I am a woman who doesn’t care one bit about the state of my vehicle. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want it to work. But if I have to hold it together with duct tape, I am thoroughly unfazed by that. Cars to me are functional and not at all interesting in any other way. (I am not just one walking female stereotype. I don’t think it’s above my intelligence or spatial abilities to learn how to take care of a car. I am just disinterested in it).
I’ve had some clunkers in my day. My first car, a gift from a boss when I was 19, was a 1980 Toyota Corolla that looked like all the paint had somehow melted off and it had been then been sprayed silver by a classroom of first graders. I totaled it six months after I got it. I was on my way home from my job in the city, having just crossed the George Washington Bridge, when I decided that I wanted to turn off at an exit I’d never taken so I could learn where it led. (Ironic end to that story: that once mysterious exit is actually on a road that is within walking distance to my current house and is the next exit after mine). I spun out and careened into the retainer by the roadside. (Yes, I cried). It taught me the valuable lesson of planning turns before making them.
After that I bought a Pontiac Fiero. I found it in a classified ad posted by a female FBI agent, which I thought was extremely cool. I hoped some of her breezy self-confidence would rub off on me if I bought her beautiful, sporty little two-door. (Bonus: It smelled better on the inside than any car I’ve ever been in. It’s been twenty five years and I’m still on the lookout for the car deodorizer that she used. I have never been able to replicate that scent). When I took it to the mechanic to get it checked out, he said to me, “If I told you where the gas tank is on this thing, you’d never step foot in it again.” But I was young, and it was sporty and black, so step foot in it I did. I lost that baby when someone ripped off the whole back of it at an intersection. It fell apart like cheap plastic. I am told that a foot further up would have turned it into a fireball. But I have no proof of that and here I am, unsinged.
After that, I decided it was time to be a grown-up and buy a four-door sedan. I found the most beautiful sky-blue old used Volvo I’d ever seen and got it for a thousand bucks. It was stately and had leather seats and no rust spots (also, it did not make me sit over the gas tank). I loved it. Early on, though, it developed one teeny problem. One day it just decided that no matter what I did, the heat would always be on full blast. This was not unpleasant in the winter, when all it took was a cracked window to make it just the right level of cozy. It caused significant distress in the summer. I was poor and a little afraid of mechanics (a fear that persists. I hate dealing with them), so I sucked it up for a long time. Longer than I should have. It was like having my own sauna on wheels.
After the Volvo, I found my way to the wonder that is a Toyota Camry. Now there is a car that is built for a person like me. It runs on sweat and hope, uses up barely any gasoline and considers oil changes optional. It was plain and gray and nothing to look at, but I loved that thing. I drove it for years and years. When I was done, I gave it to my mom, who drove it some more. All told, I think it was nearly at 200,000 miles before it went to its reward, a truly spectacular feat if you consider that I rarely spent any money on it and was much worse about remembering to take it in for routine maintenance than I am today.
I would have gladly been a Camry owner for life. However, my (now ex) husband surprised me with a gorgeous dark red BMW 5-series as a push present when my daughter was a month old (gotta hand it to the man – he gave spectacular gifts). It was a great car that made me feel like I’d arrived. I could barrel up an incline faster than anyone else on the road. I could swerve and weave. Also, I just looked damn good in it. (The car seat ruined the look a bit, but I looked on the bright side). Unfortunately, the thing was persnickety. Every little squeak required a $500 visit to the dealer. The payments were crazy high. When I was finally on my own again, I ran back to the safety of Toyota.
I bought a little light blue Highlander SUV (I have a thing for light blue, in case you haven’t noticed). Although I had only the best intentions, I dinged it up a little. One year, in the run on gasoline leading up to Hurricane Iris, some crazy guy tried to shoehorn in front of me on the gas line (when it was finally my turn after waiting an hour) and scraped the whole right side of it. Two years ago, en route to Cape Cod, I had a little fender bender that knocked up the rear left. Although I have full coverage on it, I didn’t go through my insurance to fix it, because it works perfectly well and because, well, cars. And mechanics. (The aversion extends to body shop owners. For some reason, I just really hate how “car people” talk to me. I think it’s a man/woman thing, as in the “aren’t women silly about cars” vibe that most mechanics put out, but I won’t go on a diatribe. I may need to turn in my feminist card, but I will confess that one thing I do miss about being married is having a man to deal with all that).
I have cars on the brain because yesterday, my beloved Heaven On Wheels (that’s what my kids named her when we got her five years ago) decided to start making a screeching noise. It started low and then got unbearable. There are certain things I’ll ride through and other things which even I know require a trip to the dreaded mechanic. But then I listened for the pattern in the screech. It got worse every time I made a turn. Might power steering fluid help? It was worth a try.
With YouTube at the ready, I figured out how to check the power steering fluid. (It did not require a detective license, since it’s right there to the left of the engine, clearly marked “Power Steering Fluid”). The YouTube videos were much more ambitious than I wanted to be, recommending a process involving a turkey baster and some flexible rubber tubing to first drain out the old fluid. (I fast forwarded and somewhere in the second half there was a bucket on the ground, with tubing draining orange liquid into it. It all looked unnecessarily complicated and I had a thousand words to write before work). I settled for dumping new power steering fluid in the little reservoir instead. I drove to Target, bought it, then opened up the hood right there. (Some dude walked over to me as I was closing the hood after I finished, all “Are you okay? Can I help you?” I had on a cute dress, so it was probably more that than anything. Had he been more attractive I would have played up the damsel in distress thing. As it was, I thanked him and told him everything was good, and got on my way).
Voila, the power steering fluid quieted her down right away. Well, not right away. I learned from the YouTube videos that you’re supposed to turn the wheel to the left and right five times (presumably to get the fluid where it needs to go?). Regardless of the reason, by the time I was home from Target, she was purring like a kitten again. And, lest you think I’m neglecting my Heaven, I will be sure to ask the mechanic to check it and flush it if necessary the next time I go in for an oil change, which I’m due to do next month.
I share my lackluster car history with you so you can appreciate the great feat that I accomplished yesterday: diagnosis and remedy of a car issue. Sweet. Hopefully it will be another 10,000 miles before she needs any more attention, because I’m all out of car energy for the foreseeable future.