Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auto Attack: When Good Cars Go Bad


Dios mio, dios mio, porque me has abandonado?
- attributed to J.C.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

- Murphy's Law

I must have done something terrible to piss off the patron saint of cars, if there is such a creature. Maybe I offended Michelinaeus, the Greek goddess of tires as well. Whatever it was, I must be working off some hellified "carma", because my relationship with my former automotive ally has turned very ugly of late.

Now, I drive a jalopy. There's just no way to sugar coat it. I pilot a '96 Plymouth Voyager with just under 157K on it. My pal Sarah tells me that I'm living on borrowed time with this thing, and I know she's right. And, as they say in Hollywood, she's had a little work done in recent years (the van, not Sarah). The upside is that I pay under $40 in monthly liability insurance and I haven't had to make car payments for several years. The downside is that sometimes I run into a spate of bad luck - like right now, for instance.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I was on my merry way to a Labor Day picnic. Just after pulling out of my garage I heard a wicked whump from the rear end of the car. It sounded like I had just deposited the rump of the vehicle on the other side of a speed bump. I pulled over and saw that my right rear tire was not only flat but had come entirely off of the rim.

I whipped out a handy can of Fix A Flat, that nasty chemical crap in a can that will allegedly re-inflate a moribund tire. The tire was in such bad shape that the fluid came squirting out of the tire faster than I could pump it in there. So I put the old donut spare on and limped over to my local tire shop.

Then, less than a week later, after playing three gigs on a Sunday, automotive lightning struck twice in the same exact spot, which I thought was impossible. The same tire (actually the new replacement tire) was DOA in my parking spot. By now you know the drill: The Fix A Flat did absolutely nothing (except elicit an admonishment from my tire dude not to use it) and I had to throw the old spare back on there. When I was finished I looked like I had just stepped out of a coal mine.

I had the tire replaced (again) and was driving downtown the following afternoon when I heard a loud flappada-flappada sound coming from the front end of the car. Shit, I couldn't possibly have another flat, could I? I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, got out and walked around the van. No tire damage. I started to drive back into traffic when I realized that my power steering had gone out. The sound I had heard must have been the belt snapping under the hood. (This would be the third time I've had broken belts in the last six months, possibly a new world record).

The next day I had to drop my daughter off at the el to get to school. Besides the upper body workout I was getting from steering manually everything seemed alright. I dropped her off and then made the fatal mistake of stopping at the bank before going back to the 'hood to drop off the car. I parked in the lot by my Chase branch, did my biz, and came back to discover that the car would not start...in that dead battery kind of way.

With great trepidation, I opened the hood and peered inside. Right away I saw that there were no belts of any kind attached to any of the pulleys. So I called the motor club and eventually got the car towed to my second home (aka the local mechanic). He was very surprised to see me back so soon after we had changed the belts. Something was causing this to keep happening, but it was unclear what it could be.

Fast forward another week or so. I took the car to my local Jiffy Lube for an overdue oil change. While they were working I noticed that the ever-present clacking noise in the engine had become significantly worse. I'd been so preoccupied with other maladies that I hadn't observed this change. Man, it was scary loud. I'd been told that I would sooner or later need the dreaded "ring job" because the noise was most likely an indication of an essentially worn out motor.

There comes a time in the life of every vehicle when enough is enough. The horrifying sound of the engine combined with its rusting body, leaking oil, dead AC and slipping transmission has convinced me that it is time to punt.

Next: New Car Blues