Last Thursday started out innocently enough. We woke up, I rode my bike to the gym…and then it began to turn sinister. On the way there, I blew a tire. Luckily, I was about 200 feet from the door so it wasn’t that big of a deal for the way there. However, we don’t have a local number. So a business which has no long distance capabilities (or at least doesn’t want to share them with me) makes it very difficult to call one’s husband for a ride home. Medium length story short, I borrow someone’s cell phone and call my husband and we buy a tube for the bike and it’s all good.
So we thought.
As most of you know, our blue Ford wagon was a P.O.S. (Read Our Journey to California (by the way, it’s really long) if you need reminding.) So last Thursday (this being Wednesday) our car took a nose dive. I was driving (naturally) and as I accelerated from a stop light, there was a bang, a disconcerting flopping nose, a lot of unpleasant squealing and loss of power steering. I pull over into a nice little housing community and turn the car off. My husband pops the hood and I see him swear under his breath. I look into the black chasm of horrible misshapenness which is our engine compartment and swear under my breath as well.
Our serpentine belt is half gone. As in, it’s supposed to be about 1 1/2 inches wide and now it’s only 3/4 an inch wide. That’s a problem, but not “the” problem. A piece of wiring harness has also joined the fray, and is wrapped around the belt tensioner pulley…and on fire. Well, it wasn’t so much on fire as it had been on fire and was now just smoldering. For those of you who don’t know and for those of you who don’t believe that one car can suck so much, the belt tensioner is not metal. It’s fiberglass reinforced plastic. When it catches on fire, it melts. And a belt that is on it will melt into it as well. So there is no salvaging the half a belt which is left. We have to pull the whole thing off. We are able to get the wires enough out of the way so as not to start any more fires. (The wires were for the Anti-Lock Brake Tester…not an essential part.)
So we now have no power steering, no air (a big deal in the South at 1:30 in the afternoon), and most importantly to the next part of the story, no water pump. We get it about half way to the parts store (conveniently on the way home) and the car begins to overheat. We pull into the parking lot of O’Reilly’s amid the scent of burning anti-freeze, one of the worst smells man ever created, and a cloud of steam and smoke. We go in and ask if they have a serp belt and an idler pulley. You may have noticed that before I said it was a tensioner and we asked for an idler…this becomes important shortly. They have both…another huge blessing. We were planning a day out so we pour our three bottles of water into the radiator but it doesn’t really make a dent in the emptiness. So my husband starts back in to buy some coolant. A generous woman in the vehicle next to us offers us the remainder of a jug she has in her car. It’s enough, so he starts to put the cap back on when she hollers, “It’ pouring out the bottom!” We look and sure enough, we are leaking anti-freeze from our radiator.
Now, I am no car expert. But the serp belt being damaged should not break your radiator. So we decide that the parking lot is not the best place to diagnose this bucket of bolts so we thank her profusely for her generosity and “hurry” home, again pulling to a stop amid stench and a cloud of smoke.
Oh, an important part of the story. This all begins about 1:30 pm and we are supposed to pick up a friend at 4:30 and then take her home at the end of the evening–probably late. We have been looking forward to getting together with her for the better part of a week and do not want to cancel. So speed and efficiency are the words of the day.
My husband begins tearing into the car while I start tearing into my bike. If we are going to be out a car, we really need both bikes functioning, especially the one which can pull the trailer. He gets the offending pulley off and compares it to the pulley we just bought. Naturally, it’s the wrong one. We needed a tensioner pulley, but we asked for and received an idler pulley. They are different enough to matter.
So I head off on my husband’s bike to the parts store (less than a mile away) to get the correct part. I hustle back home and surprise my husband with my speed and…well, speed I guess. So now that I’m literally covered in sweat, he has me holding this wrench, which is smooth metal. This wouldn’t be that bad except that if I slip, he might lose a finger. No pressure.
It all goes back together without any real hiccups. The radiator definitely leaks for unknown reasons. The tensioner pulley assembly seems to be bent but we don’t know if that new or if it’s always been like that. The power steering pump still squeals and we don’t really know why. But it runs and we even have time to shower before picking up our friend.
So, skip forward a couple of days. We’ve been adding water and power steering fluid. The power steering fluid is not only leaking out, it’s also laced with oil and anti-freeze. Not good. It squeals continually now and is beginning to fail. The radiator still leaks and we don’t know why. My husband gets under the car and finds a strange piece of metal that apparently was flung up from the road into the general belt area. This metal piece not only caused the belt breakage (we assume) it seems to have also shredded the CV boot. (I think that’s what it was. Whatever boot protects the half shaft) The wrenching of the belt seems to have pulled the power steering pump away from the radiator, or something, breaking both. The tensioner is definitely crooked, as the belt is already beginning to fray. Of course, everything is coated in oil, coolant, and power steering fluid so it slips and squeals.
We are not happy. We have to have a vehicle so we can evacuate if ordered to do so. We really have to have a dependable vehicle. So we start pricing “new” cars (Certified Used). We find one car which has the features we want (meaning, no features at all.) Manual transmission, small, decent mileage (compared to everything but a Metro), manual locks, manual windows, manual mirrors, A/C (it’s the South), and less than forty thousand miles. They are asking $8000 and it blue books at $9600. A 2005 Chevy Aveo.
We call the bank and get approved for a loan. (Our bank rocks. Everything else about the Air Force might suck but the bank we are eligible to use is fricking amazing. We made a half hour phone call and two days later, got a check in the mail.) We call the dealership and make an appointment to come look at it (it’s 100 miles away so we have no intention of just looking). We leave right after work, eat one last meal in our crappy car and limp it to the dealer.
We get $250 off from an Internet “coupon” we printed and they gave us $250 for our car. We feel we got a good deal. At least they didn’t make us pay them to dispose of it for us. We were just glad we didn’t have to drive the blue hole of blackness any further.
So now we have a “new” car. It’s wonderful. It even has an after market CD player and very nice speakers. The best we’ve ever had in a car. So, we’ve increased our debt, big bummer, but we’ve increased our ability to build credit and we have a car with a warranty. WHEE! And it’s red…well, maroon but it’s still red. Oh, and we have full coverage insurance. It only increased our premium by $200 a year. I don’t know if that’s normal or if we just have the best insurance company in the world (also through our bank) but it’s great.
So that’s our story. No more Ford’s for this family. (Sorry, Aunt Nana, I know you are going to miss the blue beast.)
Oh, and we ran the numbers. We’ve spent, on average, about $2000 a year on our vehicles, not including gas and regular service. $2000 on purchase price and repair. So if this car last us five years we will have saved money. We’ve got another 65,000 miles on the power train warranty. And it gets double the gas mileage that the Ford got. I know “they”, whomever “they” are, say it’s cheaper to keep a used car running than to replace it with a new one, but I think they mean, a fairly nice used car vs. a brand new car of equal size/amenities. I don’t know. We will see.