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One of the worst feelings in the world is when your car starts slowing down by itself, even though your foot is still on the accelerator. Then the red lights on the dash start flashing, and you experience a true “Oh crap” moment. Only crap isn’t the word I used.

In a way I consider myself lucky, because I was still in town. “Lucky” is a relative term. In the passenger seat, my youngest had that wide eyed look she gets when she knows something is horribly wrong, but hasn’t figured out what. What she did know was that she had to get to school -- and Jillian hates to be late.

The car lost its power steering just as I turned the corner, but I levered it around and managed to roll within a block of the Albion Municipal Building. Pushing it the rest of the way was a fairly easy proposition, considering the amount of adrenalin surging through my system.

I hit the key and the engine made that happy “I’m trying to start” noise that means you’ve got electricity and a starter. That was very good. Then it kept making that noise. That was very bad. The problem was that my car – and I’m trying not to get too technical, here – wouldn’t go.

I called my son-in-law, who knows a great deal more about cars than me. Well, everybody knows more about cars than me. My request was simple: Get Jillian to school and figure out what’s wrong with my car. The next order of business was to call the school, and let them know she’d be late.

The irony is, she made it to school on time … that was the only good thing that happened to me, not just that day, but in all of January.

I’m one of those owners who hover. You know the type: We have no talent to actually fix anything, but we feel guilty about our cluelessness and so hover over those who are trying to repair what we screwed up. I had a bad head cold (cause hey – January), but I stood outside and … hovered. With that level of uselessness, I was a shoo-in for a United Nations post.

Finally Bo, my son-in-law, turned to me. “It won’t start.”

“Am I paying you for this?”

Two things guaranteed that this would happen to me. First, the car was paid off. Second, I bought a computer a month earlier. At the time, I actually said, “This is a flat-out Murphy’s Law guarantee that something’s going to break, and cost me the $750 I’m paying for this to repair it.”

I have a gift for prophecy.

Bo brought out two short lengths of tow strap. Put together, I would be about a foot behind his car. I don’t do the whole towing thing, but we had about five blocks to go to the repair shop, and I don’t do pushing uphill, either. “It’s real easy,” he said, “I use the gas to go, you use the brakes to stop us.”

“Is this legal?”

“It’s more legal than robbing a bank to pay for a wrecker call.”

Can’t argue with that, except that we had to go right by both the police department and the sheriff’s department. I drove real quiet-like. Which was easy, considering the friggin’ car wouldn’t start. Shockingly, that trip went without incident, although I did get a bit dizzy from holding my breath.

Within a couple of days, the mechanic showed me the inside of something called a rotor, which, um, rotates, or something. Even my untrained eye could see that it was worn inside, which is no surprise considering my car is 95 years old, in car years. He put a new one on and happily turned the key. The happiness lasted all of five seconds, because he’s an experienced mechanic, and could tell by the way the car still wouldn’t start that the car still wouldn’t start.

When I asked how long it would take, he checked the tread on my shoes. Not a good sign.
So for a few days I shared a car, and sometime during the course of that time someone got into that car and stole several things from it. In retrospect it seems pretty clear that Murphy’s Law had gone into overdrive. Good thing somebody could.

When scheduling problems prevented me from using that car I borrowed a pickup truck from a coworker. Picture this: It’s a cold, snowy night when I hitch a ride to the home of the coworker, who kindly offered me the use of the pickup for as long as I need it, except for one brief period later in the week. I can’t see out the rear window, but I know the drive is straight behind me, and confidently began backing right up until the moment the tires start spinning.

By the time I realized the drive actually veered off to the right, the truck wouldn’t go forward again. So I twisted the wheel, trying to steer back onto the drive. The revving engine sounds strangely like … laughter. I hadn’t even reached the road before I had to ask for help in towing their truck -- out of their lawn of the very people who loaned it to me.

I used it without incident for the next two days, but couldn’t help thinking that was three vehicles down. Later that week I gave the truck back and hitched rides for a couple of days, then got a loan of another pickup from a friend whose home was, literally, on the way from where we were to where I lived. This will come as a shock, but with that truck … nothing went wrong. Of course, I only drove it once.

The next day, my car was finished. Turns out the problem was a doohickey on the distributor, a device which, um, distributes. The doohickey is cheap – but you can’t buy just the doohickey. You can only buy the entire distributor.

Total price, as predicted: $750. Loss of pride not included.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:17 am (UTC)
I would suggest a nice bicycle, but I expect the chain would fall off! Thought when I started your post that you’d been effected by the same dodgy petrol that is causing a sensation over here today.

Making engines clog, red lights to come on, hundreds of pounds worth of damage and so far - 10am. - no one is taking responsibility.

Curious - you have a son-in-law and a little girl still at school!!!!?
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:34 am (UTC)
The son-in-law is married to my oldest girl, leap_to_faith; my youngest,
jillyh2009, is the one still in school. Sorry for the confusion!

At least petrol wasn't my problem ... other than paying for it. :-( I do have two bicycles up in the garage, but I need to replace the inner tubes, and when I try to do little things like that, the result is usually something I end up writing a column about.
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:40 am (UTC)
This sort of makes me glad that I don't drive ;)
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the Amish have the right idea ...

Every time I see your icon, I laugh out loud. :->
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)
I drove real quiet-like. Which was easy, considering the friggin’ car wouldn’t start. Shockingly, that trip went without incident, although I did get a bit dizzy from holding my breath.

yep, reminds me of the night when I towed a friend from a motorway... taking the military exit.... forgetting that the road gets really really steep, curvy, downhill of course
yeah, that was fun - not so much

I'm sorry to hear about your car and the expenses -I drove old cars long enough to gain intimate knowledge about all things that can break and be replaced for a total sum higher than the car's worth.
I never converted their age into car years though.
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's best not to convert their age into car years; nothing good could come from knowing that information.

Some people don't seem to mind doing the towing thing, but it scares the crap out of me. Visions of rear-end accidents fill my mind, whether I'm towing or being towed. I did tow a car all the way from New York to Indiana once, but it's not the same when it's on a trailer -- if you have to brake, it brakes with you.
Mar. 1st, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)
I laugh, because you are witty. I cry, because I too have the death hand when it comes to cars. It is a very sad thing to be inflicted with.
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC)
Hey, I'm witty! Of course, witty doesn't get the car fixed ... I've often wished I had *some* measure of mechanical ability, but my brother got all that. He can't write, though. Guess which one of us I'd choose to take a long road trip with. :-(
Mar. 1st, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
I laugh at your pain - but only because that is what you wanted us to do. And knowing you and any sort of mechanical/electrical/moving item, I'm just nodding my head, knowing that it was just inevitable.
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
My motto is, If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no column at all!
Mar. 1st, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
I’m one of those owners who hover. You know the type: We have no talent to actually fix anything, but we feel guilty about our cluelessness and so hover over those who are trying to repair what we screwed up.</i. Oh that is so me! Sends hug to Mark, and the car!
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)
I don't know how you're going to hug the car ... maybe just a tire? :-)
Mar. 1st, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
"he’s an experienced mechanic, and could tell by the way the car still wouldn’t start that the car still wouldn’t start."

* giggles*
Mar. 1st, 2007 11:29 pm (UTC)
Hopefully he'll take it in good spirits, since there are only two professional mechanics in town!
Mar. 2nd, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
Excellent description of a very frustrating experience.

I'm glad your car is now consenting to start.
Mar. 2nd, 2007 05:14 am (UTC)
I speak nicely to it ... and sometimes I sacrifice small animals to it. :-0
Mar. 2nd, 2007 06:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, the distributor cap and wires will cause all kinds of mayhem when it fails. That's usually the easy part. Repairing the power steering system is harder since it's a hydraulic system.

I just spent $337.02 on a new muffler (the $20 coupon I brought with me paid for the oil change - whee!) so now my car has been silenced, much to the delight of my neighbors, I'm sure. It's so quiet now that I still am not quite sure it'll MOVE when I put it in gear because I'm not sure the engine is running!! LOL!

Come springtime, I'll do my tune-up (that'll save me a good $60+ of labor) and if the car is doing ok overall, get the suspension fixed and whatever else will keep her roadworthy for another couple of years. I figure I've invested around $600 between the tires and exhaust, so I'm going to MAKE her last long enough to get my investment back.

Too bad I'm so far away...the person who taught me most about cars used to call me a "good wrench" and actually trusted ME to work on a few of his friends' cars more than his friends (which says a LOT, considering they were mechanics as well!) and I could've had a look-see at the distributor problem. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago, before I could learn even more from him...but the work I have done on my car and friends' cars is just as high quality as any shop does. :D
Mar. 2nd, 2007 09:42 am (UTC)
It always freaked me out a little when I'd buy a car, or get a muffler replaced, and had to wonder whether the thing was really running or not. Right now I'm in that area where I can hear the engine running but it's not too terribly loud -- although that can't last forever.

I sure could use your expertise! Actually, my brother can do an awfully lot to help me keep my car in shape, as long as it doesn't involve anything computerized. In this case they had to put their diagnostic computer on it just to track down the problem, so I don't think anyone who doesn't have thier own shop could have helped me ... but I'll keep you in mind for the future!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 3rd, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
That's okay -- it was my reaction, too! Besides, look how often the starship Enterprise breaks down -- I'm in good company.
Mar. 7th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
Ow. My sympathies! That's about the time you start comparing all the nickel-and-diming an old car can do with the monthly payment on a used one and try to figure out which will hurt least.

(And I'm happy to report our old car made it to Indiana trouble-free and I'm now sitting in Bremen, listening to the train whistle and contemplating going out in the snow for food.)
Mar. 8th, 2007 08:34 am (UTC)
I'm glad you've got a train whistle to listen to -- that set of tracks came to a standstill last week after a derailment and two car-train accidents happened in the space of a few days; a truck got hit just a few miles from here.

Yeah, that car repair amounted to about 2 1/2 monthly car payments, so I know exactly what you mean.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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