Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
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Home country: Car computers mean confusion

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December 19, 2013 | Leave Comment

Whenever my lack of mechanical prowess threatens to surface, I sure miss the solenoid. It was always there for us, lurking under the hood somewhere, and always — always — it was waiting to malfunction. It was handy, every mechanic knew where it was — like tonsils — and it had a great name. Solenoid — like asteroid or paranoid.

In the old days, b.c.c. (before car computers), the solenoid was a little whatchit that was in the engine area and without it you couldn’t make the car go. And that’s an important thing for those of us who are mechanically impaired to know.

I asked Vince down at the gas station gun shop about solenoids and why we don’t hear about them anymore. “Oh, they’re still in there,” he said, “but now they’re a part of the starter and everything is run by a computer, so you don’t see them separately.”

Vince began selling guns at the gas station several years ago so he could combine his two great loves: gasoline and gun powder. The place has never been held up.

So the solenoid is still around, reducing current from the battery and closing little doodiddles inside the thingie-things, but it isn’t separate any more. This is a terrible blow to guys like me. The solenoid, bless it, saw a long career as the whipping boy of ignorance. In those days, if the car didn’t start, you’d raise the hood, start tapping on various parts with a screwdriver, and wait for someone to come by and take pity on you.

“Not starting?” the mechanically-inclined angel of mercy would say.

And then we would look semi-philosophical and reply. “Can’t get it going. Think it might be the solenoid.”

This gave us a graceful way out of just looking stupid. What are we supposed to say these days? My car’s gone off-line?

Slim Randles, based in Albuquerque, N.M., was sports editor of the Mountain Democrat in 1964.

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