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By Staff | Mar 19, 2010

“The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” — Mr. Scott in, The Search For Spock.

We have all heard about the troubles Toyota has had as of late. This is troubling to me, mainly because no one has come up with a clever acronym to sum up the situation.

For instance, when I was a kid Ford had some reliability issues and the phrase “fix or repair daily” came into vogue. I have never even ridden in a Fiat, but understand that the phrase “fix it again, Tony” is often used to describe those cars.

But what of these recent Toyota problems? My first run at a clever phrase was “take out your other toe, Agnes” which would make sense to me and exactly one other person on this planet. A better effort might be “temporary overspeed yesterday, overspeed today again.”

We Americans need to pool our collective resources, rise to this challenge and find an acronym that is both clever and apt.

I’m sure Toyota is a perfectly fine automotive company, and I’m sure they’ll eventually solve these technical glitches. But I’m just as sure that they are a Japanese company. I’m sorry, but I grew up in an era when the words “Made in Japan” caused one to think such things as “cheap knockoff” and “didn’t those folks sort of play a role at Pearl Harbor?”

Things have changed tremendously. Today, stuff made in Japan is generally considered to be top-notch and that nation has become an important trading partner.

This validates the axiom “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him to build cars and he’ll take over a goodly portion of the automotive market.”

Toyota’s problem, as I see it, is the profusion of confusing computers in today’s cars. Didn’t we learn anything from the documentary 2001: A Space Odyssey? Wasn’t it made infinitely clear that computers cannot be trusted? And that they like to sing “Daisy Bell?”

Computers have made it impossible to form close personal relationships with cars. Gone are the days when a guy could park under a shade tree, pop the hood, crawl into the engine compartment and fix whatever ailed his automobile. Or at least try.

All we can do nowadays is open the hood, stare at the confusing array of thingamabobs and mutter to ourselves, “Holy bleep! What does all that stuff do?”

Do-it-yourself automotive repair is now virtually impossible. If your car is acting up, you have no choice but to take it to the dealership. There, the mechanic – who is actually a computer geek – hooks your car to a gizmo that looks as if it came from the cockpit of the space shuttle. The dealer’s computer then talks to your car’s computer and asks what’s wrong.

I find this troubling. What sort of information is stored and shared by your car’s computer? Does it divulge that you often pick your nose at stoplights? Will it tell how you once passed gas and tried to convince your wife that the odor originated from a nearby slaughterhouse? Will it disclose your shameful addiction to disco music?

Oh, for the days when a guy could fix anything automotive with a simple set of hand tools. All you needed was a vice grip, a crescent wrench and a screwdriver. And a hammer. Percussive maintenance has become a lost art.

When I was in high school, I had a friend I’ll call Randy. I was at Randy’s farm one day when his dad instructed us to take Lulu Bell out to fix some fence.

Lulu Bell was a beat-up old pickup they used for odd jobs. Neither Randy nor I were old enough to drive legally, but then again, the dirt path to their pasture wasn’t exactly a busy public thoroughfare.

Lulu Bell’s cab was filled with junk, although most of it seemed to have potential uses. An item I found puzzling was a greasy chunk of two-by-four.

We were jostling slowly along the cow path when the purpose of the board became suddenly clear.

Lulu Bell began to sputter and chug and buck. Randy wordlessly grabbed the board and opened the door. With remarkable athleticism, he stretched out over Lulu Bell’s hoodless engine compartment and gave her carburetor a few sharp whacks. She instantly resumed to running normally.

Sliding back behind the wheel, Randy grinned and said, “Lulu Bell and I understand each other.” I could see that this was certainly true.

So, my advice to Toyota would be this: try equipping each car with a sturdy chunk of wood. It may not clear the cars’ overcomplicated plumbing, but at least it will make their owners feel better.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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