Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Car Saga

A week ago today, I used up my last packet of dishwasher soap.

This was a problem, so on Wednesday I decided to expand the scope of my Southern Errands a little bit. You see, normally on Wednesdays I go to the library and then the gas station. On Thursdays I do my Eastern Errands...Meijer, Aldi, Kroger.

There is another Aldi to the south, plus a Wal-Mart. I decided to go to Wal-Mart and get name brand dishwasher soap, because our dishes are never very clean and I wondered if store-brand dishwasher soap was the culprit. While I was down that way, I got a few groceries. I didn't make a detailed list; I just noticed we were out of bread and orange juice and stuff and so I bought those things at the South Aldi.

Then I went to get gas, and when I started up my car after filling it up, it started shaking. I was only about a mile away from home, so I made a very rattly drive back. Then I ate lunch and took a nap. Then I called AAA.

(What? It's not like I had to be anywhere, and nobody wants to wait for AAA while they're all hungry and sleepy.)

The AAA phone person thought it sounded like the transmission, so I ended up getting the car towed to Name Brand Auto Shop, because NBAS is only 0.3 miles away from my apartment, so I can walk back and forth. Walkability is important when, you know, your car is broken.

NBAS wouldn't even be able to diagnose the car until 2 hours later, and it was 2:30 in the afternoon at this point, so I called Scott and told him he'd have to find an alternative way to get home. (I had also called him right before I called AAA, to give him a heads up.) Fortunately, Oldest Younger Brother had nothing better to do that afternoon and was able to pick Scott up at the bus stop and drop him off.

Shortly before Scott got home, NBAS called and said that the spark plugs were bad and oh by the way we should also replace the catalytic converter. That would be $1200, please.

I said I'd think it over and politely wrapped up the conversation. Then I cried.

(Hormonal, remember? And $1200 buys a lot of baby stuff.)

Fortunately, Scott set up the system a few months back to enable working from home. (This wasn't always an option, which is unfortunate because there was this one time he had a cold and stayed home for a week out of a selfless desire to not contaminate everyone with his germs. There were a good 2-3 days during which he would have been healthy enough to work, if not for the contagious issue.) Anyway, we decided that on Thursday he would work from home and also call around and get car stuff figured out. Because that's how we do division of labor in our marriage. I cook almost all the meals (except when I'm having morning sickness, and then Scott steps up admirably) and do almost all the dishes, and grocery shop, and etc., and Scott cleans the bathroom and Deals With People.

(I don't know how he got the bathroom job, but that's how it happened.)

So that's what happened. Scott consulted with Name Brand Auto Shop to make sure he understood the issue, and then consulted with a family friend who knows about cars, and then we accidentally consulted with Scott's dad as well. See, I needed to buy food (because, as you recall, the Wednesday trip had just been picking up a few odds and ends), so I called Scott's mother to ask whether there would be any time on Friday during which I could perhaps borrow a car, or hitch a ride to the store, or something. Somehow, over the course of the conversation we got onto what was wrong with my car, and Scott's dad did some Phone Backseat Driving (you know, where you say things to the person on the phone intending for them to pass those things along to the person on the other end?) and we learned that NBAS is apparently renowned for misdiagnosing your car and then overcharging you to not fix the problem. He recommended a little place a couple miles away that he generously described as "hole in the wall." Not fancy, but they're honest and charge fairly, he said.

So we sorted out on Thursday evening that we'd take the car to Hole in the Wall Auto Shop and see what the guys there thought about it. Therefore, on Friday morning I left Scott at home with his laptop, working away, and walked to NBAS, paid them $42 for their diagnosis, and drove my poor rattly little car down to HWAS.

(Scott is cute, by the way. He asked me very concernedly if I was sure that I could walk to NBAS. I reassured him that it was hardly more than a block away and he reluctantly consented to my going.)

At HWAS, I talked to a man named Dave (they're all named Dave, aren't they?) and he said they'd look at the car "sometime today." Then he told me a story about an old lady who took her car to a different name brand auto shop and got fleeced and then her church family told her to come to HWAS and he fixed her car for free (because he happened to have the necessary part lying around) and in gratitude she baked him chicken dumplings and pie. It amused me because it reminded me of being back home. That's the kind of conversation you have all the time in my hometown.

(No, I am not yet reconciled to living in the city. We'll get back to the country someday.)

Scott's mother had a brief break between activities at that point, so she was able to pick me up and drive me home. She wasn't free again until about 7:00 that evening. (Scott's siblings are big into extracurriculars.)

So I went home and took a nap and fretted and probably did the dishes or something. I don't remember. Around dinnertime I had a small breakdown that resulted in agreeing to let my mother come down and rescue me the next day. Shortly thereafter, Scott's family offered to go get us a few things at the grocery store, so we got some tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and were able to make a pizza. I felt better after food.

Oh, and at some point Dave called us back to say that he thought it was just the brakes, but he'd have to get the car up on the lift to determine the full extent of the problem. I said okay. As soon as I hung up, Scott asked when Dave was planning on getting the car up on the lift. I told him that if he wanted to know stuff like that he shouldn't hand the phone to me when it rings.

(Yes, I was very tired and stressed out, and it makes me lose my people skills.)

On Saturday, my mother drove down with the van and played Candy Crush on my couch while I went grocery shopping. I can't park the van worth anything. I really ought to stay in practice, too, since I certainly hope to have more than 2 children even at my less-than-rapid rate.

I came back, bearing Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk (my mother's favorite ice cream ever) and ate a hasty lunch before heading right back out to do my usual Saturday afternoon babysitting gig.

(That hasty lunch included a few spoonfuls of the Phish Food I had bought myself while getting Mom's ice cream. It was amazing.)

We had talked about going to the vigil Mass while we had access to a car, but by the time I got back from babysitting I was done in, and Scott hadn't showered or shaved because he was keeping an eye on the phone while I was gone. (And he was very beardly after working from home for two days.)

Mom wanted to know if she could go home, since we weren't going to Mass, and I peevishly ordered her to stop asking questions. I sat down at my computer for about half an hour and tried to shut out the world. (I think Mom played some more Candy Crush and ate her Ben & Jerry's.)

At about 3:45, I Skyped Scott (yes, we were sitting next to each other at the time; I wanted to have a private conversation) asking if we wanted to call Dave and get a timeline for when our car would be fixed or what. No sooner did Scott's Skype alert him to the message than the phone rang. It was Dave, calling to say that he'd gotten the car up on the lift and the brakes looked excellent; the rotors just needed to be turned and everything should be fine and dandy. Scott asked when Dave would be able to turn the rotors and Dave said he'd already done it. So we all piled in the van and drove up to Dave's and paid him $60 for his rotor work and picked up my car and then Mom went home.

In short, the "moving the car to Hole in the Wall Auto Shop" plan saved us about $1100 over the "letting Name Brand Auto Shop fix it" plan. Plus NBAS wouldn't have actually fixed the problem, considering they thought it was the spark plugs. Incidentally, Mom told me that the spark plugs on this car were replaced in 2010, so unless a squirrel got into the engine or something, they shouldn't need to be replaced again for another 60 or 70 thousand miles. (At which point I might have succeeded in having three children and buying a minivan.)

The rotors must have been getting progressively worse for a long time, because it's taken me a couple of trips to get used to braking. I thought that being able to feel the brakes bumping a bit was how you could tell that your car was slowing down, but apparently not. Anyway, the car has behaved itself well, and I am reading up on routine maintenance so that I know things like, "The brakes should be checked for wear a couple of times per year." My poor neglected car. At least my next car will be well taken care of, after all the lessons I've learned trying to keep a decrepit old one running.

This post is much too long and has far too many parentheses, but I'm going to post it anyway. Now you know what I've been up to since I last did Quick Takes and we can start over with a fresh slate.

The end.


DavidD said...

It's hard to tell from your narrative the conditions under which your car was rattly when it finally needed the rotors turned. Generally, if something strange happens when you're braking, it's a brake issue; if something strange happens when you're turning, it's a steering issue; if something strange happens when you're idling, it's a fuel system or ignition system issue; etc.

It's fortunate that Dave was able to turn your rotors and extend their life. They're often made so thin anymore that turning them, to smooth out the high spots, isn't feasible.

The Sojourner said...

It was indeed most rattly when I was braking.

I had read that about rotors. They just don't make stuff like they used to, do they?

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

I found it interesting that, in addition to the detail that the sparkplugs are practically new, the rotors had not been turned last time the car was tuned up. It makes sense -- you wouldn't do it before they wear enough that it needs it -- but if we'd been on top of the details we might've seen it coming.

My mom actually wound up picking me up from work in EYB's place, on account of EYB being suddenly medically indisposed to driving.

"I told him that if he wanted to know stuff like that he shouldn't hand the phone to me when it rings."
I believe you picked up the phone in the first place, but I can't remember the exact circumstances under which you picked it up.

You left out the part where friend who knows cars said to get it out of NBAS in any case and that we could try replacing the sparkplugs ourselves assuming they are at the end of their lifespan (which would have been true had they not been replaced not so long ago, which we didn't know at first). Of course, I should have asked if it was constantly rattly or more rattly under certain circumstances (or paid attention to the detail if you mentioned it, I can't recall for certain, though I somehow got the impression it was a continual-while-running thing); I'm fairly certain even I would have known that NBAS was wrong about the sparkplugs if braking caused or aggravated the problem.

The Sojourner said...

The way I remember it, I was sitting down at the dining room table and you were...wandering around, or something...and took the phone off the hook and handed it to me. But my memory is not the best when I am stressed, so I could be mixing it up with another phone call.

I did leave out a lot of the back-and-forth phone calling from Thursday, because it would have been too many confusing details in the middle of my post. This is what happens when I write posts all in one day and do not extensively edit them. :)

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Hmmm............ I don't think I'd have picked it up and handed it to you without answering myself. I seem to recall I was interested in talking to HWAS-guy, too, though I suppose it's possible he asked for you and I only later figured out who it was.