Buying and Maintaining a Car
It Never Rains, it Pours....

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By nickelsworth
June 1, 2005

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I'm a "used car" guy, which means I end up having more than my fair share of car trouble. Well, more than my "new car" friends and coworkers have anyways....

Two weeks ago, I had my fuel pump replaced. I had noticed that the truck was taking more time than usual to start, and my mechanic said it was only a matter of time before it wore out. It's one of those pumps that's up above the gas tank, so labor was significant. The total damage was slightly over $700. Oh well, I say, that's part of owning an "older" vehicle (it's a '98, so almost 8 model years old).

This past Friday, I'm back at work for the first day after a weeklong work trip to Puerto Rico, when the phone rings. It's DW, and there's a problem with the van - she was stopped at a light, the light turned green, she started to go and heard a loud "THUNK". The van wouldn't move. So she motions to cars behind her to go around, but apparently they're not seeing her, so she puts the van in park and gets out to go tell them to go around. As she's doing this, the van, with my 3 year old inside, starts to roll forward into the intersection. She jumps back in and stops it after it had traveled 6-10 feet. Tow truck comes to take van to shop, DW's friend comes to take her and son home, and I meet them at home.

She was planning on taking a 6 hour trip in the van that afternoon, so it's a "blessing in disguise" kind of thing that it happened in our town at 11am, rather than 2/3 of the way to Des Moines at 6pm.

I'm thinking transmission, big repair bill, etc. Get a call from the shop that it's not as bad as we feared, just a broken axle (hard to believe it broke with that relatively little strain) and he'll have it done by 2pm. The van is a '98 also. Just shy of $300 for the tow and the repair, and DW is off on her trip just a little later than planned.

So I'm off from work today, getting things done around the house while it's quiet, and I get a call from my boss that he needs me to come in to sign something. Fine, I'm on my way, I need to go to an appointment in that direction anyways. As I'm leaving work to go to my appointment, I'm making a gentle left turn when "CRUNCH grind grind grind". Since I've had ball joints break on me before, I didn't even have to look out the window, but I did. I'm only a block from work (blessing in disguise thing again), so I walk back and call my mechanic, who has a good laugh at my expense. He tells me to have it towed to him, or have a local shop take care of it if they have time, cause he's swamped and he might not get to it today. But, he says, if I have a local shop do it, don't let them use scare tactics on me to try to get extra work done.

So I find a tow that will take me to my mechanic (1/2 hr away), but they basically beg me for the job. His shop is 4 blocks from my work, so I can go and get a few things done while I wait, so I say yes. I get a call from them, and sure enough, I need all 4 ball joints replaced, and an idler arm and a pittman arm. He must not have remembered that I looked around the shop when they dropped off my truck, and I saw it was empty, with a couple mechanics just sitting around. If they had said I just needed the other upper ball joint replaced, I might have agreed to it, knowing my make/model has a tendency to go through ball joints, especially the uppers. Can I drive it with just the one ball joint repair, I ask? Sure, is the reply. So I'm out the door in an hour and a half, $150 for the repair and 4-block tow.

I let my mechanic know how it went, and he says he thinks they're full of it, but just to be sure, he'll check it all out again when I have the truck in next. I almost love this guy. A good, honest mechanic is a must for anyone that wants to own cars for a long time.

So, while all this expense is coming in one unexpected lump, at least I have no car payments! The "joys" of older car ownership are not for the faint of heart.


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