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Auto Stress

I have known many beaters in my life. The first car I called my own, sort of, was a Ford Falcon station wagon bequeathed to me by my sister Mary when she went into the Peace Corps. I honestly don't remember what I did with that car - I may have given it back to her when she returned. I do remember that I never liked it, that it did not do anything particularly well, and I do remember a frightening incident:

I was moving. I dumped many boxes and bags of things into the back of the station wagon and I added in my cats. I did not have cat carriers (did they even exist then? this was some time around 1967). When I was on a Los Angeles freeway, headed for my new place, I discovered that I had neglected to close the back door, the hatchback. I was frightened for my cats, afraid that they had fallen out onto the freeway.

I got off as soon as I could and discovered that they were all alive and well and inside the car. It was a great relief.

After the Falcon I owned a 1958 black Volkswagen beetle. I banged that baby up every which way and it still drove. But I didn't do regular maintenance on it. And when the oil light stopped working I did not get it fixed. And so when the oil ran out and the engine threw a rod...

The good memory of that experience is that on my way home from Hollywood,where I had thrown the rod and limped into a repair place to hear the bad news, I was deeply sorry for myself as I drew up to a stoplight somewhere around Pasadena. I was driving slowly because that's all I could do and the car was thumping like crazy. I knew there wasn't a new engine in my future and that I was minus a car. A guy next to me at the stop light yelled out, "Hey! Your mechanic is stuck in the trunk!"

And that changed everything. Suddenly I was able to laugh about it. Somehow knowing that a fellow driver knew my engine was shot and was joking about it changed my outlook. This was a universal condition, something I shared, and that mattered.

After that, the Karmann Ghia and the VW station wagon. I loved VWs dearly yet one after another I did not care for them as they deserved. So it was one death after another, one way or another. And understandably I grew to be sensitive to car noises.

Even now I have that sensitivity. I own a car I bought new (a first for me) and I maintain it regularly, following the manufacturer's recommendations. I recently had to have a new clutch put in and was still wondering what went wrong because it went out at 70K when a clutch normally can last 90K miles or even more. More, though, I have taken to being suspicious of the care my car is getting at the dealer's.

I know. Dealers are notorious for overcharging and some think they also make work, create problems where there aren't any. I have not had that sense of this dealer and it has won a number of "people's" awards for best service so I am not alone in that sense. But here's the thing: I brought the car in with clutch problems one day and the mechanic found that the car mat had slipped up and under the clutch pedal and believed that this was the problem. I wasn't able to depress the pedal all the way so it wasn't engaging properly. Well, that was part of the problem but not all, and I was back soon after. This time the mechanic found that the clutch was indeed bad. So the question in my mind was, did he really check it thoroughly the first time? Or had he found the first problem and left it at that?

So here I am with a new clutch and all is well when I start to hear noises. Rattles in the front of my car, at low speeds. And my first thought is, did that guy do a good job installing the clutch?? I got to listening for the noise every time I took the car out and worrying my head off about it. Finally I made an appointment and this morning I brought it in.

The service person at the desk said that the inspection for this type problem costs about $100. I said "If it has anything to do with the new clutch I'm not paying anything." and he agreed, I shouldn't.

Turns out it did have to do with the clutch and I did not have to pay anything. It was a loose bolt. Not ready to fall off but not tightened enough. The service person was very apologetic, the car was given a nice car wash, and I was on my way. It was the right thing for the dealer to do and I do feel good about it.

But I now have this lurking feeling that the service at that dealer has started to get sloppy, after all these years. One loose bolt and one missed clutch problem - it does seem like a trend. More, though, what distresses me is having to make more appointments because everything was not taken care of at the first one. This clutch thing has taken three appointments when it should have been just one.

It isn't a huge deal but I hate having to deal with these kinds of niggly things more than once. Each time it seems harder to get to it. I really have to push myself to make the call. I have enough trouble making appointments for anything at all, frankly. I make my teeth cleaning appointments at the end of each one, at the desk, because I know I won't otherwise make the call. I try to make it so that they call me, I don't call them. I think that's really what is bothering me about this car thing. I have the time, there is not big deal about getting the car there, they have a shuttle (not to mention wifi in the waiting room), so I am not much inconvenienced. But I just hate making the calls.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ext_174959
Mar. 30th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
Aw, sentimental...
This made me miss a couple of old cars. I guess it is better now that I'm driving something a bit safer, but it was also fun to have something I could put stickers on... :)
judith
Mar. 30th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Re: Aw, sentimental...
I so agree. There is a part of me that regrets no longer having a car that reminds me constantly that I am on a road with bumps, driving through the desert - in other words, a car that doesn't protect me from these things. And I, too, think about the bumper stickers. I have a magnetic one on the back and several small ones in a window. It isn't quite the same.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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