Cars just Plain Suck

I have a surprisingly large amount in the bank right now, because the big client recently paid invoices ranging from 5k down to $172.50 covering five or six months.  So far there hasn’t been so much as a “where do I find this obscure software” call from the new service company in August, though that’s not out of the question.

The thing is, that is enough to take us through September, maybe all the way through October, not counting anything from the new business or side work, which I open or seek out in earnest as soon as the baby arrives home in about nine days.  I hesitate to do much more than preliminaries until then, so I’ve been marking time.

I can’t count on the other invoice the big client owes.  It’s for the percent completed of the original project they hired us for, made moot by their replacing the software.  Their reaction was to have forgotten about it, which is amusingly impossible.  About half of the amount is designated for paying back rent through move-out on the office and paying some money owed to my partner for that very project.  I expected them to be surprised not that they got the invoice at all, but at the total, and to negotiate it down to say, 2/3 of the total.  That would leave enough to make the difference between maybe getting through October and probably getting through October.

There’s a little other billing or rebilling I need to do, but I can’t count on anything at all from that, and it would be relatively small.

The money spent on the truck and van recently, almost $2500, hurt dreadfully in light of the whole wind down the old business, paternity leave of sorts, the scramble like hell scenario for which the backloaded collections were sort of planned.  That is, I always knew that my equivalent of unemployment insurance would be the final collections from the big client.  I just didn’t expect a baby to be part of the equation.

Since getting an inspection sticker, oil change and brakes, the truck has barely been driven.  Ultimately it’s my work vehicle; the reliable and utilitarian car, doing a task for which holding the kids doesn’t matter.  It’s also there for one of us alone to go to the store or an appointment.

Recently the check engine light went on.

Last time this happened, replacing the gas cap fixed it.  It was probably an emissions hiccup and just needs to be quietly deactivated.  I planned to take it to the shop and have them hook it up, get the code sayin nothing’s really wrong, turn off the indicator, and send us on our way tell us something really expensive needs to be fixed.  We just didn’t want to drive it, in case it wasn’t nothing.

That’s the car that should always simply work.  It’s practically brand new.  It runs at least as well as the Sentra, which still starts right up, even if it’s sat for months, and purrs.  It’s a thing of beauty.  If I were wealthy I’d have it totally restored simply to honor that car for being so remarkable.  But if I were wealthy, I’d never have been driving that car in the first place, and if I’d never driven that car, I’d not have gotten used to the idea that cars can go for years at a time needing no repairs.  On top of my apparently old-fashioned notion that when a car gets fixed, it will be okay for a while, rather than falling apart completely a few hundred or a thousand miles later.

The van has had mild issues since shortly after we got it back last time.

You’d start it and it would run rough.  Once you got on the road and going, it tended to work itself out.  It was worse depending on the humidity level.  Drygas (STP Gas Treatment, to be exact) helped, for the duration of a tank.  There was nothing else apparently wrong with it.  The transmission fluid stayed full.  The oil stayed full and fresh looking.  A glance at the overflow tank made the antifreeze seem consistently full enough.

Night before last, I drove to Hannaford.  It was too short a distance for it to stop being rough, and the day before we’d gotten heavy rain.

When I got in the van, loaded with perishables, I turned the key and it thunked.  I turned the key and it did it again.  It reminded me of the starter not engaging right, but not exactly; more like it having trouble turning over and it not firing as it did.

I sat for a moment, freaked out, then tried again and it caught.  I got home, parked, and advised Deb not to use it for a run to the store she’d planned.

Yesterday we were going to my grandmother’s for a family gathering, as we do every year about the same time, when my brother comes from Ohio to get his kids for a couple weeks.  I had checked the transmission fluid when I parked the night before, then planned to check everything else before we left.

Oil was fine; beautiful, new, fresh oil, nice and full.

I actually opened the overflow, and contrary to what a glance appears to indicate, it was low.  So, it appeared, was the radiator proper.

It took about a gallon of antifreeze and water.

We piled in.  Clunk.  Clunk.  Then it started.  It spewed noxious, thick white exhaust.

The oil was now a disgusting mix of oil and coolant, a sight I last saw when I threw a rod and got stranded in Virginia.

Oh joy.

Our first thought was a cracked block.  Apparently this could also be a head gasket, which IIRC it had been suggested we might need sometime.

At any rate, it would appear that the van had continued to overheat and/or leak antifreeze, even though there was no indication.  And why would we check the antifreeze every time we drove it?  It was overheating when we bought it.  That was the first thing we had fixed.  They found it was overheating again or still when they did the transmission, and replaced a hose that was bad and had been jury rigged somewhere along the line.

So the van needs somewhere between major repair approaching a grand at least, or needs an engine.  If it weren’t so damn solid, we’d scrap it faster than you could say “transfer the registration back to the Sentra and get the underside patched for a fraction of what the van has been costing us even if it does mean driving both cars if we have to take all five of us anywhere together.”

A week before the baby arrives.

My mother drove my grandmother’s car down here to pick us up.  It’s old enough she plans not to renew the registration in December, though right now it runs fine and seems pretty solid.  It’s roomy enough to hold two car seats and Deb in the back.

My youngest brother has two vans, and when his wife is working, she’s driving the work van, which is a mobile dog grooming shop.  He loaned us the old one with personality that he drives to work, and they can manage with the one for as long as we need it.  The big thing was Deb’s appointments this morning.

When we got home in that, we dropped the truck around the corner at the shop.  That had better be nothing and cost just the $59 for checking it out.  Then at least there’s an errands and appointments vehicle.

The thing is, after that’s back, we have to have them tow the van and see what the deal is going to be.  I can’t imagine that any of what it might be would get it back by Saturday.  That’s if it doesn’t get declared a storage shed on wheels.  If it’s going to cost $2000 to fix it and no telling where it will go from there, I may as well go buy something for $2000 that is newer, lower mileage, and isn’t quite so much of an “as is.” That and it will be more than a little tempting to transfer the registration back to the Sentra, which I never got rid of in part because I never fully trusted the van.  For a while, anyway.  Using it to bring the last kid home would certainly complete the cycle.  (We brought the other two home in it and were a bit sad not to use it for all three.)

The other thing is, it barely gets driven.  That probably dismays me the most.  If I’d gotten the transmission replaced then driven it 10,000 miles since, well fine.  I’m not sure it’s even been 1000 miles.  I’m not sure it’s even been 3000 miles since we bought it in December.  A buck a mile for repairs isn’t acceptable.

This is what I was talking about, bad luck having to end sometime.  I think the only car that came close to this kind of repair suckage was a brand new Hyundai I owned for 2 1/2 to 3 years, before the bank had to reclaim it.  And that one I drove and drove, almost to the point of ridiculousness.  Well, no.  The previous van was horrible and a waste of perfectly good steel.  At least this van was cheap to buy.

As Deb implied, we do not want to hear how we are awful human beings who are in this situation because we’re irresponsible, don’t work hard enough, made stupid decisions, and should have known to check the radiator level prior to every time we drove the car like everybody else would.  I’m not exactly Mr. Car Maintenance, but bad luck happens and it really can be nobody’s fault.

I think I smell Sadie, and that about covers it.  Since my reaction to the stress of this whole thing has been to go into action mode, taking time to write a post like this feels like a waste of time when I should be doing things.

Posted by on 08/13 at 01:23 PM
  1. eh, a lemon is a lemon.  I’d say you did a good job of trying to make some lemonade.

    Posted by caltechgirl  on  08/13  at  03:43 PM  from 
  2. Bad luck sucks! I’m pretty familiar with it myself lately.
    Not much I can say that will change the situation, but I’m sure things will turn up soon.

    Posted by Amanda  on  08/13  at  03:49 PM  from  Miami
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