I drive a black 2008 Scion TC. It’s cute, reliable, fairly inexpensive to maintain, and best of all … it’s paid off! At least it was inexpensive to maintain up until this year.
Earlier this year, my check engine light came on. When I took my car to the Toyota dealership (I know. I know.), the service advisor informed me that there was a massive recall on Scion and Toyota engines. Apparently, they were consuming way more oil than they should be. They ran an oil consumption test on my car that required me to drive it around for another thousand miles not knowing what the problem was. Sure enough, it was just what they suspected. They gave me a rental car and took care of the problem, but not before calling me to advise me about all the other services they recommended while they were in there. Since I wanted to keep my car going strong for as long as possible (and avoid that car payment), I obliged. A few days and over a thousand dollars later, I got my car back and assumed my car troubles were done for the year. If only I knew then what I know now I probably would have traded it in then and there.
Shortly after the oil issue, Houston was overcome with horrible flooding. Homes were destroyed, some for the second or third time, and some people even lost their lives. After living in places with long and wet rainy seasons, I was shocked at the devastation flooding could cause. I had never experienced that. I had also never experienced going out to my car the day after the rains, sitting down, and immediately realizing that my seats were soaking wet.
I called my insurance company right away and the Toyota dealership once again thinking it would be a quick in-and-out repair job. After all, why wouldn’t a car be waterproof? Silly me, once again. I didn’t worry about how long the job would take since my insurance was covering a rental car, but then another issue arose. There were no rental cars to be found in the state of Texas. Everyone was in the same flooded boat. Since I had to get to work, I drove my wet dog smelling car around for over a week. I would put new towels on the floors and seats every day and wipe down the condensation that had formed every time I got in. I only hope that I didn’t smell like my car every time I got out of it. Finally, a rental car came in and my car was fixed about three weeks and a $500 deductible later.
Before any of these major car problems came up, I had been meaning to change my front brake pads. After driving two rental cars, I could definitely feel the difference in the brakes and realized mine were more than just a little too light. I also hadn’t been using my trunk for a while since the trunk struts were broken and lifting it was surprisingly heavy. Since my car was in the shop already, I decided to get a quote from Toyota. I was about to embark on a move to Austin via car, so I thought it might be a good idea to have working brakes and a viable trunk. I couldn’t believe my ears when they told me it would be $400 to fix the trunk. Something seemed off to me so I did what most people would do in this situation: I Googled it. Sure enough, the part costed about sixty bucks and a You Tube video demoed how it could be done at home in five minutes. I called another mechanic who said he would charge me the cost of the parts: $67, and wouldn’t charge labor since it was a two second job. I thought I had hit the jackpot finding an honest mechanic! (Note: The previous statement is not meant to offend anyone, but I fit the stereotype of a woman who knows nothing about cars, and I usually feel like I’m being taken advantage of when it comes to car maintenance and repairs.)
I got a call from Toyota thinking they were going to tell me my car was ready. Nope, apparently I had a crack on the passenger side of the windshield. They said my insurance company could go out and repair it while it was there, so of course I accepted since it needed to be fixed. I got my car back on Monday afternoon with the intention of moving to Austin today that Friday.
The next morning, I headed over to the mechanic I thought would be my savior to fix my brakes and my trunk struts. Well, the trunk worked fine, but the brakes … not so much. It felt like I was gliding along the road and didn’t have much control of the car. I was back in the shop again on Wednesday morning. Three hours, a new master cylinder, and a drained bank account later, I was off again. And so were my brakes. The following day I was at the mechanic’s again hoping the third time would be a charm. I was at my wits’ end. I didn’t know if the mechanic was clueless, dishonest, or both. I didn’t know if I would be able to keep my moving date to Austin the next day even though I would already be paying for utilities and rent. I also had to go to work and finish packing that afternoon. At this point, I didn’t even know what good brakes were supposed to feel like anymore. I left the shop uncertain about what had happened and what to do next, but feeling like my brakes were good enough to make the two and a half hour drive to Austin the next day.
I tried to put my frustration about my car situation on the back burner. I went home, did some packing, and made my way to work. On the drive home, I heard a flapping noise following me and realized it was coming from my car. It sounded like a flat tire or something stuck in the tire. I was hoping and praying it was the latter and that whatever it was would just fly away as I was driving. No such luck. After a few minutes, my tire pressure light came on. Thinking I definitely had a flat tire, I pulled into a gas station. I walked around my car and all of the tires looked fine to me, but I figured I would put some more air in each one just to be sure. By this time, the sky looked like it was midnight even though it wasn’t even five o’ clock yet, and the wind was blowing my hair and clothes as though I was in a convertible speeding down the highway. Of course, I was wearing a dress. As I stooped next to my car, I’m pretty sure everyone around me got a show whether they wanted one or not. I was trying (without much success) to hold my dress down with one hand and fill my back tire with air with the other.
One man passed by and gawked, but then another approached me and offered to help. Before I could respond, he grabbed the pump and took over the job. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so grateful in my life. He stopped after a few seconds and said the tire looked fine. He walked around my car and noticed that they all did. Then he found it. One of my tires had a huge gash in it that looked like I had run over something sharp. I couldn’t believe I was having yet another car issue the evening before my trip. I quickly ran through my options in my head. None of them appealed to me. Take it to Toyota and pay a fortune for a new tire or take it to the clueless, fraudulent mechanic. Plus, it was already approaching closing time and I was scheduled to move at 7 a.m. the next morning. I had no idea what to do.
After filling in the blanks for Will, the kind stranger, he responded, “Follow me.”
And I did. He said he knew a place where I could get a used tire for a good price and it would still be open. Thinking only of making my deadline the next morning and saving a few bucks after hemorrhaging so much money between my car and moving expenses, I wasn’t hard to convince. I felt relieved and for someone as independent as I am, it felt kind of nice to have someone else take charge.
Unfortunately, those warm, fuzzy feelings of release didn’t last very long. As I followed Will, doubt crept, and then stormed in. What was I doing? I was following some strange guy to God knows where! I thought of all the Dateline episodes I had binge watched and scolded myself for not knowing better. Was he a good Samaritan or had he preyed on me because he saw that I was in a desperate situation? At the next red light, I got out my phone and typed up a note:
Grey Pontiac G6
(Some of the information above has been changed to protect Will’s privacy.)
Then I emailed it to myself. I had seen enough crime shows to know someone would find it if anything happened to me. The longer we drove, the more anxious I felt. Finally, I saw a tire shop in front of us at a busy intersection and I allowed myself to breathe again.
Not only did I have a slash in one tire, but I also had a piece of steel stuck in another one. One tire repair and one tire replacement later, I was finally on my way home. I would have bet money that my car troubles for the year were over. And I would have lost every penny. They weren’t even over for the week.
Finally, moving day arrived! The morning was kind and uneventful. Everything was going according to plan. I found myself behind a garbage truck, which I hate for several reasons:
- I feel claustrophobic when I’m stuck behind large vehicles in my tiny car.
- They’re usually slow.
- I’m afraid of something flying out of there and hitting me.
As I started to overtake it, my third reason became a reality. A rock flew out of the back of the truck and right into my windshield leaving two coin-sized cracks. I was grateful I wasn’t injured and could continue my drive, but I couldn’t believe I would have to repair my windshield for the second time in a month. I definitely couldn’t believe I was having another car issue period.
I wish I could say that’s where the trouble ended, but I’d be lying. Now my car is hesitating every time I start it.
I don’t know how much longer my car will be up and running. I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to spend on it. I don’t know when I’ll have a new job and be able to afford a new one. All I know is that I just hope it starts tomorrow.
Photos: Flickr/DalLuo and Marufish