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Bad carma 
7th-Nov-2004 12:45 pm
Me: profile in tree at BiCamp 2004
I must have been a very bad car in a previous life. Here are a painful (and embarrassing) story and a somewhat annoying story.

Mr Toad is – was, rather – the 1979 Mercedes Benz diesel, a beautiful if imperfect car with all the luxuries that 1979 had to offer. I was helping cathijosephine with an errand the other weekend and was on I-495 (non-locals: this is the outer ring around Boston, with I-95 being the inner ring) on the way back to Boston when the engine started knocking. I pulled over and opened the hood and checked the oil. Yup, that was the problem. I didn't have any oil in the car, but I did have an “oil conditioner” which said it could be used at 100%, so I tried that, but there wasn’t enough to stop the knocking (or else the damage to the engine was already too bad). But a nice guy on his way home from work as a security guard pulled over and gave us a ride to the nearest town to get oil, and dropped us off back at the car, and we put in four quarts (on top of the approximately 2qts of conditioner). Still knocked. We hoped it would get us back to Boston, but about 10min later there was a clunk and a noise of something falling out under the car, and I no longer had power. Pulled over to the side of the road, and a cop stopped and called a tow truck for us. About two hours and $250.00 later we were back in Malden, with Mr Toad conveniently in the driveway (blocking both my normal parking spaces, but none of the tenants’ spaces). We still needed to get cathijosephine and her stuff home, so I set about filling the Water Rat’s tire (see below) and seeing if I could get it started, which ended up being a successful endeavour (somewhat to my surprise).

Aside: If you’re going to destroy an antique car at highway speeds due to your own stupidity, I highly recommend having cathijosephine with you when you do. She was relaxed and calm and comforting and thoroughly unphased.

Now, on reflection, I remember that in the spring, I had checked Mr Toad’s oil and seen that it was really low and told myself I shouldn’t drive him (interesting that Mr Toad is “him”, but the Water Rat – also named after a male character in The Wind in the Willows – is “it”. I was never so attached to the Water Rat.) until I filled his oil or took him for an oil change. (For slightly complicated reasons related to my poor memory, I never felt like I could get Mr Toad’s oil changed when I happened to drive by a lube place; I needed to actually plan it.) However, the Water Rat had a slow leak in one wheel (sic) and over the course of the summer, it began to have a lot of trouble starting. (sionnagh, who was here for the summer, said her father said it was probably a bad starter motor.) So, having forgotten why I hadn’t been driving Mr Toad for several months, I started driving him instead of the Water Rat. Foolish, silly ’wabbit!

So, the reasons I hadn’t been driving the Water Rat were the slow leak and the fact that it was increasingly difficult to start. At first we (sionnagh and I) had thought the leak was in the tire, but after having taken it to a couple different tire places, we were told the leak was actually in the wheel rim, which had some rust and dents where the tire attaches to it. For most of the summer and fall, this has not been that big a deal: I have a cigarette-lighter-powered pump I carry in the car, and I just fill the tire every couple of weeks or when I notice the milage getting bad or the tire looking a bit low. The bigger problem was the starter motor, so I dropped the car off the next Monday and had the starter motor replaced. I also mentioned that it had started running very loud, and they told me it needed a new pipe (something between the engine and the muffler, but I don’t remember exactly what), so the whole thing ended up costing about $550. I am very glad the nice credit-card company trusts me so much.

For some bizarre reason, though, I did not think to see if the garage could replace the wheel when I dropped the car off to get the starter motor fixed. Unfortunately, the leak seems to have gotten a lot worse. Last night after seeing Ray, I discovered I was driving on an almost completely flat tire, despite having eyeballed it before leaving for the movie. (I have to say, having an air pump in the car is a tremendously useful thing! I recommend it even for people with entirely functional tires, just in case. I bought mine for $20 or so at a Target.) So it’s another trip to the garage for me on Monday.

I’m thinking of taking up hitchhiking. It might be less hassle.

8th-Nov-2004 12:07 am (UTC) - Oh, honey.
Cars are evil. It's time to move someplace within walking distance!
8th-Nov-2004 04:07 am (UTC) - Re: Oh, honey.
That would be lovely, if I could afford the sort of house I live in within walking distance. :-) When I win the lottery, I shall certainly buy a building in the heart of downtown Boston. With a roof deck. In the meantime, I’m going to try to get my wheel replaced. I’ll need the car to conduct my search for urban castles, in any case.

Urban Castles — that would be a good name for a literary journal!

*Hugs*. Thanks for your sympathy!
8th-Nov-2004 02:16 am (UTC)

Not that this is helpful now, but I really love AAA Plus for towing. They'll tow up to 100 miles before you have to pay and it's about $60 a year. When I owned a car it was always an older car and I probably ended up towed at least once a year. And one tow easily covered the membership.

After a particularly dreadful evening when the car died in Manhattan and they paid to tow me back to Princeton, ($300+) I decided never to be without it (and I still have my membership, so if we're ever riding together I can even get *your* car towed if it needs to be :) since it goes with the cardholder not the car.
8th-Nov-2004 04:10 am (UTC)
I’ve never been AAA Plus, but I was a AAA member for a while. I should probably rejoin. I’m not so fond of AAA’s legislative priorities, though.
8th-Nov-2004 04:14 am (UTC)
*grin* well, i'm pretty confident i've been a net money drain. what are there bad priorities, though?
8th-Nov-2004 02:16 pm (UTC)
About what you would expect; they tend to come down in favour of less regulation of cars, and support highway projects over public transit projects. Nothing extreme (that I remember seeing), but not quite my priorities.
8th-Nov-2004 03:36 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear your sad tale -- it sounds like cars have been a real pain for you lately. And you must have bruises on your shins from all the kicking yourself you're doing. :-)

Um, I wonder if there's anyone you can talk to about strategies for people with bad memories, so that stuff like this doesn't happen again. Something like, say, putting a note on Mr. Toad's steering wheel, reminding yourself why you aren't driving him. There are therapists who hire out to folks with ADHD to help them organize themselves, and those people or similar people might have some tips for how to work around a bad memory.

Even regular AAA -- not Plus -- will tow you something like 10 miles for free. So if you're only driving to say, the grocery store or even Northeastern, you can still get towed anywhere you might need to go for free. Norman and I have two ten-year-old cars, and our membership has more than paid for itself.

By the way, I recommend Middlesex Auto Repair in Melrose. Dave is a car mechanic who can talk, so you can give him a complicated summary of what it's doing, and he can diagnose from what you say. AND he can explain stuff about your car. Plus, of course, he fixes it. :-)

Hope your car-related life takes a turn for the better soon. (The rest of your life is already pretty good. :-))

8th-Nov-2004 07:34 pm (UTC)
Didn't you used to drive a Saturn?
8th-Nov-2004 07:55 pm (UTC)
Yup! It got rear-ended and totalled by a(n uninsured1) 15-year-old a few years ago. That was Red Emma; she was a really good car!
1My insurance still covered the car itself, but it didn't cover the rental car, which liability insurance would have covered. I ended up getting a restitution check for that more than a year after the accident.
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