Car's funny noises never turn out to be cheap to fix

November 26, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

WHEN THE NEST IS empty, the debate over who stays home from work with the sick child is replaced by an argument over who stays home with the sick car.

We own a fleet of cars. Not because we are rich, but because everyone in our household seems to need one. Recently, the automotive equivalent of the flu hit our household and, one after another, the cars were laid low.

This might not have happened if any of the cars were what you would call new. Two of them are 10 years old and the third is paid off. The only car payments left are those on the fancy Jeep (with fancy grille work) my son thought was his due after four semi-tough years at a service academy.

I keep repairing these beasts because I tell myself it is cheaper than a new car payment. Or three new car payments.

Of course, the repairs are so frequent and expensive that that is no longer the case. Now I keep telling myself that I have to hold onto these cars until I get my money out of all those repairs.

I can't win.

My daughter Jessie drove her car home from college for a weekend visit and, as she was packing to return, casually mentioned that the engine was making a sound "you know, like the sound a baseball card makes when you clothespin it to a bicycle wheel.

"It is probably just a fan belt, but I better take your car back to school. Just in case," she said.

Fan belt my Aunt Fanny, I thought. That child wouldn't know a fan belt if it came on a new pair of trouser shorts.

So off she went to college with what would soon reveal itself to be the only working vehicle in the family. (Except the fancy Jeep. Which has heated seats. And dual climate control.)

Turns out, it wasn't a fan belt. Something else entirely was wrong with Jessie's car. I can't remember what had to be replaced, but it was the same thing I just replaced on the van she took back to college. And it cost $600. Both times.

How do I know it needed to be replaced? Because I trust my mechanic. Ever since the seven-fifty episode.

Awhile back, I heard something funny in the engine of my van. I was sure it was a fan belt.

Or a baseball card stuck somewhere.

I took it to my mechanic for a look-see and when I returned, he told me that the repair was going to cost me seven-fifty.

I dropped to my knees, clutching my stomach and moaning, and my alarmed mechanic hurriedly explained himself. "Seven dollars and fifty cents," he said. "It was a fuse."

Relieved, I said, "Do you know that you could have charged me $750 and I would have paid it, not knowing the difference?"

"Did you notice that I didn't," he replied.

Since then, I trust my mechanic more than I trust my hairdresser.

When it came time to get Jessie's car repaired, my husband and I were left one car short.

It was musical cars and when the music stopped, he was driving to work, and I was making excuses to my boss.

But before he left, he said that the engine in his car was sounding funny, too. "Like a baseball card clipped to the wheel of a bike?" I asked.

Nope, he said. "More like a fan belt."

I had no sooner paid for the repairs on Jessie's car than I was driving my husband's into the shop for a look-see.

"I am sure it is just a fan belt," I said, hopefully.

It wasn't. Something else entirely was wrong with my husband's car. I can't remember what had to be replaced but it was going to take a whole day.

The music stopped, and I was sitting at home again.

I am sure this is all terribly unfair and my husband and I should sit down and discuss an equitable approach to car troubles, but I don't think we'd be able to hear each other over the funny sounds coming from the engines of our fleet of cars.

My son is due home soon and I am sure he will want to take his fancy Jeep (with GPS and an iPod attachment to the stereo system) to the family's trusted mechanic for a look-see before he drives it south to his next duty station.

I am going to tell him to make sure he gets the fan belt checked.

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