Eight days ago, I got up and went through my usual ritual as I prepared to go to work. Once in the car, I put in the key and turned it . . . . . . only to get nothing. It had been cold – freezing, in fact – and my first thoughts were that the temperatures had dropped so low that the car’s battery had been compromised. Given its age, it wasn’t an unrealistic guess that the battery had finally reached the end of its life. Given the number of below-zero days this winter, I’m surprised that it has taken this long for something to happen. None of this understanding, however, helped me at that moment; I still had to go to work (40 miles away), I had no one on hand whom I could call for help, and I had come to the conclusion that my neighbor, who was aware of my struggling that morning, was going to “play dumb,” and act as though nothing was wrong.
My brother, the family mechanic, gave me some suggestions over the phone, and after a half-hour, the car did indeed start. I had no problems with the vehicle for the rest of that day or the rest of the weekend; I was so confident that the problem was resolved that I resumed my life as if this were nothing more than one of Life’s little hiccups. Even made it to work with no worries the following Monday. Life was good.
Then on Tuesday morning, I had a repeat of the incident – the car would not turn over, and again, I panicked. The car did start, but I decided to take the hint, and I raced over to Sears to have a new Diehard battery installed. Turns out that the battery was bad, and that with a new battery, the car should work better. Great, I thought, and $159 later, I’m a happy camper. Whew! Just managed to dodge yet another bullet!
Wednesday, the car would not start. I was on the verge of missing a much-needed day of work. Fortunately, this time I had benefit of the Little Woman’s mother, who not only provided me with a ride to work, but also returned (remember this is 40 miles one-way) to pick me up again in the evening. I was shocked, but I was also happy and thrilled that I could at least make it to work. As you might guess, I now realized that I could not avoid the mechanics forever; I took the car to a service center that I’ve used for years and after six hours, they could find nothing wrong.
Well, that’s not quite true. They could not identify why the car wouldn’t start. But they noticed that the car’s transmission was starting to misbehave. Honestly, I suspected that the transmission might be a future issue, as I could hear a very slight strain. But until this point, it had given me no other indications of problems. The service center wanted $4000 to install a new transmission. I can’t remember if I laughed before or after I ended the call – spending four grand for a transmission for a 16-year-old car? Are they nuts?
Let me put this in perspective: The Blue Book listing for the car is an optimal $1250, with $900 being more realistic. They know this, so the idea of anyone shelling out more than a C-note for major repairs is humorous, to say the least.
I picked up the car and, for 99% of the trek home, the car was fine. It was only during the last ten feet of the trip – the point where I was actually parking the car – and I started hearing some strange noise emanating under the hood. It was high-pitched and sudden, and clearly mechanical in origin. Honestly, I thought that the engine might blow. I quickly put it in park and went indoors.
To be continued . . .