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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Product Design

This is something that happened a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, it was almost 17 years to the day after the wreck that brought Daughter Dearest into the world a month early.

As part of our personal campaign to reduce gas consumption, we bought a used Pontiac Sunfire a while back. It has a few glitches — A/C doesn’t work (surprise), the suspension needs attention, and the stereo is possessed by a demon that doesn’t like bumps (it turns itself to full volume when you hit one) — but it gets over 35 mpg. You can put up with a few quirks for that kind of gas mileage.

So we let The Boy borrow it one night (about a week before he wrecked my Civic), and he ended up staying with our friends because he got a flat tire near where they live. He put the fake spare on, but it was thumping and he didn’t want to drive it. So we went to take care of things, figuring the donut was just low on air. I aired it up, then Mrs. Fetched saw the bulge in the sidewall. Turned out The Boy made a wise decision for a change! He must have hit a pothole pretty hard, because the regular tire had a dented rim and was cut, although he swears up & down that “it just went flat.” I drove it as far as a gas station along the highway, and decided The Boy was right about the thumping. The manager said it would be OK to leave the car there if we parked it around the side. No problem.

Mrs. Fetched was in her “do something NOW” mode, and her first thought was to use the Civic’s spare. Nope: it's a four-lug wheel, and the Sunfire is a five-lug. “Hey,” she said, “isn’t his Lumina a five-lug wheel? We can go get the spare out of the trunk.” Aside from it being a 30-mile round-trip, sure. But she was determined to get it done, time and space be damned. Light too — it was getting dark, so we grabbed some flashlights. Then when that spare turned out to have large holes in it, she had me jack up the car (which took a while) to get a tire off it. Just to keep the axle in the air, I put the spare on and left it jacked up.

With a tire in hand, we headed back to the car. By this time, I was getting rather disgusted with the whole situation, not that it mattered. I got the jack out of the trunk and started cranking away. It took a long time to get enough air under it to get the new tire in place, and the jack was slightly leaning but not badly. I started wrestling the tire onto the hub, and —


The fender came down onto the tire, almost catching my finger in betwen. Another tenth of a second, and I would have had a hard time typing “yhnujm” for a long time, perhaps permanently. The jack was buried under the car. Fortunately, a guy just getting off work from the Ford dealership across the street and gassing up his vehicle saw it happen and came over with a hydraulic jack. Hooray, some decent equipment arrives on the scene! We got it jacked up… and it turned out the lug pattern on the Lumina’s wheel has a slightly larger radius than the Sunfire’s. So we’d wasted an entire evening, and I’d almost lost a finger, for nothing. Figures.

My peevery got diverted away from Mrs. Fetched, though, when I saw the jack. Definitely not a safe design, with forks instead of eyes where the scissors go into the bolts. The jack may have still collapsed with eyes, but it would have been a lot slower and would have given me more time to get my fingers out of the way. This is what happens when the bean counters want to “get another 0.3 cents out of the per-unit materials costs” — product safety ends up getting compromised.

Under no circumstances should accounts ever be allowed to dictate product design, unless it’s for something like accounting software or machinery. Let them live with their own decisions, instead of endangering the rest of us.


  1. I think you should seriously think about buying a decent floor jack. You can get a pretty good one from Sears for less than $30, kinda like the one I threw away when you were here, that was good for 5 or 6 years. While your at it you might as well buy a compressed air tank for $15, fill it up at a 50¢ Air/Vac and you have enough air to fill 2 or 3 tires. Then buy a heavy chain and pad lock and lock both of them up tightly so the Boy can't get to them.

  2. I have an air compressor, and you're right, I need a hydraulic jack. The Boy actually leaves the compressor in one of two useful places, so I don't mind him using it (for a change), although I wish he'd open the drain cock when he was done.

  3. One of my biggest complaints around here is I can never find the right tools for the job. If I have it, it's gone because a relative borrowed it and didn't return it. If I don't have it, it doesn't really matter because I usually screw up home repair jobs. :)

  4. Tools around here end up either in one of two places in one of the two garages, or the Old Barge (which Mrs. Fetched takes to the chicken houses). I can usually find what I want in one of those places, although sometimes it involves more walking than I'd like.


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