The Amateur Amateur: Don't Hurt My Car!

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
November 1, 2005

My wife seemed excited when I gave her the new radio. Hidden in her smile, however, was just a hint of a panicky grimace that meant, "You're going to mess with my car!"

My wife Nancy has been very tolerant of my Amateur Radio activities. She didn't complain about my turning the basement of our house into a ham shack. She said nary a word when I installed a conduit from the basement to the attic and ran miles of coaxial cable. And she even helped me when I struggled to put up masts and antennas on the roof. It's true that she's an Amateur Radio operator herself, but she's dubious about all of the modifications I've made around the house. Still, she hasn't complained.

Nancy's new car

Nancy's first new car. Orders of the day: Don't hurt it.

But when I bought a new mobile rig to put in her Toyota, she immediately said, "Don't hurt my car!" It wasn't a request. It was a command.

I should mention that through much of my wife's adult life she was limited to driving used cars. It was the family business. Her Toyota Corolla, now two years old, was her very first new car. She takes very good care of it. She never misses an oil change or a scheduled maintenance. She has it cleaned regularly. And she gets a deep frown on her face any time I get near it with power tools.

So how did I install the first mobile rig in her Toyota? Simple. I waited until she was away on a business trip. By the time she returned, the radio was installed, the installation mess had been cleaned up and everything was ship-shape. After verifying that the car was not scratched, dented or dinged, that it ran fine, that I hadn't used up all her gas and oh, incidentally, that the radio worked, she thanked me.

But this new radio, well, that was a different story.

I guess I should explain why I got her a new mobile radio. Her old rig was one of a pair of identical models I'd bought for us about 10 years ago. I installed them in the vehicles we owned at the time and transplanted them when we got newer cars.

I don't know what the normal lifespan of a mobile transceiver is supposed to be, but it seemed that half of my Amateur Radio-related activity was dedicated to repairing those blasted radios. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the problem was in the control head. I think I returned the control head on Nancy's radio to the manufacturer for repairs twice and the control head for my own radio went back once. In addition to those official repairs, I disassembled and repaired both units myself many, many times. In my more rational moments I felt that perhaps there was a design flaw or, perhaps, a quality-control problem with that particular model. In my less lucid moments I was convinced that there was a curse on them.

Earlier this year the control head on my mobile rig started acting up again. Something in my mind went, Ding! Maximum aggravation limit reached. Time for a new radio.

I put a new unit in my car. After repairing the control head for what I swore was the last time, I set up the old unit in our study. The advantage of having an extra radio in the study was that I could join in nets and make SKYWARN reports without having to go down to my basement shack. That worked fine for about three weeks, at which point the control head croaked while I was running an ARES net.

Resisting the urge to tear apart the control head, I retired the rig to the I'm-not-sure-what-to-do-with-this pile in the basement.

In the meantime Nancy was unable to use the mobile transceiver on those occasions when she drove my car. For years and years our radios had been identical. Now mine was a different model, and--surprise, surprise!--the controls were laid out completely differently.

It didn't take me long to decide that Nancy also needed a newer radio. I had bought myself a quad-band transceiver--much more than I really needed. Fortunately, there was also a dualband model with exactly the same control layout, so that's what I bought for her.

Radio in trunk

Trunk testing the new radio.

I know, I know. You're thinking: What a jerk! He bought a quad-bander for himself and only a dualbander for his wife! Believe me when I say that neither of us is going to use those additional bands. If I could go back in time and buy the dualbander for myself instead of the quad-band model, I'd do so. I'd use the money I saved to buy a tank of gas.

Anyway, Nancy seemed excited when I gave her the new radio. I knew, however, that hidden in her smile was just a hint of a panicky grimace that meant, "You're going to mess with my car!" And indeed, the day of the installation saw Nancy working in the back yard, raking leaves, mowing, trimming and doing everything she could to avoid thinking about what I might be doing to her Toyota.

But her fears were groundless. The installation went fine. The worse thing that happened was that I tipped over a container holding a bunch of tiny screws that I didn't really need. The Toyota survived unscathed. Nancy says the new transceiver sounds much better than the old one. And once again, we had a spare rig to use as we saw fit.

I took Nancy's old rig and set it up in the study so that I could chat on nets and make SKYWARN reports. Ten minutes later the control head went dead. And no, I am not going to try to fix it this time.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2005 American Radio Relay League

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