17 February 2014

Adventures in Automobile Repair

I had been doing everything a loving car owner should.  I've gotten oil changes done on time and even done the "optional" work that costs heaps extra.  All the recall work for my model had recently been done.  The front and back brakes had recently been serviced.  I'd replaced the tires not so long ago.  I'd even gotten some minor body work done when a side mirror was damages and fixed a broken vanity mirror.  My oil levels were full.  My coolant was topped up.  I had the gas tank half full with gasoline that had been 70 cents a gallon off a full tank due to grocery loyalty deals.  I'd vacuumed it in the last couple of weeks.

Despite all of this tender loving care, as I turned out onto Colorado Boulevard, with no warning and for no apparent reason, my car stalled out.  Worse yet, I had loaned my phone to my wife for the afternoon since mine had a better camera and forgotten to take hers as a trade for the day.

Honestly, this could have happened at worse times.  When the car stalled, I was able to roll into a turnoff lane out of traffic.  It was a clear day with temperatures in the unseasonably warm 50s.  I was within walking distance of a phone at the store where I had just been shopping and my AAA membership was current.  I used my AAA membership a lot when I first got it in 1996, just out of law school when I had an old Oldsmobile with lots of problems, but I've used it except to get free maps and guidebooks since I got my current car new.  (This is something I wouldn't have done if I'd known that the economy was on the verge of collapse and my income as a self-employed lawyer who was doing lots of transactional work at the time would be plummeting with it, but the car has met all my needs ever since, so I can't complain.)

The person who answered the phone at AAA knew exactly where I was since I was only about three blocks from the regional headquarters for dispatching AAA service calls, and she made my case a priority since it might block traffic.  I also managed to call my wife from the store, whom I was on the way to pick up from work.  Fortunately, she was near a light rail station and she could get home to Wash Park using transit.  She has a bus pass, so that was free and she not stuck in Five Points for the evening.  But, this meant that it took her an hour and a half instead of twenty minutes to get home.

Alas, it was also not the perfect time for my car to fail me.  My car died on Saturday afternoon.  Since my car is an all wheel drive, they needed a more scarce flat bed tow truck to get it.  The tow truck had trouble getting to me on time, because maintenance closures on 6th Avenue had clogged up traffic on all the alternative routes across town from tow truck place.  At that point, I had been seriously tempted to wander into one of the nearby car dealerships, buy a replacement and trade in my clunker.

By the time my car was loaded up and dropped off at the repair shop five blocks away, it was about five minutes after closing time.  Starting in March, this shop would have been open on Sunday.  But, it is February, so I had to wait until Monday (today) for them to look at it.  Fortunately, I didn't need to go anywhere out of the office today and could get a ride to work.  But, the trips I'd planned to make the rest of Saturday and Sunday (picking up my wife from work, dropping off my rent check, a violin lesson, a birthday party one of my kids was going to, a grocery run, and another errand or two) were off.

After the shop looked at it this morning and the mechanics diagnosed the problem, the good news was that they could fix it today [ed. it later turned out to be the following morning] and I didn't have the fuel pump problem I thought I had, which would probably have taken until the next day according to my weekend internet research since the fuel pump is buried inside a gas tank that is hard to access without taking apart lots of stuff to get at it.  The bad news was that what I did have was a problem with the computer system that tells that fuel pump what to do and a couple of other electrical bits, and the parts are two or three times as expensive as the fuel pump itself - overall the problem was twice as expensive as I had anticipated.  But, it still wasn't so bad that replacing the car instead would make more sense.  And, better that a problem happen now, with my daughter as a passenger, so that it didn't happen when the car is hers in a couple of year and so she could learn by example how to handle an automotive break down before having to deal with it on her own.

Also, this turns out to be very likely not a warranty issue but instead something that is vaguely my fault, as this apparently probably wouldn't have happened had I used premium gasoline for the last six years.  In the last six years I've used about 3,300 gallons of gas, so if each of those gallons had cost about 20 cents or more a gallon or so relative to the cheap stuff, that would have been an additional cost of about $660 so far, and would be maybe double that or more over the useful life of the car.  So, given the money I've saved on gas, the benefits of using premium and not having this problem (at least nearly as soon), are close to a wash, although your car breaking down is never fun and under other circumstance the break down could have been far more dangerous or inconvenient.

Nobody did me wrong.  The store owner where I had just shopped kindly let me use their phone.  The tow truck driver's delay was one I'd encountered myself earlier in the day so I knew it was legitimate, and he still arrived (barely) within the time promised by AAA.  The car repair shop recommended to me by AAA was the one I'd probably have taken it to anyway without a recommendation, and they got to it promptly as soon as they were open again.  My wife didn't get mad at me for failing to pick her up on time and having to take the train and bus home, even though I'd promised earnestly to be on the dot on time to pick her up.  My son and daughter didn't get mad at me for not being able to drive them to their events on Sunday.

If I'd done what my car manufacturer had told me to do, I wouldn't have had a problem.  And, without expensive computers to tell the fuel pump what to do, the car couldn't have fuel injectors, and without fuel injectors I would get fewer miles per gallon and inferior performance in my car.  Everything breaks sometimes, especially if not used exactly as it should be used.

But, that doesn't mean that having your car break down doesn't fall in the category of shit that happens.

On another good note, the Americans did quite well in Sochi on Sunday, with some events I probably wouldn't have seen if I hadn't been grounded.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

“…overall the problem was twice as expensive as I had anticipated.” – That is bad news. But I hope after all the repair and parts replacement it has been through, that it’s now in working condition. How is it, btw? This might have been a disappointing day for you and your car, but on the brighter side, you were able to learn a lesson from this experience. Plus your wife, son and daughter didn’t get mad on you. It still ended well, in my opinion.