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Completely Not Related To Anything Germane: An Open Letter To Jeep Grand Cherokee Designers

Jeep_1[Editor's note: This post has absolutely nothing to do with politics, public policy or Indiana. We promise not to make a habit of exploring off-track topics.]

Dear Jeep Grand Cherokee Designers:

Despite the fact that your SUV gets, like, four miles to the gallon, I very much like it. It's comfortable. I once got a large sofa crammed into the back of it. It's great in snow. And I got a decent deal on the used model I bought 16 months ago.

These qualities make me quite the happy camper.

However, I will confess to you that I'm not very good at taking my car in for service. I generally rely on it, much like a doctor does on a patient's accounting of symptoms, to tell me what's wrong, so I can get those things fixed.

I first realized I would have trouble with your Problem Notification System a couple months ago, when a strange light illuminated on the dashboard Problem Lights display. Note: While I am extremely bad at taking my car in for regular service, I respond well to lights that say "Service Engine Soon" or "If You Keep Driving, Your [Insert Critical Part Here] Will Combust".

But the light that illuminated looked like nothing at all. By which I mean it did not offer the tell-tale verbiage or an obvious symbol explaining the problem. Confused and unnerved, I consulted my owner's manual for the second time (if you must know, the first time was because I did not understand how the sunroof worked, and two rainy trips through the car wash forced me to ask for help). Find the page. Match the symbol. Read the description. This is how mechanical dummies deal with such twists of fate. It's also how babies learn the link shapes to words to actions. But whatever.

Unfortunately, the description next to the symbol was equally unhelpful. It said something like, "Your vehicle is experiencing a general problem. If this light does not go off, take your vehicle to the nearest Jeep dealer and explain to them that the 'General Problem' light is on." Thanks, guys.

Lucky for me, the light only stayed on for a few days. Then it was off. Then it came back on. Then it was off again.

I consulted the manual again, but there was no advice for owners whose vehicles have multiple personalities or suffer from chronic indecisiveness. Since I only drive a few miles each day, I figured, eh, what's the worst that can happen?

I know now.

The worst that can happen is that your car can't decide if it's truly in need of some specific service, or if it's just afraid of dying alone, so it periodically calls you up in the middle of the night just to make sure you're there.

Yesterday, another light came on. This time, it was accompanied by a dinging sound not unlike the one in that Southwest Airlines commercial. "Perform service," it said after the ding.

The service I performed, right then and there, was to push the "Reset" button. Mercifully, the message disappeared.

But I had to stop for gas, mostly on account of the fact that we drove three-quarters of the way to Southern Indiana in second gear before my better, more observant half noticed. Filled the tank. Put the key back in the ignition. Crossed my fingers.

*ding ding ding*


What? What kind of service do you want me to perform? Should I get you some coffee? Dust the bookshelves in the spare room? Sign up for the Peace Corps? Maybe you'd like me to call a trio of hookers to perform services unmentionable on a family-friendly blog. I don't understand what you're trying to tell me! I hate you! I hate everything about you!

This dearth of specifics -- first the little warning light, and now this -- leaves me no choice but to write you a letter, Jeep Grand Cherokee Designers, and ask for guidance. I know I need to take my car into the shop, but what do I tell them when I get there?

"Hello, I have a problem. This car, it seems to need something, but I can't figure out what, and I'm afraid to ask because I probably should already know. It's like when a woman gets a quarter-inch cut off her hair and comes home asking, 'Do you notice anything different, honey?' I don't want to sleep on the couch for a week, so I'm bringing it to you with palms up and a quizzical look on my face."

Jeep Grand Cherokee Designers, I want you to write me back and tell me why you thought it was such a good idea to design a vehicle that, while perfect in many ways, plays games when it comes time to talk about itself. Explain your choice of words, and tell me why you couldn't just run through the list of potential problems and create a cause-and-effect rubric for notification.

Until then, I'm going to keep pressing the "Reset" button.

Respectfully signed,


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Thank you for purchasing the Jeep Grand Cherokee. We designed the Jeep Grand Cherokee for maximum comfort, ease of use and to guzzle as much refined petroleum products as it is possible to consume short of operating the Space Shuttle. I would like to respond to your open letter to my fellow engineers and I.

We designed the Problem Notification System to make our customers aware of issues which may need addressing from time to time. While we went to great lengths to design a system of sensors that would be as specific as possible, sometimes the sensors receive mixed signals from the vehicle and will interpret the signal as a general problem to notify you that Something Isn't Right.

The Problem Notification System is designed to be as big a pain in the ass as possible so as to goad the human that owns it into taking the vehicle for service from time to time. Regular service is necessary so that on trips to Southern Indiana you do not have to drive in second gear the entire way and bum yourself out that it took an extra bit of time to get where you are going.

Our guidance on this matter is to take your vehicle to the nearest service technician and tell them "I have a problem with my car and I don't know what it is. I drove in second gear for a trip to Southern Indiana and it bummed me out. Please fix whatever is wrong and try not to pay for the new welding rig with the bill for my car's repair" or something to that effect.

We chose to use this system of problem notification because we felt that rather than just coming right out and telling you exactly what the problem is with the vehicle we would use an elaborate system of bells and lights that only our fellow engineers and mechanics that have paid hundreds of dollars for technical manuals from our parts division understand.

This is to ensure job security for an entire ecosystem of tinkerers and madmen in oil stained jumpsuits to retain gainful employment at our network of dealerships and in general service centers throughout the world. You are contributing to the global economy and being a good consumer when you utilize the services of one of our trained service technicians, and putting a few extra dollars in the pockets of the shareholders of Daimler Chrysler. We suggest you purchase a couple of shares of stock if your repair bill is not the size of Paris Hilton's credit card bill.

If we did this any other way, such as running through a list of potential problems so that you could determine cause and effect, then we would have no reason to provide technical manuals that rival War and Peace in size. We would be forced to find other ways to make up for the loss of revenue from DIY mechanics by creating even more OEM parts for our vehicles that you can only purchase at the dealership.

My advice to you is to change your oil regularly, take it easy on the stop and go traffic and rotate your tires every six months. Oh, and please fix me a sammich and send it to me - maybe some nice roast beef with horseradish?

Well done.

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