A curious boy once asked a wise owl how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. The owl opted to conduct an experiment to determine the number. One…Two…Three…crunch! Three, the owl declared. In the longer version of this famous commercial, the cow, fox, and turtle all confessed they’d never been able to make it to the center without biting it, and clearly the owl had no more patience than the other animals when it came to enjoying the sweet taste of a Tootsie Roll Pop.
Unfortunately for me, purchasing a car from Georgia and having it shipped to Oklahoma is a process that cannot be sped up by biting. That beautiful flame red classic would eventually find its way to my garage, and regardless of my level of patience, I had no choice but to wait.
As it turned out, the longest part of the wait was getting the shipping company to pick up the car. Once they had it in their possession, it was on its way to OKC. So, two days after the car left Georgia, I finally got the call I’d been waiting for. The delivery company had made their way to OKC and were now a few miles from my house. My wife and I quickly hopped in her car to meet them at the rendezvous point.
Even though the rendezvous point was only about 2 miles from my house, the delivery company was waiting on us when we arrived. As we rounded the corner to their location I laid eyes upon the British beauty for the first time. Quite literally like a kid in a candy store, I had a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon.
The driver and co-driver of the delivery company were great. I think they liked the car as much as I did. I walked around the car a few times to check things out and make sure she’d made the trip with no additional signs of wear. She was beautiful. After signing a few forms, I hopped in and readied to drive her home.
Left foot on the clutch, right foot on the brake, add a bit of choke, pump the gas, and turn the key. VROOOM!!! She roared to life just like that. That tiny little 1.8 liter engine was smooth and beautiful. I put the car in first gear, eased off the clutch, fed it a bit of gas, and off we went. She was a runner and she was mine! I hadn’t felt this much excitement driving a car since I’d gotten my first car when I was 18. All of that preparation and planning were worth it!
A few minutes later I pulled her into the garage, thrilled by our maiden voyage. A moment later my wife arrived, as she’d been following me just in case something went wrong. “What do you think,” I asked. “It doesn’t look like the brake lights work,” she said.
Needless to say, that was not the response I wanted or expected. I had her stand behind the car while I pressed the brake pedal. “How about now,” I asked. “Nope,” she replied. I then decided to test the blinkers, only to have her reveal they weren’t working either.
This was a giant red flag for me. You may recall last week that I mentioned a friend of mine had inspected the car and uncovered some issues that were to be resolved. Among those issues were non-functioning wipers, headlights, turn signals, and gauges. Now fearing the worst, I began an in-depth inspection of the electrical functions of the car. The gauges now worked, but the wipers and headlights did not. Of course, I’d already determined the turn signals still didn’t work. Besides those things, the dome light, reverse lights, license plate light, horn, and map light did not work. Oh, and the next day while doing a test drive, the gauges stopped working after driving less than a mile.
Naturally, my first course of action was to email the company I purchased the car from. Even though I’d purchased the car as is, I also had video from my friend where he showed them the non-functional turn signals, headlights, wipers, and gauges. In the video, the seller of the car states that he broke those things due to a malfunctioning switch, he’d already ordered a replacement switch, and all of those things would be fixed before sending me the car. While my friend and I failed to check the status of the horn, reverse lights, dome light, and license plate light, I certainly had reason to be upset that those things we did notice had not been fixed.
The seller responded to my email and assured me all the things he stated would be fixed were indeed fixed, and he said the brake lights were working when it was loaded because he was standing behind the car and could see them working.
I spent the next two days troubleshooting fuses, tracing wires, looking for bad grounds, shorts, or anything that I could identify as the cause of the issues. I knew nearly nothing about electrical systems, so I had no luck. Honestly, I’d very much rather work on a mechanical issue on a car than an electrical one. So this was a worst-case scenario for me.
Fortunately, Oklahoma City has an expert MG mechanic. However, getting the car to him would be challenging since the brake lights and turn signals didn’t work. My wife and I decided that rather than have the car towed to the mechanic, she would follow behind me in her car, and I would use hand signals to signify when I was stopping or turning. All those years ago in drivers ed, I never thought I’d have to use those manual turn signals, but here I was putting them to use!
We spoke with the mechanic and showed him all the issues we’d discovered, and then left it in his care. He kept me updated over the next few days as he sorted the car, and after about 4 days he called me to tell me it was ready to pick up!
When we arrived, he showed me several serious issues with the car’s wiring. Much of the old, original wiring had been replaced, but it had been done poorly. The dome and map lights didn’t work purely because no wiring had even been ran to those locations. As for the reverse lights, not only was no wiring ran to the lights, the transmission didn’t even have a switch installed that would send a signal to the lights. However, he’d managed to get the brake lights, turn signals, horn, headlights, and gauges working. He told us how maddening it was as he’d fix something, only to have it stop working when he fixed the next thing. Ironically, as he took us around the car and showed us how things were working, things stopped working. The license plate lights caused two fuses to blow. It was a mess. I felt so bad for the mechanic. It was clear he was at his wits end.
And let me be clear that the mechanic is an EXPERT with British cars, especially MG’s, Mini’s, and Austin-Healey’s. He’s been working on them for over 30 years, and knows the wiring, along with their color codes, by heart. But this was a hybrid wiring system full of splices and many wires that were no longer even connected to anything. He and I were both convinced that the issues were caused by bad grounds, but to troubleshoot that would mean pulling out the dash, exposing the wires, and then going through each connection one by one. His opinion was that a quicker and more economical solution would be to pull all the wiring out and start over from scratch. OUCH!
There was some good news, however. It turned out that the brake light issue was an isolated problem unrelated to the other issues. The brake light switches on those cars are notoriously fickle, and he was able to get it fixed. The seller probably did indeed see the brake lights working when he loaded it on the trailer. Other good news was the mechanic managed to get the turn signals and headlights working. So we paid the mechanic for the work he’d done, and took my electronically dysfunctional British beauty back home.
How would you have felt if you were in my shoes? Maybe you’d be like me and experience a range of emotions. I was frustrated, even mad at the company who’d sold me the car. Despite their claim that they fixed all the known issues, I found that claim to be highly suspect. I was certainly feeling liked I’d been purposely deceived. I also felt disappointed. I’d spent all that time researching and pouring over details for cars, thinking I’d bought one that was exactly what I’d been looking for, only to find out it was an electrical mess.
I’ve been a goal getter for my entire adult life. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 8 years now. And I can tell you with 100% certainty that despite our best efforts, most meticulously laid out plans, attention to detail, and good intentions, things will not always work out as expected. Mike Tyson is famous for saying that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. And any of us who have put ourselves out there in pursuit of something challenging can tell you that planning and preparation is no guarantee of success.
Getting punched in the face or blindsided like in this story today can work to make you stronger and wiser if you let it. These situations are full of the kinds of lessons that develop us into grizzled warriors trained for the battles of tomorrow. Call it the school of hard knocks, call it street smarts, call it whatever you’d like, but these are most definitely character defining and character building moments. The only way we lose in these situations is if we refuse to learn, pivot, and try again. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing next week.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 578, “When Goals Fall Short.” Stuff I Learned Yesterday is part of the Golden Spiral Media podcast network. Join me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, Facebook, or our feedback page.