Adventures in Involuntary Off-Roading

In Peanut, Tolkien on October 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s quiz time! Just one question, for the win:

How do you most like to spend your hard-earned money? Would you feel best about it going towards

a) Food
b) Shelter
c) Clothing
d) Costly repairs on a finicky, out-of-warranty, 7-year-old car

If you picked d), congratulations! You can move into Casa Much, because apparently that’s exactly how we like to allocate our household dollars too.

We have a Hyundai Sonata (I named it Fluffy, which Tolkien fought vociferously for years but has now accepted — nay, embraced.) For the first four years it was a pleasure. It was relatively affordable, drove like a dream (I have to admit that it still does), had plenty of interior space, earned multiple comments from strangers about how they too were now considering Hyundai purchases. It even kept that new-car smell for a good half-decade — seriously. But then, like a latent schizophrenia that rears its head in young adulthood, things started getting weird. The front passenger seat wouldn’t sense me when I sat in it no matter how I fastidiously I rearranged myself, so the passenger-side airbag would remain stubbornly off. It would, however, sense my purse if I left it alone in the seat, and really I found it rather insulting how quickly the passenger airbag light would switch to “ready”, as if I should be happy that though I might smash headfirst into the windshield in the case of an accident, my bag with its stale granola bars and spare burpcloth would be lovingly protected.

Then the ignition started becoming more and more difficult to turn, until one day it stopped turning completely and I could not start the car at all. It didn’t help that this was at lunchtime on a workday when I was trying to get from the hospital to the office to see a full schedule of patients for the afternoon. We found out, just by Googling, that this is a common malfunction in Hyundai Sonatas. But did that mean it would be covered by Hyundai’s much-vaunted 10-year, 100,000 mile Powertrain warranty? Oh the naivete! Even though it’s a known defect, caused through no action of our own, the company just could not see why they would need to cover it! During my migraine-inducing phone calls to Customer Service, I also could not get a clear answer on what WAS covered by this mythical warranty. So I ended up writing a sternly-worded letter, as I am wont to do, to the CEO of Hyundai. And here’s where I have to give credit where credit is due: I actually heard back, they covered the repair, and I got a personal e-mail from the CEO himself! I certainly believe in rewarding good if you complain about bad, so we remained relatively satisfied, if lukewarm, Hyundai owners.

Then our check-engine light went on. Being rather afraid at this point of what this car was capable of, we took it to three different mechanics. The consensus? That it was something wrong with our check-engine light. You can’t make this stuff up! We drove around for a year and a half with that thing randomly coming on and going off, clinging to the diagnoses of our three manly mechanics.

Until a week or so ago, when I was driving Peanut to preschool and, after stopping at a red light, the entire vehicle suddenly became unresponsive. Picture, if you will, the gas pedal doing nothing, the brake locking up, and the steering wheel becoming impossible to turn. To this picture, add the growing realization that you are on a downhill slope and the car is therefore moving forward, with you utterly unable to stop it. As well, throw in a 3-year-old demanding from the backseat, “Mama, drive PROPERLY!” So, in the space of a few seconds, I made my decision. Self, I said to myself, we are going to have to crash this car. Which we did. I wrenched the steering wheel 180 degrees, which, since it was locked, succeeded in turning the car only about 10, and plowed into a median to avoid hitting anyone or anything else. And thank God, thank God, we didn’t. Poor Peanut was a bit emotionally traumatized, and Fluffy him/herself wasn’t going to win any auto beauty contests (after 7+ years, we still haven’t settled on whether he’s a he or a she) but at least we were all OK.

To make a long story short, turns out we had a stuck oil valve that was causing the engine to stall intermittently while in motion. Wow, that’s not dangerous or concerning at all. Really, don’t mechanics have the same responsibility as doctors to diagnose correctly? I mean, how do we even know if this is the correct culprit? Sheesh. Anyway, the final repair bill was big. Very, very big. As in, the current value of the car is not much bigger. But given that we own the car, and would like not to have to buy a new one until Tolkien is out of training, we went ahead and got it fixed. If it gets us another 2 years out of Fluffy, then it’ll be worth it. If it doesn’t, then we just got played by a hunk of metal. That hunk of metal now has Peanut asking every time we get in a car, “Mama, are you going to crash this car into the curb too?” If she’s telling any version of this story at school, I can only imagine what the teachers think.

Look at it, just sitting there conniving. Probably trying to figure out how it can access my 401k.

But whenever I fume at the chunk of change this entire incident cost us, I distract myself by thinking of a) the fact that no one was hurt, and b) this recent Peanut gem. I’ll share it with you for medicinal purposes. It might even be covered by your insurance.

Peanut: “I have to go get Anjali’s husband.”
Me: (in mock shock) “You let your baby get married?”
Peanut: (seriously) “Yes. As a special treat.”

The blushing bride

Drive safe out there!

  1. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember if you use your real first name here.) Much, first of all, let me say that your writing is INFINITELY better than the book I’m currently reading (granted, it is about physics, specifically theoretical physics, so I shouldn’t expect much). I am so, so glad that you thought quickly enough to prevent Fluffy’s shutdown/lock-down from putting you and Peanut further into harm’s way. I can’t say that I would have been able to think problem solve so quickly. I was going to make a joke about how funny it is that your purse weighs more than you, but my purse actually DOES weigh more than you, and that thought made me sad (I’m pretty sure I’ve acquired late-onset scoliosis from all the junk I carry around each day). Another friend had the same problem with her passenger side airbags, also in a Sonata. Dang, Hyundai! What’s up with that? I don’t know what I’m talking about here.

    I think this comment is really bad. Sorry.

    I love that Peanut is now a mother-in-law. Have you met Anjali’s husband? Is he up to snuff? Does he happen to be a train? If so, is he at least one of the trains in a happy phase? I can’t believe you might be a grandmother soon! That’s just great. Congratulations!

    • Please ignore the “think problem solve” awesomeness. I changed thoughts mid-sentence, evidently…

      • You cracked me up with this one, FV. First of all, I actually was going to take a picture of a train and label it “The reluctant groom,” but I was in a rush. Secondly, it has been a long time since we did Punnett squares in med school, but I believe I would be a great-grandmother should Anjali and her man-train decide to reproduce. And yes, it’s really exciting. Thirdly, I assumed that it was obvious that there was no way my purse could weigh more than me, but lest people think I’m backhandedly bragging, let me be clear — I weigh many, MANY more pounds than my purse does. How are you, Flaneur? When will you treat the blogosphere to your fabulous writing again?

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