Stuff That Fell Out While I Was Thinking: I can see paradise from the dashboard lights!

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I just bought a new car and I'm thrilled about it.

I've only had three "new" cars in my 58 years and one of those was a Pinto so really, that one doesn't count.

My new one is sleek and marvelous and the only grievance I would have is all the dashboard indicator lights. I suspect there are more indicator lights than the Pinto had engine parts.

I really didn't notice all of them until I started my car in full dark and my dashboard lit up like the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

I must admit all the different colors and symbols shone brightly and produced a beautiful display but there was no way I was going to be able to understand what all the symbols represented at a glance.

Giving my owner's manual a cursory glance, I see we have the ever important "Low Fuel" indicator and the annoying "Seat Belt Reminder" indicator. We have several indicators I've never seen or heard of before and one sounding rather ominous called the "Immobilizer System Indicator," just to name a few.

But my favorite by far is that threatening little neon outline of a motor, the dreaded "Check Engine" light. Just what does it indicate? And by the way, this new car has given the engine light a newer, more sophisticated name, "Malfunction Indicator Lamp."

"Lamp," isn't that a soothing word?

Years ago when I first experienced a "Check Engine" light pop on, I just sat there staring at it, waiting for additional information. I mean really, could you be a little more specific?

So I get out of my car, lift the hood and stand with my hands on my hips and peer in. I make the determination that yes, the engine is still there.

This is where it gets tricky. You will have to call the dealership or a mechanic.

"Hello, Mr. Mechanic? The engine 'lamp' has come on in my car. What does this mean?" I ask with all the pitiful cadence in my voice that I can muster.

"Oh, that could mean anything," says Mr. Mechanic with what I know is a sneer on his face.

"Really?" I say with absolute sarcasm dripping from my voice.

"Yes, you better bring it in," the sneering voice says.

Trust me. When you bring the car in, the mechanic is just as vague as the "Malfunction Indicator Lamp."

Most drivers have learned the hard way that the most common reason the "lamp" engages is because the gas cap was not replaced correctly. Of course it will cost you anywhere from zero to 150 bucks for the diagnosis and additional charges for the repairs.

The repair process will be to secure the gas cap and reset the indicator light.

Tough job.

The diagnosis and expense is not the worst part, it's that condescending lecture from the mechanic that we all have to suffer. We'll receive double talk about catalytic converters and EPA emissions. Something about the on-board diagnostics making sure my car is street worthy and a few "little ladies" thrown in with a big finish that will include some crack about the law requires that we have all of our EPA emissions in check!


I'm convinced the "engine" or the "Malfunction Indicator Lamp" (I'm still loving that word, "lamp") is a total conspiracy contrived and implemented by mechanics and dealership service departments. They are installed with a time release charge to arbitrarily light up at irregular intervals so mechanics all over the world will have a regular income.

Now before the sneering Mr. Mechanic gets his uniform pants in a bunch, let me just say, I'm kidding. But I'll bet I'm closer to the truth than not.

Right fellas?

Alas, gone are the days when the only thing that would light up on the dashboard was an outline of a little dripping oil can or perhaps the outline of a battery. Both usually never lighting up until smoke was billowing out from under the hood.

Nowadays we have so many indicator lights, that we need an indicator light to indicate what page of the owner's manual that explains the indication!

So yes, the colorful indicator lights are so bright and plentiful I believe I can see paradise from the dashboard lights!

Thank you Meat Loaf for the perfect lead-in to my story.

- - -Jotting down my daily observations is my hobby. My gathering of these useless bits and pieces of information has no real value except to amuse. Tara can be reached at

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