Service Engine Soon

“Service Engine Soon”
Seeing that vague and ambiguous warning light come on is unsettling and a source of anxieties. It wasn’t the big red warning light, just the little yellow warning light. Does that signify something critical or merely inconvenient? Until I could find out, I had no idea if it was going to be thousands of dollars or simply turning off a switch. The recent Fuel Pump Incident didn’t help.

Park, get to work to pay the bills, then drive to the mechanic’s shop on the way home.

Whew. The shop had the right reader and confirmed that it was the same error that preceded the fuel pump problem, a Secondary Air Injector. An issue with Air is better than an issue with combustibles like Fuel or Oil. Secondary sounds less important than Primary. I correctly suspected it was an emission control issue. Pollution is bad, more pollution is worse, but at least in rural Washington counties like mine such issues can be handled with discretion rather than required to pass emission tests. They didn’t know how long it would take to fix, I had a talk to give, and I’d been wanting to tune up the truck anyway. They agreed that the truck could run the few extra miles to get me to and from my talk (Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland)Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland, that tuning up the truck would probably be a better improvement, and that they could check the emission controls while doing the tuneup.

The talk went better than I expected. Happy to do more about Scotland, Social Media, and Self-Publishing, but that’s another story.

A few days later I drove back to the shop and dropped it off, wondering how big the bill would be.

Today I got the news.

The tuneup was simple. A lot was done when the fuel pump was replaced. Then, they took on the obvious replacements like spark plug wires. Along the way they also cleared out the rat droppings, which I am hoping were there from its days as a ranch truck, blew out a plenum or two, and basically did spring cleaning for the engine.

Drumroll, but what about the yellow warning light? A vacuum hose popped off. That was it. A tiny little hose wasn’t injecting extra air into the exhaust. Instead, there was a little hole that was either sucking in or blowing out a tiny little bit of air. That was enough to trigger the light.

Too many of the warnings and cautions directed at us have valid reasons but heightened priorities. Service Engine Soon. Is that a demand, a legal requirement, a really good idea, or just something to get around to – or maybe even ignored?

One of the ways to understand how things are designed is to understand the incentives and motivations of the people involved.

  • A well-informed driver wants as much information as possible, the knowledge of what it all means, and the discretion to make independent judgments about the actions to take.
  • A designer interested in function might want the same thing, but is limited by the size of the dashboard.
  • A designer interested in form might want to only have enough displayed to please the driver, which for some people would only be a speedometer and a gas gauge.
  • Accountants want it made as cheaply as possible.
  • Lawyers are aware that in America’s litigious environment, someone can readily sue if they can blame an accident on not getting enough information, and there is no way to know which information would be considered critical some time later, so at least give them a warning that something is happening.

Except for the driver, all of them are paid to emphasize something besides the way I want to drive. I am an individual. They have to outguess the needs and wants of millions of individuals. It’s easier to be more concerned with what their boss is going to evaluate them against: regulatory compliance, internal design guides, budget, scheduling, corporate policies, and whether they work well with others. I want something they can’t readily deliver, a dashboard that tells me the information for normal operations, and a proper identification and perspective on anything that is abnormal. If a cylinder is going bad, which one is it, and how long before it goes from optimal to sub-optimal to degraded to repairable to requiring replacement to jump out of the vehicle because the engine is going to blow up. A tiny little yellow light could be hiding anything, and the most immediate action it can induce is anxiety.

Since my finances were hit by a Triple Whammy, warning lights are frequently set aside to join the others in Dammed Plans. Yes, there are things that should be done. Yes, fixing them sooner is better than fixing them later – except for the fact that in the sooner there isn’t enough money, and hopefully the money will arrive before the later.

I’m not alone with delaying things. Too many things like infrastructure, education, health care, and the environment have every shade of yellow and red lights blinking and flashing. We set too many aside because we devote the (frequently borrowed) money to fighting real and perceived enemies. I’m glad my warning light was so readily resolved, and that it happened at a time when a few hundred extra dollars were available. The remaining list costs more than the remaining funds, but I’ll judge priorities as funds arrive. Hopefully, we as a society, will be able to do the same and match resources to needs before problems become critical. If not, well, that’s another source of anxiety (and partly the inspiration for my other blog;, news for people who are eager and anxious about the future.)

Stay tuned.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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1 Response to Service Engine Soon

  1. Pattie Beaven says:

    I can relate. Concern about necessary finances with our move to Whidbey. Hope the island life calms me down and helps me chill a little, but still uncertain about the whole job thing…Money is needed, as you mentioned “sooner or later”.
    Glad the talk went well. Hope there are more, because I’d love to hear more about your experiences in Scotland.

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