Monday, August 15, 2005

The Car Angels: Someone to Watch Over Me

My husband and I decided about two years ago not to buy or lease new cars anymore, mainly because we both put wayyy too many miles on them and because, of course, the decrease in value the moment you drive off the lot.

So in purchasing our "new" used cars, we got a practical vehicle: a 1995 Dodge Caravan (for toting the three munchkins around in) and a "cool" one: a 1995 BMW 530i five-speed in cabernet red (for me). (My husband drives a two-seater truck for his business.)

In buying the cars, we knew that in exchange for no car payments we could expect one major repair per year per vehicle (in the $1,000-2,000 range), plus some probably other minor ones, and we would drive them till they died. Steve's last used car, a a 1990 900S Saab, had 250,000 miles on it when it finally went kaput. His 1987 Mustang had 230,000 miles on it.

(I'm getting to the good stuff, bear with me.)

In March, we plunked down $3000 for some major work on the BMW and figured that'd be it for the year. And in June, we spent another $1000 on the Caravan for some other stuff that needed to be fixed.

Then came July.

I noticed that the coolant light was on in the BMW, and one morning I asked Steve to put coolant in for me before I left for work. He came back upstairs about three minutes later and said, "You can't drive anywhere. I poured the coolant in and it immediately came out the bottom."

Uh-oh. All I could think of was another $1000-$2000 bill because of course, in exchange for lots of miles on a foreign car, it's harder and more expensive to find someone to work on it. (Especially in the Motor City, which is the metropolitan area where I live.)

Later that day, my father-in-law was over and I told him about the car. The next thing I knew, my father-in-law (whose parents came over from Germany) and our neighbor (about the same age as my father-in-law, and who also came over from Germany) had their grey heads under the hood of my German car (it was really cute). They wanted to put in enough coolant so I could drive to the mechanic three miles away without burning up the engine.

That was when I poked my head in and, looking into the mass of hoses and stuff I know nothing about, saw an unattached hose. "Could this be the cause of the problem?" I asked innocently.

It was.

Cost of the repair: $0.
Gratitude level: 10 out of 10.

Then came the third week in July. Two weeks later. I get in my car (the BMW), turn the key, and nothing happens. Try again. Nothing happens.

It's the battery, I figure after freaking out appropriately, and so does my husband when I call him frantically asking him to come home and help me jump it.

We try for three hours to jump my little car, and nothing works. In the meantime, we find out that the battery is under the rear seat (and it's impossible to get under the rear seat without the special tools that only the BMW dealers have--think cha-ching! cha-ching!). We also find out that the sun roof is stuck open. And I figure we're going to have to have it towed to the dealer, 20 miles away. GAKKKKK!

Then my husband does a very sexy thing. He starts the car by popping the clutch as we're pushing it down the driveway. In reverse.

Wow. Talk about a turn-on. Seriously. After working on the darn thing for hours, in 90-degree heat, he gets it started on the first try. I wanted to jump his bones!

So, we drive the car down to a mechanic who is not a BMW dealer but does a lot of work with foreign cars. I still can't get the sunroof closed. What if the sunroof has to be replaced? I know I need a new battery. Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

Sure enough, the mechanic replaces the battery. But they can't get the sunroof closed, and they want to take it to the dealer. They're talking about having to get into the mechanism, and so on, and I'm seeing dollar signs just climbing. I mean, the minimum charge at any dealer is $70 just for them to open the hood.

Finally, I get the call from the dealer. They got the sunroof closed, no sweat. Reinitialized it, I guess. And then the bombshell: no charge from the dealer.

Total cost of repair (including new battery and flushing A/C): $257.
Level of gratitude: 9 out of 10. (11 out of 10 for the dealer alone.)
Attraction to my magical husband: 10 out of 10.

So. Today. Two days after we get home from a really long roadtrip into the boondocks of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the Caravan. (You know what's coming, don't you...)

I have to drive 50 miles away to a seminar. I take the Caravan. I leave the seminar at 3:30 and am driving along Big Beaver Road in Troy, Michigan (I had to put the name in there just so you could get a laugh over the name) and suddenly, the accelerator stops working.

I mean, I push it down and nothing happens. Nothing. Not a rev of the engine (which is still running), not a lurch...nothing. I have no choice--I coast to the side of the road and stare at the car. And swear at it. And turn it off and turn it on, and put it in DRIVE, and nothing happens.

The engine's running. The radio's going, the A/C's on. The power windows work. The brakes work. The accelerator does absolutely nothing. The car doesn't even inch forward when I take my foot off the brake.

I try it several more times--turn off the car, wait five minutes, turn it on, try again. In the mean time, I'm trying to get ahold of Steve, the kids, luck. I finally call a tow place, and they tow me to the nearest Chrysler dealer--only two miles away. (How lucky could I get?)

They look at me at the dealer when I ask if there's any chance they can look at it tonight (they close at 9:00--a rarity in itself) and shake their heads (I mean, the service guy shakes his head).

"Please?" I say. "I live 50 miles away and have no way home."

At this point, I'm thinking: transmission. The Caravan has 165,000 miles on it, and a new transmissions's going to be $1500-2000. EEEEKKKK!!!!

When I tell him where I live, the guy has pity on me and says he'll try and get someone to look at it in two hours. In fact, he gets someone to look at it in 30 minutes. I could have kissed him.

Then he comes out and tells me they have looked it all over, have hooked it up to the diagnostic machines, and have found nothing wrong with it. In fact, they had driven it into the garage!

I am baffled. No way. Absolutely no way.

But it's true. They can find nothing wrong. We take it for a test drive. It's fine. I drive home, and make it with no problem.

Total cost of repair: $55 for towing. $0 from the dealer.
(Did you read that? The dealer charged me nothing!)
Gratitude level: 12 out of 10.

Surely, surely the Used Car Angels have been watching over me.


Blogger MaryF soliloquized...

WOW, Colleen! The car angels are indeed watching over you!

Freaky about the accelerator. Everything else, I've had happen, but never that!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 6:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous soliloquized...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:35:00 AM  
Blogger Trish Milburn soliloquized...

Dang, girl, that's some car karma. My little Nissan Sentra has nearly 220,000 miles on it. It's a good little car, but it's beginning to get a jiggy gearshift. Sometimes the car won't start until I wiggle the gearshift a little, like it's not totally in Park or something. Oh well, as long as the wiggle works...shooting for 300,000 miles.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger Wendy soliloquized...

Colleen, you must have horseshoes hidden somewhere LOL! Sooo glad those car angels are watching over you :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 9:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Esri/Kiki soliloquized...

You have had some tremendous luck, but it shocked me to read that you figured on spending $1-2000/car/year. We own two Hondas -- one five years old, one 15 -- and I don't think we've spent over three grand between the two of them. Stay AWAY from non-Japanese cars. That's my advice. You want a sporty convertible, get a freakin' Del Sol.

That is so weird about the accelerator. Sometimes strange things happen if you get car mats shoved under pedals, but I don't think it could cause anything like that.

Thursday, August 18, 2005 7:42:00 PM  
Blogger Janice Lynn soliloquized...

Colleen, this is wild and I definitely agree that the car angels are watching over you! I smiled about the part about your husband being sexy popping the clutch. Isn't it fun the things that our hubbys can do that drive us into a frenzy?

Friday, September 30, 2005 8:39:00 PM  

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