Sunday, January 2, 2011

Out with the Old and in with the New

Yesterday was crappiest day I’ve had in a while, and definitely the crappiest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had. It started out ordinarily enough, and we were planning on going to my friend’s New Year’s Eve party in the afternoon. (We all have young children now, so partying late into the night isn’t quite so feasible anymore.) My friend’s birthday is also on New Year’s Day, so it was a birthday party too.

We got the kids into the car and started heading up to Provo, but after a couple miles the car started acting funny—it dropped out of overdrive and kept trying to shift back up, but it was stuck in drive. Then it started having problems with drive and was dropping into second, and we started smelling a hot, oily smell. I suspected we were leaking transmission fluid. Brinestone wisely suggested that we pull off at the next exit, which was by the Wal-Mart in Springville.

We exited and stopped at the light to try to pull into the closest gas station. When the light turned green and I tried to go, the engine revved but the car didn’t budge. I tried shifting into park and back into drive, but nothing happened. I put on the hazard lights, popped the hood, and hopped out to take a look. (By this time our green arrow had turned red, so I wasn’t too worried about being mowed down.)

I looked under the car and saw transmission fluid not dripping or leaking but gushing under the car—there was already a puddle of it at least two feet across. Luckily it wasn’t the transmission itself that was shot—I could see pretty clearly that it was coming from a hose to the transmission fluid cooler that had popped off. The car wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to walk over to the gas station and get some transmission fluid and hopefully a screwdriver so I could reattach the hose, clamp it down, and get enough fluid in the transmission to allow us to get out of the intersection.

I got to the gas station and looked around, but I couldn’t see any automotive supplies or tools, which struck me as pretty ridiculous. No oil? Not even any windshield washer fluid? I headed back to the car, and as I was waiting for the crosswalk a guy ran up behind me and asked if I needed help pushing the car. He’d been behind us at the light and had pulled around us and then turned into the gas station. I said I’d love some help, and when the left turn arrow turned green again, we pushed the car through the intersection and into a parking space at the gas station. I thanked him profusely but didn’t even get his name. (Whoever you are, thanks again. You were a lifesaver.)

Brinestone suggested one of us walk down to Wal-Mart to get some transmission fluid and screwdriver to fix the hose, and I decided to go since I knew what kind of fluid to get. Oh, and did I mention that it was about 16 degrees and windy that day? I was half-frozen by the time I got to Wal-Mart, but I got what I needed and headed back to the car. I got the hose back on and clamped down (burning my arm on the exhaust manifold in the process) and started pouring in transmission fluid. Meanwhile someone from our ward saw us and checked to see if we needed any help. I told him I thought I had it under control, but he said he’d wait to see if we got it running first before he left. I checked the fluid and it looked full, so I tried putting it in gear. The car moved. Success! I thanked our neighbor, and he left.

And then I tried driving again, and nothing happened again, except this time the check engine light came on. I checked for the diagnostic codes and called my dad, who then asked a mechanic at work. Apparently the vehicle speed sensor and transmission shift control were reporting problems, but he said the former might be causing the latter and that it could have fried the speed sensor when we were revving it with no fluid in the transmission. Also, I had broken the hood release handle earlier, and now the hood was closed. I’d need a pair of pliers to pull on the end of the hood release cable and pop the hood.

We went inside the gas station to get some snacks for the kids and get warm, and I noticed that they did have a small automotive section, including transmission fluid (though it cost over twice what I paid at Wal-Mart), screwdrivers, and pliers. I bought a pair of pliers and decided to check the fluid again, and it looked low, but it wasn’t still leaking. It takes a while for fluid to settle in, so the full reading I got earlier wasn’t actually accurate. I kept adding fluid, waiting, and checking again until I got another full reading on the dipstick. I tried putting the car in gear again, and voila! It worked this time, and the gears didn’t drop out again like they did before. Apparently it was just low fluid causing the trouble codes.

By this point we’d spent at least an hour and a half at the gas station. Brinestone’s parents would be arriving in town in about two and a half hours, so we decided to skip the party (especially since we still didn’t really trust the car) and just head home, avoiding the freeway so we wouldn’t be left stuck in the middle of traffic on an icy, windy day. (There’s construction on the freeway right now, so there aren’t a lot of places to pull off in an emergency.)

Before we left, my dad called back and offered to give us their minivan when my mom comes up to Utah in a week or so. Apparently they were planning on buying a new van and getting rid of their old one even before I called about our problem, and they declined our offer to buy it from them. We had been planning on buying a van this summer anyway, and just a few days ago we’d talked about getting one sooner rather than later, since this car seems to be falling apart rather quickly now. So this is not just a wonderful gift but wonderful timing. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom and Dad.

We got home safely, and when Brinestone’s family got in to town, we went out to a Chinese place for dinner. (It’s called Lucky 5, on Main Street in Spanish Fork, and I highly recommend it.) My fortune cookie read, “Your troubles will cease and fortune will smile upon you.”

It was a pretty happy end to a very crappy day.

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