Monday, January 28, 2008

About car repair

What's worse: paying for a car, or paying to have a car fixed?
I know people who pay cash for their cars. They are my friends, but I hate them. They have discovered some secret, kept from me, of how to save many thousands of dollars, and be able to avoid car payments. Obviously, there is something wrong with these people. Or, with me.
I pay cash for my cars. Over many, many years. I also support the bank at the same time. Is that the ultimate multi-tasking, or what!?
Here's the good news: At the beginning of January, I made the last car payment on my car. Number 48.
Can you guess the bad news? Sure you can.
Let me add this little bit of info: Late last year, my car turned over 100,000 miles. Do you remember that memorable post? There was a picture and everything!
And I'm sure you know what happens when a car hits 100,000 miles, despite the fact that everyone keeps telling me "oh it's good for another 100,000"? One hint: They don't give you a certificate for longevity.
What went wrong when your car a) hit 100,000 or b) you paid it off?
If it was like mine, it developed Mystery Illness.
A strange shake coming from the front end between about 40 and 55 MPH (sometimes). A hot smell upon exiting the car (sometimes). A bad grinding sound when stopped the car (occasionally). A faint, funny whomping sound on driving (once in a while).
When you tell a mechanic guy all they, they have no idea what you're talking about.
But that didn't stop me. I told the mechanic in Huntington all this LAST Monday. So they took it out and drove it--twice. "We couldn't find anything wrong with it," Gerald told me. (Remember, I said "sometimes.") But since it had so many miles, they suggested I get the spark plugs changed (which I knew should be done). And because they found a "service bulletin" that suggested an additive needed to be added to the transmission fluid to prevent a "shudder" at certain speeds, they also suggested the transmission fluid be changed and the said additive, well, added.
Okay, I said. How much will that run me?
Almost $200, and that didn't count that $77 "diagnostic fee" I got charged on Monday! That diagnosed nothing! All they did was put miles on my car and use up my gas.
So I make an appointment for Thursday, and drop my little Outlander off once again, arranging to pick it up in the afternoon.
At four, there was bad news, and worse news:
The bad news was, it wasn't done yet ("Didn't you say 5?" asked Gerald); then, the worse news, the spark plugs they had driven all the way to Ft. Wayne to get WERE THE WRONG SIZE. So, while I waited, they put the OLD ONES BACK IN so I could get home.
And I made arrangements to drop my car off once again, Friday morning. When it was -5 degrees. This place is just around the corner from work, and while I had walked on Monday AND Thursday, thank GOODNESS a co-w0rker saw me on Friday and gave me a ride.
So, deja vu: come 4 p.m., I was back to pick my car up. This time is was done, transmission fluid changed, spark plugs installed, and $177 in the hole.
So home I head, and the thing is still shaking, and it's not sounding so good. I'm talking to my mom getting caught up on her week. And trying not to be pissed off that over $200 of work has not solved my problem.
And then I turn onto my street, and find myself doing a half-donut, ending up blocking the street and scaring my mom to death. "I gotta go!" I told her. Something funny had happened with the wheels, like one was going and one wasn't, and it wasn't that icy or anything to explain it. And I'd heard that bad grinding noise again.
I had a little problem getting the car going back the way it was supposed to, and I was just kind of scared to drive it anywhere again, until I got the problem really licked.
So I babied it 'round the cul-de-sac to home, and parked in front of the house. And 1) called my mom back to let her know I was not nuts, and also talked to my dad, who thought the problem might be a bad wheel bearing or differential; and 2) called AAA to get them to tow it to Hire's Automotive.
Well, AAA couldn't come that evening, so I called again in the morning, and they were able to take it over about noon.
I called Hire's and warned them it was coming, and told them the phone diagnosis of my dad.
About 2, they called--they, too, had test drove it, and could find nothing wrong (should I name this car CHRISTINE!?) BUT, upon putting the car up on the lift and TAKING OFF BOTH THE FRONT TIRES, had discovered I had a stuck brake caliper. Whatever that is: all I know is, it makes the brake work, and when it's stuck, it makes your car shake, yours brakes smell hot, and a bad grinding noise.
The good news: somebody finally figured out what was wrong.
The good news: Hires found the brake parts I needed in town (and did not have to get more expensive parts from the manufacturer), so could fix it right away.
More good news: It was ready by 4:30!
The bad news, all this was to the tune of almost $800. (Bringing my car repair total for the week to over $1,000, or more than three car payments, in my language.)
Oh well! Mystery solved.
It's fixed; some necessary maintenance was completed (and loyal readers may remember that $900 of work I had last spring, which included exotic repairs that included the words "timing belt" and "serpentine"); and my ride is smooth and quiet once again, with no spinouts.
I don't really hate my friends who pay cash for cars; I'm jealous of them. How they do it is a mystery to me....
How about you? Repair, replace, or repay?

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