Friday, December 05, 2008

Car Woes ...

I grew up in a Ford family.

My father was Ford-loyal for a long, long time. I spent many a family vacation in the middle of the back seat of a Ford LTD. Along with my two brothers, my father waltzed into a Ford dealership one day and informed the salesman that they were all in the market for new wheels. It's amazing what the prospect of selling three vehicles at once will do to incentivize the salesman to make some deals. And so my father drove off in a truck, one brother drove off in an SUV, and the other brother drove off in a minivan. (He was required to buy one by new-dad law.)

My first new car was a Plymouth Acclaim. Recently, my brother Paul told me that he wasn't thrilled with my choice when I bought it, but it served me well, that car. Sure, the a/c stopped working after a few years and the transmission was about kaput by the time I traded it in, but for the most part, I drove that car relatively hassle-free for 10 years.

I don't know a lot about cars, which is somewhat shameful for a woman whose father has worked in the automotive industry his entire life and whose brothers are relatively handy with wrenches. When Paul and I went shopping for my Plymouth, he and the salesman stood astride, arms crossed, looking under the hood, the salesman pointing, my brother nodding. Apparently, there was something interesting to discuss about the way the oil filter was mounted. Easy oil changes awaited. Super. Meanwhile, this is what was running through my head as I stood in the showroom: "When do I get to pick the color?" I chose Driftwood. A greyish color that sometimes looked somewhat champagne in the sun.

A decade later, when it was time to buy New Car No. 2, I settled on an Impala not because I did extensive research but because after sitting in about 20 makes and models at CarMax, the salesman made me sit in an Impala and I had to move the seat up. Sold. I took it for a perfunctory test drive, but so long as I didn't have to start the car with my feet like Fred Flintstone, I was quite sure I was going to buy one.

And I bought one new. Not to stick it to the CarMax guy, who was very nice, but because I figured I would be rolling on a lot of miles in short order and it didn't make sense to buy a car whose odometer was already past 40,000.

That was six years ago. I drove off the lot, bidding my little Acclaim farewell, opened my moonroof and jacked up the tunes. "Hello, baby," I said as I patted the dash of my shiny, black beauty. My new car had get-up-'n'-go, horsepower to spare, unlike my four-cylinder Acclaim that had about as much oomph under the hood as a hamster on a wheel.

"And the great thing is, you won't even have to think about it for two years," my friend Gemma said, talking about the worry-free driving of a brand-spankin'-new car.

And indeed, I didn't. I eventually had to have brakes put on, but that comes with the territory for we folks who like slow down and occasionally bring our cars to full and complete stops.

But then came the winter that it took forever for my car to deliver any heat. "You probably need coolant," said Kelley one night as we shivered all the way from the restaurant where we'd eaten back to her apartment. Coolant in winter. Funny.

I popped the hood and sure enough, the cap had come of the reservoir. I added coolant and the heat returned. For a while. Eventually, I realized that I had a bigger problem. I mentioned it to my father. He's the one who suggested that my engine might be burning coolant because of a bad gasket.

Which led me to this caveat emptor extravaganza. Dad was right. Turns out, what was happening was a well-known problem for which GM never issued a recall. Thanks for nothing, Rick Wagoner.

But even with that taken care of, my car kept fussing.

My mechanic has likely figured out that problem, but in order to test his theory, he pulled a fuse and told my father to put the fuse in the next time I don't need my car for a few days. If my battery drains, we'll have figured out the problem.

The problem is, he's narrowed the issue down to the clock/stereo. So I might need to get that replaced. Because if I'm going to have a car, I'm going to have tunes. Or the access to the radio for traffic information, at the very least.

Then a few nights ago, my car hit a patch of ice and went into a skid that ended with a bit of a jolt as my car hit a curb. All seemed OK until I heard a strange noise emanating from the rear passenger wheel area when I drove.

My father called a local gas station this morning. He knows the owner and trusts his repair shop. Dad explained what happened. Terry told my father what he expected was wrong and that he sees this problem all the time. Oh really? Gosh, I sure can pick a car, can't I?!

So we drove it over there and they put it up in the air and straightened what was bent so I can drive the car for the time being, but it's something I do need to get fixed sooner rather than later.

Oh, and I need a new set of tires. And I probably need new struts.

My poor baby. But I'll get it all taken care of and hopefully she and I will be together for many more years.

At least I don't have to send her to college.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the new Chrysler commercial, which essentially begs American consumers to come back to American cars, give the company a chance and plays on patriotism, etc., to get us to buy American cars? Saw it last night during SNL, I believe. Uh, three of the first four cars I owned were Fords. The fourth was a Mazda, which had significant engineering ties to Ford. Never again. All four cars had significant issues. The past three cars have been Toyotas and none of those cars ever had a mechanical repair outside of maintenance. The middle one would still be on the road had it not gotten totaled in an accident. Even the insurance agent mourned the loss of that car because after 9 years, it still was in pristine condition.

I'm all for supporting my country and its economy. I get that we're in huge trouble. But I also get that many Japanese-engineered cars are now built right here, by American auto workers. And I get that I have better things to do with my money than Fix Or Repair Daily.

I will give a shout-out to the Ford Pinto I drove in college. Bought it used and it ran fine to 94,000. Then it died, deader than a doornail, the night I took it to the Mazda dealer to trade it in on my new car. Nice.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I've yet to see the Chrysler commercial, but the let's-tug-at-America's-heartstrings approach doesn't surprise me a bit. Oy vey.

I'm like you: I'm all for supporting my country and my economy, but in the future, that's going to be in the form of a foreign car built on American soil.

I read an interesting comment online the other day about American cars being built to last right around five years, right around the time you make your final car payment on a typical loan.

Maybe the Big 3 think it's crazy to make cars that last a long time, but what Toyota and Honda lack in volume, they make up for in customer loyalty and an expanded customer base as more of us get fed up with our GMs, Fords, and Chryslers and turn to their products instead.

At least the UAW is finally allowing that it needs to make some concessions.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd be loyal to a car like I am to Toyota, but I wouldn't consider buying anything else. I don't even want to buy a Honda. The Toyota doesn't strand me anywhere, so I'm not abandoning it to buy elsewhere. I must confess that my current Toyota was built in Japan, but I'm not apologizing for that, either. And the best part about it? When the economy started to head south this fall, I paid it off in one chunk. So now it's mine, mine, all mine!

2:57 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I can hear you cackling with glee!

Yup, Toyota has built an empire, and it's well-deserved. I think the NYT's did a magazine piece about Toyota a year or so ago, about its rise to dominance.

Why the Big 3 don't use that company as a blueprint for themselves, I don't understand. Make quality cars and you'll have customers for life. Duh.

3:01 PM  

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