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The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology

#2. Check Engine Light

The Check Engine Light is kind of the Red Ring of Death for automobiles.

Wikiuser100000, via Wikimedia Commons
"Why did we buy a car from Microsoft again?"

Well, that's maybe a bit much; when the Check Engine Light comes on, that doesn't mean your car has died. It just means it's time to put some tape over the Check Engine Light.

Wikiuser100000, via Wikimedia Commons
Lifehacking with Cracked.

But, if you don't want your car to soon sound like someone feeding an aluminum ladder into a lawnmower, the Check Engine Light is an excellent clue that you should probably check your engine.

If only it were so easy.

Why It's So Frustrating:


It's Going to Cost You Hella Dolla Dolla Bills

The Check Engine Light might as well be a little glowing dollar sign, because cars are not known for being cheap to fix. First, there's no online forum that tells you what your Check Engine Light (illuminated, kind of yellowish) means. If you have a code scanner, you could connect it to your car and find the problem, but that's already costing you money. And that's just to find the problem, not fix it. Because there sure as fuck isn't a free program you can download that will replace your head gasket for you.

Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
"I would pay up to $2.99 for an app that would buy and replace an O2 sensor for a '98 Jetta. Your move, free market."

The Check Engine Light is essentially the herald of big, cash money hardware problems. And because it doesn't say much, it gets really unsettling staring at it as the miles tick by. Will it only be a couple hundred bucks to fix? Or 50 hundred bucks? Can you make it to work? Can you make it home after? That's what the Check Engine Light signifies. A world of unknown financial hurt and the possibility of getting stranded miles from your loved ones. Nothing's more worrying and frustrating than that.

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Unless you have a really unhappy home life, in which case maybe it's welcome news.

#1. Abort, Retry, Fail

For those of you that never experienced the joy of working with a DOS prompt, I'll summarize it thusly: Colons were extremely important, things disappeared off the top of the screen all the time, and if a friend suggested you try typing in "FORMAT C:" he wasn't really your friend. It combined all the excitement of making typos with the fun of eye strain, and there's a reason no one uses it any more.


Windows 98 was vastly better than this, and it was just awful.

DOS was also notable for having an error message that it would barf up essentially every time something happened, good or bad. "Abort, Retry, Fail?" was its name, and if you used DOS for more than about five minutes you were guaranteed to see it.


It'd most commonly show up if your computer was missing a disk, had too many disks, or had exactly the right number of disks.

Why It's So Frustrating:


It Became an Unsolvable Riddle

The most sinister thing about Abort, Retry, Fail? was that it gave you options. Not just an error message, but a command prompt. The situation was still under your control! Sure, two of the options seemed to be identical -- is "abort" different from "fail"? How? Also, all of the options did the exact same thing, which was this:


"Wait. Let's try "abort" again. I ... oh damnit."

There were supposedly ways around it, but not even experienced computer nerds could remember what they were. So every appearance of Abort Retry, Fail? became a new, unsolvable mystery.

Wait. A puzzle that defeated the greatest minds of an age? That sounds familiar. Abort Retry, Fail? was the Gordian Knot of computer errors.

Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
And putting a sword through your computer was far from the least popular way to handle it.


Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and make him reconsider that.

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