Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Car Hypochondria

I am not the healthiest person in the world. This may come as a shock to some of you, of course. Despite my svelt, scrawny physique, my insides are falling apart. It’s probably because I feed them nothing but Hershey Kisses and Pepsi. However, this post is not about me (except for the first three sentences). It’s about my car.

Broken cars have been a popular topic lately, it seems, so I figured it was time to jump on the bandwagon. You see, I take very good care of my cars (at least I like to think so—my dad might disagree). I’m pretty good about regular maintenance and can do all of it myself. I even have the presence of mind to notice things like grinding noises or puddles of fluid that weren’t there before. I usually have no idea what to do, so I take it to my dad and kindly let him help me.

But there are times when even my dad, car whiz that he is, cannot fix a problem. For roughly two years my car, whom I affectionately call Dulcinea, was having a few issues. She was idling very low at stop lights, and her gas mileage was pretty atrocious. The car is rated at 20 mpg in-town and 30 on the highway, but it was getting more like 14 and 23. And even though the check engine light would come on from time to time, the code scanner said nothing. In other words, I needed to take her to a dealership.

Unfortunately, they told me there was nothing wrong with my car. They said it was in perfect shape and was running great. Yeah, right, I thought as it nearly stalled at every light on the way home. So I just ignored the problem for another year and a half until I started getting check engine lights more frequently.

I took her to a dealership again (a different one) and described all the problems in detail. They called me a few hours later to tell me that they could find nothing wrong but that they’d keep looking. They called again even later to tell me that my idle air control valve and PCM module were bad and had to be replaced. I really had no idea what those things were, but it sounded plausible—if it’s idling poorly, then an idle air control valve might be to blame, right?

I decided to trust them, and when I got Dulcinea back, she seemed to be doing much better. No more low idling, bad mileage, or check engine lights. My worries and suspicions of nearly two years had finally been vindicated. The elation wouldn’t last long, though. On the drive to Denver for Thanksgiving, the steering seemed a little off.

I’d suspected for a while that it was time for a realignment because it pulled to the left a little, and the tires were wearing unevenly. Now, however, it seemed to be getting a little loose. This isn’t a problem you want to notice while driving at 75 miles an hour or while navigating windy, icy canyon roads. Yeah, I was almost positive that it wasn’t handling like that before. It was definitely a little wobbly. It had to be more than just poor alignment—probably a loose tie rod, which is far beyond my abilities to fix.

Guess it’s time to take her in to the shop again.

Computer Woes 7 Replies to “Car Hypochondria”
Jonathon Owen


7 thoughts on “Car Hypochondria

    Author’s gravatar

    Yikes. Best wishes to Dulcinea. May she have a swift recovery.

    Author’s gravatar

    Oh yeah, we had an idling timing issue once. I guess it is a default setting for the air intake while your foot is not on the accelerator. (for non-car people, the way your accelerator works is to control the speed of airflow into the engine. Since fire needs air to burn and your car runs on a series of small, well-controlled fires, that is how the speed of the engine is determined by your accelerator.) If your car is not originally from Utah, the altitude may be why the idle was not right. Now whether a replacement valve was actually needed, I can’t say. But it seems like it should have just been a setting on the accelerator valve rather than a separate part.

    I would have my alignment checked at a tire place rather than a dealer, or rather I would make my husband do it. They can rotate and balance your tires, but don’t let them sell you new tires unless a state safety inspection says you need them. Taking a car to a dealer should be the last recourse, because they have an endless range of parts they’d like to charge you to replace.

    Author’s gravatar

    Cars are like computers and toasters. You take advantage of them while they work for you, and curse them when they fall apart.

    That being said, I checked your post twice and I’m happy to say that there are no errors in either punctuation or in your car information.

    Oh, and yes, I am giving you a hard time. ;)

    Author’s gravatar

    If you figure out what’s wrong, I could probably help you replace the parts. I’ve done all the ball joints and stuff on mine. Of course, a FWD is set up a little differently from a 4WD, but I could probably figure out how to get things apart on yours.

    Author’s gravatar

    My car’s having issues too… the allignment’s off, the tranny wants to die… you know, the usual…

    Author’s gravatar

    pooka: I wouldn’t take it to a dealership for a simple alignment. And luckily I just got new tires, so that won’t be an issue.

    Tolkien Boy: I appreciate your hard work in fact-checking and proofreading my post. ;)

    Mr. Anderson: I think Dad has said before that he doesn’t have the tools to replace a tie rod (if it is indeed a bad tie rod and not just bad alignment).

    JB: Changing the transmission filter and fluid does wonders. The transmission in our other car was having problems, so I serviced it and now it shifts much more smoothly.

    Author’s gravatar

    The question, Mr. Anderson, is whether you could put everything back together again! ;)

    – Jonathon’s brother.

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