Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Musical Cars

Many of you know about the issue of replacing L-'s (youngest siter) car. For a week, Mom & I gyrated between buying her a late-model used car, or perhaps buying me Eric's old Lexus SUV and giving her mine. In the end, Eric's Lexus seemed to be a bad deal so he and I agreed that he will fix it up and sell it to strangers, and I was back to helping Mom pick the "perfect" car for Lisa. That ended happily last Saturday (for everyone but Mom who had to pay for the car) with a low milage 2004 Toyota Corolla, really pretty, at the right price, and very highly rated by Consumer Reports.

In the meantime, I was preparing my car for transfer. I had it washed, and I made arrangements to get it a 90K tune up (at 102K miles, mind you). A couple of months ago, I had Joe, my mechanic, look under the hood and fix everything he could find wrong. He replaced belts, an axel boot, lights, and other assorted stuff. Some of the new belts made noise after installation, and I asked him at the time of the tune up to address that too. Not a problem.

But there WAS a problem. There was one screeching noise that occured when I was driving the car and I turned the air conditioner on. I-forgot-who advised me that this issue was a belt, and so I thought it would be fixed on Friday. Wrong. It turned out to be my air conditioner's compresser. It is going to cost another $700 to replace; something that I was not willing to do to my car given that I had already invested over $1100 into it over the past eight weeks, and the blue book value according to one internet site is only $4000.

I queried Joe for several minutes about the situation. "No," he said. "You will not start an engine fire if you drive your car with a faulty compressor. You will not end up on the side of the road, either. The only thing that will happen with a bad compressor is that it is going to get noisier and noisier, but even the air conditioner will probably not fail. You can drive your car like it is until you make a decision on fixing or selling it."

And so I decided to wait a month or two to see if anything else goes wrong with the car. Never mind the fact that since the tune-up, it drives like it's brand new and the gas milage has improved quite a bit. I still intend to wait at least until June.

Now, here's where I need your active participation in this post. Please, starting right now, think the shark-attack tune of "Jaws" in your head. You know it. Duh duh. Duh duh. Duh duh. Duh duh.

Duh duh, Duh duh, duh duh, duh duh... etc. I bet you're trying hard not to hum it out loud.

Ok, we're all together now. Let's go on.

I've driven my car quite a bit since the issue of the air was revealed to me. I know that without fail, that noise is going to happen the second I turn my air conditioner on. I know it. I know it from experience. I know it because Joe assured me that it wouldn't go away.

I also know that as long as I don't turn the air on, it won't happen. But that's not possible.

Something comes over me when I get into the driver's seat. Before I knew what was wrong, if it was hot, I'd turn my air on and hope the noise was dim or didn't occur. If it was cool, I didn't need air at all and so I didn't use it.

But now. Now. Now I know that, without fail, if I push the button... THE button, I will cause my engine to squeel. Does that make me not push the button? No. It makes me want to push the button more.

Instructions to reader: Increase the volume of the Jaws theme in your head now.

I feel the urge to push the button pretty-much as soon as I turn the ignition key. Never mind that it is 60 degrees outside; freezing according to Los Angeles weather standards. I haven't even backed out of my parking spot yet when I push the button. Then I test the situation three, four, maybe five separate times in the next three blocks. With exactly the same response.

I don't know what I'm going to do. Well, that's not exactly true. I do know what I'm going to do. I'm going to drive that car until I can't stand the noise anymore, or until I get an infusion of cash. Whichever comes first. Then I'm going to fix it. It's value may only be $4000, but the truth is that if it can carry me for several more years, it's priceless. Nothing has happened to that car that would be unexpected (except by me) for a vehicle of it's age and mileage. It owes me nothing and in fact, as Joe put it, "is a good car."

But I don't know what I'm going to do over the next couple weeks while I agonize about the situation. Today and tomorrow it's supposed to be cool. But Wednesday? Wednesday is supposed to be warm. 90 degree warm. Too hot to drive around without air.

I know that my air conditioner will work. I know that I will not set the car on fire by using it. I know that I will not be stranded at the side of the road. Joe promised me this; I have a 15 year relationship over three cars with him. If he says it, it's true.

But right now, except for emotionally, pushing the button is optional. On Wednesday, it becomes mandatory.

Final reader instruction. As I push the button, stop playing "Jaws" in your head. Switch, instead, to the stabbing music in Psycho. That is what my engine sounds like.

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