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Thursday, January 23, 2003  

End of Transmission

When Trash and I refinanced our house last summer, it allowed us to pay off my car loan. I own it free and clear. Right on schedule, it’s falling apart.

The other day, my “service engine soon” light came on as I was driving down the street. I thought, yeah, I’ll sure do that. Tomorrow, maybe. Then I got to where I was going, tried to parallel park, and realized my car wouldn’t go in reverse any more. I mean, I could move the lever into the “reverse” position, but the car seemed to think it was still in neutral.

Obviously, this couldn’t stand. Granted, there’s an awful lot you can do with a car even if it only knows “stop” and “forward.” I bought my car when it was new. It now has fifty thousand miles on it, and I’d be willing to wager a dollar that I racked up less than half of those miles driving in reverse. But there are limitations that you don’t think about until your car can’t back up. For instance, I can’t park in a driveway unless I want to have someone come tow it out. If I park it in a parking lot, I have to do that thing where I drive straight through an empty slot and into the one facing it so when it’s time to leave I can pull out forward, which usually requires one to park seven miles from the front door. And my days of backwards drag-racing down Main Street in Anoka are looking pretty numbered.

What I know about the workings of cars would just about fill the white border on a postage stamp, but I knew enough to conclude that something was wrong with my transmission. The word transmission, for those of you even less mechanically inclined than I am, comes from the Latin words “trans”, which means “terrifyingly complex collection of fiddly, delicate metal bits through which all the force of your engine is communicated to the wheels,” and “missio,” which means “cripplingly expensive to repair.” Since the car still went forward, I assumed that the whole transmission wasn’t completely shot. My dad, who has been working on or around cars since they weighed as much as a Navy destroyer, agreed with my assessment. He’s out of town this week, but he told me on the phone that he figured I could probably get it taken care of for a couple hundred dollars. Relieved at the price tag, I decided to drop off my car at the Saturn dealership which is conveniently located only a block and a half from my office.

(Side note: this week we’re having a “cold snap,” which is Minnesotan for “stay indoors or die.” And when Minnesotans say that, you know it’s cold. Pluto cold. I had a guy from the shop drive me to my office, which I never do. It’s bad enough to have my transmission freeze up without my following suit in the shadow of my building.)

Sure enough, it was the part my dad thought it was. To fix it, they only wanted a thousand dollars.

My dad does tend to quote auto repair estimates in terms of what he would charge for the same work, but this was ridiculous. That’s the thing about Saturn. They advertise themselves as “a different kind of car company. A different kind of car.” But in the service shop, it’s just the same old “spread your cheeks.”

I called around and found another reputable shop (if you live in the upper Midwest, you’ve heard of it) who could not only take care of it for less than half the price, they’d get it done in a couple of days. This is especially good news because Trash and I are helping her mom move down to Iowa this week. We can’t take her car because the noise under her hood that we’ve been trying to ignore for the last eight months may turn out to be life-threatening in these weather conditions. And obviously, we can’t take my car in its current condition because the Iowa Highway Patrol has begun cracking down on people who drive through Ames grille-first. I have no idea what that’s about.

Two days ago, we were a two-car family. Now we’re a no-car family. This morning I was so stressed out I could barely tie my shoes. I would have fallen down the stairs and broken my neck if I hadn’t been wearing slip-ons.

Trash’s car is okay for driving around within the city, so we’re not actually totally stranded. And my car might just be back on the road tomorrow. In their infinite generosity, my parents have offered to let us borrow their car if mine isn’t finished in time. So the situation isn’t as desperate as it could be. In the meantime, I’ve decided to finally stop ignoring the noise under Trash’s hood and get that taken care of ASAP. I do know what that sound is; it’s the compressor for the car’s A/C. God knows you can’t be driving around in subzero weather without a functioning air conditioner. The only problem is the chance that it’ll seize up and break the serpentine belt. I don’t see why I can’t just take it out and put a Lego™ wheel or something in its place. The guys at the Chevrolet dealership wanted a thousand dollars to fix it. My dad tells me he can do it for a tenth that. As irritated as I am with Saturn right now, at least they’re not Chevrolet.

posted by M. Giant 4:07 PM 0 comments


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