Yesterday I went shopping. I needed some "professional" clothes so I can look more, well, "professional" at work. I've been making do with one pair of slacks, which end up looking a little lived-in by the end of the week. Off I went to The Mall to find some slacks.
The shopping went well. I found what I needed, they had the right sizes, and some items were actually on sale. I was finished earlier than I expected, which was good, because I had some things I wanted to get started on at home.
Like that was gonna happen. Yet again, my car wouldn't start.
I don't know if I've been detailing my recent car problems here. Possibly not (other than the BRAKE ROTORS FALLING OFF DUE TO INCOMPETENCE ON THE PART OF GOODYEAR AUTO CENTER IN WAIPAHU), because it's been so annoying yet so petty.
I know, I know: since when has "petty" and "annoying" stopped me from ranting about things? "Petty" and "annoying" are generally my staple source material. Well, I can tell you why, I think; maybe I'll do that at the end.
Anyway, the car has had an intermittent starting problem. I've avoided taking it to the dealership because the people working there are so rude. The first time it wouldn't start, it really seemed like a battery problem. The battery was four years old, and when I checked it the terminals were badly corroded.
How could I not have noticed corroded battery terminals sooner, you ask? Because the battery is COMPLETELY HIDDEN FROM VIEW in a PT Cruiser, snugly nestled underneath the air cleaner.
Do you remember when air cleaners were those big round metal things on the top of the engine? The only thing they covered up was something called a carburetor, which wasn't a part you really ever needed to look at or mess with. Unless, of course, you were pouring raw gasoline directly down the carburetor throat to encourage a balky engine to fire up. I don't know when that changed, but today air cleaners are inside little plastic boxes that hide the things you really should look at once in a while. Like battery terminals. I don't think most engines have carburetors anymore.
Anyway, I replaced the battery, and the car ran okay for a week or so. Then it quit again. Well, not "quit." Rather, one day after school it simply wouldn't start. I had to have it towed. I took it to a shop (MIDAS) that ran a "diagnostic." They charged me $100 to tell me that the battery terminals were corroded, and that they'd cleaned them. They assured me the starter motor and everything else were just fine. They even showed me a print-out.
Like they said, everything was just fine... for two days. Then it happened again. Nothing but a loud "click" when I turned the ignition key. This time, fortunately, the car was in my own driveway.
I spent a weekend conducting internet research. I found several mentions of this exact problem. The car wouldn't start, the starter solenoid would just "click" but the engine wouldn't turn over; sometimes after several dozen attempts the car would finally start up; and the problem gets progressively worse over time until it won't start at all. In addition to the description, I found a couple of simple -- or perhaps simplistic -- suggestions for confirming the problem. Thus, I was pretty sure the problem was a faulty starter motor. I sent the car to a local shop requesting that they replace the starter. Which they did, and which wasn't cheap. I considered changing the starter myself -- I've done it numerous times with my "old" cars -- but the engine compartment is so tight, and the starter so hard to access, and my selection of tools so limited, that I decided not to mess with it myself.
The car started and ran great for an entire week. Then, yesterday, in front of The Mall... nothing. Nothing but a loud "click," that is. I cranked it more than 200 times (I counted). Click click click. Finally, with considerable misgivings, I called the dealership and made an appointment. Then I called a tow truck. Counting broken brakes, the no-start at school, and yesterday at The Mall, my poor Cruiser has been towed three times in the last six weeks. The entire reason behind buying a new car was so that I wouldn't have to deal with tow trucks and non-running vehicles EVER AGAIN! This car has now been towed more times than any car I have ever owned... and I have owned some clunkers! At least my clunkers were all 20 to 30 years old before they started breaking down. I hardly think four years warrants this many breakdowns. I'm almost ready to start shopping for another 1960-something car that I can fix myself with a couple of wrenches and a big hammer. Sadly, I can no longer afford the kind of car I used to drive. And parts are becoming difficult to find and very expensive for older cars, especially if you have to shop online and pay freight charges to Hawaii. There aren't many wrecking yards here.
The dealership called me today. They have traced the problem, so they claim, to "corrosion inside the battery cables." I don't know that I"m completely comfortable with this explanation. Then again, I thought it was the starter motor, and had that replaced, and the problem persisted, so who am I to make suppositions? I gave them the go-ahead to replace the cables... which come as a "set," and the cost will be just over $300.00. Yes, that's three-hundred dollars to replace battery cables! I've replaced a set or two of battery cables in the past on other cars I've owned. In fact, on most of the cars I've owned. They used to cost, what, thirty bucks or so? I mean, it's a big thick wire with a copper thing on one end and a lead thing on the other. There's, like, a big screw or hex nut securing one end, and the other end squeezes onto the battery terminal. Three-hundred dollars?
Despite my whining, I really like my little golden PT Cruiser. I just want it to run dependably and happily again.
And who know, maybe someday I can have my car customized!
Oh yeah, what about why I haven't been writing much about these car problems? I was thinking about that a couple of days ago. I suspect it's because these car problems are taking me back to a not-very-pleasant time in my life, when I wasn't making much money, when I felt I was going nowhere with my life, when I was very unhappy, and when I every car I drove was in imminent likelihood of breaking down, failing to start, or quite literally falling apart. I really hate carrying wrenches, screwdrivers, and jumper cables in the car; especially keeping them handy on the floor of the passenger seat because I need them so often. I hate getting that tight feeling of tension in my chest every time I turn the key in the igntion, wondering if the car will start. I hate having to think ahead about where I'm going: can I stop at this park or this beach or this store, or will it be too hard to summon a tow truck from here? Can I park so the car is accessible for towing? Is there a bus route nearby, is there someone I can call to get a ride? I hate sitting in public with the engine hood open -- it's something people who don't have enough money or sense to keep their cars running have to do; it's something people one-half step away from homelessness do; it's something I used to have to do. I really hate dealing with car problems, and I really hate being reminded of that time in my life when car problems... and various other unpleasant things... were such a big part of my life.
Will I ever be comfortable with the PT Cruiser after this? Or will I always have to face that sensation of tension, fear, and dread each time I turn the key in the ignition? I already have enough tension every time I turn the key in the door lock -- sometimes the alarm (built-in, and not possible to disconnect) triggers for no apparent reason and the horn blasts away until the car is started. I'm pretty much afraid of my car at this point. Maybe I should name it Christine.