19

Can Demons Possess a Car?

Yes, I’m finally back. (And those of you who didn’t realize I was missing should not expect any chocolate eggs this year. The Easter Bunny and I are long-time BFFs, and he knows these things.)

I’m concerned about my car. It seems to have developed a bad attitude, at best. And possibly an alternative personality. You may recall that I got my Hyundai Elantra about a year ago. It was wonderful to drive, especially following the car with bad tires and no heat.

The first sign came late last year, after one of the early snows. In our part of Michigan, winter generally starts deceptively gentle with a couple of light snowfalls. After one of these, my car required a little extra effort to get out of its parking place at work. I figured I had just parked the front tires on ice and didn’t worry about it.

The evil side came out a few weeks later. We have a long, wide driveway and a broken snowblower. And lots of ice. One day, I turned into the driveway and stopped. Rather, the car stopped. Right at the entrance to the driveway. (It did have the courtesy to get off the road.)

The usual tricks of rocking back and forth or swearing did nothing. Finally, I asked my son to get it to move. (It must be somewhere in the male gene, because he did it.) While he was working to move it, my daughter came home. She had to wait in the road to be able to get in. (There are advantages to living off the beaten path – she wasn’t an impediment to lots of traffic.)

Her car had been having no trouble in the ice and snow. When she pulled in that day, her car got stuck. I think my car laughed. Not too long after that, the fuel line in my daughter’s car sprung a leak. Coincidence? I think not.

Pulling out one day, my car got stuck on the ice again. My son brought out the kitty litter, and I was good to go. The cats did not appreciate him using the good stuff.

Pretty soon, the kitty litter stopped working. I’m sure the car decided that we’d solved the ice problem.

Next trick was to get a tire caught in the frozen snow at the edge of the driveway. Like much of the country, it’s been really cold here. Unlike much of the country, we really haven’t been drowned in snow. We don’t have the huge snowdrifts that scream out, “Stop! You’d be an idiot to drive here!” So, all of a sudden, I no longer knew how to back out of the driveway. Then we’d shovel, kitty litter, try to move the car, swear, and repeat. A lot. I don’t generally swear, and now I remember why –there aren’t that many words and they’re worthless for fixing the problem.

My husband works in maintenance at a school district. He brought home some incredibly hideous carpet to put under the wheels when the car gets stuck. I’m not sure whether it’s the traction or the car cringing from the pattern, but it works.

It appeared that the car was running out of tricks. I thought maybe we were good to go.

Then apparently it realized that its real enemy wasn’t me, it was my son. He was the one who kept rescuing me. So it started turning into snowbanks when he left his friends’ houses. Nothing serious. Wouldn’t want to harm its good looks. Just enough to require digging out.

The car was designed in Korea and built here. I know it’s been tested in snow and ice.

I think that I have somehow offended the Snow Queen. I wonder if an ice cream cake would be a good peace offering?

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6

Who Taught You How to Drive?

I learned something very important Monday night. If a semi (truck) “bumps” your car straight on from behind, and you are going more or less the same speed (obviously he would be going a little faster), it may not really hurt your car.

I take a class Monday nights at a town that is about 30 miles from here. I use a freeway to get there. All was good until I needed to exit. The freeway was full of semis. They travel in the right lane, which is also where the exits are (go figure).

Trying to not create too much havoc, I found a spot between a car and a semi. I moved over then checked my rearview mirror to make sure I hadn’t cut him off. I could see the entire front end. I thought the rule was if you can see the driver, he can see you. Once again, all was well. Emphasis on “I thought”.

I am really bad about using my mirrors unless I am going to turn or change lanes or whatever. (Do they really expect you to scan them every 30 seconds? I’d run into something in front of me.)

For some reason I looked again, and he was closer. I thought that he must have been one of those jerk drivers who try to intimidate small cars. (I drive an Elantra).

Semi drivers are usually pretty good drivers and I was almost to my exit, so I figured it was just an annoyance. Silly me. I looked again. He was almost on top of me.

Something hit me from behind. Yep. The exit was about 200 yards too far away. It’s amazing how hard a semi can hit even at a low speed. I guess they really are the ones destroying our roads.

I was extremely annoyed. I need the car for work, and I’m sharing it with my son. I didn’t have time to take it to the shop. And apparently cars don’t have frames anymore. It’s all magic and fiberglass. Besides it’s only seven months old. And I was going to be late for class.

So I stopped on the side of the exit. I stomped to the back of my car. It was a little dirty (my fault), but I didn’t see anything wrong. Then I realized I hadn’t heard any crunch or breaking plastic (or glass or whatever they use). Maybe they really do use magic.

The truck driver came over to see if I was OK. He said he hadn’t seen me and bumped into me. Ummmm, OK. You’re a professional driver. Don’t they train you to look for merging traffic? But he was very nice, and I sent him on his way. Then he was very relieved.

If you look at where we live, you would see that it’s difficult to get anywhere without using a freeway. Many lakes mean no major roads. So I have a lot of experience with semis. I realized that this wasn’t my most annoying encounter. At least it was a one-time occurrence.

To get to several of the places I frequent, I have to take a four-lane freeway. That’s four lanes in the sense of two lanes going in each direction. It’s not really a bad drive, even in rush hour. In comparison with rush hour on other freeways around here.

However, it is the major north-south freeway in this part of the state. Which means a lot of trucks hauling a lot of stuff during the morning rush hour. A lot of heavy stuff. Trucks carrying heavy stuff aren’t supposed to go really fast. The speed limit theoretically is 55 mph on the 70 mph freeway. So they’re in the right lane.

Every once in a while, a large heavy truck wants to go 60 mph. So he has to pull into the “fast lane”. Which is no longer the “fast lane”. Once the driver gets out from behind the slow truck, he realizes that he can’t zip around another big truck like he does in his pick-up. So everyone goes slow for a while.

That is far more irritating than the semis that drive in Detroit during rush hour. I generally hold back for them which makes me very unpopular with the drivers behind me.

Some people don’t like to be behind semis. So they don’t let them in. Finally the truck driver gets frustrated and forces the truck between two cars. That really irks the drivers on the freeway. The cars behind the truck on the entry ramp are not so upset.

Some people hate being behind semis on snowy roads. Not me. They are usually excellent drivers. Full trucks are slow, but so am I. They very rarely swerve or skid. They pack down snow nicely, and it’s still warm when I go over it so I don’t have to worry about ice. And people don’t get mad at me for going slow. They blame the truck.

Moral of the story: Most truck drivers aren’t like the guy in ‘Duel’ (a surprisingly good 1971 TV movie about a psycho truck driver, directed by Steven Spielberg). However, if it looks like one is going to run you over, use your horn to make sure it’s not intentional.

2

Cash? What’s That?

When we were trying to get pregnant with my daughter, I went to a fertility specialist. For those of you who have never been through the process, it can be expensive. Very expensive. And insurance doesn’t cover some of the procedures. Some insurance covers very few of the procedures.

As a result there were a variety of signs when you check out. “Personal checks are subject to a fee if returned.”  “We accept Visa, MasterCard, Amex,…” Basically you could pay with anything except the child they were helping you conceive. It was stressful going there. One time I was leaving and the receptionist asked whether I was paying by check or credit card. I answered, “Do you take cash?” We both laughed after I said it, but she did say that it rarely happened.

I was reminded of that day on Thursday. My car had finally died. I become extremely attached to my cars. We learn each others’ quirks and peacefully coexist. I calculated it out and discovered that I keep my cars an average of 7.5 years each. The number is a little skewed by two of them being totaled (neither accident was my fault, before you ask) and not having the money to replace this one any earlier. Nevertheless, I am not one to go car swapping.

Unfortunately, the engine leaks oil, the transmission sounds like it may be going, and the wheels are shot. I lost control coming home the night my mother died and ended up in a snowbank. It wouldn’t have been so hard on the car if I had not taken out the guy’s mailbox, slid across the road and ended up back in his small culvert. My husband rescued me, but the car looks like it had a fang where the front quarter-panel was torn back.

But I still loved it. I lost control more times on the ice and snow this winter than I had previously my entire life because of the tires. I still wanted it. The air conditioning went out several years ago. Not a problem. I like having the windows down. (We don’t discuss the really hot, humid stretches we sometimes get.) The heat went out this winter and aggravated my frostbite. My husband told me it was the blower motor, and he could fix it. I forgave the car.

Then the starter went. And it was cold. If we took it in, the mechanics would hand us a list of repairs that would practically rebuild the car. If my husband fixed it, he probably would have discovered a litany of things we didn’t know were wrong. It was time to bite the bullet.

I hate car shopping. My husband tells me to look for a few types of cars I might want, then he does the research. All is well until he starts asking me what extras I want. The luxury package? The technology package? The standard package? Does the luxury package come with its own mechanic? If I don’t take the technology package, does that mean they use parts from the 1980’s? If it’s a standard package why is it separated at all?

On Thursday, we stop by the dealership “to look”. I hate this part. Generally we have to look at 150 cars with basically the same features until we find the “perfect” one. I knew I had chosen the correct car when we discovered less than 10 of them on the lot. And only 3 of them came with options that added less than $4,000 to the base price. Oh yeah, there was one that was dung-colored – that one was never in the running.

So we went inside. And waited. My husband had gotten the referral from Costco (they really do sell everything). Apparently there are only 3 salespeople “certified” by Costco. Our guy came in, introduced himself, asked what we wanted, and proceeded to extol the merits of the brand. Finally my husband told him that we think we found what we want on the lot.

We took it for a test drive. It’s not love at first sight, but I could definitely see potential. My husband drove it. Before we get back to the dealership, we’d decided to make it part of the family.

My husband is very good at getting the best price he can. So he talked to the guy for a few minutes, and the guy disappeared to see the “Sales Manager”. He came back with good news. Not only could he give us all the discounts available, they are willing to give it to us at the employee price. It was almost exactly what I had in mind.

The sales guy was excited. The first question he asked was how much we are going to finance. We weren’t. We’re going to write a check. Oh. Obviously we have given an unusual answer. It didn’t cross my mind that since dealerships do their own financing these days, we were probably costing them money. Hmmmm. Maybe I should have asked them about financing before I got the price appeared to be running through his head.

He disappeared to get the paperwork started. My husband told him that we are in a hurry and can’t wait too long. It will only be a few minutes. He reappeared 10-15 minutes later, rustled some papers and said that he needed to get some other paperwork. This happened several times. We were getting more irritated.

Finally, we were taken into an office to sign the paperwork. I looked at the first one and ask about the cost. Oh don’t worry about that. It’s going to the government; they don’t care about the rebates and price breaks we give you. That’s comforting.

Looked at the bill of sale. Told her it was the wrong figure. She looked puzzled. Disappeared. Came back and said that she has been doing someone else’s job since that person was let go. Some one put the wrong stock number on the form and it created the mistake. Uh, yeah.

Got everything signed. Gave them the check. (The Sales Manager came in for that part.) She told him that someone mixed up the MSRP with the selling price and that’s why she had to redo the paperwork. That sounded even worse than the first excuse.

The next day, we met with our financial adviser. He told us that dealerships have different procedures and paperwork for cash sales than for credit sales. Since they rarely handle cash sales, they are less familiar. Since we were there late Thursday night, the “A” team had probably gone home. That answer makes sense.

Too bad we didn’t have him with us on Thursday.