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Dashboard Confessional

Since starting this whole crazy automotive adventure I have helped tear apart two dashboards and have reinstalled the instrument cluster of one. So far my record’s not looking so good on the reinstall side of things, but I’ve averaged one a year so far and my internship this summer only started last Tuesday.

Last time it was a matter of replacing the switch on the steering wheel for the washer fluid. This time it’s a matter of putting one of the vents back in place for the A/C and heater. Only it’s become a lot more involved than the master technician I’m shadowing anticipated. Currently the entire heater unit’s sitting on the bench as we wait for new parts to arrive.

All told my dashboard experiences have made me acutely aware of how much but also how little is actually contained under the guise of an aesthetic concealment job. A lot seems to be clever engineering to enhance air flow but in some cases — like on the early 1990s Chevy Suburbans the school district owns — it also contains the car’s computer. It continues to amaze me how tech savvy the automotive industry has become. It’s not on the same level of computer cleverness as an iPod, but without that, the Suburban is going nowhere fast.

The PCM, car’s computer, hangs out on the far right of the car behind the glove box. But then there’s all that space in the center with the radio, so what’s going on there? With my forearm shoved up one of the larger air vents that area contains useful wires and more duct work for airflow. These hollow cavities seem to be engineered to collapse in the event of a crash. Basically, they crumple and you don’t.

Moving across to the left is the instrument cluster. It’s pretty straightforward on the the inside. The gauges tell you about the vehicle’s health and all that is processed by way of just a handful of wires. It just helps when you put the wires back in properly … The steering wheel and its accoutrements also takes up a lot of room.

But it still seems like a lot of interior space that’s just there. Maybe that’s where the engineers should look to condense fuel mileage on future concept cars. Either that or an easy way for drivers to vacuum out the airways on their own. Not everyone has a technician with a skinny little arm to flail around up there and dust.

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