Southern Man

Monday, August 16, 2010

Southern Man Runs Out Of Gas

So Southern Man is tooling along in the big Nissan Titan singing at the top of his lungs to a Green Day CD and generally on top of the world when - cough, cough - the truck sputters and dies.

This is disconcerting. Southern Man cranked the engine a few times but no joy. He flipped on the hazards (this is rush-hour traffic near a major intersection) and considered. Temperature was normal, fuel was OK, oil pressure in the middle of the gauge...

A few more attempts made it clear that the truck wasn't going to start so Southern Man pulled out the only vehicle-repair tool he knows how to use these days and called his favorite tow service and after an hour or so of watching people stop behind him and wait for a couple of traffic-light cycles and honk before going around (apparently the glare of the setting sun made the hazard flashers difficult to see) and even getting flipped off by an old lady who apparently took his breakdown as a personal affront the friendly tow driver and his girlfriend arrived and hauled Southern Man and his truck to the Nissan dealership across town, then dropped him off at home.

The next morning Southern Man arrived at the dealership promptly at service-desk opening time and the following conversation ensued:

Southern Man: My truck just sputtered and died, then it cranked but wouldn't even try to start. It was almost like it ran out of gas.

Friendly Nissan Service Writer: What was the gauge showing?

SM: A quarter-tank or so. Why?

FNSW: (laughing) You ran out of gas. There's a recall on those sender units; they sometimes hang up at a quarter-tank. We're getting two or three cases a week. We'll have a look and let you know.

On the one hand, this incident was proof that the system works. Southern Man was double-covered on the tow (auto insurance tow rider, Nissan Roadside Assistance plan) and wasn't too worried about the cost of repair (prepaid extended warranty). And sure enough it didn't cost him anything out of pocket and they even reset the pesky TPMS that hasn't worked right in months. He was amused to see that they billed the extended-warranty company for the faulty unit which as a recall item would normally be covered by the dealership. Southern Man will not comment that fuel-level senders are seventy-year-old technology and one would think that they'd have it right by now.

But what was distressing is that had this occurred forty years ago (when cars were simple and spark and compression and gas were all you needed) a dry tank would have been the first thing to check. It never even occurred to Southern Man to disbelieve the false reading on the gauge; he assumed that it was a clogged fuel filter or faulty computer or (God forbid) failed fuel injection system or some such thing. When vehicles are complicated and computerized one forgets to check the obvious.

Salt in the wound - the incident occurred thirty feet from a gas station.

There are no lessons to be learned here - only a reminder that the older Southern Man gets the larger and more restrictive his blinders become. Think outside the box? Southern Man can see only a small portion of the inside of the box that is directly in front of him. Depressing, but true. When is retirement again?


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