Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Car story, unfinished

Today I got one of those phone calls I dread getting-- the mechanic calling to say that what's wrong with the car is expensive enough that they want to know if I want them to do the work, or just trade in the car.

Problems I've noticed:
• The seat belt warning light is often backwards--it's on when I'm wearing my seat belt, and off when I'm not. But not always, just some of the time, and if I unbuckle and let it roll all the way in then rebuckle it, it resets and works properly--but this sometimes only works when the car is going faster than 25 mph. Weird, but true. Since otherwise the seat belt seems to be in perfect working order, and it's just the warning switch that's wacky, and fixing it would require replacing the entire driver's side belt system (because the bad switch is apparently integrally inside the takeup reel), the mechanic advised that I could save the cash and cover the light with a piece of electrical tape. Now that I can almost always get it to flip back to normal, I don't need the tape anymore.

• The "Check Engine" light has been nearly permanently on for about six months. I've had it for regular maintenance twice in that time. The first time, they checked the car's computer and replaced all the sparkplugs. That made it go off for maybe a week. The second time, they checked the car's computer, saw that it was reporting a random misfire, then ran it for several hours straight and couldn't get it to misfire, so they simply reset the error code to see if there was anything else being reported (since the computer only reports one code at a time), but that was it. They then advised that they weren't sure what the exact cause was, but replacing the entire throttle body shouldfix it. That would cost around $7,000, but since the car seemed to be running fine enough, and that's a huge chunk of change, they didn't insist that it was absolutely necessary to do that at that time. For a while after that, the light would be on for a few days, off for a few days, but for the last several months, it's been on whenever the car's running. So I covered it with a piece of black electrical tape (left over from the seat belt light problem) so that the light wouldn't constantly catch my attention.

• The car's been steadily losing oil. For the last 9-12 months, at least, when I've taken the car in every 3 months for an oil change (and any other regular maintenance Toyota recommends), it's been 3 to 4 quarts down. Two times ago, they recommended that "everyone" (meaning "me") should check their car's dipstick once every month to month & a half. Every time I checked, it needed oil. The last time I had it in, back in October, they said to check the dipstick every time I fill up my gas, to get a better feel for how fast it's losing oil. Over the last two months, it's been losing a quart of oil about every two to three weeks, or about every 750 to 1,000 miles, and I've been dutifully replacing it. (And the car has run a LOT smoother than it used to, when it was nearly running dry in between tune-ups.) Today, when I dropped it off and explained this, the mechanic said that a newish car is not supposed to lose ANY significant amount of oil over a three month time frame. What's odd is that there're almost no oil drips on the floor of the garage--just a few droplets that are probably spill-off from when I last put oil in, but there also isn't a blue cloud of smoke coming out of the tailpipe. If it blew a hose or a gasket, there should be oil all over the ground, and if it was burning oil that fast, there should be a significant increase in the amount of visible exhaust.

• I just got the notice that my car is due for a State of Illinois vehicle emissions test. With newer cars, if the Check Engine light is on, you automatically fail. Even if that gets fixed, the car is definitely losing oil somewhere, which almost certainly means there's a higher than acceptible amount of hydrocarbons in the exhaust. So I absolutely, positively must get at least those two problems fixed for the car to pass the emissions test; failure meaning the car's essentially not legally drivable.

• Oh yeah-- and the car is due for its 75,000 mile maintenance and desperately needs new wiper blades. Woo.

So I take it in to the dealer (who runs a decently-rated repair shop) and drop it off, explain all but the seat belt (about which I've talked with them in the past and which I can now cope with on my own), and get a look of glee concern from the guy at the repairs check-in desk. The car is losing oil far too fast, and since it's not losing it on the ground, that automatically means that no matter what it is, it'll be an expensive repair. On the plus side, unlike the last two times, this guy manages to connect the dots between the oil loss and the check engine light and notes that -gasp, shock- might be related. I also made him chuckle by ending the litany of problem reports with the wiper blades.

Since I dropped it off late in the day, he said there's no way they could get it fixed that day, but that he'd try to call me with a diagnosis and estimate before 4 PM. At ten till, I get the call. They've found a problem that explains all the symptoms, and he's confident that fixing it will indeed fix the symptoms. Apparently the "rings" are completely shot, so oil is leaking into the engine and fouling the sparkplugs. Oh, and the front brakes and the air-flow sensor need to be replaced. He pulled my car's service record and since I've been a good little car owner over the past couple of years, have brought it in for regular maintenance, and have reported these exact problems in the past, he found some deals he could cut me that would slice about a thousand dollars off the total cost of fixing what's broken. After subtracting his rebates and adding in the 75,000 servicing and the wiper blades, the total cost is a bit over three thousand, plus tax. Oof-da. At least it's not the seven grand (and a "we're not sure if that's actually the problem") I was quoted last time, and while very uncomfortable, fiscally, is manageable, thanks in part to my credit limit (and my new credit card that doesn't owe late fees as long as I continue to make at least one charge a month), and the possibility of help from other sources.

So I told them to go ahead a fix it, but it'll take several days--they hope to have it done before Saturday, but can't guarantee it, so if they miss that deadline, they'll be happy to give me a loaner until they're done. If this is what it takes to get this car to last another five years, then the investment should be worth it--at that point kateshort's new car will be paid off and we can start thinking about a new car for me, and $3,000-some plus regular maintenance spread out over five years is still less than what a new car would cost over the same time span.

The oil problem probably started back in 2002 or 2003, when I wasn't as good about getting regular oil changes; I missed two in a row (so nine months between changes), and then had the car sit in front of our house for almost three weeks when we went to Germany. When I first tried to drive it after that, the engine made a horrendous noise as it ran (causing me to immediately baby it the one and half miles over to the dealer), and it hasn't been quite the same since. (On the other hand, I almost never took my previous Corolla in for regular oil changes, just when it needed any other work done, and it was still running well enough when I traded it in at age 10.) So I really hope this brings it back to what passes for normal for cars in my life.

We'll see if anything changes as they work on the car, and when I finally get it back in my hot little hands.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: car

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