Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 2 - Automotive Engineering Shame (June 12th)

When you see this,

You call one of these.

If you don’t make the call, then you must participate in the ultimate “Fuel Systems Engineering Walk of Shame.”

At 8:51am, on I-80 in Indiana, we made the embarrassing call.

“Hello. BP Service.”

“Hi. Goodmorning.”

“Can we help you?”

“Yeah, I’m on I-80 in an F-150 truck and trailer with my kids and we’ve run out of gas.”

“Okay, Honey. I’ll send someone out as soon as I can."

She called me "Honey." They were very nice. I didn’t mention that my husband was driving. I didn’t point out the $150k we’ve spent on higher education - that might stand in humorous contrast to our apparent lack of common sense.

I didn’t mention that we have over 20 years of Ford engineering experience in our vehicle, mostly in fuel systems.

I sat there with a sweet smile on my face, looking at my husband, wondering if he was thinking what I was thinking.

He laughed. “I guess they finally fired him.”

“Yes,” I agreed immediately. “I certainly hope so.”

We were both on the same wavelength, continuing an ongoing conversation that has resurfaced occasionally over the past 15 years of our relationship. Without lowering myself to the depths of severe character defamation in print, let us just say that we knew an engineer at Ford that didn’t deserve the title of ‘engineer.’ And, it so happened, that this fellow worked in the fuel gauge department.

He believed that fuel gauges should read what a person wished them to show, rather than simply conveying a true measurement. You don’t really want to know that you don’t have a full tank anymore, right? That might make you sad. (This belief transferred into all parts of his character, which is rather incongruent with being an engineer. I’ll have to refrain from details, I promised to avoid severe character defamation.)

I can assure you that none of the fuel gauges in Ford vehicles I have owned have been accurate. I can also assure you that designing a reasonably accurate gauge is not a huge engineering feat.

Our F-150 has a very, very accurate fuel gauge. We have data to prove it. (We also have data regarding our gas mileage for the entire trip, but those results truly ARE shameful and resulted in our exclaiming “Holy Carbon Footprint!” See another mommy-of-MIT's post explaining how to help.)

And so, two fuel systems engineers sat on the side I-80 in Indiana, laughing and happy because Ford has finally fixed the fuel gauge problem.

With a certain sense of pride, fewer dollars in our pocket, and a mere hour lost, we once again continued down the road. The rest of the day brought only mild surprises.

There was the white plastic sheet that blew onto our windshield. Nice.

There was the half-dead deer at the semi-truck side of the rest stop. Gladys, George and I waited outside our locked truck for a few minutes watching policemen hovering around the wounded animal. They did not want to ‘put it down’ until we left. We couldn’t go anywhere until Jay returned. Lovely.

Then, there was the decision in Chicago between I-80 or I-90 to Jackson, Wyoming. The GPS claimed that one way was a full hour longer than the other.

Giddy from experiencing the rigid accuracy of our fuel gauge, we lost all sense of logic.

We took the long way and never looked back.


Badass Geek said...

The long way is often the better choice.

Glad to see they've finally perfected the gas gauge. My F-150's gauge is severely lacking in accuracy, enough to the point where I cannot let it go beyond 1/4 of a tank.

*Moi* said...

That happened to us-but mi padre had to walk to get the gas. But me and my mom were just sitting on the side of the road. A cop pulled over, and we tried to find my dad, but we couldn't! Turns out that he got a ride with some lady who was really nice. At least you guys could call someone.

Angela said...

I get really antsy when the Miles to Empty on my car reaches single digits and I try to coast to the nearest gas station. I suppose when you get 5-8 mpg, it's easy to run out of gas!

And I ALWAYS pull the dumb girl card when I get caught doing something totally stupid. No one needs to know about all those higher education degrees from prestigious universities. That's why I still cherish my SPAMIT shirt (not sure if you had those, but I will post about it at some point... stupid people at MIT). BTW, I got an offer from Ford, but turned them down.

Indy said...

I can't believe you ran out of gas. I get soooo nervous when the light goes on that I don't even chance it. At least now I know not to trust the gauge. I was right all along! Even if we have all GM cars. You had to think "I can't wait to blog about this one" when you ran out of gas. LOL.

MIT Mommy said...

Badass - The best way to deal with it is to set your trip meter when you fill up. Ford spec is to have every car go 350 miles + on a tank of gas (so get gas by 300 miles - and don't call me from the side of the road, okay?)

Annakins - I can't believe your dear father hitchhiked!

Angela - I did have a SPAMIT t-shirt, but I am pretty sure it is no longer around. I actually didn't think I would take the job, but the did a VERY good job of enticing me. They actually kept me over for an extra two days after my interview and paid me a consultant fee for my time. I guess I should blog about that one -- maybe when I have a boring day. ha.

Indy - It isn't the first time I ran out of gas, but the truth is that this was the least embarrassing of the stories. I need a boring day AND a glass of wine to tell you those tales.

G. Friday said...

Oh, do tell me some of your other running-out-of-gas stories!