My Link Between 1990s JDM Cars and Radio Shack

MD158815 Glow Plug Computer

As electrical things break and need fixing on our small fleet of 1990s JDM cars, specifically our 1991 and 1992 Mitsubishi Pajeros and 1994 Delica Space Gear, it’s ironic how much I could use a local Radio Shack these days. Connectors, wiring, capacitors—all in one shop open seven days a week. Yet the brick-and-mortar stores have pretty much gone the way of the dodo bird. There’s actually a sad irony behind all this if you think about it. When the nearest Radio Shack is actually in 1996, it can be a chore to get electronic project things quickly.

Fixing Stuff In A Throw-Away Society

In a world where everything is electronic, if something malfunctions we simply throw it out and get another one. The idea of fixing electronic things seems trivial. And, frankly, sometimes it is. For the cost of professional electronic repairs—assuming you can even find someone to fix whatever’s broken—you can often replace the gizmo for less money.

Unfortunately, those of us who like to tinker on older cars (especially rarer JDM stuff) can’t simply run to Autozone to pick up a new MD158815 glow plug control unit for our ’92 Pajero. Instead, some of us try to fix this stuff. These ’90s-era Mitsubishi computers are known to burn up capacitors. But, not that long ago, you could run into your local Radio Shack—a staple of every town in the USA—and buy a handful of 50V 100uF capacitors and simply bust out the soldering iron and hopefully fix the computer. This is exactly the scenario that is playing out with our ’92 Pajero, aka the Ralli Tractor.

Upon the advice of other JDM car owners, I contacted my local TV repair shop to see if they could test the circuit board. Local TV repair? Does such a thing still exist? Amazingly, there is a shop just a few minutes away. Unfortunately, the gentleman at the shop wasn’t willing to touch the circuit board for a car. When asked if he had any suggestions on where I could bring it, he simply suggested perhaps the dealership. Uh … no.

The Capacitor Conundrum

I called two local Ace Hardware stores to see if they sold the 50V 100uF capacitors. Neither did, however, both recommended URS Electronics on the inner east side of Portland. But as they mainly service commercial businesses, they were open commercial business hours. However, I did find time to run down there and pick up some capacitors. This place was both amazing and seemingly from a bygone era with brightly lit fluorescent lighting, endless aisles of slat wall, and a very ’80s kinda feel. However, they had just about everything.

I chatted briefly with the woman behind the very long counter (although they were only allowing one person in the shop at a time due to COVID-19). I remarked how great it was to have a shop that still sold this stuff, especially since there were no Radio Shacks around. She remarked how people will come into the store and ask if they’re the “new Radio Shack.” I told her they were more like the original radio shack!

1992 Mitsubishi Pajero Ralli Tractor
The Ralli Tractor

Despite my Radio Shack rant, I wasn’t a frequent patron of the store. But I also wasn’t as involved with projects that required so much electrical work. This afternoon I’m going to attempt to find electronics to build a manual glow plug switch to bypass my truck’s fried malaise-era computer. However, I will likely have to turn to Amazon, eBay, or even Radio Shack’s online store (yes, they’re now an e-commerce biz) to obtain basic connectors and switches; basic parts I could’ve run to Radio Shack for. Instead, when I ask the guy behind the counter if they have piggyback terminal connectors to wire up a glow plug control switch, he’ll run down the script asking if it’s for an auto or manual. I’m dreading the hunt already.

If only there were a Radio Shack nearby.

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