If I’ve learned nothing else in life, I’ve learned this: Never love a car.
You can like a car, enjoy a car, even admire a car. But do not, upon pain of heartache and bankruptcy, love a car.
The best proof of this is my childhood pal, Peter MacIntrye.
The object of Peter’s affection (or perhaps obsession) is a 15-year-old GMC Envoy, with about 250,000 miles on it.
Peter’s lived in Myrtle Beach for the past 45 years, which makes his car affair possible … and painful. It’s the climate: It’s so mild that the ADK winters Peter knew are but a distant memory, and if the car had a memory, those memories wouldn’t even be in it. Thus Peter can drive that heap every day, year after year, and while it’ll have mechanical problems, the body’ll be fine. If he drove it through 15 Adirondack winters, the only thing keeping the body intact would be rust. Unless he went Full Adirondack, then it’d be rust and duct tape.
Of course over the years he’s had to make a bunch of repairs, and while he’d mention them to me, I never kept track. Or at least I never did till this last bunch, because they’re a real doozy.
It started when his engine, which had never left the south, suddenly went way south. At that point, Peter had two choices — either rebuild the engine, or get a new car. It was no choice at all, since he loved the car, remember? So he had the engine rebuilt.
But then, he figured if the engine had given up the ghost, the transmission wouldn’t be far behind. So he had the transmission rebuilt too.
Now, with his new engine and transmission he was all set, right? Wrong.
After the rebuilds he decided to come up here for a while. All was groovy till he hit the Saranac Lake city limits, when he heard a loud whine followed by an ungodly whir, and his transmission not only slipped, but slipped the surly bonds of earth at well.
What to do?
Luckily, the transmission was covered by a warranty, so he got it replaced in Plattsburgh. And that’s when the real problems started.
Though Peter recited them like the Baltimore Catechism, I can’t remember all the details. I only know that while the engine and transmission worked fine, all sorts of other, seemingly-unrelated things went wrong. It was less a vehicle than a script from the “Twilight Zone.” At last count, a battalion of ace mechanics was working feverishly (and expensively) to exorcise whatever demons had possessed his jalopy. Hopefully, everything will be copacetic before he’s put enough money into the car to have bought a Mercedes or two.
But all of that is just par for the course for a true car lover.
Cat Is and Cat IIs
Me, I like my cars, nothing more. So my guiding principle with keeping my car alive is The Law of Diminishing Returns. When I’m putting more money into the car than I’ll get out of it in longevity and reliability, I say, “No mas” and send it to The Great Showroom in the Sky. In the meantime, though, I’m scrupulous about keeping the car in fine fettle.
For me, repairs fall into two categories.
Category I are the ones that cannot be ignored. These are The Big Four — lights, brakes, steering and tires. If one of those is defective, you’re playing with fire, both figuratively and literally, since anything going wrong with any of them can result in someone getting mangled. And that “someone” can be you or some innocent bystander. I have a problem with a Cat I, and my car is in the shop hasto-quicko.
Then there are the Cat II’s — malfunctions that while inconvenient or even madly annoying, don’t need immediate attention, or maybe any attention at all. For instance, electric windows. One of them dies, you’ve got three others. And what the hey, you can make do with two of ’em, if you want. But having one repaired on a car that, say, has a few years left, is nonsense to me … and expensive nonsense at that.
Air conditioning is a necessity in Arizona or Alabama; here I consider it a vanity. Certainly, to me, like the electric windows, it’s not worth the huge expense of fixing it.
And so it goes. Radio and/or tape deck bites the dust? I can hum to myself. Gas cap won’t lock? Hey, that’s what God made duct tape for.
Muffler’s are Cat IIs. They used to be easy and cheap to replace because essentially they were just a straight pipe with sound suppressors. Now it’s an entire system of anti-pollution and sound-suppression doohickeys that cost if not a king’s ransom, then a prince’s one. That’s why I wait till the system has rotted out before I replace it. Or maybe I’ll wait till it sounds as loud as a 150 mm artillery piece. But a moderately-loud muffler will be put on the waiting list. At least that’s what I always did … till last week.
Weird sound from the back side
A couple of months ago, I noticed my muffler was getting louder. Not bad, but enough that I knew something was going wrong with it. I assumed a hole had rusted through, and while having my tires changed in Evergreen Auto, I asked them to check it. They did, and said there were no holes and everything looked fine.
Thing is, everything didn’t sound fine. In fact, it started to sound worse … and weird. I took it back.
Jeffrey Ma Casland took it for a spin and when he came back, he announced the verdict: The muffler itself was solid, but one of the baffles inside had broken loose, hence that weird noise.
Time to cut to the chase:
“How much to replace it?” I asked Dave Smith.
“About two hundred bucks,” he said.
Two hundred bucks for a weird-sounding muffler? That was a definite Cat II — deferred maintenance at its best.
I thanked them for their consideration and took off. And when I did, suddenly that muffler, as if overhearing my convo with the Evergreen staff (or maybe even reading my mind) suddenly upped the volume, doubling it at least.
The sound level wasn’t illegal; it wasn’t even horribly intrusive. But remember I said it was weird? Well, the weirdness wasn’t due to how loud it sounded, but to what it sounded like.
When mufflers break down they can make one of several different sounds. There’s the growl. There’s the throaty roar. And there’s the out-and-out Jeeterville trashmo, ear-splitting, howl. My muffler sounded like none of those. Instead, it sounded exactly like a Bronx cheer — an uncouth, boorish, Brap. That was at low speeds. At high speeds it became a full-fledged flatulent BRAAAAP! It gave a whole new meaning to the term “gas-powered vehicle.”
I could have driven it without getting busted by the fuzz. But I could not have driven it without every adolescent male within earshot dissolving into hilarity and pointing me out to all his snot-nosed pals.
I called Evergreen and made an appointment to have the muffler replaced, 200 bucks be damned.
As I said, I like my car. But I sure don’t like it enough that I’m gonna drive around My Home Town with it sounding less like a vehicle than a the world’s loudest Whoopie Cushion.