If People Treated Cars the Way They Do Computers

Alan P. Scott - Fictions

an imaginary but all-too-real conversation

Technician (T): Hello, you've reached Automotive Tech. Support. How may I help you?

Customer (C): I've got a problem with my car... can you help?

T: Maybe. We'll try. What sort of car is it?

C: It's a Ford, I think, or maybe a Toyota. Why, does it matter?

T: It should say somewhere on it what it is. I need to know what sort of car it is to help you.

C: Aren't they all the same?

T: Well, no.

C: Umm... it's a Corolla?

T: Okay. That's good, that means it's a Toyota, and we do support those. Now... What sort of problem did you say you were having?

C: It won't go. I think it's the brakes.

T: Hmm... why do you think that?

C: When I press on the gearshift the car won't go.

T: The gearshift? Do you mean the accelerator?

C: Uhh...

T: Long skinny pedal on the right, on the floor of the car?

C: Yeah. Isn't that the gearshift? I heard my brother call it that. He's really car-literate.

T: It's the accelerator.

C: Whatever. So anyway, when I push on that thing the car won't go. It always used to. I think the brakes are stuck.

T: Does the brake pedal move when you push it?

C: Umm... which one's the brake pedal?

T: The one next to the accelerator.

C: I guess so. Yeah, it moves.

T: The problem's probably not the brakes, then. Is the car in gear?

C: How do I tell?

T: Well, look at the gearshift and see what position it's in.

C: I thought you said it was the accelerator.

T: No, I really mean the gearshift this time. It's a stick close to your right hand. You should see letters for each gear - P, R, N, D and L on most cars.

C: I have an L1 and an L2 - does that matter?

T: Is the gearshift indicator pointing to either of those?

C: No.

T: Well, what IS it pointing at?

C: It sticks straight up to the ceiling.

T: I mean the little orange pointer - what letter is it pointing to?

C: Oh. D.

T: So the car's in gear, you press on the accelerator, and it won't go. Is the emergency brake on?

C: The pedal on the floor?

T: No, the emergency brake. It's a handle behind the gearshift, with a button on top. Is the handle lying down flat or is it sticking up?

C: Oh, that. I thought that was... well, I don't know what I thought that was. I've never used it. It's down, though.

T: Maybe it's still partially engaged... Press the button in and push the handle down... does it go any farther?

C: Nope, it's flat.

T: Okay, that's not it, then. Hmm... I'm not hearing much. Can you press on the accelerator for me?

C: The accelerator?

T: Yes... the long skinny pedal we were talking about earlier.

C: Oh, okay. There.

T: Hmm. There wasn't any engine noise. Is the engine running? There should be a rhythmic noise coming from the front of the car.

C: Umm... I don't think so. I don't hear any noises.

T: The car has to be running for it to go.

C: Oh, that makes sense.

T: So, turn it on and let's see if there are any other problems.

C: Oh, okay... umm. How do I turn it on?

T: Well, put the key in the ignition and turn it to Start.

C: Oh, I don't have a key.

T: What?

C: I lost it. I have to keep track of too many keys. I wish I didn't have to. Can't you tell me how to start it without a key?

T: No, I'm sorry, that's not something we can do.

C: Oh, wait, I found it. I remembered that I keep it taped to the outside of the door so I can always find it.

T: But what's to keep someone else from finding it there and using it?

C: Oh... that would be bad, huh?

T: Yes. We recommend that you keep your key somewhere that only you can get into, like a wallet or purse. Anyway, now that you've found it, go ahead and put it into the ignition--

C: I don't--

T: That slot on the right-hand side of the steering wheel.

C: Oh. It doesn't fit.

T: What?

C: It doesn't fit. I know it's the right key, too. I got it from the door. It's the right key, and it doesn't fit. Did you change the lock? Why did you change the lock?

T: We didn't change the lock. We can't do that from here. Are you sure it's the right key?

C: Look, I know what my own keys - oh. That was my house key. Here's the car key.


C: It still won't work.

T: Is the gearshift still in D?

C: Umm, yeah. So?

T: So the car won't start with the gearshift in Drive. It's a safety feature.

C: This is all so complicated. So what do I do now?

T: Shift back to Park.

C: The lever won't move.

T: There's a button under your thumb when you hold the gearshift. Push that in while moving the shift to Park - the letter P.

C: Okay. Boy, this is complicated. They oughta make it simpler to drive. I bet more people would. Wouldn't that be great? There we go. Now I'll just turn the key...


C: Thanks! Bye!

T: Hey, wait! You--


Though the above conversation is fictitious, people just like this caller are on the road every day, right in front of you... VROOM.

©2001, 2003, 2005 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

Last updated January 4, 2005

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