Friday, November 20, 2009

We Need a Car

Oh my goodness! I just realized I haven't posted yet today. I've been working on an internal Wiki for the organization I'm leaving, and it's taken over my free-time thoughts, too.

Since I hurt my leg, I've been driving Mark's car. I knew it was pretty bad off, but I think I hadn't really understood how bad off it was.

Before I ever climbed into it on the first day I drove it, I asked Mark to put more power steering fluid into it. The car is a 1986 Toyota Celica; you would think something so small would be okay without the power steering, but it isn't, let me be clear on that.

With enough power steering fluid, my attention was free to notice other problems with the car.

The first problem to really catch my attention was the collection of gentle plumes of smoke escaping from beneath the hood as I waited in line at Starbucks. It wafted from the left side of the hood, and it's a testament to my Profound Cheapskatery that my reaction was not the expected, "ZOMGWTFBBQ," free-for-all as I tumbled from the car to escape the obvious impending explosion. No, I looked at it for a minute then decided it was just fluid of some kind dripping onto the hot manifold and smoking off. I picked up my latte and moved on with a shrug.

Next I noticed that on sharp corners, I could hear a pretty disturbing knocking sound. Now I've driven my fair share of beaters, and I've endured my fair share of knocking. I know what a bad tie rod end sounds like, and this ain't it. No, this knocking sounds like a yard gnome caught in the spin cycle. A deep, throaty thump, rhythmic with a slight echo. Happily, most of my route to work is a straight shot, so I grimaced a little and kept driving.

On the last road before turning into the Johnson Space Center where I work, the speed limit (once you're past the school) is 45 mph. The moment my speedometer hit 40, the steering wheel started to shake. Not shimmy as though it needs an alignment, no. That would be a gentle, steady rhythm moving the wheel no more than a fraction of an inch side to side as I drove. No, it shook, displacing inches with each back and each forth. It made the fat on my arms jiggle until my skin itched.

Ironically, the brakes seem to be in pretty good shape, and the air conditioner works. We Texans have our priorities.

My little brother climbed into the car a couple of days later for a ride. We came to a stop light, gently slowing until we rested. My brother, a 24-year-old Veteran of both Iraq and Djiboutian conflicts, looked out the front windscreen and said, "Mel, is your car smoking?"

"Yep," I said, "But I own it. Besides, I think it's just power steering fluid or something."

"You might want to get that looked at," he responded.


A few minutes later, I wrenched the wheel (it needs to have another 1/2 quart of power steering fluid every couple of days) around and pulled us into my drive. Brian climbed out. "You mind if I have a look?" he asked. Brian is nothing if not polite. He even opened my car door for me. Sweet kid.

He didn't even pop the hood. He leaned over, sniffed the still-wafting smoke, and said, "Yeah. That's oil."

Now my first instinct is to take this car and our little emergency fund down to the dealership and combine them to buy my dear, long-suffering husband (you really wouldn't believe how much he doesn't complain about that car) a spanking new slightly used car. Spend ten grand or so, put the roughly six grand we don't have on a small note, and pay it off in two months.

It is painful to know that DH is going to have to get an only slightly upgraded beater rather than the fairly nice car we were hoping for just four months from now. But we agreed: no more debt. And we're sticking to our guns. Maybe we can make the Celica run until February.

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