Last weekend, on Saturday, as I was driving home from the PRAXIS text... thank goodness it was while I was driving home... the engine of my car, a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser, began to sputter. This problem first occurred a few weeks ago, at which time the engine actually stalled in traffic. At that time I was able to get it re-started and, with it coughing and bucking, nursed it into a conveniently located Chrysler dealership. One of the staffers on duty suggested cleaning the battery terminals, as a poor electrical connection sometimes affects the performance of the various electronic modules that control engine performance. I cleaned the terminals there in the parking lot, and to my surprise, the car started and ran fine.
For a week or so.
Then, it happened again. Running rough, stalling, RPMs dropping off to nearly zero then surging to over 3000. Again I scraped the battery terminals, although they appeared clean. That time the car did not start as smoothly, but after five miles or so the roughness evened out.
Another week passed without incident. Then, last Saturday, driving home from the PRAXIS test downtown, it happened again. This time the engine began bucking and gasping much more roughly than previously, and the surging RPMs were so severe I had to keep my foot on the brake to keep the car from lunging ahead. I was able to coast into a parking lot. Again, the timing for something like this to occur was as convenient as an inconvenience is likely to get, since had I been past the intersection at which this occurred, there would have been no further turn-offs or even safe places to pull off the road for several miles.
This time the car was not in a mood to start again. The engine would crank over, run for a few seconds, then stall. I ended up phoning for a tow truck and having the Cruiser towed into the dealer repair center... which, believe it or not, is not open on the weekends.
I had been planning to have the brakes serviced anyway, so I wrote up a description of the engine problem, plus a request that they check the brakes, and I also asked them to fix the dashboard lights. It's hard to rock along with Meatloaf if half the dash lights are burned out.
I also had to arrange for a rental car. Fortunately there's a rental car office within a couple of blocks of the repair center. Of course, the rental car place isn't open on the weekends either, so there was some time-consuming arranging of rides back and forth and to work on Monday and... gah! Overall, last weekend was a few pounds shy of being tons-o'-fun.
The good news, such as it was when I was able to talk to the shop Monday afternoon, was that the "power train control module," which was the cause of the problem, was covered under warranty. Yay. The not-so-good news was that the full brake job (replacing the rotors on all four disc brakes) was gonna run around a grand. What the heck is up with a thousand dollars for brakes? I suppose I could have shopped it around. I suppose I could have tried to buy the parts and do it myself. I suppose... that since it was already in the shop, and in theory the dealership should be well-equipped to do these things properly, I can just bite the bullet and get it done.
Turns out, of course, that the dealership doesn't have the parts in stock, neither for the brakes nor for the control module. So the car was in the shop until Friday.
Friday afternoon I phoned, and when they didn't get back to me, I stopped in on the way home from work. "Let me step outside to talk with you," said the man behind the counter. "That doesn't sound good," I replied, to which he kind of grimaced.
"We have some bad news... on top of bad news," said the repair shop guy. I'm starting to see lots and lots of dollar signs as I wait for him to continue. "We got the control module in, but the pins were bent. We've had to order another one, and it won't be in until sometime next week."
Okay, that didn't sound too bad. Except, it would mean extending the contract on the rental car.
"Also," he continued, "while we were working on the dash lights, our technician accidentally cracked the top panel of the dashboard. So we have to order that part as well." I must have gone pale, for he quickly added, "don't worry, that was our fault, so there's no charge there. And since it's not your fault the repairs aren't finished, we'll cover the cost of your rental car until your car is completed."
This week, then, I'm driving a Dodge Caliber. It's an odd-looking car, kind of on the bulky side, although it's supposed to get fairly decent fuel economy. It's vast inside, at least compared to what I'm accustomed to driving. It has a wide dash and a long nose, so it feels a bit like driving a van. An advantage to this spaciousness is that the stereo sounds awesome! I know many people practically live or die by their car audio, but I've always been somewhat indifferent to automotive sound systems. I mean, with all the road noise, what's the point of having a high-end audio system in a car? I don't think the system in the Caliber is particularly high-end, but it has comparatively large speakers, so the audio is crisp and clear, and the spaciousness allows for great stereo separation.
I still think of my PT Cruiser as being a "new" car, even though it's now six model years old. It's discouraging to think of the number of times it's ended up behind a tow truck.
Maybe it's just bad car karma because I'm always hauling around so much junk. Much of the time the car is a rolling Room of Doom. When I finally get it back, I think it's time for a major clean-out.
This was a majorly hella-boring post, wasn't it?