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Politically Incorrect

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Politically Incorrect

On killing cars

When the weather was hovering around zero, the door froze shut on the Geo Storm and forcing it open somehow did something not-so-good to the little latch assembly that holds the door shut. I’ve had this happen to me before, though, so I knew what was called for: WD-40 to the rescue! Of course, I didn’t have any WD-40 in the house, but I figured cooking spray was pretty much the same thing, and I did have that, given that I don’t do much baking anymore.

Unfortunately, cooking spray is not the same as WD-40, which I discovered a millisecond after I used it, when what appeared to be extremely light and fluffy butter exploded out of my door assembly.

My consternation was complete when I realized it didn’t even fix the door.

Now you can drive a car while physically holding the door shut, but not if it’s a stick shift, as the Geo is, and the bungee-cord-holding-the-door-shut just wasn’t working for me. I decided it was time to go back to driving the Yukon.

This didn’t break my heart, because the Storm is not a fun car to drive. The heater is barely adequate, there’s no radio or stereo, the seats turn your butt to concrete within five miles, the interior lights don’t exist, and it’s very, very difficult for an old body like mine to  haul itself into and out of a car designed for the enjoyment of teenage boys desperate for a car of their own. But it gets 40 mpg highway and around 33 mpg around town so the Storm has been my car of choice for a while. At least, until the door wouldn’t shut.

I would have driven the Saturn—it’s no gas mileage miracle, but it’s no Yukon, either—but the Saturn is not exactly running either. It started up just fine when I picked it up in Coeur d’Alene, where Amy left it after her dad bought her a new car. But by the time I got it to Sandpoint, it wasn’t starting any more. And then the Yukon wouldn’t start. I was hoping for bad battery cables, or even a blown cell in the battery, but it looks like it’s new alternator time for the old Yuke.

I was back to the Geo, because as long as the weather doesn’t drop under about 18 degrees, the door will shut. Then I drove to Sandpoint and, you guessed it, the Geo wouldn’t start.

I must say, my history with cars is not good but breaking three cars in just 20 days is a record even for me.

I had stopped at the grocery store with the Geo, and when I came out, it was reluctant to start and reluctant to run once it did start. I hoped it was a gas problem, as it had been sitting for a while, and made my way down to the Schweitzer Conoco to fill up and throw a bottle of Heat into the tank. Then it refused to start at all.

It’s not often that I allow myself to get all pissy about the choices I’ve made in my life and where they’ve led, but car troubles are one of the things that can lead me there in a heartbeat and it was no different this night. There I sat, after calling David, whining in my car. I fantasized about a nice, new car, with heated seats as long as I was fantasizing, that started as every single time I turned the key and I felt sorry for myself.

I wasn’t quite over it by the time David got there, and he began banging away at things underneath my hood with a socket wrench, if I remember correctly. I could have done that myself, but I knew that wouldn’t work. Of course, the damn car started. That’s the thing about David—he can do things the absolute wrong way to do them and somehow make it work which, in the mood I was in, was infuriating. Still, the car was running rough and I warned him of this before I tried to turn out on the road where, of course, the car died in oncoming traffic.

Frantically I hopped out of the Geo and began pushing it out of the busy roadway. David said we should use his car and some rope to tow it back up the hill. The rope broke when we tried this, and as he and I sat on the cold ground trying to remove the rope now seemingly welded to something underneath his own car, I began to laugh. “I hope you’re not crying,” David said, but somehow I’d made it past the whiny stage and into the “oh my god this is so ridiculous it’s funny” part of the evening. We left the car there (thanks Schweitzer Conoco) and took the laughter home.

The next day (a Sunday, of course) Misty brought Rob to my rescue.

Rob has been my vehicular white knight for a long time, over a decade at least, which I think means he’s been coming to save my sorry ass from about the time that he first got a license to drive. The verdict on the Geo? The distributor. The whole darn stinking thing needs to be replaced. Did you know there’s more to that assembly than just the cap and the plugs? There is. And while I’m at it, there’s that whole door-latch assembly thing to think about.

I don’t like dealing with broken-down vehicles and I don’t like fixing broken-down vehicles, and I sure as heck don’t like coming up with the money to pay to fix a broken-down vehicle. And given that I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of gal, it might surprise you to find out that I saw something positive in all this. It certainly surprised me—so much so, in fact, that I can’t really remember what it is anymore, but it got me through that next day and that’s what counts.

I can tell you, however, that when your vehicle breaks down, either because it’s old or you ran out of gas or some wild and crazy thing just happened out of the blue to make the motor quit turning over, you come face to face with the kind of life you’ve been living. And the definition of that is found in the answer to this question: who are you going to call?

I have towing on my insurance, roadside assistance on my cell phone, and a Triple-A card in the glove box, as well as good friendships with a couple of mechanics in a couple of towns who seem to relish the opportunity to lecture me on the care and feeding of vehicles. More importantly, though, I have people like David and Misty and Rob who will put aside whatever plans they’ve made to come out into the cold and lay on the ground and start taking things apart to find out which piece isn’t working. I’ve also got a brother who doesn’t hesitate to loan me his car to use, despite my history, until I get around to a permanent fix for all the other vehicles I’ve killed this month.

I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a brand new vehicle with heated leather seats (and a really bitchin’ stereo as long as I’m fantasizing again) but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve got for one. So I guess I don’t have anything to whine about after all. At least, not until the next time my car breaks down.

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Landon Otis

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