M. Giant's
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Friday, January 24, 2003  

Auto Focus

My car is fixed. It goes both forwards and backwards again, although not at the same time, which is good. Yesterday I mentioned that I usually drop off my car at the Saturn dealership a block away when I have problems with it. What sort of problems? Well, I was going to go more into that yesterday, but then I realized that it would quickly end up being an entry-length digression. So here, in the form of today’s entry, is that digression.

1. Aside from a few scratches on the internal plastic from hauling amplifiers around and helping friends move, my car was in pristine condition until the front license plate frame fell off a few years ago. The front bumper got kind of scraped up in the process.

Okay, I say “fell off,” but that doesn’t really convey what really happened, which was that the license plate frame suddenly found itself in the path of an oncoming car that I was pulling out of my driveway in front of. Shut up! It was foggy and there was a big pickup truck parked there so I couldn’t see him coming. For whatever reason, the accident that denuded my bumper of a piece of plastic and a couple of square inches of paint managed to cause about nine hundred dollars of damage to the other car. I’m still paying for that on my insurance premiums.

I left the front license plate off for a few months, because I read that cops bounce the beams from their radar guns off that little rectangle of metal. I didn’t get a speeding ticket that whole time. Eventually, my dad helped me reattach it and I got another ticket the following February. Which I am also still paying for on my insurance premiums. Coincidence? Well, yeah.

2. There was the time my engine started sounding like that of a speeding muscle car even when I was idling. Since I spend a lot of time being idle, I needed to get that fixed. They replaced a part they called the “resonator,” which is something I’ve never heard of before or since. Also, it sounded like rather a misnomer; without it, the car was resonating quite effectively, to my ear. But what do I know? Maybe cars just have to have a certain number of parts that do the opposite of what they say. For instance, a car without brakes is very likely to end up breaking.

3. One evening, Trash and I heard a low-level whine coming from somewhere outside. I stuck my head out the door, and figured that it was an alarm of some sort, either at the school across the street or the top-secret government labs on the next block losing containment of some deadly superflu bug they’d been busy developing. Either way, it wasn’t my problem, so I went back to what I was doing. A few minutes later, our neighbor knocked on our door to say my car alarm was going off. I knew that wasn’t true, because my car alarm doesn’t sound like that. Unfortunately, my horn does sound like that when the switch has broken and my battery is leaking electricity into the neighborhood in the form of a fifty-decibel stream.

So I pulled the fuse, which involved a little trial-and-error. I caught a break in that the horn didn’t share a fuse with the starter. That would have been just my luck, to have to put the fuse back in whenever I wanted to start the car. Every time I left, I’d be announcing it to the entire block:


You don’t realize what a vital piece of driving equipment your horn is until you drive a few days without it. I learned that on a car, the importance of the horn is ranked somewhere between the engine and the wheels. I got it fixed within the week.

4. You know that part in Risky Business after Tom Cruise has gotten his dad’s car fished out of Lake Michigan and the mechanic comes out and asks, “Who’s the U-boat commander?” I was flashing to that moment a year and a half ago, during a harrowing morning commute that came to an abrupt halt with rainwater trickling in over the tops of my windows.

Okay, even though torrential rain had flooded streets all over town, with storm drains boiling over like cauldrons, the puddle I was trying to drive through wasn’t that deep. But it was deep enough. Some Nobel-prize-winning engineer at Saturn had decided that the air intake on my model of car should be as low to the ground as possible. I guess they figured that Saturn drivers would want to vacuum the streets as they tooled around town. The side effect is catastrophic hydrolock if you try to drive through standing water that’s any deeper than Ashton Kutcher. One second I was a block from work (right in front of the Saturn dealership, as it happened) and the next, I needed a dry pair of socks and a new engine.

Fortunately, I only had a hundred-dollar deductible, my insurance company blamed it on the weather instead of me, and Trash was out of town for a week so I got to drive her car while mine got fixed. If you’re going to destroy your car’s engine, that’s the way to go. Now I drive a four-year-old car with an eighteen-month-old engine. Gave me great peace-of-mind until the stupid transmission threw its wobbler the other day.

The thing was, with a dealership a two-minute walk from the building where I spend forty hours a week (give or take), car trouble for me was barely worthy of the phrase. It was like parking further away in the morning and then giving someone a whole lot of money before driving home in the evening. But my experience yesterday has put me off. I used to trust the people at the Saturn shop. Now, the next time something breaks on my car, I’m going to have to actually call around and do research again to make sure that the vaunted Saturn reputation for excellence and customer service isn’t just rooting around in my pants. And then, when I find someplace cheaper, I’m going to have to get my car there and then figure out some other way to get to work and back. My faith is gone, and the result is that the logistics of car repair have become so much more complicated.

I probably should have suspected something was up when they charged me seven dollars for a new key last month.

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments


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