The Car Gods Hate Us

Check engine light on one,
bandaid on the other.

The car gods hate us. I'm sure of it now. I'm starting to seriously consider sacrificing a bicycle in their honor or doing an oil dance or praying to the big manufacturer in the sky. Anything. Just, anything, to turn fortune to our side.

Things were going OK until the boys were born — you know, right when we could least afford the time or money to have our only vehicle with car seats in the shop.

The first disaster came last summer when the person behind my husband didn't understand the concept of a crosswalk and ran into the back of our 1995 Toyota Corolla, totaling it in the eyes of the insurance companies. We put a band-aid on it (literally, see above) and have continued to drive it. It's been by far our most reliable car.

Our intrepid hand-me-down minivan, a 1998 Toyota Sienna, was a work horse but over the course of 2011 we had spent about $1,000 on various problems and we were looking at needing more repairs soon. We were hoping it would hold on for another year until I could start working again.

As luck would have it, my husband and I were driving along one Sunday and I pondered aloud what it meant when traffic reporters said there was a "car stall" on the freeway. Why would a car just stop working? Gracious as the car gods are, they decided to show me. No more than 15 minutes later, depressing the gas pedal just led to the engine revving before catching and actually accelerating the car. By the next morning, the minivan would only go in reverse, not forward.

Mechanics said we had a major problem with our transmission that would probably cost $2,000 to diagnose and fix. Considering the vehicle was barely worth that if it was working and we knew there were more unrelated repairs in the offing, we decided to cut our losses. I put it up on Craigslist for $1,000, made it perfectly clear that it didn't run and people flocked to buy it. Good riddance.

Right about that time, a good friend of ours was preparing to go live at a science station in Antarctica for a year. Yes, Antarctica. As in the cold, frozen wasteland at the southern pole. Needless to say, he wasn't taking his car, a 2004 VW Golf TDI.

We thought this was perfect, he would sell us his car for a good deal and we knew its whole history. It's way too small for what we really need with twins, but it gets good gas mileage and is a diesel (which at that time was cheaper than unleaded... no more) and also allows us to burn biodiesel if we want to (read: can afford to) be green. It would tide us over until we could afford a new family car and then would replace the Corolla, which was clearly on its last legs. Clean break, fresh start, brand-new (to us), I'm-not-a-soccer-mom-yet car. Hooray!

I am writing this in the lobby of our mechanic.

We have had to take this freaking car in NINE times since we bought it at the end of September — FIVE for the SAME problem. It's cost us around $1,500, in addition to the car payments we've never had before and can't really afford. I want to be pissed at our mechanic but I really do think they are trying to do right by us and they themselves have, at this point, spent several hundred dollars and many unpaid man hours on trying to get the damn thing working right.

I don't want to bore you with all the exhausting details, but it involves a seemingly endless stream of check engine lights, obnoxious sounds and bad smells.

Oh, and then last week somebody broke the window of our Corolla. In the middle of a Sunday. In plain sight on the street. To steal a backpack full of worthless papers. That would be the fourth time our cars have been broken into since we moved into this charming neighborhood the rest of Portland calls Felony Flats. (I would argue that Felony Flats is east and north of here, but I can see how hipsters from tree-lined streets and remodeled colonials wouldn't be able to tell the difference.)

So that's awesome. At least we have a year or two before we have to figure out how on Earth we're going to afford a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Gosh, I just can't wait to see what fun the car gods will have with us then.

Anybody know an oil dance?


  1. Oh Shasta. That really really sucks. I'm sorry. I don't know if it helps any, but you can go to a local NAPA or most transmission shops, ask them to hook the car up and read the code for you.(the device reader is just a hand-held thing, like a zip drive) That will give you the code and you can search online for the meaning of the particular code for your car. Cheaper than having a mechanic look at it. (it's free for them to read the code and just takes about 5 minutes)

  2. That's helpful, thank you. Our mechanics have been looking at it for free, though, actually. Like I said, I really think they are trying to do right by us. Aside from the initial $1,000-plus visit and a few parts here and there a long the way, they haven't charged us much. Which is super helpful! But the hard part is figuring out how to get down there without the kids and what to do without a car while it's there!

  3. Now that is some seriously bad car karma. Maybe in a past life you stole cars? Or blew them up? By the way, thank you for being honest about your car when you posted it on Craig's List. I'm a big Craig's list shopper and always appreciate when people tell the truth about what you're getting.

    "The child psychologist who thought she knew everything about parenting until she became one herself."

    1. Aw, bad car karma! Why didn't I think of that. That would have been a good headline.

      I try to be as honest as I can in all my dealings but I don't know how much credit I can take for that one. People would have figured out pretty darn quick that it didn't run!

  4. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Oh gosh this was painful to read. It really is one of those, just when you thought nothing else can go wrong stories. Ironically, we test drove two cars today. We really really wanted our wagon to live for a few more years but we know the transmission is on it's way out. We've loved not having a car payment and have no idea where the money may grow for one. You deserve for your next car to come with a sweet two seater convertible that you have to drive without the kids!

    1. I know, right? Let's get on that! The car gods owe me!

  5. We are sitting on a cursed car right now - not a lemon, just cursed - that we are considering trading in just for the piece of mind. Unbelievable, really, as our other vehicle is a 2000 Toyota Tundra that Mr. Andi plans to keep for several more years, and our most recent trade-in would have lasted longer but it was a struggle for Sarah Kate to climb in and out of (2002 Toyota 4Runner). I have a 2009 Toyota Venza and since we bought it in December of 2009, here's it's story:

    January 2010 - Unidentified flying object struck and bounced off the moonroof (slide was open, glass - thankfully - was not) sending glass shards raining down on me while driving down the road. Glass got in the housing requiring the whole thing to be replaced (i.e., not part of the glass replacement section of our insurance policy).

    April 2010 - Stereo unit (which we had splurged on for the Bluetooth capability) died. Service contact dude had to order the part, then quit without calling me to tell me it was in (and no one else called, either)

    May 2010 - Rear ended a teenager who slowed down to avoid hitting a BIRD while reaching for my phone because the Bluetooth wasn't working. Nathan was six weeks old and in the car at the time.

    All was well for awhile, and then...

    Fall 2011 - Mr. Andi was driving between two separate business parking lots and thought he bottomed out, scraping the undercarriage. He actually scraped up the front fender. Badly.

    Thanksgiving Week 2011 - Some sort of thermostat thingy stuck open - a very easy fix, but the part had to be ordered and wouldn't be in until the day after Thanksgiving. Seeing as how it was the day before Thanksgiving and we were planning to drive 350 miles that day, this was an inconvenience. It was still under warranty, so we were entitled to a rental while without the car, but the only thing left on the day after Thanksgiving was a pickup truck. For a family of four leaving for five days.

    February 2012 - Hit a garbage can in the dark on the way home from church, leaving a dent in the front passenger side and causing the passenger side mirror to fall out from the impact. We put it back in and crossed our fingers.

    March 2012 - Took the car to the local car wash (a real one, not one of the crappy gas station ones) and emerged with the license plate bent almost in half.

    The Venza is cursed, I tell ya! Cursed!

  6. Anonymous11:21 AM

    That '95 Toyota Corolla is one of the most reliable cars in automobile history. I can still see some people having it on their driveway and use it as daily car. Buying this car was worth it. Maintenance and parts are cheap.
    california vehicle registration


Post a Comment

Popular Posts