My Car, The Car that Sucks

Sometimes people think for a minute that I’m rich when they hear I work for a big, internationally-famous company in California and I’m an EPM and a web developer. Well, I’m not rich. I can’t say I’m dirt poor either, but I can claim that I wouldn’t be driving a 1987 Volkswagen Jetta if I had the choice. Let me tell you about my Jetta. Is that alright? Take a seat and listen to my tale of woe.

Sometime in August or September I got a letter from the DMV, those beloved beaurocrats and snappers of horrible photos, and they said it was time for me to register my car for 2005. Two years have passed, and I’m assuming it’s the law in Kahleefornia that you get a smog test every two years lest you injure our pristine environment, and they told me that I had to get one. That’s simple enough. Almost every gas station in the state has smog testing equipment, so you can just drive down the street and pick a spot at random, and come out half an hour later with your results. But somehow I won the lottery. People are picked at random to go to a government-owned “Smog Test Only” station so that Uncle Sam can have a piece of the smog-testing pie, as if the registration fees weren’t enough. Pardon my grumbling.

So I found a “Test Only” center about 10 miles from my house, and drove over there. Well… it turns out that my little Jetta hadn’t been doing the environment any favors, and it was payback time. My car failed the test miserably. I had twice the allowed levels of nitrous oxide in my exhaust, apparently, and I had to get it fixed or not drive. It runs! I can’t drive it. So I was told I had 30 days to get a second free test, and sent away with my tail between my legs.

After many words via email and phone with my long-distance mechanic (I usually call him “Dad”) I learned that the catalytic converter (a.k.a “cat”, which makes it much more accessible) is responsible for sorting this junk out, and they’re really not all that expensive to replace. Really! It’ll be easy! Just jack up your car and take some measurements (oh, you’ll need a caliper for that, but they’re easy to find) so we know which kind of cat your car needs, and there’s the gasket on the front too so you’ll need that, and you can get it installed easily and cheaply.

The catalytic converter (graciously subsidized by my father, who knew I was considering replacing the car with a motorscooter, the same kind of transportation that enjoys killing loved ones when it gets bored) was shipped to my house, and I took the next few weeks trying to figure out where and how to get a “donut gasket” for the fittings, and trying to set up an appointment to get the thing installed. Finally about three weeks later (exactly 30 days after my first smog test) I got the gasket and drove straight over to the hole-in-the-wall shop to have the new cat installed. They did it in about 45 minutes. $50. Not bad. The mechanic said my original cat was hollow and thus completely impotent, so this new one would probably improve my score. Great!

Go directly to smog test center. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 (but if you do, share it with the government). A few minutes later, the smog test passed! My levels were well below average, actually. I then remembered my gas cap failed some kind of pressure test the first time through, and the guy was about to send me packing when he realized he had a box of new ones, and sold me one for $8. Fair enough. I pass my tests, and I leave the station, registering my car later that night. My car works, and I can finally drive legally on the street again.

The next day we went to Minnesota for four days. When we came back, my car battery was dead, it is old and broken and cannot be recharged according to diagnostic tests, and I have to replace it. Here we go again.

This is so fun. Seriously. I keep telling myself “It’s less than a car payment. It’s less than a car payment. It’s less than a car payment.” But frankly, I don’t even want a car. I just want something that gets me wherever I’m going that can follow my schedule instead of vice-versa, and I don’t want to sweat while I’m using it. I’d take a scooter, sure. I’d take a Segway if they were fast and cheap enough, and I didn’t look like an idiot when I was riding it. I’d take a magic wand if I could find one. I’m just really sick of thinking about my car.

5 thoughts on “My Car, The Car that Sucks

  1. Invent teleportation. Or at least work out the details of using it on humans.

    Or, depending on how far you live from Uncle A, take a non-motorized bicycle and call your commute exercize.

    The worst thing you can do is convince you need a car NOW and go off to a dealership thinking you’ll buy one that same day. Car buying requires research, or you *will* get took.

  2. It’s a law of physics. For every convenince there is an equal and opposite inconvenience.

    Not really. How many times has that car you are now slandering in cyber-space hauled your body (safe, dry and entertined by your favorite music) across town? Not too much work on your part for 190,000++ miles of usage.

    Maybe it just misses Minnesota and decided to take it out on you.

  3. Or, maybe it’s just really really old.

    Well, I gotta hand it to you. I gave up on that car a long time ago. It’s served you better than I thought it would. I just hope we know when it’s the right time to let it go before we slide into super happy fun money pit land.

  4. Well, the good news is that five minutes ago I replaced the battery and it’s starting fine now! I even tested the alternator, and it passed with flying colors, so I’m happy (again).

  5. Old Volkswagens never die, they’re just prematurely given up on…unless of course it’s the fuel system…or the electrical system…or..

    Then pitch ’em.

    But the engine will go forever.


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