March 15, 2007

Why, yes! I am late!

Just a reminder to you all--the most important piece of emergency equipment you can have in your car is a cell phone.

Got the kids rousted and fed and in the car this morning with time to spare, cranked up the ol' lump o' iron, put it in Reverse, and had to wait while Boy jumped back out to run inside and get his assignment for art class.

As we waited, I caught a whiff of a most peculiar odor that I at first thought was something like burning friction material, coming in through the vents. Hmm. That's probably not good. I quickly put the car in Park, thinking (hoping against hope) that it wasn't the reverse clutches or something inside the transmission. Got out and lifted the hood, and nothing was out of place. No smoke, everything perking along as if nothing was wrong.

Well, that's weird.

Boy came back and off we went, first to the middle school, dropped him and his big sister, then it was on to the elementary school with Cat. The car didn't miss a beat, and it began to mightily bother me about that smell. It smelled expensive, but maybe it was nothing since the car wasn't a pile of cinders.

Dropped her off at school, then stopped at the Publix to get a box of sodas for the office. Paid, got back some cash so I could pick up Reba's repaired shoe and Boy's Scout cap, walked back outside and got in the car, hit the switch, and...


The radio and fan and all the dashboard lights were going, but there wasn't a whir from the starter or even a click from the solenoid.


So that's what the smell was.

I figured it had to be something in the starter circuit, and more than likely was the fusible link, a big, high amp fuse in the starter cable that can burn up and do the exact thing it was doing now.

But what to do about it!? I HAD TO GET TO WORK!

Lucky for that handy cell phone.

Could I get Reba on the phone? No, she was already too far from Trussville to turn around and come back for me. Let's see--7:20. Maybe I could get Oldest, especially since she refuses to turn her phone off. I could get her to come get me, then I could take her to school and take the car on with me to work, then get Grandma to pick her up, and...

"Your call is being answered by an automated voice message system. Your party is not available...."

The one time when it would have been a good thing to have the phone on, and it was off.


Okay, I'm going to be late for work.

First order of business, look at my insurance card and call the number to make sure I still have emergency road service coverage. (I.e., the second most important piece of emergency equipment you should have.) Yep, but then had to call a different number for that. Called, got a woman from somewhere very far away, told her all my personal information, told her where I was, "Publix supermarket in Trussville!" "Public market in Russellville?"

Finally got all that figured out, then it was a question of where to take the car. There is a new shop right down the road about half a mile from where I sat, but I had no idea what the name of it was. So I told her that.

Alas, she needed a name. I finally figured I'd have it taken to the shop that worked on the Focus, so I gave her that name. Did I have an address?

Well, no.

I thought about getting out--IN THE RAIN, which was now beginning to fall--and going inside the store for a Yellow Pages, but the heck with that. She finally decided to put in her computer that I was going to have it towed to a shop on Gadsden Highway.

"Gasten Highway?"

"No, Gadsden. Gee-aye-dee [pause] Zee-dee-ee-en."


We finally got it figured out.

Hung up and waited. Got a call back that the tow truck would be there in 45 minutes.

::sigh:: That means around 8:30. Oh, well.

Waited. Watched various professional women and housewives go to and from Publix. The rain picked up. Then slacked off.

About 8:20, the phone buzzed again and it was the tow truck guy. Had to explain where I was, since he had no clue. You figure tow truck guys are like cabbies and know every place in town, but apparently not.

Got there right at 8:30, and soon thereafter my phone buzzed again with a robot asking if the tow truck guy had gotten there, and if so to press 1. I did as instructed.

The rain picked up again and he kept right on working, while I pretended to be a big sissy dork and hid under an umbrella. I felt even worse when I saw a couple of women walking out of Publix without umbrellas, so I thought maybe I was only thinking it was raining hard enough for a cover. I moved the bumbershoot to the side, and was severely misted by at least three raindroplets. Too wet for MY tastes. What with being a big sissy dork and all.

Clambered up in the cab after he'd gotten everything secure, made the short hop to the car place. AHhhhh. "Hey, it's called Panos Automotive Service!" I said proudly.

Walked in and gave them a rundown of my problem and told them what my diagnosis was so they'd have something to ignore, the counter guy said it might take many hours, I said I'd have to wait no matter what, then I went in the restroom and peed.

All that rain, you know.

They got it backed off the flatbed into the first bay, and I read the variety of magazines they had. This was the first time I'd ever used this place, and from what I could tell, they seemed to know what they were doing. It's usually covered up with cars, and it seemed reasonably tidy, and while I was sitting there reading the doormat and uniform delivery guy came by delivering door mats and uniforms. You figure any shop that goes to that much trouble is pretty stable.

Or at least I sure hoped so.

Along about 9:30, I heard the tell-tale clickwhirPUTT-putterputterputter WHOOOOSH of the car cranking up in the shop. SUCCESS! I wonder what was wrong...

Turns out I wasn't quite on the target--it was a defective neutral safety switch that had shorted, then burnt out the wire leading to the starter. Same type of symptom as a bad fuse, but harder to fix.

Or was it?

I have now much more fondness for this place, because the mechanic (who allowed that he had a couple of Volvos, too) said he could just bypass the switch. Now this isn't the preferred fix, and most shops are so scared of litigation that they swear such a thing was not only inadvisable, but simply beyond the ken of mere mortals to accomplish.

The alternative was to order up a switch and replace it.

Which was going to be more money, and I knew it, but I had them ask anyway.

50 bucks for the part, 50 bucks for labor, plus the labor they'd already done on the car to figure out what was wrong with it. Call it close to $200 with tax. Which really isn't bad, but was still more than I wanted to spend.

Which meant that the tab to get me back on the road came to $80. I just have to be really REALLY careful to make sure the car is in Park to start it.

Out of the door before 10:00 a.m. and on the road.

Since I was late, I went ahead and drove over to the shoe shop and picked up the shoe, now fully strapped, along with Boy's cap, now also fully strapped. Tab for that? $10.

So, now--$90 lighter, I am back to work and ready to find out what all I missed.

What all did I miss?

Posted by Terry Oglesby at March 15, 2007 11:32 AM

Did you get the feeling that the insurance folks was using some of the same folks you have to speak with when you have computer, cable or sundry IT troubles?

You know! Those folks who weren't quite at the top of thier ESL class?

Posted by: Southtrek at March 15, 2007 12:10 PM

Nah--I think it was just the combination of the rain drumming on the roof, the cell phone, and the fact that she sounded like she was of good Yankee stock, which I'm sure made my muddled Alabamanese difficult to decode. She was actually a very nice lady, just not used to someone with a drawl. Things were also hampered by the fact that I had no good way of telling here the names and addresses of random car repair shops.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at March 15, 2007 12:15 PM