Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Radio Code

If you drive a late-model Honda you might already know where this story is going. If not, read on.

First, a set up. I am not the kind of person who believes that the ‘good old days’ are better than today but I do believe that some aspects of the past made life simpler than it is now. Take cars, for example. They used to be simple. Spark plugs, carburetors, direct throttle linkage, fan belts … fairly easy to understand parts that made cars run. I did my own routine maintenance and even a few things that were not routine. I once did a clutch adjustment on my beat up old Mustang in a parking lot and once changed a broken fan belt on a Toyota while on the side of the Capitol Beltway as a legendary DC traffic jam crawled past me.

My current ride is a ‘pre-owned’ Honda. The pre owner bought it new with nearly every option that was available that year and it is definitely the most luxurious vehicle I have owned. I love the electronics but I do not have a clue how to fix anything on this car. When I got to work today and shut off the engine, the instrument panel blinked at me a couple of times. I have never seen that. Hmm, I though, as I hit the unlock button. Nothing unlocked. I turned on a dome light to see if I had hit the wrong button and the light barely lit. I had hit the correct unlock button but it would not unlock the doors. Uh-oh, dead battery? But there had been no warning. I tried to start the car and it would not start. I manually opened my door, manually opened the rear door to grab my computer. I’m late for a meeting so this problem will have to wait.

Later I enlisted the help of a couple of co-workers who actually do understand the electronics of contemporary cars. Basically one of the battery terminals had corroded so much that it broke the cable connection. (I actually figured out that part on my own) My co-workers went to a nearby car parts place, bought a $3 connector and re-connected the battery. Old school solution! Turns out the battery was not dead, just not connected well. The car started right up. I have great co-workers! I can’t imagine what a repair shop would have charged me to fix this (and that would have been after finding a tow truck that could fit in this underground parking lot).

Moving ahead to quitting time, as I left the parking lot I noticed the radio was not working. The word CODE blinked mockingly at me, reminding me of a useful but annoying feature of late-model Hondas. When the battery is disconnected, the sound system becomes disabled and the driver needs a code to reactivate it. This is basically a theft deterrent feature for the sound system. Great! BUT I do not have the code and was never given the code. I first learned of the Radio Code a year ago when I had the car in a body shop for a repair that might have required a battery disconnect. It didn’t, but I discovered I could not get the code on the Honda web site because it did not recognize me as the real owner of this specific Honda.

So tonight was the quietest ride home I’ve had in 2 ½ years … no FM, no AM, no XM, no CDs. Just the annoying CODE, CODE, CODE blinking at me, daring me to shout. Or sing a cappella. I did neither. I actually enjoyed the silence. I did not enjoy not having access to traffic reports.

And now I will not enjoy the process of finding my radio code. At least I do enjoy the car. But I also enjoyed my beat up old no-frills Mustang.

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