My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of My Idiocy

If you read my previous essay, you already know I bought a used-but-fancy foreign car and suddenly thought I was hot stuff. Now it’s time to acknowledge I’m an idiot. But before I relate my idiocy with relevance to the car, here’s a general description of the global conspiracy against me:

In my daily life I make approximately one really stupid mistake per waking hour. It is my sincere belief that half of those mistakes occur because my brain feeds me rational information for problem solving, which hinders my performance because there are maniacs out there designing products to work in ways that are contrary to human logic. The other half of those mistakes are cases in which someone tells me to do something and explains it in a nonsensical way or assumes I know something I don’t.

So, while I acknowledge I’m an idiot, I refuse to take responsibility for my idiocy. It’s society’s problem, not mine.

For example, when my wife asks me to zip up the back of her dress, and I zip it all the way up, and then she asks, “Did you get it all the way?” I say “Yes” and go about the rest of my day. Then, at the end of the day, when she takes off her dress and points out that I didn’t connect the hinge on the inside, well, I’m an idiot for not knowing there is a hidden hinge on someone else’s clothing.

But I digress.

When I purchased my fancy Mercedes it had two known flaws. One was a general unsolvable flaw, the other a specific and easily solvable flaw.

The general flaw is that it’s a foreign car that requires expensive parts and has unique issues only particular mechanics will bother dealing with.

The specific problem was that pretty much every time an attempt was made to lower or raise windows on the driver’s side, the fuse that controls it would blow. The seller was up front and brought this to my attention. I decided I would negotiate $200 off the asking price, then bring the car to a shop and have it fixed right away. The offer was accepted, and a few weeks later the issue was fixed at a cost of $210, so we’ll call that a fair deal.

Unfortunately, while the car was in the shop a few other issues were discovered. Although the car had been operating fine, there were a few problems that could potentially haunt me later if ignored. To quote the mechanic, “Blah blah transmission pan gasket blah blah replace gasket filter blah blah oil leak blah blah cracked distributor blah blah head gasket blah blah timing cover gasket blah blah send head off to be redecked blah blah hazardous materials and taxes blah blah $1,778.87.

So quickly my $3,500 car become a $5,000 car. Oh, well. It’s no longer a bargain, but it should provide years of problem-free driving going forward and probably not be that bad of deal in the long term, right?

Well, maybe the story could have went like that if I wasn’t an idiot. But I’ll be just beginning to delve into my idiocy in this essay. To lay it out fully requires stretching this story into three parts.

First I need to point out a few of my car’s design flaws. Some of these flaws might be unique to the 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E; some of them are sadly found in many car brands and models.

The worst design flaw is that it has an alarm system. There are specific things about this particular alarm I hate, but I first want to express that all car alarms are stupid and were installed by and for numb-nutted asshats. And yes, I’m aware that I just referred to myself as a numb-nutted asshat. I don’t want this alarm, but it’s on a car that I paid money for, so the hat fits.

The problem with most car alarms is they are often set off by a swift breeze or acorns falling from a tree. Then the whole neighborhood gets to listen to awful honks and squacks until numbnuts realizes whose car is causing the racket.

Recently I was walking through a large parking lot and heard a car alarm going off a couple hundred feet away. I got in my car, turned the key, and then thought to myself how interesting it was that I didn’t even look at the car with the alarm going off. I had no concern whatsoever that someone might be getting robbed or violated at that moment. I knew the alarm was bullshit, because they are always bullshit. Car alarms are total bullshit.

But I digress.

My car alarm doesn’t go off as a result of random weather occurrences, but it does go off for reasons I barely understand and seem inconsistent. The one thing I know sets the alarm off is unlocking the door and then opening it right away. The door needs time to react to the unlocking. But sometimes even after four or five seconds the alarm will still go off just to keep me on my toes. And sometimes unlocking the driver’s door and opening a different door before the driver’s door will set the alarm off … but sometimes it won’t.

The first time my alarm went off I was parked in front of a strip-mall barber shop. I figured the way to turn the alarm off must be to put the key in the ignition. That was wrong. Start the car? Wrong. OK, get out of the car and relock the doors? Wrong. Unlock the doors again? Wrong. After those attempts failed, I just stood there for a second absorbing the reality that the only person who hates me more than everyone else in the vicinity is me. In the panic of that awful moment I would have blown the car up with dynamite just to make the alarm stop, taking my own life with it as a sacrifice to peaceful society.

Since that wasn’t an option, my next thought was to get in the car and drive. Maybe shifting gears would make the alarm stop? No. Well, actually, yes. And then no. The alarm stopped for about 10 seconds, and then while I was driving it started honking again. I drove around to the back of the building to hide — as if a person can hide next to a car with a blasting horn — and then repeated all the previous methods of attempting to get it to stop. Eventually it did, but I was left not quite knowing what it was that made it stop.

What I’ve come to learn over the past 15 or 60 times the alarm has gone off is that what I need to do is lock the doors, unlock the doors, and then lock them again. Maybe that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, but it’s what works for me. And I only end up annoying everyone within a half mile for the duration of 25 torturous seconds.

Perhaps there is some information about how the alarm works in the manual. I do have the manual. But the alarm is probably not mentioned in the manual. Maybe it is, but remember that I’m an idiot. I’d rather spend several hours typing up a multi-part bitchfest essay than five minutes reading a manual. Also, I keep telling myself I’m going to bring the car to a mechanic and ask him to disengage the alarm. He might want a few hundred bucks to do that, or maybe he’ll ask why I don’t just flip the off switch. I know there isn’t really an off switch, but that’s how this story would go in some other example of some stupid thing I dealt with for a year that could have been prevented by moving something slightly in one direction.

So, where was I? Oh, yes, flaws with the car.

Well, it’s also one of those 1980s cars that buzzes when the key is in the ignition, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The buzzing is the car’s way of saying, “hey dipwad, if you get out of the car you should take your keys with you.” The buzzing is supposed to stop when the car is running, but on this car it stays on for about four seconds too long, which is not only annoying because the sound is awful but also because it interrupts my ability to hear the car starting. And it’s an old car, so sometimes it takes an extra two seconds of holding the ignition before it’s fully chugging. But when the buzzer is sounding it’s hard to tell, which means I often let off the ignition before the car has fully started. This pisses off the car and makes it harder to start on the second try, and I still can’t tell on the second try because the buzzer is going off again.

Also contributing to the noise at this time is the antenna, which has to go up and down as the ignition is turned on and off. Why does the antenna have to go up and down? Well, apparently because back in the days of old-school whip antennas someone vandalized a few of them and the world went into a panic or maybe the advent of mechanical car washes caused a few of them to be crumpled up and suddenly people with prestige cars couldn’t bear the idea of replacing a $10 antenna … or whatever it cost back then. I don’t really know anything about why my antenna goes up or down, I just know it sucks and is stupid.

Now get this: the headlights have wiper blades. That’s not really a flaw; it’s just a completely useless feature. And don’t ask me how to turn them on. It doesn’t matter if I know how to turn them on. Obviously one of the switches or buttons I never use turns them on. The point is that I will never need to turn them on because there is no need for them in the first place.

There is also a heating and cooling system that I think works, but I can’t figure out the right combination of buttons to push. So after owning the car for more than a year the only understanding I have developed is that I can turn the system off altogether or turn it on at super-low power so windows eventually defrost if I drive more than 20 minutes. Air conditioning isn’t a problem because the sunroof and windows work.

Maybe I am pushing the right buttons and the heating and cooling system just isn’t working properly. I don’t want to bring it to a shop, though, because it will probably turn out they work fine, I just don’t know how to operate them. You might think that would make it worthwhile to bring it in, because I probably wouldn’t be charged anything and the mechanic would explain how it works, but you just don’t understand how that would take time out of my life and make me feel intellectually belittled.

Why doesn’t the act of publishing this essay make me feel intellectually belittled? Because I’m writing an essay. That’s a smart thing to do, isn’t it? And I can do it with hardly anyone noticing my factual inaccuracies or grammatical blunders, both of which are actually intentional creative choices because I’m so smart.

Anyway, there are more design flaws to this car, but that’s not the point of this essay. The point is that my car is a symbol of my idiocy, and I think enough evidence has been presented.

There’s still one more part to my Mercedes trilogy, however. In next week’s essay I’ll explain my greatest single act of auto idiocy, and how I still insist on blaming the car for it.

Mercedes Trilogy Index
Part one: My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of My Idiocy
Part three: Positive Thinking Meets Bad Car-ma



about 7 years ago

Take solace in the fact that the nature of technology depends very much upon what the public can be induced to put up with.


about 7 years ago

The design flaw in the environmental control system is that it's underlying functionality is dependent upon a charged and working air-conditioning system. Without it, the "buttonology" is mostly meaningless. The best you can hope for without getting the A/C recharged (which repair facilities generally won't do because it's an outdated system, so, which you'll have to do yourself, which you won't) is some decent heat. And you should be able to distribute it as desired.
As for the headlight wipers, I think they're cute, and I believe they only come on when, a) the headlights are on, and, b) the windshield wipers are on.
Regarding the alarm, just slow down, Paul. Lock and unlock the car as if you are a 77 year-old widow in Edina meeting her pals at the club for a luncheon. Go slow, and the alarm generally does not misbehave. At least, it didn't a year ago. But maybe you broke it?
Concerning the various seals and gaskets: I had no idea. I swear.
I look forward to Part 3, where you express delight in how well the vehicle is running, and how cool you look in it.


about 7 years ago

My brother had this car.  Similar story.  Thought he had got himself a deal.  It needed constant repairs, and became a money pit.  They are famous for being unreliable.  It got horrible gas mileage.  He is now much happier with his not-luxury Toyota Corolla.

Robert Lillegard

about 7 years ago

Our family had two old Mercedes at the same time once -- 1984 and 1990. The 1984 would not turn off when you turned the key and pulled it out. It would just keep on running until you popped the hood and manually flipped an off lever.
But the 1990 made up for it. It would stop running arbitrarily any time the car wasn't moving. Traffic light on the highway near the mall? Car just shut down. We called it "The Adventure Car."


about 7 years ago

I take back what I said last week about a sweet ride. It sounds like a nightmare.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

I wish I could say part three of this will be all about delight, but, well, we can talk about later.

One good thing I can say is that the car came with a complimentary antenna cleaning cloth. Yay! I just found it in the glove box, in a baggie with the cassette head cleaner. Valuable stuff.

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