I had a recent experience with my Ford Taurus station...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had a recent experience with my 1987 Ford Taurus station wagon that I would like to share with you. I parked overnight in an underground garage and couldn't get the car started the next morning. I had to be towed to a garage. Fortunately, the mechanic recognized the problem as a lack of fuel to the engine. He pushed a button in the rear of the vehicle, and the car started. He explained that it was a fuel cut off switch that may have been triggered by a bump I got from another car in the overnight parking garage. A couple of weeks later, the car wouldn't start again. This time, I pushed the button myself and immediately drove to my Ford dealer, who diagnosed my problem as a faulty "inertia switch." Would you explain what the "inertia switch" is and what it's supposed to do?

TOM: The inertia switch is a safety feature, Hal. Let's say you were driving along, and you suddenly had to slam on your brakes. This happens to my brother everytime he sees a donut shop.

RAY: If you slammed on the brakes, it's conceivable that someone might smash into you and cause an accident. And what the inertia switch does is shut off the electric fuel pump when you have an accident, so fuel won't spill and, in the worst case scenario, catch fire.

TOM: In most serious accidents, the engine stops running by itself, and that automatically turns off the fuel pump. But the inertia switch provides a redundant level of safety in the rare case that the engine doesn't shut off.

RAY: It's actually a very simple device. It's a steel ball suspended between magnets. And if it's jarred from any direction, it interrupts the electricity to the fuel pump.

TOM: And it's somewhat sensitive. If you took a flying start and drove over a big speed bump (or a small farm animal), you could set it off. It could also be set off by a jolt in a parking lot, although it would have to be more than just a casual bump.

RAY: Your inertia switch is obviously defective. For some reason, the magnets aren't holding the steel ball in place. Replacing the switch ought to solve the problem.

TOM: And by the way, Hal, for future reference, you could have found all of this information in your owner's manual (that's the little white book in your glove compartment that says "1987 Ford Taurus" on it).
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