Car Talk More information needed to solve case of the mysterious dome light
•Q. I am a prosecutor in Florida, and I’ve been stumped by a very interesting issue that’s arisen in a case of mine. A team of burglars broke into an elderly woman’s house using a distraction scheme. The accomplice rang the woman’s doorbell and told her that the dome light in her 2002 Buick LeSabre was on. She went out to her car and saw that, in fact, the dome light was on. She unlocked her car door (the car does not have keyless entry, and she says she always keeps the car doors locked) and was unable to shut off the light. The accomplice offered to help and did manage to turn off the light. While this was going on, the burglar was inside ransacking the home. The victim insists that she did not leave her dome lights on accidentally. Assuming that the victim is correct that her car was locked and that she did not accidentally leave the lights on, how did the burglar and his accomplice manage to turn on the lights? If this case goes to trial, I would really love to explain this to the jury. Any help would be appreciated — thanks!•
TOM: Well, I don’t know exactly what they did, but we have to assume that if they’re willing to fool an old lady and ransack her home, they’re probably not opposed to using a $10 Slim Jim to jimmy open a locked car door.
RAY: It’s quite easy to do, especially on older cars.
TOM: Then, once they’re in, they can turn on the dome light using the headlight switch, re-lock the door and close it again. And voila, they have their pretext.
RAY: What I don’t know is how they made it difficult for her to turn off the dome light. There’s no very quick, easy way to do that. It’s possible that the lady simply wasn’t familiar with the dome-light switch and knew only that the dome light comes on when the doors are opened. Perhaps they just took advantage of her lack of knowledge.
TOM: Or perhaps they tinkered with, or removed, one of the switches in the doorjamb that tell the dome light that the door is closed. That’s the kind of thing that can be done and undone in a matter of minutes if they were willing to risk a procedure that took that long.
RAY: You’ll have to get more information from the victim and find out how she tried to turn off the dome light, and what finally worked. If you write back to us with more info, we’ll try to help you piece it together.
TOM: Then my brother will come down and testify against them.
RAY: Yeah. In exchange for half of the loot. Good luck. Hope you put ’em away.
•Q. I’ve always done the “bounce test” to check my shocks. I also go by the feel of the ride. My ’99 Taurus seems solid and rides great, but I’ve noticed that the rear end seems to be “squatting.” The front has about 3 inches between the tire and fender, but the rear end is about 3/4 inch! The trunk and back seat are empty. Seems like it would bounce if the shocks were bad, but it comes up and stops immediately. Is there something else I need to check? If the shocks are fine, along with everything else, is there a way to raise the ride height in the rear? It looks horrible! Is this unsafe?•
TOM: It’s moderately unsafe, and probably hugely uncomfortable.
RAY: You’re confusing the job the shocks do with the jobs the springs do. Bad shocks will affect your ride and handling, but they won’t change the ride height of the car.
TOM: So it sounds like you have worn-out springs in the back.
RAY: The springs are there to absorb bumps; that is, to allow the tires to bounce up without making the entire passenger compartment bounce up with them.
TOM: The shocks are there to damp those vibrations and keep the tires from continuing to bounce up and down for five minutes after you hit a bump.
RAY: Shocks wear out over time due to how much damping they have to do, whereas springs wear out from carrying a lot of weight over time.
TOM: So perhaps you’ve schlepped a lot of heavy cargo in the trunk throughout the years. Or driven around with a couple of mothers-in-law in the back seat on a regular basis? That kind of weight compresses the springs, and eventually they just stop bouncing back because there’s no “spring” in them anymore.
RAY: Springs can also break. So it’s possible that you have a couple of broken springs in the back from one particularly overloaded journey (when you moved in 2006 and decided to carry your iron-ore boulder collection yourself to make sure it arrived safely). But since the height is the same on both sides of the same end of the car, it’s more likely that they’ve both just worn out and need to be replaced. Look into it.
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