Death Rattle

CHANDLER,PHOENIX,MESA,TEMPE,&UNINCORPORATED-I'll bet you are thinking to yourselves, "Gee shouldn't Sharon have complained about her car by now?" I agree, it's high time. But my story is a long one and full of woe, so find a comfortable place to sit.

I will begin with events which occurred around Thanksgiving. I had flattened my left front tire (never you mind how--I confessed it to another), and since I had it changed it wobbled whenever I drove faster than 55mph. Yes, I suppose you could hypothesize the Holy Ghost abandoned the vehicle due to excessive speed, but that doesn't cover all the facts, now does it? I needed explanations and a new spare tire (as the little spare that came with the car had at some point died of natural causes). My sister Lauren and her family were in town (that is, in Chandler) for the holiday, so I enlisted her help in solving my problems.

I started by making some calls to used tire places to see if I couldn't find a new wheel, or "rim" as I learned they are also called. My confusion on this point almost cost me one of them, and I was too embarrassed to call and correct my mistake. Fortunately, Mike, my brother-in-law, was there to pretend to be another potential customer interested in a wheel for a '95 Toyota Tacoma. That I drive a '91 Toyota Tercel made his cover even more perfect.

Lauren overheard how much the tire guy was going to sell the rim for and leaped into action. Certain she could find a better deal, she took over the phone duties. Equally certain she could, I stood back and watched in awe. She located a compatible donor at Gila Car Wrecks (well, it was something like that, but when we saw it's dilapidated sign, we renamed it "Gil's") for a much better price. We headed out to Tempe (then through Tempe as Gil's is in an unincorporated zone) to take a look. The wheel at Gil's seemed a very good match, and I offered to buy it right away. Lauren wondered if we couldn't trade in the flattened spare and get a few bucks knocked off the cost of the rim.

"I have those things stacked this high in the back," said Gil (well, he could have been named Gil).

That's when I swung into action.

"Will you just take it for free?" I said with authority.

"Sure," said Gil.

You see, Lauren isn't the only one in the family who can play hard ball.

Anyway, we asked Gil if he knew of a good place to get an alignment. He recommended a place in Mesa and we headed out. We couldn't find the place he suggested, but there was a mechanic in the neighborhood so we gave them a shot.

Not a gentleman from Kentucky, but he played one in The Thin Red Line

We probably should have literally shot them, because the first thing they did upon obtaining my car keys was to allege the car wouldn't start. This would be a problem in the future, but as of then, starting was one of the things my car still did well.

Lauren and I exchanged a doubtful look and went out to see what was going on. The lid was open and about three mechanics were looking inside while one sat behind the steering wheel and revved. The engine would not turn over until Lauren got in and started it. Told you she was a problem solver.

The guys drove it into the shop and lifted it upon one of those posts and looked at the wheel. It wobbled. "Your wheel is wobbling," he told us. I told him the story of the late lamented tire that used to be there, and he said, "That's your problem." Lauren suggested he exchange that wheel for the spare, which he did. Then we got the bill--sixteen dollars for what was essentially a change of a wheel. The gentleman from Kentucky who changed it in the first place did it for free! Lauren talked the owner down to six dollars, which was much better, but still a rip. The mechanic did make one important discovery. The tire on the rim I just bought was smaller than the other tires on the car. I thought I could probably live with that, but Lauren said it should be changed, so back to Gil's we went.

When we got there, we realized the wheel had to be removed so the tire could be changed, so we set about doing that. Okay, Lauren did most of it. When we got the wheel off, this punk kid appeared at the top of the stairs which led to Gil's front door. "You can bring that right up here," he said. "No, you can bring it up," Lauren riposted. Chivalry will not die as long as she has anything to do with it. The kid came down and got the tire and we followed him in the shop. Soon he came back with another tire that Lauren rejected as being too worn. "This is the only one I could find," he protested. Lauren gave him a look and Gil told him to try again. Finally, he came back with one all found acceptable, and he applied it to the wheel, then the wheel to the car. I had an appointment to get the tires aligned that afternoon, but I canceled it because I was tired of car stuff.

End of Act One

Act Two began soon after when I had my oil changed. I got one of those hundred dollar lifetime deals from Fletcher (formerly Cobra, until I sued their ass and took their name). As a courtesy/business ploy, the mechanics there gave my car a once over and found a problem with the brakes. Even I know brakes are important, so I gave them the go ahead to fix whatever it was. So, fine. In the next few weeks, I discover oil is coming out of my car way, way faster than I think it should, and since those Fletcher people had their hands in its innards last I figured they might be responsible. (ed. note: This is the Fletcher on Cave Creek in Phoenix, there is a good Fletcher on Greenfield and University in Mesa which has wonderful, helpful mechanics who restored Fletcher's good name in my book.)

I was told they weren't responsible and then presented with a long list of maladies from which my car allegedly suffered, none of them related to an oil leak. When I mentioned that, the mechanic (you can just substitute "foul deamon" for "mechanic" until further notice) told me I must be thinking of the air conditioning fluid, as it looked something like oil when it leaked. I asked if that would make my "check oil" light go on, and he stomped back to take another look. "You have an oil leak, too," he said when he returned.

I became frantic. The status of my car seemed to have gone from outpatient to intensive care in less than an hour. Lauren wasn't there to protect me, so I threw myself on the dubious mercy of the ringleader. I asked him what were the most serious problems and when could they be remedied? A time and place was set.

Once these people got their clutches on my car again, they found another couple of problems that would be less expensive to fix now than later. They involved the "timing belt" and the "water pump", and since I had at least heard of these objects I told them to go ahead and do what they needed to do. When I picked up the car, they showed me the damaged parts they replaced. When I mentioned this to Lauren on the phone, she (who sometimes plays the role of that guy in red who sits on my left shoulder and whispers in my ear) said, "Are you sure they were from your car?" But the car did seem to be okay, at least until it started to gasp.

The poor thing had been losing spunk for some time, which I mentioned to the Fletcher people, and which fact they neglected to address. Too bad, because it could have made them even more money. It developed a difficulty starting. One helpful soul in Tempe told me it was a battery problem and gave me a jump, but the AutoZone people disagreed. I blew it off until the same thing happened again in Phoenix. I called for another jump, but that helpful soul told me it sounded like another sort of problem. The jump worked, anyway, and so I drove straight to AutoZone for some jumper cables. Their prices ranged from under ten dollars to over thirty. I asked the clerk what the difference was and he said something about the amount of power and studliness of the battery. I told him I had a '91 Toyota Tercel and what would he recommend? He said the $6.99 ones should be just fine. Anyway, the car still sighed and coughed, and occasionally backfired, which was something like it having really bad gas.

Auntie Entity

That Saturday, I had an appointment with Bruce of East Valley Auto Services. This is where you stop thinking of all mechanics as being blackguards, for Bruce and his crew are all saints. I never have been condescended to by them or left their premises with that sick I've-just-been-swindled feeling. Bruce checked the car and told me what was wrong, and it all sounded plausible. Here are some words from our discussion: catilitic converter, gasket, oil leak. And he seemed confident that given time he could fix them all. And I believed.

But he had to have the car on a weekday, so I had to do some negotiating-the end result of which was my driving Pat's truck on Monday. And if I might interject (like you can stop me), trucks are awesome. Or as Peggy Hill described them, "a force." Twenty minutes behind the wheel and I was feeling like Auntie Entity. And it went so fast so easily. You'd just look down and notice you were traveling at 80mph. (Don't worry, Mom, I was in the 80mph zone.)

That night I got my own car back with repairs costing well under what was projected. My car was running strong, loose, and above all, quiet. It's still under the influence of whatever magic mechanics perform to make everything seem extra smooth, and I know it will finally lose some of that. But for now, we are both very happy.

The End...or is it?

My next project is getting the car washed, as it has nearly enough dirt on it to grow crops.

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

From Volume 4
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