Sunday, May 10, 2015

Adventures in Car Repair

First and foremost, Friends, you need to understand that I am not a car person.  I cannot tell you the make or model of a car just by looking at it, save for the Volkswagen Beetle.  I define things as: car, truck, SUV, or motorcycle.  If you need a better description than, say, "blue car" you best hope I was close enough to read the model written on the car.  I have no problem admiring pretty cars or old cars, but I don't have a real interest in them.  It's not one of my passions.

The tl;dr version: as long as it can get me from Point A to Point B reliably I am happy.  I honestly do not care beyond that.

So imagine my level of consternation when I saw this happen on my way back to work Wednesday afternoon:

No, no, NOOO!!!

I was not a happy camper when my "check engine" light popped on while I was driving. What new fresh hell was this little light about to introduce into my world?

Not being a car person, I decided I needed to go straight to the source for information.  No, not Google.  I broke out my trusty Owner's Manual, which I always keep in the glove compartment because I am that big a geek.  

All the latest technology, kids!  It even has a broken cassette player, meaning I have to listen to the actual radio.  The horror!

So I turn to the glossary looking for "check engine light".  Nothing.  Seriously?  Now I have to spend time flipping through all the nonsense in the beginning to find the picture of the panel to find out what they are calling this freaking light.  Apparently it is not called the check engine light, but the "Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL)".   You couldn't just go with the one car term I know?  Fine, be that way.

I flip to page 1-49 to find out what they have to say about the ominous Malfunction Indicator Light:

Malfunction Indicator Light:  
This light illuminates when there is a malfunction of an exhaust gas related component, and the system is not functioning properly so that the exhaust gas regulation values are not satisfied.  This light will also illuminate when the ignition key is turned to the "ON" position, and will go out in a few seconds. If it illuminates while driving, or does not illuminate when the ignition key is turned to the "ON" position, take your car to your nearest authorized Hyundai dealer and have the system checked.

Not helpful.  All it tells me is there is a problem with the exhaust system and to take it in.  No helpful "Here's How to Fix It Yourself" tips.

Screw that.  I'm not driving this thing all the way to the dealership if there is a chance I could fix it myself.  First of all, my dealership is like a 45 minute drive away down major roads.  What if the thing decides it wants to explode or something?  I don't want to drive it that far, and I really don't want to play a rousing edition of "Which Major Roadway Would Be The Best For The Car To Break Down?  Bonus Round: How Many Drivers Can You Piss Off In The Process When You Block Traffic?"  

As an extra special twist, this had to happen while my parents are out of town.  If the car won't start after work I am going to have to impose on a friend to get home.  I really don't want to have to do that.

Maybe it was hubris, or the bliss of ignorance, but I decided that if the car actually started after work I would head to Walgreens and buy every conceivable car fluid that my trusty Owner's Manual said could be easily checked as maintenance on the car.  Friends, I know you must be thinking, "Um, hello?  Why not go to AutoZone or the like?"  Yeah.  There's no point in that.  I might be delusional thinking I could find a quick fix to this problem, but even I know that I have no clue what 99% of the stuff in a store like that is for and wouldn't be able to do anything with it.  We are talking very small-scale dreams of fixing this problem.

Car fluid haul from Walgreens.  Let's do this thing!

Armed with my car fluids and my trusty Owner's Manual I decided to give it my best shot.  I wish I could say I jumped right in there and did something awesome, but I totally started by refilling the wiper fluid.  Yeah, I know that had zero relevance to the problem at hand, but it is the one thing I already knew how to do, and I needed the auto-maintenance confidence boost.

I checked all the levels, consulting my Owner's Manual.  Oohh -- the coolant is low!  I totally bought coolant!  I can do this!  So I follow the instructions, hoping that when I start the car the Malfunction Indicator Light will magically go out.


And every other fluid was exactly where it was supposed to be.  

Shit.  A quick fix is obviously not in the stars.

So I text my parents to tell them the news.  They are due back in town the next day, and then my Dad will come over to my house to check it out.  He knows cars.  If he can't figure out the problem then I am screwed and the car will have to go to the car doctor.

And then I texted my friend who literally has the exact same car in a different color, except everything seems to break on his car first.  It's like I get a preview of all the problems that are headed my way.  Had he had the "Malfunction Indicator Light" randomly pop on while he was driving?  Of course he had!  It was a problem with the alternator.  F&*king perfect.

I took part of the next afternoon off, as I really didn't want to drive the car any more than I had to with the stupid light on. I don't have  a good track record with cars.  My first car died a painful death in my parents' driveway on a cold winter's afternoon.  It got me home from work with its last gasp of life, and when I turned it off smoke billowed from beneath the hood and green goo oozed down the driveway.  It was toast.  Repairing it would cost more than the car was worth.  The car that replaced that one?  Almost had it paid off when a tree fell on it while it was parked in a driveway.  Totaled it.  That's how I got to my current car, and as it is a well-aged model I was afraid this was the end of the road.

My Dad came over the next afternoon to check out my baby.  He couldn't find anything wrong with.  It was driving perfectly fine.  Then he went to check and make sure the gas cap was on all of the way.  Seriously?  I'm kind of insulted, but I am more than willing to be utterly humiliated if that solves the problem.  Gas cap was on nice and tight so at least I was spared that moment.

Then he said we were going to trade vehicles, and he would take my car to his friend's garage the next day and have him look at it.  No biggie, right?  Wrong!  He drives a truck.  A truck that is only a few months old and still has "new car smell" in it.  

My new ride, for approximately 24 hours

My Dad has always had trucks.  I've driven them before, and the other models were even bigger than this one -- one even had 2 gas tanks.  However, driving a truck is still a lot different from driving my little car around.

You want to be a paranoid wreck?  Drive someone else's new vehicle around. You will realize exactly how terrifyingly bad some of the other people actually are on the road.  Right of way?  Just an idea!  Driving while holding the phone to one ear and drinking coffee?  Sure -- steering is optional, right?  It was an eye-opening experience to be driving at a higher vantage point, able see what other people were actually doing when they were supposed to be focused on operating a motor vehicle.  I only drove that bad boy to and from work and that was it.  I was not venturing out any further than I had to, convinced that would be the day some asshole decided to hit me.

This morning I got my car back, safe and sound.  Do you know what was wrong with it?  Nothing.  NOTHING!!!  I spent the better part of the last 72 hours worrying about a car that had absolutely nothing wrong it.  The indicator light is now off, and the guy said not to worry about it unless it kicked on again, then bring it back in.

I'm happy, Friends.  Really, I am.  I didn't want my car to be badly broken, or beyond repair. I didn't want to have to pay for expensive repairs.   I'm so glad Shelly (Yes, I named my car. Keep your comments to yourself.) is home again.  But I kind of wish there had been a tiny, cheap, easily fixable something wrong to make all of the worry -- and the in convenience to my Dad -- worth all of the trouble.

And you best believe I am going to be watching that Malfunction Indicator Light like a hawk, at least for a little while.  My track record with cars makes this feel way too good to be true.

*But I'm still really happy my car is back, safe and sound.

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