Saturday, September 08, 2007

Car Crazy

Most people are happy with their cars; at least the people that I know are happy with their cars. I don’t know. Maybe they haven’t said anything about it and I’m assuming here, but my point is that the people around me are content with their driving situation, and I’ll preface that with the “as far as I know” caveat. I wouldn’t want to presume out of line.

Again, most people are happy with their one car. It drives fine. It gets them where they’re going, and rarely do I see people on my street with the hoods up cussing at some greasy part.

So, why am I the only one? Why is it me? You'd think, with the number of vehicles I have registered and insured with the State of California (five, thank you, and sixth one the DMV doesn’t need to know about quite yet) that at least one of them would drive perfectly, without fault or flaw. But it just isn’t so.

For starters, Kara’s car needs tires. I’m trying to hold out as long as they can, but there is going to be a phone call from her on the side of the freeway somewhere telling me that she has a flat. I know I could pre-empt it by simply replacing the tires, like the tire guy told me when I got new front ones… but I always think that they’re just pushing rubber, like I’m some rube. “Hey guys, watch this. The guy out there…no, the dumb lookin’ one… He’s got 20,000 miles left on his tires. Watch me sell him five new ones.” So, I nodded to him, “Yeah, okay, that’s a good idea. I’ll bring it back in a couple of days to do that.”


I got the same thing when I take my truck into get its oil changed. I must just look stupid, or naive, or someone that can be taken advantage of. I think what it is is that I look relatively young, like I don't know what the hell is going on most of the time (which is a partial truth) and that I can be taken for a ride. I’m usually sitting in the little air conditioned room, reading a magazine, and they come in and tell me that I need this or that. “Sir, your air filter is no longer filtering air, just dirt…you should have it replaced,” and they usually have the offending filter with them and it’s a little dusty, maybe some would call it dirty, but when I get home, I slap it on the driveway a few times, blow some compressed air over it like my father taught me how to do many years ago, and it is good as new. My favorite. This happened last time I was there. Somebody must have screwed up an order and they got stuck with an excessive amount of the expensive transfer case oil, because the guy comes into the little room and we have this little conversation:

“Sir, we checked your transfer case oil and we found some metal shavings on the bottom.”

“Metal shavings, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s bad, right? I mean, I don’t want metal shavings in my transfer case… or do I?”

“No, sir you don't. I recommend you flush it out and replace the fluids. It’s around $50 for the service.”

“Oh, yes, of course, right away…” And as he turns around with little dollar signs in his eyes, I add, “But wait, one thing: How were you able to check for shavings at the bottom of my transfer case without draining it first?” I gave him the look a teacher would give when everyone in class knows the answer to the question but you and we all think you’re faking it.

He stammers, caught. “There’s a plug we use to fill the case.”

“Yes, I know, and that’s where the shavings supposedly are, right? So how did you keep all the oil in the case while looking for these shavings?"

He didn't answer quick enough to sound convincing. "Never mind," I told him. "I’ll take care of it, thanks.”

So, there’s another place I’ll never go. Perhaps I do have metal shavings in my transfer case, who knows? I know that guy doesn’t because I looked at my transfer case drain plug and it hadn’t been touched.

But that was the least of my worries with the truck… at least it started, ran and stopped when I wanted it to, and it is reliable, consistently. My Volkswagens are all in some kind of untrustworthy condition, and I find it to be a continual source of frustration for me, as I am constantly thinking about them... fretting more like, I mean, more than any one person should. Every time I go into the garage, I sigh, and give them a frustrated look of despondency, like a disappointed father seeing his daughter come home after curfew. What I am going to do with you?

And I've been wracking my brains to find a solution to their various problems that won't end in me opening my wallet.

The Single Cab won’t start again. It seems to want to do this about every six months or so; it just gets tired of starting and refuses to do it as much as I fiddle with its various parts. The battery’s full and the starter is only two years old, but it rolls over itself like it has a dead battery...or there's a loose connection somewhere that I can't see. I’m flustered, and frankly, I’m too old to be kick starting a car. Well, not old in an annual sense, but old as in too mature, too grown up. Every time I take it anywhere, I wonder if it is going to start when I return to the parking lot and I find myself parking on hills. I did that when I was 16 and it was just a way of life (actually, my gas gauge broke so running out of gas was my usual thing, about once every two months I’d have to call dad or Jason to come get me), but now that I’m more than twice that age, I don’t want to be seen kick staring a beat up partially white, partially blue 1958 Single Cab. People probably think I live in it.

The 1967 runs great as long as it is running, but it’s got some kind of funky starting problem too. Some times, when I turn the key, it does nothing. What the hell!?! It started perfectly fine five miles ago and now, when I want to pull it into the garage, it just clicks at me. I'm this close to selling it.

The 1971 is most frustrating of all. I think I have an experimental carburetor that VW put together and they’re snickering at me. “We have secretly replaced the carburetor that Ryan normally uses with this intermittent one…. Let’s watch!” It starts great, even after sitting for months, but as soon as the engine idles down to normal operating speed, it flits to a stop. I had it fixed once before too, so now it is on the list.

Last year, you may remember I celebrated a new look for my truck, what with the big tires, lift and all, but for precisely a year, it drove like a Sherman tank, barreling over the bumps, and most every time I put on the brakes, the front end shimmied and pulled to the left. Out of alignment, you say. No, says the shop when I took it to them. Straight as an arrow. The wheels aren’t balanced, you say. No, says the two shops I took it to. Finally, sitting there on the freeway for the longest time, complaining and moaning about the difficulties I was having with its drivability, it dawned on me.

Now, let’s remember that I’m in no way an engineer, mechanical, electrical, train or otherwise. I just write about cars sometimes, and frankly, my enjoyment in working on them is limited to non-technical things. Sand down this part to bare metal, clean it up, make it look nice and add a new coat of paint. Sure, I can do that, but ask me to upgrade drum brakes to discs and I’m completely lost. Granted, I’m not an idiot; I could probably figure it out, but it would take me four times as long and twice as much money (because I’d invariably break something expensive or important in the process and have to replace it) and I’d rather pay someone else to do it and not worry about it.

Well, with my truck, I did pay someone else to do it and all I do now is worry about it. Every time I stepped on the brakes, for a whole freakin’ year, I felt the front end shimmy and my teeth grind in frustration. I pictured scrubbing the tread right off the tires. But, there was a sudden shaft of light beaming down from some divine entity, perhaps Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, and it hit me.

Under the suspension lift kit on the front of my truck are two sideways-mounted stabilizer shocks, attached to the steering arms on one end and the frame on the other. They are there to absorb some of the road shock, the bumps, that stiff-suspensioned trucks are susceptible to, and I don’t think they ever did their jobs properly because you feel everything. For about a month, it became a theory that the left shock wasn’t working well and every time I applied the brakes, the weight of the truck shifted forward on the wheels, changing the camber of the tire, which was resisted by the shocks (the left more than the right) and each tire was forced to go its own way. The result was a conflict in direction. One tire wanted to go one way and the other the other, but since they’re forever connected, they vibrated instead.

So, yesterday, I had a sudden rush of ambition, like when a cat just suddenly jumps up and races out of the room for whatever reason nobody knows but the cat. Yeah, that was me. One moment, I was sitting on the couch watching an endless parade of children’s shows on TV (Natalie's really been into watchin Kids Sprout, an offshoot, excuse the expression, of PBS, Channel 295 if you use DirecTV) and the next think I know, I’m out on the driveway, shimmying under my truck with a wrench.

After yanking off the two shocks, the truck drives perfectly. No shaking, no vibrations, no pulling to the left! If only I had done it last summer, 2007 would have been a better year for me. So, at least one thing checked off of my list of worries.

I guess it is time to call my trusty VW mechanic and get the others in line.

Oh yeah, and tires for Kara… maybe for Christmas. She’d like that.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Ebay for tires


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