Wyatt’s World

My old car doesn’t have an idiot light

I have a theory about idiot lights on cars: They are controlled by the finance offices of car companies. If a car company is about to miss their earnings target, a computer program activates the engine light icon on millions of cars throughout the world, generating billions in service charges.

This is the law of unintended consequences: These warning lights seemed like such a great thing at first, but they are also probably responsible for billions of unnecessary charges, especially when the problem is the sensors themselves.

I drive a 1965 poppy red Ford Mustang. You’ve probably seen me driving around town. A lot of people think it’s orange.

When I moved to Jackson in 1987, there were quite a few old Mustangs on the road, but now the number has dwindled to just a few.

About the time when Hooters opened there was still another old poppy red Mustang in town. The owner must have worked at Hooters because every day that car was sitting in the parking lot of Hooters, which was located at one of the most visible intersections in town. Several of my friends would joke with me about this. I cringe to think how many people thought I was a Hooters fanatic. For the record: That was not my car!

Nowadays, I think I’m the only poppy red 1965 Mustang on the Jackson roads, so there’s no sneaking around for me. Fortunately, my wife is gorgeous, sweet and sexy, so that poses no problem.

People often ask me when I renovated the car. My answer: Never. I bought it at age 15 when it was seven years old and have maintained it since.

People are amazed by this. They assume I am an antique car lover. Not at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever taken it to a car show or even Cruisin’ the Coast. Not my thing.

I simply answered the same question the same logical way for 45 years. I don’t understand why I’m the only one.

Picture this scenario: My car is broken down and I take it to the shop. “What are my options?” I ask the mechanic. The mechanic says, “Well, you can get a new alternator for $200 or buy a new car for $30,000.” My answer: Replace the alternator. Forty-five years later, here I am.

Sometimes I will see a friend with a new car. “What happened to your old car?” I would ask. “Oh, it died.” Died? What does that mean? Cars don’t die. Parts fail and then you get a new part. Obviously, my mind works differently than most people’s.

On occasion over the years, I was envious of some new-fangled thing like power windows, electronic ignition, airbags, seatbelts and the like. But as time goes on, I have learned to appreciate simplicity in design. There are no idiot lights on my Mustang.

I am not a purist. I laugh when people ask me if it is “all original.” The better question would be to ask if there is anything left on it that is original.

I have made some safety updates. I now have seatbelts with shoulder straps. My front brakes are disk. Not only can you get any original parts for the Mustang, but you can buy just about any upgrade you can imagine.

“You must be good at working on cars,” people say. Not at all. Instead, I am good at maintaining a good relationship with my mechanic. In fact, Bobby and Cliff at Jim’s Tire and Auto are practically family.

Once I got electronic ignition installed. But after the third time the engine failed suddenly on a dark, rainy night, I had Bobby take it out and put the condenser and points back in. End of failures.

If America is ever attacked with an electronic pulse bomb, I’ll be the only person with wheels. I guess I’d grab my fishing gear, hunting rifle and family and head to Ginny’s Taylorsville land.

It is true that I only get 10 miles a gallon, costing me an extra $500 a year. But so what? That’s the cost of one oil change for Ginny’s fancy European car. Major Mustang repairs are far less than that.

Plus the Mustang is built like a tank. I may not have airbags, but the Mustang will be getting the better end of any collision.

Jackson’s roads are rough, but the Mustang suspension is rougher. Nothing fancy. Just steel struts and shocks. It can take a beating, no problem.

It’s fun to drive. Going 60 feels like going 100. I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket. The few times I’ve been stopped, I get off because everybody loves the Mustang and has a story to tell about one. Drivers are constantly giving me the thumbs up. I’ve learned not to ignore honking horns because they are always followed by smiles and waves.

Did I mention that antique car tags cost a one-time payment of $20?

I also drive a 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider, the second most beautiful car ever made. Same deal. It became mine when my father died, and I simply fixed it when it broke. Bobby balked when I first brought it in for repairs. “Bobby, it’s a car. You’re a mechanic. How hard can it be?”

Ginny’s fancy foreign car is now paid off and out of warranty, so the idiot lights are lighting up like a Christmas tree. I just got off the phone with the service manager. His estimate, around $4,000, more than the value of the car. Say what??!!

All the fancy technology makes keeping an older car more of a challenge, but then we have the internet with instant access to low cost parts and a billion “how to” YouTube videos.

Are you aware that for $30 you can buy an OBD reader that will tell you exactly what’s wrong when an idiot light pops on? It plugs into the universal OBD slot under the dash of all cars made since 1996. Simple as pie.

The OBD tells me what’s wrong. I order the parts online for $150, send Bobby YouTube links on how to fix it and, bingo, repairs for a tiny fraction of the cost. I love beating the system! Maybe my repair strategy will work with today’s techno cars as well.

Ginny complains: “I didn’t realize I was buying a car for life.” My response: “My attachment for older, familiar things is something a wife should appreciate in a husband.”

The fact of the matter: My Mustang runs just fine. It’s reliable and gets the job done, even if it doesn’t have all the latest bells and whistles. Technology has a big downside that most people don’t realize.

How ironic that I was born into the newspaper business. Just like the Mustang, newspapers may not have all the latest techno bells and whistles, but newspapers work and get the job done. God sure knows what He’s doing.

And just like the ‘Stang, you may come to find my newspapers doing just fine for many years to come. Nothing too fancy, but reliably getting the job done as they have for centuries.

Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.

Holly Springs South Reporter

P.O. Box 278
Holly Springs, MS 38635
PH: (662) 252-4261
FAX: (662) 252-3388

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