My car, the mother

One thing I’ve discovered from buying brand new cars is that it starts out being your pride and joy, but eventually you start longing for the day when you can replace it. The transition is slow, but two of the biggest break points on that transition are the first big scratch or dent that you decide not to bother fixing, and the first major repair work. This weekend, I think I got both of those out of the way.

My previous car was a Toyota Corolla, bought new in 1992. The car before that was a Nissan Micra, bought new in 1985. Both of those cars gave great service, although I was actively looking for a replacement for the Micra when I accidentally totalled it, and I had to give away the Corolla to get rid of it because of cross border issues. I got 165,000+ km on the Micra, and 185,000+ km on the Corolla. Having two such well made cars, I got out of the habit of checking the oil, something I was pretty religious about when I was driving a 20 year old VW Beetle. I came to the conclusion that modern cars just *don’t* leak oil.

My current car is another Corolla, this one a 2002. It currently has 56,000 miles on it. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a bit of a “clatter” noise above 2,000 rpm. The noise sounded like my Beetle sounded when it was time to adjust the valves, but I thought you didn’t have to adjust valves on modern cars. I also hadn’t changed the oil in 15,000 miles. (Hey, I’m a busy guy. I’m also a world class procrastinator, and I don’t like spending a day without my car.) I checked the oil, and was shocked to discover none on the dipstick. I ran out and dumped two quarts in, and a day later dumped another quart in. I expected the car to sigh with relief and go back to working properly again, but it didn’t. The clatter continued. Oh well, the car was due for a state inspection, and I noticed a bit of cracking in the serpentine belt when I was dumping the oil in, so I figured I’d get that looked at, the state inspection, and ask them to look for the source of the clatter.

$300+, and they tell me they’ve done a 60,000 mile service plus the stuff I asked for, and they also think the clatter is in the crankshaft bearings, so they need me to bring the car in for several days, so they can lift the engine and look around inside. And not to worry, it’s covered under the 60,000 mile power train warranty. Ok, first reaction is “Thank god I didn’t wait a few weeks to bring it in!”, since it might have been over 60,000 miles by the time I got around to it. Second reaction is “why did they charge me for all those fluids and stuff that they replaced, when they’re going to have to replace them all when they pull the engine out?” Oh well.

Long story short (yeah, right), they kept the car from Monday morning to late Friday afternoon, and replaced the timing chain tensioner (which was leaking oil), a bad bearing in the crankshaft(?), a bad set of rings on one of the pistons (the real reason I lost so much oil, I hope) and the water pump which was leaking water. The list of items replaced takes up two sheets of paper on the work-order. Kind of makes me wonder why I never saw puddles under the car or saw or smelt burning oil when I drove, but there you have it. I’m sure if I’d had to pay for all this, it would have been more expensive than my new kayak.

So I picked my car up, and headed up the highway to Ottawa to see my daughter Alyssa. But some time during this time, the “check engine” light came on. I’m not exactly sure when, because when I’m driving long distances I tilt the steering wheel down to a position that is more comfortable, but which obscures the top half of the instrument panel (and the top half of the speedo, but the way I drive it’s probably just as well I don’t know how fast I’m going). I first noticed it this afternoon, when my odometer read 500 miles since the service they’d done. Right after I scraped the front corner panel on a pillar in the parking garage.

I never should have tried to fit into that tiny space – it was tight getting in, but when I came out I didn’t come out exactly the same way and scraped a tiny bit. A quick look indicates that it might be more paint from the pillar on my car than paint from my car on the pillar, so maybe I’ll be able to buff it out or something. I hope so.

The first year I had the car, I got a ding. I was driving on the highway behind a car towing a motor boat, and something (I think it was a beer bottle), bounced out of the boat and hit the side of my car. Yeah, motor boaters are a menace to us paddle-types even when they’re not on the water. I pushed the dent back out by hand, but some months later a big flake of paint came off when the dent had been, and some months later when the steel underneath started to rust, I went to my insurance company to see if they’d pay for a repair, and they did. That’s when my car was new and pretty, and I was willing to pay a deductable and higher premiums down the road to keep it looking good. Now I’m not so enamoured of it, and whatever I can do with buffing and maybe some touch-up paint will have to do.

Maybe I should just sell it and buy a Prius.

5 thoughts on “My car, the mother”

  1. Wait a minute. I’m driving a 1999 minivan, and you’re trading in your 2002 Corolla for a Prius.

    Oh, I don’t think so.

  2. 60K miles is not a lot for a modern car. My last two (’79 Scirocco, ’85 SAAB turbo) lasted 170K each, though they were pretty crufty late in their lives.

    Prius are cool, but it takes a lot of driving to amotize their extra cost. Consider a nice new paint job for your current car.

    Did you have to rent a car while yours was in the shop? Your insurance probably covers the cost.

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