Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why do I smell smoke?

Monday morning (bright and early, now that she's on her "regular" 7am work schedule) Jen woke me up to tell me that the interior lights and the radio in her car didn't work. The car started OK, though, so we figured it wasn't worth worrying about. About 20 minutes later, Jen called me (just so everyone is aware, I'm *not* a morning person) to say that the keyless entry stopped working as well...she had to lock the doors the old fashion way.

She got home that night just fine, so I figured it was just a blown fuse. Of course, it's like 15 degrees outside and I'm trying to look in the fuse box under the dash. And the fuses are 3 inches inside the dash, so I'm scraping my frostbitten hands up trying to pull a fuse out. The fuse for the radio/clock was fine; there were about 3 fuses labeled "Lights" and I wasn't going to try to check each one.

Here's where the story gets a little strange. I Googled the issue, and after some search changes, I found a site dedicated to Subaru Foresters that mentioned the exact same issue. There's an unlabeled fuse in the engine compartment fuse box that actually controls every item we were having trouble with (interior lights, clock, radio, keyless entry). I find the fuse and pull it, sure enough, it's blown. And the fuse box has spare fuses already, so I replaced it quickly and easily.

One of the forums I'm on has a number of Subaru drivers, so I figured I'd share the story just in case anyone else runs into it. While writing up the post, I realize that I should include the actual number of the fuse. The owners manual was sitting in the passenger's seat (where I had left it while I was in the drivers seat going through the interior fuses). I went outside, opened the passenger door (happy that the dome light was working again) and opened up the manual.

Out of the corner of my eye, though, I see this lightshow on the snow under the car--under the open passenger door, to be specific. Then I start to smell smoke.

I stopped and looked under the door. Hanging from the door are two wires, on the end of which appears to be some sort of small wiring harness. Or at least that's what it used to be, because at that point it was actually a little ball of flame. There was enough wire for me to maneuver the harness away from the door so that nothing else got burned. After about 15 seconds, one of the wires finally melted out and the sparking stopped; the plastic burnt itself out shortly after. I ran around to the drivers side, popped the hood, and pulled the new fuse back out.

I finally had a chance to see what the issue was. Coming out from between the interior plastic door panel and the metal door frame were these wires and harness. The plastic panel is against the door frame *tight*. I put the quarter in the picture to give some reference--there's no way that this harness just fell out; it couldn't have possibly fit between the panel and the door frame.

After some more research (I didn't eat dinner until 10pm Monday night) I found that this is the harness for the light that is in the bottom corner of the door. The light comes on when the interior lights come on. When I opened the passenger door to read the owners manual, these wires powered up and either the damage from the harness being shut in the door or just the snow shorted it out. My best guess is that it's been like this for a while--at some point, the passenger door was probably frozen shut, and in a massive show of strength, someone opened it...separating out the interior panel from the door frame and popping the harness off the light. It fell through the gap, then the door was finally opened.

Most people know I'm not a big one for Providence...I don't think God cares what color shirt I wear or who wins the football game. But sometimes you're just being looked over, and there's no denying it. Had I not decided to post about the fuse--leading me to go back out to the car, open the passenger door, and have the harness burn itself out while hanging in mid-air, Jen might have wound up with the harness catching fire when she was heading to work or somewhere in town. It could have been close enough to the interior panel to start it burning, at which point we'd be talking about a real car fire.

I put the blown fuse back into the fusebox for right now, which means Jen doesn't have any tunes while driving. It's a small sacrifice until I can figure out a way to cap off the hot wire in that pair and tuck it back into the door panel.