Grumpy Old Car

Old Blue gasps, wheezes and rattles as we wind along the country road, lined by dark forests on one side, and a dry stunted corn field on the other.  I am not attentive and caring like a hospice nurse tending a terminal patient; instead, like a child putting his fingers in his ears and humming loudly to drown out a scary sound, I turn up the radio.  My fingers clutch the steering wheel and my stomach clutches in on itself as I do my own version of mindless humming, chanting under my breath, “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die.”

Old Blue is old, but not ancient.  But as the saying goes, it’s not the years, baby; it’s the miles.  Blue has over 176,000 of them, including some hard long-haul miles: a trip from Florida to California with its original owner, several trips between California and Colorado with us and now, the latest and seemingly most detrimental long journey, from California to Indiana.  And it’s not just age, and mileage, but maintenance – or lack thereof – that makes up the equation that appears to add up to a serious automotive illness.

Note I don’t say terminal illness.  This is because I have no idea what is wrong with our minivan.  In the several months before we left California on our likely futile quest for a new and improved life, I poured every penny I could into fixing and replacing parts and bringing maintenance up to date.  I thought we were good to go but we sputtered to a halt in the 104 degree desert outside of Barstow, the “No Services for the Next 70 Miles” sign and the frantically blinking ‘check engine’ light convincing me to head for the nearest mechanic.

Delays and dollars, we paid our dues in both and resumed our journey, but the mechanic’s assurances did nothing to alleviate my heightened anxiety about Old Blue’s health.  The unexplained demise of our air conditioning (‘nothing to do with us, nowhere near where we were working’) certainly fed my concern.  Was Old Blue falling to pieces, one bit at a time?  I drove with one eye on the road and one on the instrument panel ready to respond in a moment to any indication of a new problem.

Blue labored on, straining under the load of the U-haul trailer and the oppressive heat and despite my fears we made it safely to Indiana.  Relief washed over me as the U-haul assistant uncoupled the empty trailer from Blue’s hitch – home free, I thought to myself, more than ready to focus on other matters – housing, job, school.  I think I had all of 5 minutes of peace of mind as far as Old Blue was concerned, it took me about that long to reach the roundabout where without warning Blue died.

Or perhaps I should say passed out rather than died as I was able to resuscitate the van and started off with new fears occupying my mind.  Since then Old Blue passes out with regularity – at the first start of the day, and when sitting too long at stoplights or other halts.  The engine just shuts off.  I’ve gotten the routine down – hit the emergency blinkers, put the car in neutral or park, restart the engine, put it in drive and gun it while shutting off blinkers.  We don’t delay other drivers more than a few seconds.

But in addition to the fainting routine Blue sounds bad.  It growls and wheezes and sputters.  And, alarmingly, it has taken to jerking forward inexplicably regardless of the pressure of my foot on the gas pedal. Then there are the glitch-free days that get my hopes up – perhaps it has recovered on its own? However, I suspect it needs rest and the attention of a mechanic.  And probably considerable financial investment – health care is so expensive!  The mechanic is beyond our reach at the moment but it looks like Old Blue might just get some well deserved rest as our auto insurance is due for renewal and we can’t afford that either! Now where’s that horse and buggy?

This entry was posted in breakdown, car, driving, insurance, poverty. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Grumpy Old Car

  1. Eliza says:

    clean or replace the fuel filter.

    When I was in India to adopt my baby we took a trip from Delhi to see the Taj Majal and the car we were in started breaking down on the way back. Every couple of miles it would sputter and die. Finally got to a mechanic and they replaced the fuel filter – woohoo good as new!

  2. Thom says:

    Have you check the air filter? Air intake ducts? Just guessing but worth a check.

  3. jill says:

    Is there a community college with an automotive program near you? Sometimes they will take your vehicle for a student project, and you only pay for parts…depending on their policy, it could be for a week or a semester, but experts are leading the auto techs doing the work at a minimal cost…

  4. rta says:

    feel bad that you wrote “likely futile quest for a new and improved life”

    Am so hoping it’s not a futile quest!
    Hang in there!

  5. Lynn says:

    I wonder if there is a state sponsored insurance that just covers the legally required level and might cost a lot less than a typical policy? You don’t need collision for your car and liability could just be the minimum required since there is not any property that a claimant could attach. Rates should be lower in rural Indiana than in litigious California, too, so maybe a new policy would be a lot less than renewing what you have/had. Still, not free, I realize.
    The car has cost you a lot in recent months and does not seem to be getting better. What if you did not have a car? Is there a school bus? Can you get a ride into town a couple times a week at least to get groceries?
    I once tried to keep my older car going to save money and spent thousands on it in the last couple of months, only to find it needed more and more. When I finally gave up and traded it in, I was shocked to find the value of the car far less than the amount I had spent on repairs alone. I know you are not in a position to buy a replacement car now but keeping Old Blue running may not be possible. The day comes that all the gaskets and hoses and parts are just falling apart one after the other and the car is just done.
    I know you are in an area that has snow so I am guessing walking or riding a bike is out…Maybe is there an elderly person who needs someone to drive their car for shopping etc?
    I think of elderly people because my husband’s parents and my own became unable to drive and needed help with everyday tasks. Eventually one reliable but older car was sold for $500 and the other given away. Several friends have had the grandparent pass down their car to the teenager recently, too. My parents, his, and many others need help but not nursing care as they age…perhaps there could be a mutually helpful relationship with someone in that position?
    At one point in my life I had a place to sleep in exchange for housekeeping, and meals in exchange for cooking. Of course you are a family of five and not one person so it’s harder, I know.

  6. Eva says:

    If it would be helpful, I am looking for someone to help with a data entry type task that requires a bit more thought than typical data entry work and is not “rote”. It would be full-time, $10/hour, and you would be able to do it remotely. It’s only about a 1-2 month gig but it may be just the thing to tide you over as you get started in your new life as it’s very flexible. Let me know what you think! Good luck!

  7. Jeannette says:

    I love the way you described your car, sounds like a romantic novel. You do have a way to put a great spin on things when reading. I do hope this move makes life more bearable and that with your new beginnings a happier ending

  8. Becky R says:

    My car is currently parked. It needs new brakes and tires, but until then has been deemed unsafe to drive. Fortionately a freind lent us her van. The bad thing is it leakes oil and takes twice as much gas as my car did. The joys of being low income.

    In NJ we have to keep insurance even if we do not have a car (they assume if you have a license you are driving.) I didn’t do this and when I went to get insurance after it was $3,000 for liability (and I had no pints at all or accidents on my insurance.) It was terrible.

  9. bogart says:

    Oof! I’m sorry.

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