Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Car Talk

For those of us who choose the path of car ownership rather than the universe of leasing, there is that moment in time when a determination must be made if too much is enough. When the mathematics of caressing a vehicle makes little sense and we bid adieu to an aged companion. Such was the dilemma recently before me.

First let it be known that I am not a car person. I do not anthropomorphise my cars, do not assign cute names to them, do not grow attached to their peculiarities and am genuinely aggravated by their peccadilloes. Unlike my wife, who still chastises me for demanding she release her death like grip on her 1989 Saab in 2004 when the rust was omnipresent, the push pins holding up the sagging interior ceiling were unsightly and there was water cascading in the car during rainstorms from the imprudently named sun roof, there is no sentiment coursing through my veins in regard to my automobile.  My actions are motivated only by financial considerations.

I am cheap. For those of you who know me well, or even know me a little, the sentence immediately preceding this one was unnecessary. Unsubstantiated rumor has it that I will travel far and wide for a free meal and that I never met a handout that I could refuse. Of course, I am that person who can be found at every food and beverage tasting in the supermarket. So when our 2005 Volvo with 110,000 miles on it began to make ugly sounds in its front right quadrant, the question of the necessity of medical intervention was raised.

The Volvo ranks only second in terms of elder statesmen among our vehicles. The 2002 Audi, with its omnipresent check engine warning, with its fan that makes its own determinations as to whether and when it wishes to operate, with its heating system that long since decided it was done providing us a service, with all of this seeming to hasten its demise, still continues to exist. We do not lightly discard those items we call ours.

But the noises emanating from the Volvo caused me consternation. The grating sound made it seem the problem could be somewhat ominous. Like a wheel about to fall off the car and wander on its own intended path down the highway. And when our mechanic was asked to investigate, the number $800 was suddenly part of the conversation. And worse, the noise could not be duplicated. This forfeiture of cash related to replacing old and worn out brakes. Deep breath in, cash out, new brakes installed.

When the offending noise resurfaced within a day or two of our taking possession of the car, it seemed only logical to have it addressed. After all, once the $800 was expended, there was no point in not getting this right. Over another $1000 was then removed from my wallet so I could become the proud new father of struts and shocks, although this seemed not like a reference to a vehicle but rather to (a) how the mechanic was walking around with my money and (b) how I had responded to this intrusion into my piggy bank.

Thus, over the course of 10 days, I had much spilled milk to cry over. But, as we all must do, I rationalized that this expenditure was well worth it when amortized over the expected remaining life of the car.

Yesterday was two days after I retrieved the Volvo. My wife and I agreed how much better it was handling, confirming the mechanic was prescient in informing us that the difference in the ride would be most noticeable. Early in the morning I drove this new and better version to a doctor's appointment and was then scheduled to return home to pick my wife up. Even more surprising than the improved handling of the car was the fact that its recent habit of flashing the check engine light at me was nowhere in evidence.

So, happy was I, at least in the car sense, as I headed back to our apartment. That feeling ended very abruptly.

As I was making a left hand turn at a light, mere blocks from my destination, I had an unrequested and unexpected companion knocking at my right passenger door. A car, operating at what I will swear at the time of my deposition was moving at excessive speed towards me, announced it wanted the space I was occupying in the middle of my turn. The result was that my right passenger door was significantly damaged, the right front wheel and tire were now facing inward rather than forward, and the compartment housing my right front light was smashed into a thousand little pieces. Green oozed from underneath the car, declaring to me that the antifreeze was antifrozen. What else was happening in places unseen was most certainly quite extensive. I surmised the great likelihood was that the puddle of green I was seeing was actually my money being spit out.

The vehicle was undriveable. As I sat in stunned silence, my first call was to the mechanic, advising him of the car's sorry state of affairs and making arrangements, if the car was not totaled, for him to undertake its resurrection. By the way, I mentioned, if it was not too late, could he back out the $1800 in charges on my card since I had received scant benefit from his undertaking. I could barely make out his response in my semi-coherent state, but I am quite certain that he did not tell me to peruse my next statement for credits.

I should end my story there, but for the sake of full disclosure there is a bit more to my tale of woe. Immediately upon arriving home, the insurance carrier was contacted. I provided chapter and verse of what had transpired (I could only guess that, much like "The Affair", my version of events would have a very different flavor from that of my "attacker") and was informed that the carrier would have the car moved from the lot to which it had been towed, to another lot of the carrier's choosing. There, the post-mortem would be undertaken.

Frazzled and more than a bit harried, I was driven by my wife to my office in my mother-in law's car, after we first dropped my mother-in law at her physical rehab appointment. Before I even arrived at work, there was a call from the carrier. It seemed the lot to which the car had been towed was refusing to release its possession without a signed release from the police. The form for this, the carrier was told, had to be obtained at the police department.

My wife called the local constables and explained our recent circumstances. Yes, she was told, the form had to be filled out. No, it could not be faxed or emailed. Yes, I had to appear at the police station to pick up the form if I was the registered owner of the vehicle.

So, we left the office, returned to our apartment, picked up the requisite papers, and arrived at the offices of the police. I spoke to the person in  apparent charge. "What", he asked me, "are you talking about? There is no form needed. This was not a police tow, but a private tow." With that, the lieutenant picked up the phone, called the lot where the car was stored, and advised that I was now able to pick up my vehicle.

I suggested to him that it was my belief there was some kind of scam going on. I announced that the lot was reluctant to release the car as it would be receiving storage fees the longer it kept my car in its clutches. My comment was not met with understanding but with more than a bit of indignation.

Approximately four hours after I arrived at the intersection of going home to pick up my wife and no you aren't, I appeared at my office, ready to start my work day. As I sat there I thought my Volvo actually deserved a name for what it had put me through. However, because I am a gentleman and do not want to offend my suddenly all too human transportation device, I will leave its moniker to your imagination. All I can tell you is that its not pretty.


Anonymous said...

I have a name in mind for all Volvos...and it isn't pretty. And, realistically, things could be worse - fortunately you are uninjured and it is only a car, even if it is leaking green. And yes, go to the deposition!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. I sympathize but it's so damned funny while reading it. I was laughing in my office, something I rarely do. My employees came in to see what was happening. I let them read it too. So entertaining. Cars suck. I think we should print up Tshirts and sell them. Also, NPR is looking for a new brother on Car Talk. I see a retirement gig.........


Anonymous said...

You may be cheap when it comes to yourself, but for your friends and others you have touched, you are exceptionally generous. How lucky we are! Marc