It was on our thirteenth descent that I brought psychoacoustics into our conversation.
A little after 3 pm when I got a call from the service reception I had no idea what was in store.
“Arnold sir has some noise issue… Jerry couldn’t find anything… could you please…Arnold sir is …”
Jerry is our road tester.
I did not wait for the service advisor to complete.I was in the middle of a training session.
Soon I was on the road with a well dressed gentleman in his early fifties.
It was a strange complaint.
An abnormal whistling sound for a brief period from the front right side when the vehicle completes the steep descent from Qantab and enters the highway, after a tight 270 degree turn to the right.
The vehicle has to descend at 30 km per hour, the brake has to be applied and released once nearly 100 meters before the tight right turn, and, there it is, exactly when the vehicle enters the highway.
He did the descent four times, but could not duplicate. Then he asked me to try…
“Oh no… the speed was a little high… it is very sensitive to speed…”
We enter the highway again, take the exit after 3 km, come back to palace roundabout 7 km away, take 11 km up the winding road and prepare ourselves for another descent.
His wife had noticed it the first time the previous Thursday evening when they were returning after a party at the hill resort.
“no no no… you should not apply brake this hard… it has to be light… very sensitive to braking force also…”
Again the exit after 3 km…
“I tried many times… it does not come when my children are there at the back… there should be only two persons in the front… very sensitive to load on the front seat also…”
“no no no… you should not turn the steering this hard… it has to be smooth… otherwise it will not come…”
By the eighth descent I could gather enough information about the history of the vehicle.
Some noise complaints are difficult to verify… we know such noises will in no way affect the performance of the vehicle or jeopardize the safety of the passengers…
Moving vehicles make a lot of noises however smooth the road may be.The noise of engine and drive line will be masking these noises in most of the vehicles and customers will not be feeling them. When they change to vehicles with extremely silent engine, transmission and steering systems, they will start noticing noises which they never heard in their old vehicles…
And then there are customers like the one I was having… a user of Mazda6 for years. “It used to be like in a glider before…”
I too loved that trip down the mountains in a Mazda6. As the customer said “like in a glider…” and the 270 degree turn! The weightlessness you feel and the cool sensation you have in your brain and body when you end the descent and join smoothly the highway… it is pure ecstasy…beyond comparison… just the blink of the dynamic stability control indicators that reminds you that you are with a machine… how nasty a whistling noise can be then!
But where is the noise!?
He got the car back after an accident repair the previous Wednesday. The next day the noise!
The situation was not something new to me…customers being skeptical about accident repairs… customers developing an aversion towards the vehicle after accident repairs… a noise there… pulling to right (sometimes!)… hard to steer (sometimes!)…poor brakes (sometimes!)… all psychological… and most of them end up disposing their cars within a week or two…giving a dog a bad name and…
A little psychological approach was all that needed. Counseling? Sometimes there are no other choices.
“I could not find anything abnormal”
“No no no Mr….uh… Mr.Suju, my wife heard this first… I too heard it thrice… now it is not there!… I am sure there is something wrong!”
“I can’t find any abnormal noise… it may be just a feeling… ”
I started with a mild dose of psychoacoustics lessons, followed by more psychological treatment, taking utmost care that he does not feel it…
I let him have my headphones of the wireless chassis ear and play with the channels while I drove…again psychology… bringing him to my seat…
“So you say it is an auditory illusion!” he told in a tired voice and fell into a deep silence.
Three kilometers later when I put the indicator to right again, “no no no… I have an appointment at seven… already late…”
I left him at the reception and straight went to my trainees.
Later that evening…
“Sir,what you did with Dr. Arnold? He seemed a little upset after the road test.”
“Doctor!?”
“Yeah… professor and head of the department of psychiatry at SMU”
“You could have told me that!”
“Told what!?”
I never told him what happened.
Dr. Arnold still uses that car. He never complained about the noise after that day. He recently took a CX5 for his wife.

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