RAM with 1950 Buick

RAM and the 1995 BMW 325is he drove to Texas. The car had recently been detailed, thus the brilliant sheen. Despite its age, the car has an on board computer that some say may have malfunctioned during the trip. Balderdash! Before the trip, the car had been taken to a body shop in Tijuana, Mexico to be customized to look like a 1950 Buick. In an amazingly quick turnaround, the shop delivered the modified car in two days with the fuel injected 2.5cc 6-cylinder, OHC engine replaced by a carbureted straight eight (with the Buick Eight logo emblazoned thereon), the factory automatic transmission replaced with a three speed Dynaflow automatic, and the body style converted from a two-door to a four-door sedan. Furthermore, the unibody structure had been converted to body-on-frame. Amazing!

In July of 2008 I participated in a road trip from San Diego, CA to El Paso, TX via Phoenix, AZ. On the return leg of that trip an unusual event occurred. I reported that phenomenon to four analysts on August 5, 2008 as follows:

It was actually somewhere East of Lordsburg rather than “Somewhere West of Laramie” but Laramie sounds more exotic. I was on the road with my traveling companions when somewhere out there in no man’s land something mysterious happened. The odometer and the trip meter readings on my ’95 BMW 325is got out of sync. Being a highly trained accountant and a mildly obsessive/compulsive individual, I had been logging both my trip meter and odometer readings at each fuel stop. When I returned home I crunched the numbers and..what is this? The change in odometer miles matched the change in the reading on the trip meter in every case except one. According to the odometer the car traveled 2,394 miles. According to the trip meter, we covered 2,756.1 miles! Where did these additional 362.1 miles materialize? I thought and thought about it and one night, in the dark, it came to me.

On one stretch of road we ran into quite a squall, a downpour, a turd floater, a frog strangler. Water was flowing deep on the freeway when suddenly, with rain pouring down and next to zero visibility, the car seemed to go momentarily out of control and then go quickly back in control. Then a red light came on in the IP. I asked my co-pilot to check out the meaning of the light in the OM. He immediately reported (this kid was good) that the light meant that the anti skid or stability control algorithms had kicked in. I didn’t even know the car had stability control! Boy, that was unnerving, wasn’t it Guy?

So, lying in the darkness at home days later, I concluded that the activation of the anti skid stuff had affected the trip meter computer, thus explaining the sudden difference in readings. Sadly, my review of the data in the light of day showed that the error had manifested itself, not on the leg between Lordsburg and Casa Grande, where in rainstorm hit, but between El Paso and Lordsburg where it had rained but we never saw the red warning light come on. So, my theory was both shattered and proved false.

My only remaining explanation was that someone had tripped the reset button on the trip meter and that the numbers didn’t revert to zero but somehow added 362.1 miles to the reading. But the meter is digital, not those rolling drums. This cannot happen with electronics, can it? If anything, wouldn’t the numbers decrease rather than increase? So, here I am, in the midst of an enigma, a mystery. Who is there who walks among us who can explain this strange occurrence, in effect, explain the unexplainable?

I received the following responses. First, from my son, Rick:

First of all, once again your writing is entertaining and funny. Yes, I laughed. And your story, while theoretically not particularly dramatic, well, the way you tell it and share the little details, makes it a joy to read. Thanks for sharing. I have to say, I really would love to see lots more of this type of stuff (including this email, word for word, maybe with a road-trip photo) on Atascadero. But that is just me… after all, it is YOUR website!

Anyhow, thanks again for sharing this tale. And, no, I have not a clue as to how your trip meter and odometer got out of whack. If anyone can figure it out, my guess is he lives in PHX.


So I posted my query here. Then came a cryptic note from nephew Guy:

It could have been a result of the co-pilot attempting to reverse-engineer that german engineering marvel of a trip computer without the assistance of the user manual. Didn’t the discrepancy occur about the same time I figured out how to get instant MPG readings?

To which I responded (My response later proves to have been both unnecessarily harsh and unfair):

Yes, Guy, this is a possible explanation, if we can accept the ridiculous proposition that accessing the car’s highly sophisticated computer readouts to gather information would mysteriously affect the trip meter readings. Actually, it’s not such a far fetched idea since that computer is programmed to do all kinds of useless functions, one of which might be TO ADD MILES TO THE TRIP METER!! Good contribution copilot person. RAM

Uncle Mando, in a state of denial about his being an accountant and about his OCD wrote:

Not me, I never have reconciled my trip meter and the odometer. Question is, what mystery have I missed? I think I need to add this to my monthly to-do-list? Were you ever within 250 (416.67 KM) miles of Roswell, NM. or Area 51? This might explain this odd happening. Maybe you were abducted by space aliens. No telling what those little green guys do behind closed doors.

So far, no response from Rod. maybe he didn’t understand the urgency of this desperate call for help.

But wait! We received two contributions from alert reader Mike Cortez in San Antonio, TX. His first explanation is kind of lame unless you allow for the fact that he may have thought the trip meter was being reset at each fuel stop. His first guess:

I happened to read the road warrior story about the El Paso trip. I can see the the similarity of Rick to Monk, the tv series of the same name. I concluded the missing miles account for the round trip miles used on the Ft. Davis trip to see Frank Higgins and noted so as a comment on the post. Rick, Guy Rod and you have been put on the stress-o-meter on this and I was just looking out for a possible stress breaking reason to account for the missing miles. Of course the miles are on the wrong reading, but that would be where I would look first. Proper readings from trip vs odometer.

But his second explanation, now that is genius (if you are able to cast aside the gibberish he purposely put in there to confuse us.) His new take:

Unless you drove a bunch while in El Paso, the numbers all seem to be kilometers. Just saying San Antonio to San Diego round trip is only 2600 miles.

Of course, that’s it! When Copilot Guy was messing with the car’s computer, he inadvertantly set the trip meter to read kilometers, rather than miles. The odometer on a car sold in the USA cannot, by statute, be set to toggle between miles and KMs. That would really mess up a car’s mileage reading, no? So, on that one leg of the trip the trip meter measured KMs while the odo read miles! Thus we award our genius trophies to Guy, who guessed that messing with the computer caused the odd reading, and to Mike, who clarified that the trip meter was switched to KMs from miles. And an award also to the German engineers who programmed the car to read KMs on one readout and miles concurrently on another one.

It’s amazing what great minds can come up with when given a chance.



What will come next? How about the legend about Guy & Linda following a Toyota 4Runner up a snow packed back road on the way to a ski resort in a rental car and waving to the 4Runner’s occupants as G&L slipped past when the Toyota slid off the road into a ditch? Or the one about a person who shall remain unnamed who passed a snowplow during a snow storm on a two lane road on a back road in New Mexico in the mid-60s? No, we’d better keep that last one under wraps.

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