Car Talk

Everywhere I looked on line this morning I saw car ads. They might be targeting me because a couple of days ago I visited the Star Toyota web site, looking for the phone number of their service department. Or maybe I’m noticing car ads because I’ve been thinking about cars this week. I hope I’m not seeing lots of car ads because I’ve been thinking about cars, and somehow the universal over-web knows that. That’s a bit much even for me. (But there might be a story in it . . . )

My 2004 Corolla and I have been together for almost ten years now (our anniversary is coming up in March) and we’ve covered 190,226 miles together as of this morning when I picked the car up at Star. We’re on our third set of tires and our third or fourth battery. One of those batteries gave out while I was paying for a tank of gas, prompting a call to AAA for a jump start. One part in the air conditioning system failed, no small matter in August in Houston. And one day I managed to hook the driver’s side mirror on a fence post while backing out of a very narrow driveway. As far as I can remember, those have been the only unscheduled repairs we’ve had in ten years.

So it came as a total surprise Tuesday evening when I stopped at a major intersection for a red light on my way to an RWA chapter meeting, and the engine shut down and refused to start again. Stranding me in the right hand lane at a green traffic light. At six o’clock in the evening. 

After I’d failed to restart it several times and turned on my flashing trouble lights, I pulled out my cell phone and managed to call AAA, in the dark, something of a miracle given my total incompetence with a cell phone, and given that I had to read the tiny little membership number off my key tag and punch it into a number pad that kept disappearing on me.

AAA could send someone, but it would be forty-five minutes to an hour. Better than nothing, I supposed, and so far the other drivers were politely going around me. I sat for a few more minutes before I put the key back in the ignition—and the car started right up.

Stunned, I went on across the intersection and headed for the restaurant where I was meeting friends before the meeting. AAA called back, and I managed to answer their second attempt (I pushed the wrong button the first time) and told them to cancel the service call. I can’t imagine how anyone can send text messages while driving; I can barely answer a phone call, much less make one, while I’m moving. By the time I got to the restaurant I was too shaken to eat all my French fries, if you can imagine that.

I held my breath at every red light and stop sign for the rest of the evening, and the car had no more problems. Started right up at the restaurant and after the meeting, but I was immensely grateful to the friend who followed me home. The next morning I took the car to Star Toyota, still holding my breath every time I stopped.

They couldn’t get to my car until the afternoon, and I work well outside their shuttle service limits, so I rented a car. They gave me a 2015 Corolla, and I had to ask one of the service people to show me around the dashboard. What a change from my 2004 model! Bigger, quieter (practically silent, in fact), and full of bells and whistles. Touch screen radio. Degree by degree temperature control. Rear camera for backing up. When I turned on the ignition the little screen behind the steering wheel said welcome and when I turned it off it said goodbye. Of course this was after I’d figured out how to raise the steering wheel so I could actually see what was hiding behind it. The last person to drive the car was a lot shorter than I am.

I wasn’t disappointed when Simon the service agent called to say that they had found (after the car refused to misbehave for them, of course) that the throttle body (who knew?) needed cleaning and a couple of gaskets needed replacements, and those had to be ordered. Cool, I said, I’ll just keep this car another day.

I almost hated to give the 2015 back this morning. It was fun, even driving 75 miles yesterday in really foul rainy weather. I’m thinking maybe there is one more new car in my future.

But not just yet. My 2004 is running like a top again, comfortable, dependable, economical, and long since paid for. How could I let it go before we pass the 200,000 mile marker together?

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nina Bangs
    Jan 24, 2015 @ 09:10:00

    I know how you feel, Kay. My Honda Accord is thirteen years old with a lot fewer miles on it. It’s been a very reliable car, and I love not having monthly payments. But the thought of being stranded by the side of the road terrifies me. I’ve been thinking about a new car, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I hope you make it to 200,000 miles.

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  2. Cheryl Bolen
    Jan 24, 2015 @ 10:51:59

    You need to be a Toyota spokesperson!

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jan 24, 2015 @ 11:02:12

      I can’t speak for every dealership, Cheryl, but I love Star Toyota in League City. I bought the car there (first one I ever bought entirely on my own) and they have the whole service record in their computer. They always take me seriously, too. Of course the car wouldn’t stall for them, but they weren’t satisfied with the way it idled, and they found the problem and fixed it. Very reasonably, and then they did the air bag recall repair, too. And yes, if I do buy another car, it will be a Toyota.

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  3. Leslie Lynch
    Jan 24, 2015 @ 12:18:29

    Kay, I’m glad it wasn’t the timing belt! Check with your mechanic to see if it’s due or necessary. We have a PT Cruiser that is well past the 300,000 mile mark. Hope you and your Corolla make it past 200,000!

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jan 24, 2015 @ 15:44:04

      Leslie, I had it in for major service in October. They checked all the belts and replaced what was needed. They do a pretty thorough inspection every five or six thousand miles when I take it in for oil change and tire rotation.

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      • Leslie Lynch
        Jan 25, 2015 @ 13:53:37

        Kay, we had a similar experience several years ago on the exit ramp in Price, Utah. It WAS the timing belt, which we didn’t realize needed replacing – about 20 or 30 thousand miles earlier! Spent a lovely but unplanned three days there, then made a mad, almost nonstop dash across the country to get my husband back home in time to go to work. That’s why I’m glad yours was a simple fix!

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        • Kay Hudson
          Jan 25, 2015 @ 14:01:58

          Been there with my last car–a belt broke (I don’t remember which one) on the freeway and I sat in one of those little triangles between the main lanes and an on ramp until a kind man in a pick up truck hauled me off. If he’d managed to get me into the nearby Chevy dealership I might have bought a car that night. I didn’t even have a phone then (bought one almost immediately) so I walked to the Chevy place and they called me a tow truck. I kept that car for a few more weeks and then bought my Toyota in March 2005.

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  4. JF Owen
    Jan 25, 2015 @ 19:16:10

    Be careful, Kay. Once you go over 200,000 miles the automotive version of a Chinese obligation is invoked. From that point on, the car is deemed a member of your family and you are never permitted to dispose of it. You can buy a new one, but the old one will forever reside in your garage ruling over all the nouveau pretenders with designs on its throne.

    My pickup is named Robby, He is seventeen years old and has 198,000 miles on his odometer. In a couple of months he’ll have tenure. I’m OK with that. 🙂

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jan 26, 2015 @ 16:46:57

      I did not know that, Jerry. I’ve never managed to run an odometer up this high before. My last car (a Ford Escort) fell apart when it hit 80,000, and the Subaru before that was 12 years old and had 53,000 miles on it when we could no longer get workable replacement clutch cables for it. I may have to keep the Corolla forever after all, since I have absolutely no use for two cars.

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