently damaged, and there's not much I can do about it, save having her frame-pulled. Since I have no way to attribute this particular failure to the accident, I'd end up paying for it myself. Add to this that the hand-brake light has been turning on every time I accelerate from a dead stop and that I hadn't yet gotten my yearly inspection.....all I can think is that it's going to cost me a new car - and Im still paying for the wifes'.
I took her into the shop yesterday (note for others - it seems Firestone doesn't DO check-engine lights on the weekend, although I don't know why, since that's when people WANT their cars to be worked on.) and it costs $79.50 for them to pull the code out of the computer and look it up [probably on the Internet, for all I know]. They said the code represented a failure in a torque or acceleration sensor or something like that, so they removed and tested the sensor....which passed muster.
The car passed inspection, the brake light was an easy fix (low on brake fluid) and they turned off the code on the computer. Everything's fine and dandy with the car, except for that alignment thing on the front-left wheel...crisis averted...for now. Computers are great, except when they cost you money when they wrongly report a failure. The shop guy suggested that maybe the sensor just had a disconnect and replugging it in fixed it...we'll see. Stupid least it forced me to have the inspection and brakes done.

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