December 20, 2015

It’s December 14. Folks everywhere are putting up their Christmas trees, hanging lights, and shopping for loved ones. But all I can think about is the fact that our 1999 Saturn SL2 might be ready for the junk heap and our rental car is due to be turned in on Saturday the 19th. I knew Tracey was apprehensive about the prospect of buying a new (actually, replacement) car on such short notice – as a scientific type she needs time to look at every possible scenario at every possible angle before pulling the trigger on anything – but, frankly, we had done as much prior homework as we possibly could have and now was no time for dilly-dallying.

It was unseasonably cold and dark when we test drove the 2014 Maxima at Enterprise Car Sales, and the Maxima was the same model as the one Tracey had rented a few weeks prior. So we pulled the trigger. A nice (and rare) blue model with a black interior, 34K on the odometer, at a price we could handle by paying cash. Whether our teeth were chattering because of the cold or because of the stress we both felt at the time I can’t say (I’m guessing it was a combination of the two), but the deed had finally been done. The only problem in Tracey’s eyes was that the Maxima had a slight pull to the right; no problem says the Enterprise guy, I can take it to my Firestone guy and they’ll do a front-end alignment at no charge.

Earlier in the day I had had a chat with Bob at AAA auto repair, and he assured me that he felt the transmission issue I had encountered with the Saturn on Saturday was nothing more than the result of the catalytic converter failing and the fuel injectors sending false info to the transmission. Sounded logical to me, so knowing I was gonna be out $1,200 after all was said and done I gave him permission to proceed.

On Wednesday I take the Maxima to Firestone and they take care of the alignment issue. I’m congratulated for finally getting a newer car than the 1999 – as the front desk guy tells me, “You finally got a car older than the Clinton presidency!” The best I can do is work up a weak smile.

Two hours later I’m back at the AAA auto repair place. Bob at the front desk tells me all went great and the car will last me another 50K miles at least. So call me surprised when, as I’m pulling out of the lot, the car jolts as it shifts into first gear, then again going into second, then the familiar racing as it goes into third, then the loud bang as it shifts into fourth. To put it mildly, I am beyond pissed, and I’ll admit, I’m making a scene back at the repair shop counter. An elderly lady in particular looks at me in bemusement as I absolutely rail against Bob, who calmly takes it, then suggests we take a drive.

Now it’s Bob who is unhappy as the Saturn jolts and lurches its way around the block. I’m beside myself, my stress meter running into the red, and he’s pissed that what he told me on Monday turns out to be – yep – a lie. In my mind I’ve just wasted $1,200; in his mind he’s lost a lot of integrity. He hands me a card of a transmission guy in Mesa and assures me the catalytic converter work they did needed to be done and will keep the car running smooth for another 50K miles, and his transmission guy “Captain Kirk” will do right by me. The Saturn bangs and lurches itself home and I tuck it in the garage for safe keeping.

Thursday I call the Captain, and he tells me to come by on Friday. “Don’t worry”, he assures me, “I like those SL2s, they’re indestructible. Why, for one guy in your position I ended up finding a transmission in a junk yard for $500 that worked perfectly well. Come on by and we’ll give it a good look-see.”

Somehow I’m not feeling assured. That night I get my Christmas cards done while listening to Pink Floyd.

On Friday I bring the Saturn over to Captain Kirk. He looks at the paperwork I gave him from AAMCO five years ago when the original transmission was replaced and I was charged $3,800 for the work. “You’re not going to like this”, he says, “but that guy took you for $2,000 more than it should have cost.” He has a guy do a test drive and comes back saying the transmission problem is due to an “electrical problem”. Minimum charge will be $100, then they’ll see what happens after they fix that. He’s pretty confident the transmission doesn’t need to be replaced.

Both Vegas and Christmas seem very far away.

“We’ll take care of this for you”, says Captain Kirk, “but do me a favor: take it straight home and don’t drive it until you bring it back here on Monday.” I feel as if I’ve lost control of my whole world. When I get home I down the first Johnny Walker Red I’ve had in two years.

So that’s where things stand. We have a new Maxima that drives great. We have a Saturn with a transmission issue yet to be resolved. It’s five days before Christmas and I could care less about the day. In fact, were it not for the presents already starting to appear under the Christmas tree I’d be taking down the decorations tomorrow. I’ve hated the idea of spending money on cars for years and this is exactly why.

Per Andy Williams, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. NOT. I’m not hearing sleigh bells and ho-ho-hos, I’m hearing the sound of dead presidents sliding out of my wallet on a daily basis. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or the 4th of July – that’s not a sound you like to hear any time of the year!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:38 | Comments Off on Car Week From Hell (Part II)
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