Romantic gestures are nice, always welcome and appreciated: the occasional back massage, flowers for no reason, dinner at a nice restaurant, diamonds, a man who helps clean the mess they make. But what women are really looking for is someone who knows engine and other car parts. For some mass transit is all they need for the every day. For the rest of us, buses and trains will take us out-of-town but not around town. We need to use a car — every day. Reliability is necessary and failing that, a good mechanic.
My parents thought they were helping me out buying a leftover demo that I could use after a wipeout on black ice. I was just out of college, in debt and with a paycheck and savings that definitely would not cover payments for a new car. I wasn’t consulted on the car, and I knew when I saw it that it was a waste of money that would continue to waste money.
It was The Car From Hell.
Brakes: 3 sets — including pads, lines and rotors. Were they defective? You bet. The entire auto industry knew this. Not a single recall.
Batteries: the lucky number 3 again. Was having tires rotated when Alex came out to tell me that my battery was testing at nearly dead. First cold day in winter it wouldn’t start.
“Don’t jinx my car Alex.” It had been running fine for at least 2 months. I already saw Alex more often than I wanted.
Three weeks later the battery died. It wasn’t winter. And it was fifty degrees that morning. When Alex saw me, he gave me that look. “Don’t say a word. Just find a battery that fits and put it in.” It was my birthday and I had to buy a car battery instead of treating myself to something nice.
Then there was the time the car started bouncing up and down, blowing black smoke out the exhaust when I started the car. This was a decade or so before ganstas deliberately put this option on their cars — minus the black smoke. It wasn’t the catalytic converter or carburetor, but some other part whose name I can no longer recall that the dealer refused to sell to mechanics so that they themselves could charge beaucoup bucks to replace.
At the time, I found that I also had no heat. So I grudgingly went to the dealer and told the service department exactly what part I needed to stop the bouncing and smoke. They were so impressed with my automotive knowledge they offered me a job.
I let them know I was not impressed with The Car. “What year is it?…Oh yeah, that wasn’t a very good year for us.” Ya think?
About a week or two later, I’m rolling down the highway home after work with the heat on, when I notice smoke coming out the vents of the dashboard. No smoke coming from under the hood. What the &*(&$#(%)#%& now????
Race to the end of the exit where I know there’s a gas station with a bay. Tell the man about the smoke. He looks in the car (still running) and says, “Yes ma’am, there’s smoke coming out of your dashboard.”
Sherlock, I can see the smoke. I want to know WHY. He checks with someone inside and tells me that it sounds like a need a new heater core…
The heater core is located behind the dash and not under the hood, apparently giving the dealer mechanics an excuse to do a half-assed job fixing the heating problem. So I had to spend more money having the dash ripped out to replace the heater core so that I could have heat without smoke.
It wasn’t long until I’m driving down the highway on my way home from work — again — lights, radio, heat and wipers on — when I became aware of what sounded like gremlins under the hood. One by one I shut down the lights, radio, and heat. Gremlins were still chanting “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho…” Shut off wipers and silence. The wiper motor was burning out.
Who burns out a wiper motor? I didn’t live in Seattle. I didn’t use the wipers every day. As it was, the washer hoses were clogged and I’d been stopping in at various gas stations every other day to clean the windshield. “Do you need gas?” No. Just a clean windshield.
Back to Alex. There is a separate motor for the wipers, right? “Of course there is. Do you think there are two little men under the hood moving the blades back and forth?”
No need to be a wiseass Alex. I spend too much time and money here that I‘d rather spend on a vacation. And that’s when he told me he was changing jobs, but not allowed to say where he was going. They knew my money would follow Alex. I begged him not to leave until I bought another car. One more problem and this car was history. No one else at the shop would work on the POC. I wanted Alex to check out the new one top to bottom, inside and out as soon as I bought it. The end was near.
The end came less than 2 months later. Heard a noise as I was making a full turn. Steering fluid. A few weeks later it needed another quart of steering fluid, so I had the leak investigated. I’d heard of a steering box but not a steering rack. What was it? How important was it to fix? How much to fix?
The car wasn’t drivable without it and it couldn’t be fixed, only replaced.
Spent the next week researching cars I liked and what I could actually afford. Found 3 that met my requirements and budget. Spent the next two weeks trying to find the best deal.
By the time I picked up my brand new, never used, out of the showroom car, I was pouring a quart of steering fluid in The Car From Hell daily. I’d been driving around with a case of fluid in my car trunk and disposed of the unused bottles on the way to the dealer. Suckered Honda into giving me $1500 on a trade-in for a car that wasn’t going to be drivable the next day.
They didn’t put the car on a lift.
Drove out of that dealership as fast as I could once I tossed them the keys to the pile of scrap metal they bought.
The Car From Hell? Had it for 4 years. Put 30,000 miles on it. (Yep. Only 30.) In addition to all the above and regular maintenance, also had the transmission taken apart and put back together after a screw wasn’t replaced during some maintenance job which caused all the transmission fluid to leak out. (It wasn’t Alex.) Lost track of how much time and money I spent fixing that car. Belts, gaskets, pumps, A/C, tires….just about everything in that car to make it drivable was fixed or replaced — sometimes more than once. But it looked like a creampuff.
Had my little bottom of the line Honda for 10 years. Put nearly 160,000 miles on it. Gave it regular maintenance. Replaced the battery once — after more than 5 years. Sold it to a college student who still had it 5 years later who wouldn’t sell it back to me.
I’m quite sure I broke Alex’s heart.
He was the kind of man who knew to never — for any occasion — buy a woman auto ramps so that she could perform oil changes herself. A portable air compressor that plugs into the cigarette lighter for those unexpected flat tires, however — priceless.