We recently purchased a ’97 Pontiac Sunfire for one of the boys to drive, since their previous car (a ’91 Camry) met with its demise. This was definitely an upgrade–the Sunfire was in immaculate condition, while the Camry was a rolling bucket o’ bolts.

This was a good thing, since I’m the one who ended up driving it. The boy has yet to master the stick shift, so he’s driving my car (a newer, nicer car) while I’m driving the stick around town. Something’s wrong with this picture, but that’s a post for another day.

The Sunfire came with an aftermarket CD player installed–a Sony CDX-M630. I thought this was going to be a good thing, too–until I actually tried to use it.

One of the things that astounds me is how incomprehensible the front panel is on most aftermarket car stereos these days–and this Sony was no exception. So at first, I chalked up my inability to make it do something to the fact that I was too old and feeble-minded to understand how to work the damn thing. And, of course, it didn’t come with a manual.

But I’m nothing if I’m not persistent, especially when it comes to electronics. I’m a geek, after all–an old and feeble-minded one, but a geek nonetheless. So my stabbing at the dizzying array of buttons on this thing finally paid off, and I brought it to life.

Well, kinda. I quickly discovered that the Sony seemed… well, possessed. Sometimes buttons worked, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they even did the job of other buttons. Sometimes I could change the volume, and other times those buttons would change the radio station, or turn the whole thing off. And then I had to poke around to see which button would decide to turn the thing back on. Even the display was hosed. It wouldn’t show me what station I was listening to, or even the time, but occasionally it would light up a few of its pixels.

Clearly, its brains were scrambled. Nothing that a good pressing of the reset button won’t fix, I thought. The reset button was easy to find and press, so I was just moments away from stereo sanity. Or so I thought.

I thought that my stereo’s brains had simply suffered an electronic concussion of some sort. Turns out that there was permanent brain damage. Repeated resetting of the Sony didn’t improve the situation, although it did change which buttons would decide to perform its various functions.

Being the cheapskate that I am, rather than buying a new one and replacing the thing, I just continued jabbing the buttons until I managed to cajole it into playing the radio station I wanted at an acceptable volume. I determined that I could generally get the volume to go up and down as desired, as long as I was willing to take the risk of the volume buttons suddenly deciding to do something else, like changing the station or initiating autodestruct sequence.

I actually drove the car around for several weeks under those conditions. I wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I wasn’t suffering painfully, either–that is, until my regular radio station decided it was time to change its format to “All Christmas Songs All the Time.” Arrrggghhh!!!!! It was time for the Sony to go–I’d need a radio that I could reliably station-hop with, because, frankly, all the remaining stations play mostly crap.

So, I pried the credit card out of my wallet, went online, and ordered a new Pioneer unit from Crutchfield, and it arrived last night. I spent part of the evening examining the new unit and all the various installation parts that were included, and I scrutinized the installation of the Sony unit, and I eventually convinced myself that I knew how to proceed. The stereo transplant surgery will take place sometime tomorrow.

In the mean time, the Sony would have to provide me service for one more day. This morning, as I was driving to work, I noticed that its display was lit, and it was actually displaying the frequency of the station I was listening to. I guess it wasn’t suffering from irreparable brain damage so much as from an electronic Alzheimer’s disease, and it was having a rare lucid moment, as if to implore me to spare it from the fate I had planned for it. Meanwhile, the new stereo sits on my desk, shiny and new and ready for installation, knowing that it will soon be my faithful and trustworthy servant every morning and evening.

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