Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2006   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

Safety by Design

Laptop computers are the tools of the trade for those of us that write for pay, and as a result, I'm using one right now. It's a little harder than usual, however, on account of the nasty cut across t...

Laptop computers are the tools of the trade for those of us that write for pay, and as a result, I’m using one right now. It’s a little harder than usual, however, on account of the nasty cut across the knuckles of my left hand, courtesy of a mid-Nineties Olds Achieva.

More accurately, perhaps, the fault lies with the engineers that designed the vehicle. Heater cores have always been high on my manure list, mainly because they’re usually difficult to get at, are surrounded by easily broken or quickly lost plastic clips and retainers, and can rarely be “re-and-re’d” in anything like a reasonable time. Lots of stiff necks and bruised foreheads result from the under dash antics. But my sliced hand finally drove me to the keyboard to pen this open letter to automotive engineers everywhere.

Why is it necessary to stamp so many under hood and under dash parts with razor sharp edges? Ever scrape the back of your hand changing halogen capsules? Whack the back of your head because of dead lift struts on hoods and hatches? And how about that old-time classic, radiator scalding?

OEM’s could use simple, low-cost solutions for each of these issues. Cross drilled or grooved shafts on lift struts could allow a hairpin to hold them in position. Lever or button-release rads or expansion tank pressure caps are readily available. Drain plugs on fuel tanks should be a given, as well as hangar assembly wiring harnesses that are long enough to let you actually lower the tank before testing and disconnecting wiring. Batteries are now becoming the latest service item to disappear behind brackets and shields. Sure you can test at the auxiliary positive post but how do you check the connection at the battery? As electrical systems get more complex, it amazes me that fuse panels seem to disappear deeper under the dashboard.

I once owned a ’73 Dodge pickup that had the fuses up top behind the glove box door on top of the dash. A brilliant and simple configuration. Another current frustration is relays. Under the hood, relays can range from impossible to find to top and centre. But under the dash, finding the relays can be a nightmare. How about mounting all relays on clips with wiring long enough to pull the unit into the foot well for testing and replacement? Another example from my sordid automotive past was a Camaro stock car that I campaigned decades ago. As a hobby car it was essentially stock and the races were usually at night. Naturally, the pits were illuminated by a couple of 40-watt bulbs and the odd carburetor fire. So I rigged up a handful of LED’s with 12-volt Zener diodes and current limiting resistors then spliced them into the electrical system at key points like ignition, starter and battery. I could lift the hood and by glancing at the little glowing red dots, know that everything worked well. Automotive relays could easily incorporate a small power indicator too.

And my all-time worst example of an inexcusable safety issue? My current hangar queen is a Triumph TR-8, and its hidden headlights are a thing to behold. The circuit is constantly energized, and an errant screwdriver can cause the assemblies to pop up or down unexpectedly. The motor that drives each pot is about the size and torque of the starter motor because it’s British, so why make a sports car too light? There’s enough power there to crush your fingers. Don’t ask me how I know.

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