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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Car Key Wouldn't Go In

Over a month ago we had an unusual and mystifying car experience.   In the 2002 Coupe de Ville Cadillac that my wife inherited from her mother a few years ago, something metallic was blocking the key from going in more than a quarter of an inch into the ignition switch, rendering that big and otherwise still sumptuous vehicle strangely inoperable.   This isn't nearly as common as is the failure of a car key to turn the switch once it is in.

I am still a complete stranger to this car, and I have never driven it -- from my previous life in the city Cadillacs have an ethos to which I am strongly  hostile -- so I was much shyer about fixing it than I would've been on the 22-year old Isuzu pickup that I drive -- on the probably bi-monthly occasions when I drive..   Still I tried several things to keep from doing the almost unthinkable, which was to have the car towed 10 miles to the nearest shop.

I had always heard that graphite powder was the thing to use on stuck locks instead of oil, so I tried that, but it didn't work.   Researching online led me to someone with a 2003 model of the same car who successfully used the old reliable WD-40, but that didn't work either.

Meanwhile online information also indicated that not being able to insert the key is most often due to one of those modern niceties of car manufacture that probably in the long run are more trouble than they're worth.  A lot of ignition switches now come with a tiny retractable door set a short distance down in the keyhole that close it off when the car isn't in operation, to keep out dust or as part of elaborate anti-theft schemes, such as are likely to be found on over-fancy cars like the Cadillac -- and maybe even on every other car that's sold these days.

That's all well and good, but sometimes those little protective doors get stuck in the closed position, and various means have to be used to force them open, and, as the existence of this great "improvement" is unknown by many car owners, it can be a big hassle if the door hangs up while the car is a long way from any shop or mechanic, which you would expect would usually be the case, though we were lucky and it happened right in our driveway, and since wife also has an older Saturn that she uses much more often, we were able to let the Cadillac just sit while for a time we waited to see if the Caddy would come to its senses over such a highly niggling matter, and every few days we would try the key again, but for some reason that didn't work.

With that little door in mind, I kept trying to work up to the idea of putting the key that quarter-inch or so into the switch and then giving the top of it a whack or two with a tackhammer, but again I refrained, for fear of damaging the switch enough that it would really result in the car having to be towed.   So I settled for seeing whether I could force a jeweler's screwdriver past the obstruction, and I did manage to get it in a millimeter or so farther, but then the screwdriver kept getting stuck, and it was hard to pull it back out.

Somewhere in all the collections of tools that I have scattered in several outbuildings, I have a dental pick that would've been better than the screwdriver and was less likely to mess something up, but I couldn't find it, before a very competent local mechanic came to take a look, after finally managing to fit it into his busy schedule.   He saw no way to fix the switch short of replacing it, so he ordered another one, and that took several more days to arrive and cost $55.   But the new switch came with no tumblers built in, and to get a locksmith to put them in meant removing the old lock first, and that required nevertheless somehow getting the key in just a little farther.

The mechanic had a pick similar to the one I have somewhere, and, finding that he could push it in a good deal deeper than the key, he then tried the key again, and voila!   Suddenly it would go in and out numerous times without jamming, and the car was suddenly fixed, just like that.

As glad as I am that that was all it took, I can't help kicking myself for being on the right track but being too leery of that big car to carry my ideas through.   But maybe also my little efforts with the graphite and the oil may have loosened up the obstruction enough to make it possible for the mechanic to push it aside and make it stay there, or at least open and shut the way it is supposed to, assuming it is a little dust door and not just a loose piece of metal.

But all in all, especially since the car was here at home and we were able to just let it sit for about a month before the solution dropped out of the sky, as I kept thinking it was morally obliged to do, such was the nature of the thing, the problem didn't actually cost us much in terms of anything, and we're supposed to get the money back for that unused switch, too.




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