Scream therapy helps car alarm say goodbye to trouble

SATURDAY'S HERO

January 21, 1995|By ROB KASPER

Usually when there is trouble with a car, I limit my problem-solving efforts to picking up the telephone and making an appointment with the car-repair guys.

I deviated from this routine recently when the car alarm developed an attitude. Like many car alarms, the one in on our station wagon is trained to bid us "goodbye." When we press a button on its remote-control device, the car alarm is supposed to flash the parking lights. This is its way of saying "Goodbye. Have a nice time. I'll be here when you get back."

Hitting the remote control also locks the doors and disconnects the starter. I bought this type of car alarm because I hoped it would make our station wagon less attractive to beginning car thieves. I have little doubt that veteran thieves, the ones who have gone to jail and learned about advanced forms of larceny, can defeat these alarms.

Judging by what I read in the papers, our local car thieves are among the most brazen in the nation. Not long ago, for instance, I read about how an undercover policemen got out of his unmarked car to check out some suspicious activity. When he got back to his parking spot, the car was gone. It had been stolen. I do not know if the pilfered police car had a car alarm. I like to think it didn't.

Instead of making me feel secure, my car alarm recently made me angry. It developed this annoying habit of turning the parking lights on. Rather than winking goodbye, the parking lights would continue to glow. I couldn't turn them off, even if I got inside the car and flicked the headlight switch.

Moreover, since the lights were on, the car's idiot bell began to sound off. The device is not really called an "idiot bell," it is called a "courtesy chime" or some other euphemism. It makes a noise when you do something stupid, such as getting out of the car with the keys still in the ignition, or leaving your lights on.

So there I was in the driveway with lights that I couldn't turn off and a chime that I couldn't silence. At one level, I suppose it was ironic that the devices that were supposed to be protecting me were irritating me.

But I was in no mood to ponder the incongruities of life. I simply wanted to stifle that blankety-blank chime. With parking lights glowing and bell ringing, I searched around under the dashboard until I found the fuse panel. I pulled fuses until the racket stopped.

This yank-til-the-noise-stops solution was similar to one I employed when one of my kids accidentally set off the house alarm of neighbors who had gone away for the weekend.

LTC That alarm was a wailer. It sent out such a cry that I was willing to perform any repellent act -- clean the basement, wear women's clothes, recite the Contract With America -- if only the noise would stop.

The alarm had howled for about an hour when we reached the neighbors by phone and they told me how to turn the alarm off.

Inside the house, the noise of the alarm seemed even louder. It made me want to run away, to Montana. But I didn't. I found my way to the alarm control box and turned the switches my neighbor had told me about. When that didn't work, I started yanking wires until the confounded thing shut up.

The other day, after I quieted the car alarm, I called up the guy who had installed the apparatus and told him about my problem. The car-alarm guy said he thought a relay in the brain of the computer was stuck.

I sympathized with the car alarm. The same thing happens to me all the time. I try to remember someone's name -- Bob, Dweezil, Cosmo -- and my brain gets stuck.

The way to solve the problem, the car-alarm guy said, was to let it rip with a good holler. He told me to set off the car alarm, letting it wail until it had a good yell, about one minute. Usually this primal scream "completes the cycle" and clears the car alarm's brain, he said.

I didn't understand it, but I gave it a try. I put the car at the top of a parking garage. I hit the "panic" button on the remote control. The alarm sounded. I had worried that the alarm would draw dozens of police cars or throngs of concerned citizens.

Nobody seemed to notice.

Somehow the scream seemed to clear up the problem with the parking lights. One good holler on the garage roof and the car-alarm brain was back to normal.

So next time my brain gets stuck, I am heading for that roof.

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