Losing and winning

July 1, 2003
The laws of physics say that when a one-ton Mazda Miata and a five-ton Brink’s armored truck slam together, the Miata loses

The laws of physics say that when a one-ton Mazda Miata and a five-ton Brink’s armored truck slam together, the Miata loses. I experienced just that difference in momentum transfer several weeks ago — on the losing side. Initial shock is gone, but I still mourn the loss of a trusty ally of ten years: One I wasn’t ready to part with.

Good old-fashioned engineering saved both “Mr. Leadfoot” and me. The truck driver had what some might call overkill, a reinforced tank of solid steel. I was protected by more run-of-the-mill front-impact absorption, polymer- filled glass, and locking seatbelt. Most amazing, though, were the early generation airbags made of heavy and artistically stitched satin fabric.

My cerebral event recorder must have been reading error when the airbags deployed because the first I saw of them, they’d already done their job and were hanging deflated. So while the Miata crumpled back to the engine block, I climbed out of the mess unharmed. Walking around the crash in the rain, waiting for the police and surveying damage in a daze, my respect for the car grew immeasurably. I began to think that because my car saved me, I should save it. This made the insurance company’s Total Loss verdict all the more difficult.

Now I’m not the only one who has developed an attachment to yesterday’s technology. It happens to many of us engineers, perhaps because of our mechanical inclination or tinkering ways. We seem to think if something can be patched up and fixed, we need (and want) nothing else. Out of stubbornness and comfort, I’m regularly guilty of overestimating the useful life of things. Except for a few untrustworthy radiator hoses, a little disappearing oil, a bit of rust, and no windshield-washer action to speak of — which I planned to fix very soon — I considered the Miata in perfect working order. Stymied by my own tendencies, I asked someone with a different perspective to explain why mechanically oriented people might resist new machines and technology.

“There is an overall acceptance of new technology in our everyday lives,” says Terry Hershberger, electronic products director for Bosch-Rexroth, Wooster, Ohio. “Our cars and appliances, for example, are loaded with computers and electronic sensors. Most of us, however, don’t service these products.

In the mobile hydraulics equipment industry, where I work, the fear of not being able to fix something is often the biggest obstacle to the adoption of new technology. Let’s face it, mechanical or hydro-mechanical systems are more easily serviced (by users) than electronically controlled systems. If a linkage cable or hydraulic hose breaks on a machine, it’s fairly easy to see, hear, or feel, and normally the owner can fix it. Electronics are more impenetrable. If there is a problem, users are less likely to be able to troubleshoot and diagnose it. Improved reliability, accessible CAN buses, and diagnostic codes address this, but not to everyone’s satisfaction.”

That sounds about right; I liked that I could fix my own car. Once I drove around for a whole summer with an exhaust pipe patched with a Dr. Pepper can.

My new car, believe it or not, isn’t a Miata. Knowing it was time to move on, I purchased a 2000 Saab 9-3 on eBay motors. Though it does have a tough act to follow, so far the new convertible has been outstanding. Seat warmers, weatherband radio, and a power top are slowly winning me over. The fun and ease of buying online has also helped sway me; according to eBay I didn’t buy my new car, I won it.

I guess that makes me one-and-one then: One win, one loss. The best part is that I’m still in the game, thanks to an “old” friend.

Elisabeth Eitel
[email protected]

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