Saturday, July 25, 2015

Everything Wrong with My Car

I really liked my car when I bought it, but I'm starting to get pretty annoyed with all the little glitches that have built up over the last few years when I haven't had enough cash on hand to get it tuned up.

My previous car was a Hyundai that I bought new and drove to death in eight years flat. This car is the same age now, but I've only had it for five years - and I'm still paying it off! It's a Volkswagen Rabbit with 135,000 miles on it and a few cosmetic wrinkles. I hit a deer with it several years ago and never had the damage to the hood smoothed out. I had trouble getting it onto a U-haul tow dolly a year ago and some low-hanging pieces of the plastic grille assembly are either hanging even lower than they should or they had to be removed altogether. The rear wiper stopped wiping the rear window and started flopping uselessly over the tail of the vehicle, until I pulled it off completely. Some jerkweed keyed the paint job on the right side from front to back. And some body paint started flaking off the last time I tried to power-wash it, which is one of the reasons my car is always filthy: I'm afraid to give it a good scrub.

But that's more or less cosmetic stuff. At times a warning light on the dash board tells me the hood is unlatched, but that's related to the wrinkle from hitting the deer; a secondary latch is often all that's holding it shut, which isn't ideal. Also at times the engine light comes on, but when I brought it to some local mechanics for an explanation they spent four days trying to find an adapter to plug it into their diagnostic computer before I just took my car back and said never-mind. Apparently they don't service foreign cars in the sticks. I miss living in St. Louis sometimes, and this was one of those times.

I think the belts and filters need to be replaced. My poor car is overdue for that kind of service. It's also about due for a tire rotation and oil change, but there's nothing unusual about that. What is unusual, however, is the fact that my windshield wipers won't wipe unless the car is in motion. If I stop while they're running, they will freeze in mid-wipe. The washer fluid won't squirt on the windshield, ever.

At some point, I think about the time when these last-named problems surfaced, the car mysteriously stopped beeping when I hit the door-lock button on the smart key. I can make the panic alarm go off, though, which helps find it in a crowded parking lot. On the other hand, the panic alarm sometimes goes off on its own initiative, whether my keys are on me or not. There have been instances when it went off repeatedly, or all but continuously, for an extended period of time and would only stop if I remotely unlocked the doors. And then sometimes the panic alarm would go off again a minute or two later. It's embarrassed me many times. It's happened twice as I write this.

About a year ago, I started having trouble while driving on long trips and/or in hot weather. At a certain point in the trip, the engine goes into a cycle of seeming to lose power, then suddenly jerking forward and running full-power again, wash rinse repeat. These episodes often coincide with the engine light coming on. During stretches of open highway it will just go slower and slower, regardless of what I'm doing with the gas pedal, then leap forward with a sickening jerk and begin accelerating again, only to start losing power again just as I'm approaching the speed I want to go or, sometimes, easing off the gas pedal to avoid going too fast. At stop signs or red lights, I have to rev the engine to get started again without stalling, and sometimes as I'm shifting up from gear to gear it will do the old "losing power (almost to the point of stalling) then jerking ahead" trick again - in one gear after another. It's not only exasperating and embarrassing, it's sometimes terrifying as trucks close in behind me, or approach on roads that I'm crossing, and I'm struggling to get the machine moving. Picture me stomping on the gas, swearing, waving my hands in apology to other motorists, sometimes having to crank the ignition again and start over. And it keeps happening all the way to the end of my trip from there. Driving pleasure becomes driving misery.

What little work I've had done to correct this problem has not solved it, but nobody who's looked at it seems to have any idea what's causing it. The first time the problem surfaced, I actually replaced my battery because the parts shop said the old one tested dead, but the car continued running exactly the same way.

The latest new problem with my car is such a non-essential thing that I'm almost ashamed to mention it, but my CD player has become the one thing standing between me and insanity during many hours of monthly commuting and business travel. I listen to audio books more than I read printed ones. Take them away from me and you'll not only be forcing me to listen to broadcast radio, which I loathe, or road noise, which tends to lull me to sleep. But also, you'll be curtailing my intake of good books, which would be more devastating than you can possibly imagine.

So imagine my disgust when, a few weeks ago, the CD player started refusing to play any disk I put into it. It often relaxes that refusal first thing in the morning while I'm driving to work, and sometimes it will relent and let me listen to a disk or two after it's been running for a while and the air conditioning has gotten the interior nice and cool. But later in the day when the car has been warmed by the sun, or after a stop when the AC starts up again at the temperature of the air outside (which it can do, amazingly, even after I turn off the ignition and immediately restart the engine), or even after starting to work again and then realizing the car is hotter than it thought, the CD player forgets how to do its job. It tries and tries to read the disk, eventually decides it's unreadable and spits it out. Encouraged to try again, it does the same until you give up. An hour or so later maybe it will reward another try by starting to play a CD, only to cut out again at about the point where it stopped playing before. Now and then I can coax it into playing for a moment or two by tapping the front of the radio, but it will repeatedly get stuck and repeat the same second or so of the recording until tapped again, or it will simply stop playing.

I'm pretty sure the CD player has somehow become sensitive to temperature, but there is probably more to it than that. And it sickens me to think of my alternatives. Even having to listen to audio-books on a walkman CD player plugged into the car's AC adapter isn't an option that thrills me. I used to do that in the Hyundai, using a cassette adapter to plug the CD player into my car stereo so I could listen to audiobooks over the car's speaker system, but it was a lousy deal. Every time I changed disks I had to crank the volume on the walkman all the way up, and changing disks or controlling the playback was very distracting while I was trying to drive. Walkman devices are for people who don't mind listening to the same disk over and over, not for audiobook addicts trying to commute. I need this CD player to work. And odd as it may seem, this little "extra" is the thing that has tripped the countdown clock to when I can afford to buy a new(er) car.

In the meantime, I have a vacation coming up - my first vacation time in several years. It looks like auto repair will take up some of it. All I have to do now is find a mechanic who isn't going to deprive me of a car for a whole week and then tell me he wasn't able to figure out how to run a diagnostic on it. Alas for St. Louis!

Oh - also, I think the brakes need work. AGAIN.

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