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More Vehicle-Related Trauma

Yesterday, my first Valentine’s Day as a single person since 1997, my neighbors were greeted with the sight of my car being towed out of my driveway.

Not exactly how I planned to spend the day.

We’d had yet another lake effect snowstorm. All of the local weather outlets always say that these storms will affect Berrien County, never my county, and they always end up hitting my county the worst. I just expect now that I will be shoveling even for storms my area isn’t supposed to get.

So I went out yesterday to shovel. Of course, it was also really cold (single digits) and I’d actually meant to go out and start my car on Sunday but I forgot. I finished shoveling, came in, then felt the car keys in my coat pocket. I’d once again forgotten to start the car. I almost decided not to bother but then I shrugged, put my boots back on, and headed out.

I turned the key and … nothing. Just clicking. I was sure it would start on the second try, but no. The car absolutely would not start.

I sat there, stunned. This was actually a scenario I’d asked Dave about back in 2018 when I was panicking, after he was first diagnosed. We had a different car back then and it was giving us a lot of trouble, so I asked him – what would I do if he was not here, and the car wouldn’t start? I can’t even remember his answer, to be honest.

I surprised myself by not freaking out. It helped that I really had nowhere to be. So I came in and went to the AAA website. I was hoping I could do this with the minimum of telephone interaction. It turned out to be really easy to request service using their website. They said it would be 45 minutes, and there was even a little map showing the progress of the person coming to help me.

As I waited, I did a search on things that could be the problem. Battery and alternator were the main results, and I figured it probably just needed to be jumped. But just in case, I wrote down the address of my mechanic (and then searched to see if AAA will take your car to the mechanic of your choice, or only one that is AAA sanctioned). This was all completely new to me – I’ve had AAA for 7 years and never used it.

The time on the website was down to 35 minutes and then it changed back to 45 minutes. Apparently it took 10 minutes for someone to respond to the call. So I figured I had time for a quick lunch, and then I hung around by the phone.

With about 25 minutes to go, the phone rang – a number I didn’t recognize. I answered and struggled through the call. (Seriously, the phone is hell for me. I hear them talking but it just doesn’t make sense to me, so I have to wait for the captions to catch up.) The guy said he was here to look at my car and I said, “Here? Like right now?!” He sure was! The website was very wrong about the progress of his travel, it turns out. But no complaints – he was very early instead of very late.

He tried to jump the car and it would not start. Now I was freaking out. He asked where I wanted the car towed, and I gave him my mechanic’s info and then asked what I should do. Should I walk to the mechanic’s? He said no, just call and let them know the car was coming. Then they would call me when the car was done; I didn’t need to be physically present.

So yay, another phone call. I suffered through that, and Tom said he’d be on the lookout for the car. My girl (I call her Nellie, she’s a 2012 Nissan Sentra) got loaded up and driven away around 2 pm.

Then I just sat and fretted. I couldn’t really do anything because I wanted to stay right by the phone (it is a voip captioned phone that sits on my desk). I started really freaking myself out by thinking, what if the car can’t be fixed? How will I look for a new car, when I can’t drive to look at cars? (I still don’t know the answer to that horrible potential situation.)

The shop closes at 5 and by 4:30 I hadn’t heard anything, so I figured I wouldn’t hear until the next day. Then at 4:45, Tom called. Another struggle through a conversation, but I figured out that he had put a battery charger on the car for a while, and then it started. They tested the alternator then, and it was fine. But the battery tested bad, so I needed a new battery. I was just so freaking relieved that it was fixable that I didn’t even care what it cost to fix it. Just fix my car, please!

Tom said it shouldn’t take long, and I said, “You mean … it will be done today?” And he confirmed that. Then I said that I had to walk over (figuring I would leave right away to try to get there by the time they were done with the car) and Tom said, “Oh no, I’ll come and get you.” I said, “Are you serious?!” and he laughed and said yes. So about 20 minutes later, he called again and said he was on his way.

He picked me up, we drove to the shop, I paid for the car, and the whole horrible thing was over about 4-1/2 hours after it started. What a way to spend Valentine’s Day! On the other hand, I was so busy worrying that I didn’t spend one second feeling bad about being alone on that day.

So many things to be thankful for! That I have AAA, that it was a fixable problem, that I found out on Monday (when my mechanic was open) and not Sunday (when he isn’t). That he actually came to pick me up! That I could afford to fix this without any real financial burden. Yes, it sucked that it happened at all but gosh, what if I had been out somewhere by myself and the car didn’t start when I got ready to drive home?! I mean, it could have been so much worse.

I will be honest, I’m getting some PTSD where the car is concerned. I would be happy to never drive again, because this stuff is getting to be too much. But I got back on the darn horse today – I went out for a long drive and then went shopping. But if I could have a few months free of any kind of vehicular situation, that would be swell.


The Hazards of Hazel, Pt. 2

We’d had a few cold days so far in November, but the first morning it dipped into the 20s brought a sense of déjà vu. Just like in January, we went out to run errands. It was Saturday morning, and our first stop was going to be the credit union.

Earlier that week, I’d gone to do a direct transfer of my IRA CD from my bank in Illinois to my new credit union in Michigan. The IRA matured on Nov. 10 so I went on that day; the personal banker in Illinois had told me it could all be done via fax. When we got there and they called the Illinois bank, the very same woman I’d dealt with there said that no, it had to be sent via snail mail. You get a 10 day grace period to get your money in the new account without it being treated (and taxed) as a withdrawal, so this was all making me nervous. I assumed this would be a bank-to-credit union transaction, but instead my old bank mailed me a check for the amount of my IRA. I’d received the check on Friday and was desperate to get it deposited at the credit union before my grace period was up.

So that was important, and also, we were down to the last quarter of our last roll of toilet paper. NOT cool. So purchasing toilet paper ranked a very close #2 on our list of things to do that day.

We got out to the car, and it was just like before. The car would start and then die. We were completely stunned.

Dave opened the hood and looked around, and came back in a while later carrying the remnants of an acorn or walnut – some kind of nut. He was incensed – there was evidence that chipmunks (which we have a BUNCH of) had been inside the engine. He was sure they’d chewed on wiring, at the very least.

So I spent the rest of the day freaking out and looking up ways to keep chipmunks out of our car engine. Dave looked for a new mechanic, and we were pretty much stuck because the mechanic he chose was not open on the weekend.

I really wanted to rent a car so that we could definitely get to the bank on Monday, as well as my doctor appointment. You see, I had an eye doctor appointment Monday at 10 am – I was going to finally get my eyes dilated (which I was nervous about) and I also assumed I was ordering my new contact lenses that day as well. (I ended up ordering them online because they never mentioned ordering them at the office – no big deal.)

I also wanted a place that would come pick us up, since we didn’t have any way to get to the car rental place. The rental place in our town was closed on the weekend, but there was one at the mall in Mishawaka, IN that was open Saturday and Sunday. They had closed at 1 pm and it was 1:05, but I asked Dave to just call and see if they might answer the phone – I wanted to see if they would be willing to drive to Michigan to pick us up on Sunday.

In a crazy stroke of luck, a guy did answer the phone – he’d forgotten his cell phone and was nice enough to answer when he heard the store phone ringing. Although we were about a mile out of their range, after Dave explained our predicament he said they’d be happy to come pick us up on Monday. !!

The next day, Sunday, Dave did some messing around with the car and managed to get it to start. But we still really didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking a chance on it on Monday morning. So we stuck with the rental car plan. They picked us up on time and that all went well. We even stopped and got toilet paper on our way home Sunday afternoon.

We did have some car rental excitement, though. We had a 2013 Mazda with a keyless entry/start, something we’d never seen before. There was no manual in the car, and we could NOT figure out how to get it to start. I had to use my phone to look online and find out we had to press on the brake while pushing the ‘start’ button on the car. Talk about making us feel old and out of touch!

On Monday morning, Dave was again able to get our car started. We didn’t know how long it would last, so he ran in to call the mechanic shop while the car was running. The guy said he couldn’t even look at it until Wednesday, but sure, we could bring it by and drop it off. I quickly got ready and we ran out to the rental car. The plan was to drop off our car, then go to the bank and make the deposit, then come home and hang out for 30 or so minutes until it was time to go back out for my eye doctor appointment.

We got out to the rental car, pressed ‘unlock’ on the key fob, and nothing happened. The car would not unlock, no matter what we did. We found the key inside the fob and tried that; it turned but would not unlock the doors. We spent 10 minutes, freezing, running around this car like idiots trying to get it open. All the while our car was just idling in the driveway, and we had no idea if it would keep running or just die.

Dave ran in to call the rental center; they gave us the number of roadside assistance. He called them and they wanted to charge us $55 to come and unlock the car. Now Dave is yelling and I’m panicking. I ran back outside and pressed more buttons. I noticed this small gray rubber circle on the car door, so I tried pressing it while I hit ‘unlock’ on the fob … and the door opened! I flew back inside and told Dave, he hung up with the unhelpful roadside assistance people, and we were FINALLY in business.

We got all our errands done, I got the all-clear on my eyes (no retinal tears, yay) and then it started snowing. We got over 15 inches of snow that night.

We drove that rental car on Monday, a short while on Thursday, and then back to the rental place on Friday. $250 for that … still kills me to think about it. (But at least we had the car to use if we had needed it the rest of the week, I guess.)

The mechanic could not really figure out what was going on with the car. The code it was giving had to do with the camshaft position sensor AGAIN, so we were wrong in blaming the chipmunks. They had stored some nuts in the car, but hadn’t chewed wiring after all. He could get the car going, and then the next morning it wouldn’t start again. After Dave talked to him, he decided to go to a junkyard on Thursday and look for some connections and harnesses and other car parts. He did find a few, and it was just a little over $3 for everything. After that, we stopped off to talk to the mechanic that afternoon.

The car had been sitting out in the cold (and it was COLD that week) all day, so while we were there the mechanic went out to try starting the car. It started right up, so we all called it good. We paid him $60 for the work he’d done rewiring the connector.

Friday morning, Dave went out to start our car and again, it would not start. He messed a bit with the CSP connection and it started right up. He decided he knew enough about the problem that he would just fix it himself. We took the rental car back, glad to have that expense behind us. (Well, I still have to find a way to pay that credit card off next month, ugh.)

Every morning, he’d try the car. If it was warmer outside, the car would start fine. If not, he’d have to mess with stuff to get it started. It always ran fine once it started, and would start up with no problem for the rest of the day. It was just that first morning start that gave us trouble.

Dave has made new harnesses and ordered new parts and tried so many different things. The last thing he did seems to maybe have worked – she started fine this morning and yesterday as well. But it’s also been a little warmer here, in the 30s both mornings. We aren’t really sure if she’ll start up okay if the temperature drops into the 20s or below.

Incidentally, we did consider getting a second car as a backup. We have enough money to get a beater that could just get us around if Hazel is in the shop. But my GOSH – car insurance in Michigan is insane. We found one we were going to look at, and I asked Dave to call our insurance agent for a quote before we headed out the door. He was sure it would be cheap just for the most basic coverage (i.e., not comprehensive). But no, it would have been an additional $70/month – something we just are not prepared to spend right now. Buying a new car to replace Hazel altogether is also out of our price range.

So that’s where we’re at now. I guess either she’s fixed or, if not, we’ll keep jiggling her connections until spring arrives. But I do believe we owe the chipmunks an apology.

The Hazards of Hazel, Pt. 1

Just about a year ago, I wrote about our car not starting. This was not long after we transitioned to a one-car household, and it was in Illinois in January – super cold and snowy, and my mom was in Florida until April. (She was our go-to person if we needed a ride home from the car shop.) We went out to the car, Dave turned the key, the car started, and then it promptly died. Eventually we had the car towed to a nearby shop, and they fixed something called the camshaft position sensor. The car was ready the next day, and we took a cab to the shop to pick it up. Crisis averted!

When we decided to move to Michigan this summer, we knew we’d be making many trips back and forth from Illinois to Michigan – to look for housing, to visit family, etc. Our car had over 100,000 miles on it when we bought it (it was only four years old at the time but the guy obviously drove a lot). We never knew if the former owner had done the usual maintenance things that you should do at 100,000 miles, and although we barely drove the car in the ensuing six years, it still had a good number of miles over 100,000 by this past summer.

So Dave took it to a mechanic he trusted, told him that we needed this car to be reliable for a number of years more, and to do what needed to be done to make her super-solid. It was extremely, extremely expensive, but still less money than buying a new car. We love old Hazel and we would like to keep her around for a good long time. She got all kinds of new, much-needed innards. Then Dave asked the mechanic to check out the camshaft position sensor; he wasn’t crazy about the way the other guys had fixed it back in January. (I believe the connector was broken and they had just put a cable tie around it to hold it together.)

Well, that turned what was a 2 or 3 day job into a TWO WEEK job. I’m not exaggerating – eventually the mechanic gave us one of his extra cars to drive because he knew we were without a car and we needed to travel to Michigan numerous times to do house-related stuff. (My mom had generously loaned us her car for at least two of those trips.) We thought we were never getting our car back. The CSP has a connector and/or harness that needed to be fixed, but the only way to get the part from Hyundai was to buy a huge panel or something that cost $1,500. So the mechanic did a workaround and finally got it working, after trying (unsuccessfully) to find the part in junkyards and who knows where else.

So we got Hazel back and she was running like a champ. We were SO relieved. Then on the drive here, the official final drive from Illinois to Michigan with the cats in the car as well as our computers, food, etc., she started to overheat. While we were stuck, not moving, in traffic on the expressway in Gary, Indiana.

I still get PTSD remembering that, so let’s move right along. We noticed it was worse if we had the air conditioning on, so we turned it off (even though it was 90 degrees and humid) and sweated our way to our new house. That was on a Friday. We were stuck at the (empty) house for the weekend, since we didn’t know what was wrong with our (only) car and didn’t want to drive it anywhere.

Dave called around and found a mechanic on Monday – basically he just checked Yelp reviews and took a chance. Hazel ended up getting a new radiator and we, once again, emptied our (sobbing) wallets. Dave was able to wait at the shop while they did the repair, and then drive her home.

About a week later, we were driving along in air-conditioned glory when I noticed the temperature gauge starting to creep up again. This was habit for me by now – we’d drive somewhere in the car, and every couple of minutes I’d glance at the temperature gauge to see if it had moved above the middle line. I pointed it out to Dave and he was furious.

You see, he’d asked the guy to check the thermostat, but apparently he didn’t. Dave pulled the thermostat and could see that it was sticking, so he bought a new one, installed it, and the temperature has been fine in the car ever since. We’ll never know if we really needed a radiator or not, but Dave hasn’t taken Hazel back to see that guy and never will.

After a month or so, I started to relax when we drove in the car. I really felt that all the questionable bits had been replaced, buffed, shined, and fixed. I had complete confidence when we drove her around Michigan, back and forth to Illinois – anywhere, really.

Then winter came, and it got cold.


… to be continued, tomorrow hopefully.

On the Road Again

It’s been a long time since Dave and I took a road trip.  Usually we make at least one trip to Michigan each year, but when gas prices became astronomical we were hesitant to hit the road.  It was one thing when gas was $1.99 a gallon, but at one point it was nearly $5/gallon here in Illinois.  Crazy!

We realized, though, that we definitely never made a Michigan trip last year, at all, and really couldn’t remember when our last trip was.  At this point we’re a little numb to the gas prices (when we left yesterday, we got a few gallons at a station near our house and it was $4.04 a gallon…we didn’t even blink an eye).  So we made plans with Dave’s sister, Laurie, got up bright and early yesterday and then, as always, didn’t actually get on the road until 7:30 am.

Depending on which way we go, traffic conditions and how many times we stop, we usually can make it there in four to four and a half hours.  We were heading to the tollway and the first entrance is always unmanned; you just toss your coins in the basket and go.  This toll used to be about 20 cents (I swear it wasn’t that long ago!) but we couldn’t remember how much it was now.  Dave was thinking 80 cents, which sounded about right to me, but I decided to check on my phone’s browser before we got there, since we weren’t exactly rolling in change at that point and you can’t toss dollar bills into the basket.

“Um…honey…that toll is $1.50 now!”  I looked at Dave in shock.  “I don’t think we have $1.50 in coins…do we?!”  A quick glance confirmed that no, our coin situation was not that flush, so when we stopped for gas Dave went in to buy a lotto ticket (no, unfortunately we didn’t win) and got some change for the toll.  Crisis averted.

We started driving and the first toll came up, and it was $2.50.  We both started freaking out.  “What?!  This toll used to be 40 cents!  What’s going on?!”  We were like two old-timers reliving the good old days, but really, I swear it wasn’t that long ago that this toll was truly 40 cents.  We begrudgingly paid and went on; the next toll was $1.90 which wasn’t quite as painful.  We started joking about the fact that we were going to just bring $10 to cover tolls there and back, and it’s a good thing we went with $20 instead since we still had the Indiana Toll Road ahead of us.  It made me think of when I was a teenager and I asked my dad for money to buy new jeans…and he handed me a $10 bill.  Now I can see how he so quickly lost his frame of reference as far as what things cost.  Sorry, Dad!

As we got to the last toll in this particular stretch, we could see the warning signs letting us know a toll booth was approaching…and that this toll was $3.80.  Well, that just blew our minds.  $3.80!  For one toll!  What was the world coming to?!  (I’ll tell you what…it’s the tollway’s way of forcing people to buy an I-Pass, which we don’t have because we use the tollways once every two or three years, apparently.)  As we had an animated discussion about this latest toll, Dave said, “Uh…what just happened?  What happened to the toll booth?”  I glanced up and saw that we were sailing through the section of the road that said ‘Open Road Tolling,’ leaving the toll booth quickly receding in our rearview mirror.

“Huh,” I mused, “I think we just blew through that toll.  Now what?!”  Luckily I saw a sign coming up that gave a website where you could go to pay an unpaid toll.  I grabbed my Field Notes book and jotted it down, along with the amount of the toll.  Pro Tip:  If you do this as well, also note the time of day and the location of the toll booth.  You’ll need those things when you pay the toll online.  *deep sigh*

After we drove along for a while, we were in the middle of another good discussion when Dave said, “Hey…is that the exit for the Indiana Toll Road over there?”  And sure enough, there it was, fading quickly in the distance to my right as we sailed on by.  Dave shrugged.  “Oh well, no biggie…we’ll take 12, it’s not much longer than the toll road, believe it or not.”

So we got on US Rt 12 and drove along, until we reached Niles, Michigan.  (This is the area we want to move to, if we can ever sell our freaking house, for the love of God.  Ahem.)  It was 10:30 our time, but 11:30 Michigan time, and we’d been up since 5:30 so we were getting hungry.  We figured we’d stop for a quick lunch and eat in the car so we could get right back on the road.  (As a side note, when I pulled out my phone in Michigan, I noticed that it automatically switched to the new time zone.  I don’t get out much, and I’m not a big cell phone user, so this may happen with all the phones now for all I know.  In any case, I got a huge kick out of it.  I’m easily entertained.)

We had stopped for gas not long before we stopped for lunch, since gas was 30 cents cheaper in Michigan (what’s up with that, Illinois?!) and our tank, at three-quarters full,  was filled up more than I’d seen it in many months.  We usually put in about $15-$20 at a time, and that gives us maybe a quarter of a tank if we’re lucky.  I pointed it out to Dave, as we waited for our food to come to the window at the drive-through.  “Look how high our gas gauge is!  I can’t remember the last time I saw it that high.  And hey, how come the temperature gauge is as high as the gas gauge?”

Sure enough, the temperature gauge was hovering just below the ominous red area next to the H.  It’s normally below the mid-point between Cool and Hot.  We got our food and got on the road, both watching the temperature gauge nervously.  As we drove, it went back down to the normal position.  Still though, every time we came to a stop, we’d watch that gauge.  It was impossible to look away.

Stopping at a stop light wasn’t a big deal, but we got stopped at a train not much further down the road and at that point we watched the needle creep up again.  Dave had noticed this happening back in April when he was working on the car (replacing the starter and, ultimately, replacing the battery which turned out to be the real culprit).  At the time, he did some stuff with ground wires and (mumble mumble car stuff) and it seemed to be okay.  This was the first time we noticed an issue with it again…of course, when we were on a long car trip!

I was reading the manual for the car, which mentioned something about a … fan belt, maybe?  Some kind of belt, anyway.  So Dave pulled over and checked that, and it was fine.  We drove some more and he decided maybe the radiator was dirty, so we stopped at a self-serve car wash and he rinsed it off, then added both our bottles of water to the radiator.  After that, the needle didn’t go too high but we couldn’t help but watch the gauge every time we came to a stop and the car was idling.

Because of all our stops, it ended up taking more like five and a half hours to get there.  But it was so worth it!  Time just flies when we visit, and I absolutely love visiting with my sister and brother in law, my nieces and nephews and their kids – our visits never last long enough for us!  When it came time to head back home, Dave and I agreed that we can’t let so much time pass between visits.  The gas was really not bad at all, and at least now we have a realistic expectation with the crazy tolls.

Speaking of which, on the way home we had the bright idea to just bypass the three most expensive tolls since I was already going to have to pay online for that first one from earlier in the day.  I did jot down the amounts and the toll locations when we were coming home, but not the time we passed each toll booth.  I just got done paying the tolls online and believe me, it would have been a faster process if I’d had all the right information!

In more positive road trip news, I brought along some CDs in case we wanted to listen to music.  We generally don’t listen to the same music – Dave is a country boy and I’m an 80s/90s alternative girl.  We do, however, both like ‘classic rock’ (I guess that’s the term) so I grabbed Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones, Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits, and Dave had a compilation with Bob Seger, the Eagles, etc.  Normally we don’t listen to music in the car because in order to hear the music well, we have to turn it up pretty loud…and then we can’t hear if we talk to each other.  And obviously, we like to talk to each other!

Normally though, we spend the four (or so) hours going there doing nothing but talking.  At night, we talk a lot for the first hour and then as it gets darker (and we get more tired) we drive in silence for longer stretches.  So I broke out the CDs for those quiet stretches.  This was the first time since I had Clear Voice added to my CIs last summer that we drove in the car with music playing.  We had the volume up to where we could both hear well, and then Dave pointed out some deer on the side of the road.  (And he told me to send them vibes so they would stay there, and not in front of us on the highway!)  I realized I could hear him really well – his voice just came through nice and clear, and the music faded into the background while he was speaking.  It was a fun way to cap off a great day!

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