I’m not perfect. Far from it. There, I admit it. And then there are times I just feel downright stupid. This is one of those times.
Knowledge about the inner workings of cars and how to get them going again has not been one of my strong points throughout my life. I love cars, I love to drive them, but I’m no mechanic. I remember one time, many years ago — maybe when I was in my early 20s — when I tried changing the spark plugs in a ’76 Mustang I used to have. Once they were in, it ran rougher than it ran before I tried changing the spark plugs. I managed to get it in to a mechanic’s shop across the street from where I used to work, he took a look at it, and laughed when he found out that I tried changing the spark plugs.
That’s probably the last time I ever tried to do any serious maintenance work on a vehicle of mine outside of putting air in the tires, changing and jumping batteries, taking care of flat tires, checking fluids, that kind of stuff. Other than that — as it is with me and construction-type work — I’m all thumbs and I end up doing more damage than I do good if I try these things myself.
Weeks ago, when I started hearing a strange noise coming from our minivan’s transmission when it would shift gears, I tried getting a long-distance diagnosis over the phone from a mechanically inclined friend of mine from another state based on the sound I was hearing and when I was hearing it.
“I thought everyone from Idaho knew how to work on cars,” my friend joked.
Which all leads me in to the story of my 25th anniversary edition 1996 Toyota Celica GT convertible. We got that car in 2006, when I switched jobs and was about to face a two-hour round trip commute to my new place of work, covering about 100 miles each day on those car pooling days when I’d drive it the full distance. It had well over 100,000 miles on it when I got it, but it seemed to run fine and my knowledge of Toyotas was that they’d run for a very long time, and it’s a cherry red convertible — the kind of car that gets comments when it’s driven with the top down.
I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t cost us a pretty penny to keep it running, and it’s left both my lovely wife and I stranded a time or two between things like wheel bearings going out and a fuel pump konking out. We’ve cussed it a few times, but, man, when it gets fixed up again everyone in the family of driving age wants to put in first dibs to drive it … because it’s a cherry red convertible that gets comments when you drive it with the top down.
Which brings me to last November, less than a month after I lost that job that I’d drive up to 100 miles and two hours round trip through the hell that is Utah County driving each day in this fuel-efficient Celica.
I’d driven my daughter to school one morning, came home, and parked the car along the curb on the street in front of my house. It had started just fine that morning. Later that morning, my youngest son hopped in it to drive to his part-time job at a sandwich shop a few miles away. The car was dead, as in no lights, no sound, nothing. When I tried turning on the ignition, it didn’t make the slightest attempt to start.
I popped the hood later and tried jump-starting it to see if there was a problem with the battery. I may not be a mechanic, but I can do that much. As soon as I hooked it up, it started beeping at me with an alarm. I jumped in, turned the key in the ignition to see if it would start … nothing.
Great, I thought, here I am without a job and I can’t afford to take this car in to the shop to see what major electrical problem there must be to keep it from starting.
The car’s been sitting in that same spot ever since then.
My sons and I pushed it off the street and into a parking spot in front of our house directly in front of an electrical outlet. A friend from the neighborhood — a former LDS Church ward bishop who’s led the charge in just over the last week in getting our vehicles going again — came by after he got out of church last Sunday to talk about getting the car running again. I checked the fluid in the battery Monday afternoon, and it looked like it was fine. Monday night, our friend came by with a battery charger and some tools, took off the cables to the battery, we cleaned up the connections (which didn’t look all THAT bad to me), he hooked up his charger, and after a while he told me to get in and see if it would start.
It fired up just like it did on the last morning that I drove it. A simple cleaning of a minor bit of corrosion was all it took.
I never claimed to be a mechanic.
As I write this, it’s approaching high noon on Tuesday and I’m sitting at the front end of the car with its hood up, and I’m just waiting for the meter on the battery charger to get down to the right level. When it does, I’ll unhook the cables, spray some battery protector on the terminals, finish checking the fluids, and there’s a good chance it’ll be driveable again.
I can put the top down on a hot summer morning as I drive to a nearby store to make sure the tires are filled to the right pressure and give the car a bit of a test to see how it runs.
Maybe I’ll get some comments along the way on how cute the car is. Maybe I’ll answer with a wave and a face red with embarrassment at just how little I know about keeping cars running. But I do love to drive ’em!
Oh well, we can’t know it all, can we?
Copyright 2012, Daddysangbassdude Media
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