Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cars R Crap

Nothing is more awkward, useless and discouraging than a broken-down car. A beached whale might compare, but generally our interest in the whale is more theoretical.

On Friday my wife drove my car to town because it is (or was) our only functioning station wagon. She called me minutes after she left the house to say it was smoking heavily. About fifteen minutes after that she called to say it had lost power and she'd made a forced landing at a restaurant parking lot just outside town.

Kissing off my afternoon's pay, I climbed on the Traveler's Check to ride out and assess the situation. On my way out the rail trail I discovered that the maintenance crew had dumped a bunch of that new fill onto the long causeway beside Lake Wentworth. My skinny tires sank into the loose sand. I stood and grunted to keep forward momentum until I wallowed clear of it.

The ride helped me calm down. This is not a good time for yet another expensive car repair, especially when I probably couldn't get the car to the world's best mechanic, our guy in Gilford.

I found the Ford alone in the empty parking lot at the end of its trail of vital fluids. With only a sketchy description of symptoms, the Gilford Guru had said it might be the water pump. A closer look revealed it was the automatic transmission oil cooler lines. These commonly fail in cars in northern climates, where road salt attacks them all winter. Northern drivers have months to consider the bitter irony of treating the roads with corrosive substances that actively destroy our most expensive and troublesome appliances.

If I was lucky, I would be able to pour enough fluid in there to limp the 25 or 30 miles to Gilford to leave the car in the most reliable hands. If I was really unlucky I would have to leave it with someone in a town where everyone I know is underwhelmed by their auto mechanics.

First I had to call in the choppers to get me home to get another car to deliver to my wife so I could attempt the Gilford run in the bum car. Not enough daylight remained for me to ride on home and complete all the other maneuvers. Better to try parking lot improvisations in daylight than dusk and a rapidly dropping temperature.

That accomplished, with the help of two friends, I tried emergency transfusion in the parking lot. Red oil poured out as fast as I put it in, so I stopped putting it in. What remained in the tranny would allow the car to move, sort of. I limped into town to a garage with the usual mixed reviews, but a couple of testimonials from people I know. Any choice would be a roll of the dice.

The problem for people who have limited funds and value quality work is not that the car mechanic might be corrupt. That certainly does happen. More often, however, the mechanic simply lacks the imagination shown by the Gilford Guru. The customer ends up paying for failed experiments, among other things. The other things include professionally cheerful greeters and other staff that some mechanical establishments use to try to create a welcoming atmosphere. These do not substitute for friendliness. I can't fake cheerfulness and charm, so I don't expect anyone else to do it.

In this case, the emergency room my car landed in was able to provide the option I hoped they would: a quick tourniquet for a reasonable fee. Now I have to figure out when to do the car-car-bike-car transportation sandwich to deliver the Ford to the other side of the lake and get myself home to wait for the call to retrieve it.

My bike could completely explode along a dark and lonely road and it wouldn't cause a fraction of the hassle this car thing did. Of course if my bike gets engine trouble I can't afford to get it fixed at all, but that's another issue entirely.


cafiend said...

I need to do an update on my blog post about my mechanic. He appears to have gotten a handle on his alcohol issues for the moment. The cigarettes have too good a grasp. I suppose if the pursuit of lung cancer keeps him from driving while intoxicated or repairing people's cars while totally crocked it's a trade we'll have to accept. Everyone is a mixed blessing, it seems.

Yokota Fritz said...

You're a mechanic -- could you fix the car?

cafiend said...

Touche, YF. Give me something from British Leyland in the early 1970s and I can keep it on the road. This heavily computerized stuff is whackadoodle. And they keep making things harder and harder to get at. I look back fondly at my completely car-free years. Unfortunately, my choice to live in a rural area with winters required something that would cross greater distances more quickly than a bike from time to time. As for fixing them, these days a mechanic invests not only in lifts and compressors and lots weirder tools than even my arsenal contains, but most deal with proper disposal of many hazardous substances. I look forward to the day we float around in shimmering bubbles fuelled non-toxically by fairy farts. Until then, I'll see a neurologist for my brain tumors and an expert auto dude for my car stuff.