[S]omething has been bothering me for quite some time now. I have less ability to repair my own car than the typical mollusk. There are 10 year-olds that know more about the way an automobile functions than I do. My automotive skills go about as far as pumping my own gasoline, changing a battery, and adding the wrong grade of motor oil. As a matter of fact, last fall I installed a muffler and tailpipe, without the aid of coat hangers, for the first time in my life.
For some reason, our two vehicles seem to be directly linked to our bank account. If we happen to have enough money in our bank account so we can eat for almost six consecutive days, the vehicles have been known to huddle together in the driveway, giggling uncontrollably as they decide which one of them should have a major part break. “I blew a head gasket last month,” the truck would say to the car. “Why don’t you let go of the transmission tomorrow?” They know you need them. And I try to fix things myself, (for example-the air freshener is one of my popular weekend automotive projects) because I was under the impression that when you brought you car to a mechanic to have one thing fixed, he would sabotage something else while he was under your car so you would have to come back and have it fixed. Then he would be able to eat for almost six consecutive days.
Using this theory, it is entirely possible to eventually have a car that has been completely replaced with new or rebuilt parts. A rebuilt part is nothing more than a part that the factory has not put together properly in the first place, and it has fallen apart to the point where it will not work anymore. The mechanics open the part up and empty it into the trash. Then they fill it up with more parts that they have lying around the garage, so it will work until the warranty that they give you on it expires before it explodes, or shorts out your cars’ electrical system. Unfortunately, by the time that they replace the last remaining original part with a new or rebuilt part, the first part that they replaced has just lasted to the warranty date, and erupts in a cloud of foul-smelling smoke. This is the reason that I decided to repair my wife’s car when it started acting up.
It started out innocently enough. On the coldest morning of the year, the car decided that under no circumstance was it going to start. According to people who know more about cars than I do, this is normal. Now let me just say that I really hate the cold weather. If the battery decided to die in the spring, summer, or even the fall, I would not have a problem with it. But this car, which is clearly angry at me for filling it with economy grade gasoline instead of premium gasoline, dies on the coldest day of winter. I tried hooking up jumper cables to it, but after the eleventh day in a row, I knew I’d have to do something about it.
I took a ride to the auto parts store and bought a battery for approximately $50.00. I say approximately $50.00 because they also wanted our old battery in exchange for the new one. I didn’t want to give it to them, because if they wanted it, it probably still worked. I’m sure that the auto parts stores and the actual auto parts have some type of agreement where the parts will play “possum” until you give them back to the auto parts store, then they suddenly become reanimated and work just fine for their new owners. Anyway, I got $10.00 for our “old” battery.
Now when you buy a “Good Old American Car” like a Ford Tempo for example, you expect the nut and bolt sizes to be Standard (1/4″, 1/2″, 5/8″, etc.) and not Metric (8 millimeters, 5 centigrade, 10 millipedes, etc.). To change the battery, all that had to be done was to remove the battery cables — and there were only two — a dirty brown one that used to be black, and a dirty brown one that used to be red. I did this without too much frustration, but there is a tiny little piece of extremely hard plastic that clamps down on the base of the battery like a dieter holding on to a twinkie. Not only that, but this little piece of plastic was held to the car by a metric bolt in a space that was clearly not accessible to humans. It was about the size of a standard number two pencil.
The only way that I could see to get the battery out was to remove the entire engine and place it gently on the lawn. Then I had room to reach in with a long chisel and snap that pesky little metric bolt out of there. This is what I had to do. Keep in mind that while all this is happening, I was rapidly losing control of my fingers due to the extreme cold. I eventually removed the battery and replaced it with a temporarily working one.
Within a matter of hours, my wife informed me that the lights in her car were getting progressively dimmer, and the alternator light was shining brightly enough to attract alien space ships. Fortunately, anybody with the intelligence of a turnip could figure out that it just may be the alternator. I eventually did. On my next day off, even though it was still bitterly cold, I decided that I would attempt to change the alternator. To my surprise, changing it was easy — finding it was a different story. After trying about fifteen different auto parts stores, I still had no alternator.
From what I could gather, the parts store kept the alternator that would fit my wife’s car on Mars, because nobody had one, but they could get one as early as tomorrow. To add insult to injury, when I did manage to find one, I had to pay even more money for something called a “core deposit.” I still to this day don’t know what this is, but I paid it anyway. Two days later, the water pump died.
The water pump on this car apparently was not designed to be removed at all. I couldn’t even find it, although when I opened the hood, I did hear a lot of shuffling around and chuckling coming from there. I think it was the water pump playing hide-and-seek with me. I finally gave up and had the car towed to a real mechanic. He was able to threaten the water pump with a sharp stick and get it to cooperate.
In the meantime, I was able to borrow a car from my mother, which at this point I wanted nothing to do with. Not necessarily her car, but all cars in general. When we finally made it home, we just let my mothers’ car sit in our driveway for fear of it bursting into flames at the sight of me, and made believe it wasn’t there.
A couple of days later, we received a call from the mechanic telling us the car was ready-we just had to pick it up. “Just pick it up,” he said as if it were actually going to be that easy. We all got into my mother’s car, en route to pick up our car, and to my surprise it started immediately. There was about an inch of snow on the ground at the time, and when I stepped on the gas pedal, the car shot directly sideways-completely disregarding the laws of physics-and slid off the driveway and onto the lawn.
We shoveled around it, we salted around it, we put blankets under the tires, and we put carpet scraps under the tires-to no avail. Finally, I opened the gas cap and threatened the car with a propane torch, and it sheepishly sidled back onto the driveway, and it cooperated with us until we dropped it off at my mothers’ house. We picked up our car and made it safely home and into the driveway, but I’m still afraid to go near it.