Is Sutton's 2003 VW Jetta sentient?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 2003 VW Jetta hates my husband. Granted, he deserves it. He drove my car over a traffic island and messed up the wheel rims; he tore out the oil pan and then drove till the engine seized up; and he routinely parks it over the concrete parking stops. What leads me to believe that my Jetta is sentient, though, is that whenever my husband is in the car as the driver or a passenger, the turn signal goes completely berserk. It will turn itself on and off at frequent, random intervals, and it blinks three or four times faster than the normal speed. It continues to do this with diminishing frequency for a few days after he's been in the car, and then everything returns to normal. The signals will behave totally normally for months on end. Yet within a minute of my husband being in the car again, the signals go haywire. This has happened with 100 percent consistency during the past four years. I'm really beginning to believe that my Jetta is sentient, that it knows when my husband is there and is registering its protest. I did ask my mechanic about it, but he said it would be too much work to tear apart the wiring to see if there is a short. And besides, the signals worked just fine for him. So, what do you think? Is my car sentient? Or is there some mechanical explanation for its outbursts at my husband? -- Sutton


RAY: Well, I don't think cars can be sentient, Sutton. If they were, every car my brother has owned would have run him over.

TOM: I don't have any idea what's wrong with your car, Sutton, but if I had to guess, I'd say there are two factors: the accidents, and your husband's tonnage.

RAY: Right. The fact that he tore off the oil pan and drives over concrete curbs may not make the car hate him, but accidents and severe impacts can mess up a car's wiring. And -- like your mechanic suspects -- there's probably a bare wire someplace that's occasionally getting pushed against something else, creating a bad ground and causing the blinkers to go haywire.

TOM: What's triggering it? Your husband's enormous hindquarters. Just guessing here, but I'm assuming you're fairly petite, and your husband beeps when he backs up, right?

RAY: If that's the case, his extra weight is compressing the springs, which is changing the geometry of the car just enough to cause an open circuit.

TOM: The wiring for the blinkers runs up the steering column. And your mechanic is right -- it would be hard to find the exact spot on the wire that's causing the trouble.

RAY: So if it's really bothering you, you have two choices. One is to tell your mechanic that you're willing to spend the money for him to diagnose it. He'll have to try to simulate the experience of having your husband in the car in order to make the blinker misbehave for him. Maybe he can get two or three technicians to sit on each other's laps.

TOM: The other option is to sign your husband up for two programs: driving school and Jenny Craig. Good luck, Sutton.

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