Thursday, December 17, 2015

I got DEF'ed!

I remember when it took two keys to operate a vehicle, one to get in it and the other to start it. And if it didn't start you just needed a little push and a pop of the clutch to get going. You cranked a handle to operate the window, and then only the one you were sitting next to. Wing-windows were the air-conditioning of the day and everybody knew what a quarter light was. The spare was always a real tire so you could just go ahead and finish the journey without having to worry about one of those fake doughnuts exploding if you go over 50 for more than 50 miles. And I remember a time when you could open the hood, pop the distributor cap and clean the contacts, wiggle the spark plug wires, maybe replace the condenser and a few plugs, tighten the fan-belt, check the oil level, refill the radiator, fix a sticky throttle linkage with a little shot of carb-cleaner and get yourself going again.

Now none of us like vehicle problems, but these days it's especially bad for us more wizened, well weathered, OK OK, have it your way, us older people, when our incomprehensible, computer driven, new-fangled dashboards light up and start screaming like a pin-ball machine suffering the outrage of a tilt, (You younger people might have to Goggle that to figure out what it means, or is Google an old fashioned thing now too?)) and your only option is a tow and a lengthy, and expensive, stay in the waiting area of the nearest service bay.

Very rarely do vehicles have problems when they are just sitting. By definition then, the most likely time for a vehicle to throw a hissy fit is when it's moving, and when your vehicle spends a good 90% of it's moving time on a road trip - well - guess when things are going to go bad. . .

I had one of those near heart-stopping, flashing lights, dinging alarms moment on my latest trip. And I wasn't even moving at the time!

I had just made a hard, down-hill stop at one of those traffic lights lurking out there on a 70 MPH highway just waiting for the next victim to get to just that right spot where continuing on means running a red light but stopping in time is going to be an adventure. I had the barest moment to congratulate myself on wrestling my 8000 lbs to a stop without having something from the 'house' behind me fly forward and crack me in the back of the head or even chattering the anti-skid, when all hell broke loose!

With heart pounding like a rabbit only two steps ahead of the wolf and eyes bigger than a pre-teen boy confronted with his first glimpse of boob I desperately tried to make sense of what the hell was going on.

In addition to some crap about only 9 starts left

  this was lit up, only on the dash it's a little smaller than this photo.

Now maybe it's just me but from where I sit this looks like someone swimming in the rain, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what swimming in the rain had to do with driving down the road.

I had to find a safe place to pull over, not easy since I was just approaching the city airport at the time and, as usual, the road was all chopped up and confused by construction. But I found a spot in a tiny little dirt parking lot and drug out my owners manual, which is only slightly less thick than a volume of the complete works of Robert Service, and started thumbing my way through it page by page. (For some reason including an index, or even better, a quick guide to all the incomprehensible symbols we might be faced with when driving their product doesn't seem to have occurred to the writers.) Finally, there on page 213, I found what I was looking for, which is pretty remarkable considering that the image is printed about the size of a small fly.

Of course! It's the DEF alarm. I've seen it a couple times before, once I stopped paying the dealer four times what it actually cost to keep the DEF tank filled up for me that is. But what the hell?! only 9 starts left! What happened to the first gentle lighting of the light when I have about 1000 miles left before big brother takes this drastic step? And I thought I was supposed to get more like 20 starts,not a measly 9, before the government regulations strand me, a tax-paying citizen, in place just so The Van doesn't fart a dainty little extra bit of  - well - whatever the hell it is they're all worked up about.

But while I was thumbing through the pages of the manual from hell, parked more or less level by the way, the insistent dinging and flashing lights just stopped all on their own.

I sat there and thought about it a while and concluded that the hard stop combined with the downhill slant, sloshed the DEF forward in the tank hard enough to trick the the computer into scaring the crap out of me, but now that I was level again the damn little shits had quietly picked up their toys and slunk back into the closet again.

I went on my merry way, after allowing my blood pressure to drop below stroke status and splashing on a touch of deodorant to counteract the fear-sweat stink but on the way home a week later the DEF light lit again. Politely this time, without all the fanfare and dire messages. Again I was pointed downhill, this time creeping down a steep slope towards a one-lane low-water crossing with water flowing over it. (I wanted to get a close look at the gauge before doing something stupid. The water was moving at a fair clip but was only about 9 inches deep. If I had been in the car I wouldn't have risked it but The Van is high clearance and weighs nearly 8000 lbs so I was able to cross.) Once I was on the other side and level again the warning disapeared but I went ahead and picked up a jug of DEF on my way home anyway.

When I saw the freshly emptied jug sitting there among the fallen leaves in front of The Van I couldn't help but wonder about all the resources, and resulting pollution, that went into creating that 2.5 gallons of DEF that is supposed to reduce the emissions emitting from The Van.

The box is manufactured at one place (And the inks used for the fancy graphics made somewhere else.), the plastic jug at another place, and maybe the spout and cap other places. All of it shipped, via diesel truck most likely, to the plant that manufactures the DEF, then shipped to a distribution center, then to a store, to which I have to drive and collect the product before dumping into my tank to make The Van 'cleaner'. (Which it does by periodically burning extra fuel to raise the temperature in the soot filter. . .)

And even though we recycle the 'waste', I still have to drive to the recycling center, then the material has to be transported to a processing plant, and the plant has to use energy to convert the various components back to usable form, which is then transported to a processing facility, and from there to a production facility, and then a distribution center and . . .

Makes me wonder just what the hell we were thinking, especially when you factor in all the costs and materials that go into these fancy, and complicated diesel particulate filter systems in the first place.

It reminds me of extreme 'eco' activists mindlessly driving mining conglomerates out of the US, where regulations limit the bad effects of mining, to countries with lax or even no such regulations where the mining process can be a relative eco disaster. I'm sure the activists think they're doing good when they're hatching their plans over cocktails in their suburban McMansions, but if they would actually sit down and think about it, maybe not. . .

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