Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Musings: The Tale of the One Car Family

{Before you dig in - a warning. You may not care about the death of our car, but writing this was therapeutic. So if you're thinking "who cares?!" come back later for your fill of babies, recipes, & money saving tips, but today, I needed to pay my respects to my old friend, Cami the Camry.}

Alternative titles for this post:
  • Death of a Good Friend
  • Car Troubles...The Ultimate Test of a Marriage
  • Tow Truck Drivers Need Hugs, too! 
That's right folks, our trusty Camry bit the dust on Friday. And Cami couldn't have called it quits in Chapel Hill. Oh no. She decided to wait until we got 80 miles from home before she started shaking, clanking, rattling, and well, dying very rapidly. I don't wish a dying engine on anyone.
It's not that we weren't expecting it. In fact, she started rattling back in April. At that time we learned that our engine had a bit of a sludge issue, that despite our regular maintenance, was not uncommon for '98 Camry engines. Although we'd been faithfully caring for her for 5+ years, having repairs done when the mechanic told us to, keeping up with our oil changes, checking her oil, giving her lots of good highway driving, etc, we were just out of luck. Facing a problem that apparently, other 98 Camry owners have before. I soon discovered that if this little problemo would have manifested 4 years ago, Toyota may have helped us defray some of the cost to repair. I tried my best back in April. Wrote letters, made calls, offered to send in oil change receipts, but no dice. The door had closed on that opportunity.
So like I said. We were expecting it. We knew that a new engine or a new car would be in our future, but we were determined to drive her until she died. So we drove her. Foolishly. To Michigan in July. To Florida 2 weekends ago. On lots of little road trips in between (the mountains, Winston, Charlotte). And we tried to go to Tennessee this past weekend for Rhythm & Roots bluegrass festival, before Cami kicked it in Kernersville, NC.

I won't bore you with all of the details of how it went down - it involved 2 visits with a tow truck, a closed highway on the way home (hint: the highway that goes to our house), about a 100 mosquito bites from standing outside waiting for our tow(s), a big bill, a lot of unpleasant noises, a few tears (but surprising not many), a car being pushed by my hubs & a good Samaritan to safety, and a lot of other annoying details--- but since today is a "musing" day, I figure I'll share some things I learned through the whole ordeal:
  • Even though we have a dead car in our parking lot, we are so thankful that we were safe. And that we broke down in Winston-Salem instead of West Virginia in July on our way to/from Michigan, or in South Carolina over Labor Day going to/from Florida, or heck in Tennessee (where we were headed). We truly feel blessed & that God was watching over us. And I don't say that lightly. I mean it.
  • A dying engine sounds extremely frightening. What's more frightening is stalling in the middle of an exit ramp while cars zoom by. And watching your husband & a kind stranger push your car in the rearview, while you steer. Not a good sign.
  • I am surprised that I  held it together for a solid 3 hours on the side of the road before crying. I didn't say that I didn't cry (come on now, I should get a few tears out of the ordeal), but I was incredibly calm for an incredibly long time. Can't say that for the ensuing days, but I think I felt a peace about it all. Plus, I was with Matt, which gave me calm (I would have been a mess had I been alone).  That hubs, he comes in handy.
  • Being nice to strangers pays off.  We were kind to the gas station lady, who knew our tow truck driver, which turned out to work out for us. We were nice to the tow truck driver, which apparently is pretty unusual  (I guess most people who require a tow are usually pretty irritated & take it out on the driver). We hooked him up with a Diet Dr. Pepper we had in our cooler for our roadtrip, got to know him as we chit-chatted about his life on our long ride home, and made a point to be kind even though we were annoyed with our situation. It wasn't his fault! And you know what? He was super sweet to us. I mean really, really kind. I was so thankful for his kindness that I gave him a hug when he dropped us off. We felt like old friends by then. At the end of the night, when his big red truck pulled away, we called AAA to give him a big thumbs up. 
  • We're thankful to have family & friends who've been more than willing to help us throughout this ordeal. Our parents were there to make phone calls & look up auto repair shops while we were stranded in Winston. After we made the decision to tow the car back home, they connected us with other family, friends, neighbors, mechanics who could lend us their expertise as we tried to make decisions on next steps. Our friends & neighbors have shared their experiences & advised us of our options. It's such a blessing to have people who've been in our shoes before to talk to. Who can help identify the important questions to ask, who can make recommendations, who can help us think through a stressful situation.
  • We're not ready to junk her.  If we junk Cami, we'll get a couple hundred bucks. Ouch. The labor & parts for a used or remanufactured engine will run us anywhere from $3500 to 6 grand.  Is it worth it for a 12 year old, almost 140k mile car? Maybe. Probably. The car has been well maintained. It's safe. Gets amazing gas mileage. We've taken good care of it, after all Cami is our only baby (besides my houseplants. sad). She has lots of shiny new parts that we just put in a few short months ago (cause we wanted to drive that car for the next decade). New brakes. A new steering rack. New tires. And a slew of other odds & ends that this non-gearhead can't remember. Oh. And she had a full tank of gas. That's right. We filled her up just few miles before she ate it. Thanks, friend.
  • We have resolved to be a one car family... for the time being.....We're not quite ready to pull the trigger on the repairs nor are we ready to buy a new/used car as don't know where we'll be & what our car needs will be in a year. Matt may be jumping on a bus to get to dental school every day for the next four years & a second car would be frivolous and wasteful. For the next few months, while we're "in-limbo" waiting to hear our fate, we can make do. Right now, we're fortunate enough to have the Jeep & to both work within a couple of miles from home. On days I'm in the office, we can carpool or Matt can ride his bike thanks to a bike path that pretty much connects him door to door. (I work off a pretty busy road, so biking is not in the cards for me.) We barely even used the Camry when she was our only car in Chicago, so I'm sure we can handle 3-9 months of living simply yet again.
  • We still love the Camry. She's taken us on all sorts of adventures - to Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, Florida, all over North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, & lots of other wonderful places. I piled in tons of high school YL girls in her backseat for weekly lunches in my college days. She magically fixed herself after I backed her into a building. For reals. After 6 months, the huge dent on my bumper that I had resigned to live with just popped out one day. She's blessed us with phenomenal gas mileage (trust me: I calculate it on road trips). She's been a stable, good & reliable (until Friday) fixture in our little lives. And we love her. May she her engine rest in auto heaven.

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