Tag Archives: car woes

Snatched from the mouth of car Hell

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(If you are unaware of the back story regarding our Dodge van, check out the category “Why Dodge Sucks” in the pull-down menu on the left. Also realize that the most recent problems we had with it are not recorded there so the situation is even worse than what’s been written here.)


I would like to take this opportunity to announce our salvation from automobile Hell. We’ve been redeemed, we’ve seen the light and now walk in the ways of our Asian brethren, who have a tendency to eat weird shit with tentacles and eyeballs but know how to make a damned fine car, praise Jesus and hallelujah.

Thanks to some inspired and determined work on behalf of my husband, the following things happened in the space of two days last weekend:

*Robert visited the local Nissan dealership and they cut him the deal of the century, taking both his trashed Oldsmobile Alero (Trade-in value: $100. Pay-off: $1900) and the non-working van (on which was owed $400 just for the labor it had taken to figure out they didn’t know how to fix it) and giving him an ’07 Nissan Sentra in trade. Folks, they paid off the Alero and the repair ticket on the van, which they are towing down here to auction. All told we, for all intents and purposes, were given over $4000 for the van….the van which does not currently run and may, quite possibly, never run again. Robert’s payments on the Sentra are actually about $70 less than what he was paying on his previous car and both our crappy cars are now someone else’s problem.

*Next, we located a Honda Odyssey at the Carmax in Tulsa. The price was more than fair and included tag, title and tax. Robert went up to look at it on Saturday and bought it on the spot. And, get this: they financed us at a 4% better interest rate than we’d have paid if we’d used the Capital One check we intended to use!

The van is very nice. It’s got leather and an in-dash touchscreen GPS system. It does have a little over 60k miles on it but 60k on a Honda is like 20k on an American-made car. I can put another 100k on it if I want to and it shouldn’t give me a bit of trouble.

And so, just like that, our car woes are over. It’s been a long time coming. We sold my 4Runner in the summer of 2005. I was without a vehicle (this would qualify as a woe) for nine months. Then we got the van and had consistent problems with it (approximately every 2-3 months) for the entire time we’ve owned it. So I’ve been toasting my feet over the pit of vehicular Hades for close to four years now. My friends and family got sick of hearing about it. I’m sure everyone online got sick of hearing about it. You can be assured that, no matter how sick of it anyone else was, their disgust paled in comparison to how sick and freaking tired I was of it all. And now, poof. It’s over. I can walk out the door at any time I wish and go where I need to go. My vehicle will start and it will take me where I want to go and, most likely, will not die in intersections (or anywhere else). I’m a free woman, and not only that, it’s a pretty nice set of wheels, too. You know…..for a mini van.

Some might wonder about the wisdom of making this deal. You see, we will still be paying for the van for quite some time to come. Fortunately we are blessed in that the source of the loan for the van has given us low payments and exceedingly generous terms. But it is still a payment we have to make every month on a vehicle we no longer possess. So let’s look at our two other options for a moment.

Option #1: Fix the van, sell it & send the proceeds to pay off the loan
To do this, first we would have had to attempt to make a deal with the Nissan people sans the van. This would not have happened. We just tried that at a different car dealer a couple weeks ago and the terms/payments they gave us were so outrageous as to be unaffordable. So at that point Robert would’ve been stuck driving the Alero until it paid off. We’d have ended up shelling out another $1900 in payments on a car that was worth $100. It would’ve paid off in June and then we’d have been starting from square one. Square one for us means nothing to trade, hoping someone would finance us. And did I mention it had 180,000 miles on it and he was driving it 600+ miles a week?

So then say that, despite this, we decided to just forge ahead, forget getting Robert a car, keep the van and try to sell it. How much would we have gotten for a van that has an apparently unidentifiable problem and does not run more than a mile or two without dying? Fix it, you say? Okay, fine. At what cost? We’d already racked up a $400 bill just for them to figure out they didn’t know what was wrong with it. And nothing had worked to repair it. The only other option the service department could think of was to call Chrysler and see if they could help determine the problem. Oh, that really fills me with confidence. How much would this have ended up costing? I feel safe in saying it would’ve run to the thousands. We’re talking hours of diagnosis, perhaps transporting it to some other location and God knows what else. There’s a good chance that the repairs could’ve cost us 50-75% of the sale price we’d have gotten if we tried to sell it.

Finally, consider this: Conversion vans are difficult to sell. They are a niche market. We wouldn’t have been able to get Blue Book price for it even if it ran perfectly. Not in this market and this economy. We’d have had to spend thousands to get it running just so we could sell it at a reduced price and the amount we’d have gotten out of it wouldn’t have paid off the loan for it entirely, anyway. We’re better off simply continuing to pay off the loan than paying the loan and several thousand in repair bills. Also consider that, over the past year, the amount we’ve already paid in repairs for that van has worked out to approximately $300 a month. So, for all intents and purposes, we’ve been paying an extra car payment for the past twelve months or so, anyway. We ought to about break even.

Option #2: Repair the van and keep it
First off, see above paragraph regarding the chances of the van being repaired, and the potential price tag to make it so. Also please keep in mind that we’ve already spent thousands repairing this van and it has never stayed repaired for more than a few months at a time. So there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t pour all this money into it only to have it break down again later this year.

Secondly there’s the little matter of how much longer it would’ve taken to get it running again. It has already been gone five or six weeks. In case anyone missed the news bulletin, my husband, along with our second car, is gone all week for work. I’m here by myself with three kids who have school and various activities, not to mention niggling little things like needing groceries to feed them and whatnot. I have been sharing a car with my 72-year-old father-in-law who lives across town. This involves a LOT of him driving here to pick us up, me driving him home, me driving back to his house, him driving us back home, lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe it means I’m a spoiled rotten, fat, lazy, sense-of-entitlement-holding, instant-gratification-requiring American but, really, how long should one be expected to go on like that? Weeks? Months? Surely there’s a point where cutting one’s losses and moving on becomes necessity rather than simply an exercise in self-indulgence. No, I guess in European terms, or in metropolitan terms, I didn’t need another car. Yes, I could’ve continued to get by without one, probably for as long as it took to get some sort of answer on the van. But I’ve simply had enough. We were no longer willing to gamble on the van. We’ve gambled thousands of dollars already on it, that each time we had it repaired would be the last time and it would keep running. We were wrong every time. My getting a new van wasn’t me being spoiled and pampered. It was us throwing up our hands and admitting defeat. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We’ve been insane long enough.

So there you have it. My conscience wouldn’t let me end the story without touching on those points. I don’t know that anyone is actually questioning our decision. Hell, for all I know everyone may be so happy that they don’t have to hear me uttering the words “my van is broken down again” any more that they aren’t thinking twice about the details. But, still, I wanted to explain. On the surface our decision may not seem like the wisest one but I truly think that, looking at ALL the factors, it was the best route to take. Not perfect, by any means, but the least of several evils.

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Who’s screwed? We are!

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It had been eons since we heard from the Dodge dealership and we were wondering what was going on (last update was they had a theory and were waiting for a part). Robert gave them a call today to find out what’s up. We received the following joyous news:

*The guy who was handling our case quit today, so they had to look us up in the computer.

*The part came in. They installed it. It didn’t help.

*They tried something else. It didn’t help, either.

*The van is now back to giving the “No Bus” message that it was giving back when these ass clowns replaced the main computer and pronounced it ‘fixed’ last year.

*Obviously the thing has NEVER been fixed. The problem was simply staved off for a while.

*They have no idea what’s wrong with it. They think it might be electrical but have no idea where to start.

*The guy who’s now dealing with us wants to talk to his manager on Monday and see if he thinks they should call Chrysler and ask if they can help fix it. (See also: Things That Qualify as a Bad Sign)

*All this fruitless dicking around has run up a price tag of $400 so far, with no end in sight if we actually want the thing fixed, IF they could ever even figure out what’s wrong with it.

We had a potential deal worked out here in town that would’ve gotten us two new vehicles but it hinged on trading in the van, which is not going to happen now because no dealership in its right mind is going to give us $5500 for a van that does not work, has no apparent fix and probably will never work again.

It’s times like these I really question the existence of a higher power, or if there’s one I question its sense of humor. We had a complete shitstorm for two years and then the tide finally turned and our recovery culminated in us finding this van, the exact sort of vehicle I’d dreamed about, for exactly the amount of money we had to spend. Seems serendipitous. Except that the vehicle has gone on to cause nothing but problems, cost thousands of dollars in repairs, and ultimately end up unusable. If that’s not a big middle finger at us, I’m not sure what is. Think of all the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Dodge owners to whom this has never happened. But it happened to us! Of course it did.

Incidentally, we do have the ability right now to get another vehicle for me that will actually run. So it’s not that I’m being forced to be permanently car-less once again. What makes me angry is that we now owe thousands of dollars, all of which will have to be paid back, on a vehicle which is basically worthless and undrivable and will remain so. Instead of improving our situation somewhat we will end up worse off (financially, at least). Yeah, because we are just ROLLING in dough, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

I guess I should go count my blessings that a freaking asteroid hasn’t hit our house or something.

An hour later: May have posted too soon. Stay tuned for updates…..

Feeling of impending doom: I has it

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I have got one of those nagging feelings that there’s something I should be doing, or dreading, or fixing. Robert and all the kids are gone over to his dad’s house and I should be reveling in the peace and quiet; perhaps planning some toothsome nosh to be enjoyed while watching some of my DVR’ed shows. Instead I sit here, on edge, feeling as though there’s something worrisome about which I’ve forgotten.

Lots of people would be just fine with this state of affairs. Either they’d figure if it was that important they wouldn’t have forgotten it, or they’d be content with the respite from worrying about the issue for as long as it took them till they finally remembered. Not I. I am not one to do well with unpleasantness hanging over my head. If there’s a problem, I don’t want to ignore it. I want to identify it and then implement a solution as soon as humanly possible. I can’t fully enjoy my usual simple pleasures if there’s something less-enjoyable lurking around the edges of my periphery the entire time. I don’t compartmentalize well. If there’s an aspect of my life that is less than stellar it tends to cast a pall over everything else.

In situations such as this the best thing for me to do is write about it and try to dissect why I’m feeling this way. Oftentimes I will discover that it’s not so much one, big, upsetting situation that’s nagging at me so much as several small, relatively minor issues (must-dos, unresolved problems) that have snowballed to create a feeling of trepidation. Then all I need to do is separate all the components (usually by making a list of them) and think of resolutions to each and my anxiety vanishes.

I know, for certain, that part of my problem is the ongoing van issue. It was “fixed” as of Thursday afternoon — it was (allegedly) a mere battery connection problem. It ran fine until last night when we left the restaurant where we ate dinner and it repeated the same problem that caused me to have it towed last Tuesday. This time, instead of failing to stay on, though, once we got it turned on it continued to run and then were able to drive home. This morning when Robert started it it hesitated but then fired up and worked okay. We are thinking it’s a battery issue still — last night it lost power and then when we got it to turn on and stay on the alternator charged the battery enough that it still had some juice this morning. I am going to go have the battery tested and hopefully it really is as minor as that — but it’s an unresolved van issue and I HATE unresolved van issues. I hate that crap worse than having to pay to have it fixed. I’d rather know what’s wrong with it and know it will be repaired rather than wondering, every damned time I go out to start the thing, whether it’s going to run, whether I’ll be able to get the kids to and from school or go pick up milk at the grocery store if I need it. Knowing the thing is running, but begrudgingly, and not knowing how long it will last this time really gets to me.

The other thing that could be contributing is quite silly, now that I’m sitting here picking it apart. I had a dream this morning that we got into trouble over a specific situation in our lives. Now, the circumstances through which we got into this trouble in the dream are simply not going to happen. They involve other people doing things for which, in the real world, there is no reasonable expectation of them doing. And yet I’m left with this slightly anxious feeling that these actions will somehow transpire, or that we will otherwise end up in the same trouble via different means. It’s a situation that is not really easy to resolve just this minute, so I’m left with that limbo that I hate so much. Instead of being able to solve the problem and rest easy in my mind I am constantly on hyper-alert, always watching. Makes it very hard to relax. I think the dream, which was very realistic, is amplifying the daily concern I’ve had over this issue for the past few weeks. I need to shake loose of the dream’s residual feelings and understand that the chances of this causing us problems are no larger today than they were yesterday. (I realize all this is very vague but I don’t want to go into too much more detail.)

Yes, I think those two things, plus the added elements of Madalyn’s upcoming birthday, for which I don’t feel I’m prepared, AND Halloween, for which the older two kids still have no costumes, AND the trip I’m supposed to take next month but now appears to be in jeopardy, would very likely be the reasons for my unsettled feeling.

And, so, with all that said, has this actually helped much? Perhaps a little. I have begun to realize as I type this that the main factor in my feeling this way, today, was the dream. Unfortunately, recognizing this doesn’t do that much to alleviate the worries. The only thing that will truly help that is to get through today and see that what I dreamed of happening isn’t actually going to come to pass. Until then I guess I’m destined to spend the day feeling this way. Bummer.

Pray for us

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Okay, not really, as it’s not that serious. But we have decided to take the Van from Hell to Norman today. We simply couldn’t warm up to the idea of patronizing the Dodge dealership here after they gave us the big middle finger during the Great Computer Fiasco. The stupid thing has been running fine for chunks of time so we hope it will make it all the way to Norman (65 miles). If it dies, it will often reset itself if you sit for a while and then it will run a bit more after that. Failing that, we have AAA. Anyway, we’re going to drop the thing off, have lunch, and come home. Because it’s not like there’s anything else we need to be doing right now, right? We totally can spare four hours to leave town.

On the plus side, I really love these guys to whom we’re taking it and they are the ones who, in January, had it fixed in one business day after local mechanics had been unable or unwilling to fix it for THREE MONTHS. So I do at least feel as though we’ll have it back by next weekend, fixed (until something else goes wrong two or three months down the road).

Anyway, cross your fingers for us that we make it and that, if we don’t, I don’t completely lose my mind and injure myself leaping from FIL’s car to try to kick the van’s ass.

Bartender, another round of crap

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I’ve been putting off detailing this for a while because I’m of the “Denial Works Wonders” school of thought, but, for the sake of accuracy and thoroughness I need to get it all down in print. This has also been added to my original list “Stuff That’s Wrong with My Van.”

Week of August 25th: Van dies two different times as it’s idling in the driveway. For reasons you may be able to understand, I choose to convince myself it was a fluke and there’s really nothing wrong. It runs fine for a few days after that but then, on August 30th, it dies twice as I’m driving down the road. It took me a few tries to get it started again. We then drove it on Sunday and it was fine all day. Monday I looked into taking it to a mechanic but they couldn’t get it in until Thursday, September 4th. I took it in on Thursday to the garage (heretofore after known as Incompetent Garage #8,456). They dinked around with it until Friday afternoon and decided all it needed was a simple $250 tune-up and it would be fine. “Um…okayyyy” was my thought, but who am I to argue with the “professionals”? So we picked the thing up and it was fine….for two days. On Monday it commenced again with the croaking. Most inconvenient when one is driving down the road.

So, off it went, back to Incompetent Garage #8,456. They had it for three days before handing down the proclamation that we should put some new gas in it and run a gas cleaner through the tank. Okay. Righty-o. Because that has happened to SO MANY PEOPLE I know. Cars dying on the road right and left, and all because the owner is lacking the miracle cure of a bottle of gas tank cleaner. Oh, and their excuse? “We couldn’t get the problem to duplicate when we drove it.” Sound eerily reminiscent to anyone else?

Now we have the van back and Robert decides to use it on Saturday to take some stuff to our new house because, by the way, we are moving and need the g*ddamned van to help with that. He leaves the house and, as I know for a fact he’s only going there and coming straight back, I expect him back within thirty minutes. An hour-and-a-half later I decided I’d better go look for him. Turns out, he’d made it to the new house, but not until the van had died about twenty times on the way there. Once it took about twenty minutes before it would start again. By the time I got to the house, it had deteriorated to the point that it won’t even run for more than a minute or so. You turn it on, and idles and then it’s like someone flips a switch and it just shuts off.

And that’s where we leave off today, September 15th. The van is in the driveway of our new house, awaiting our next move. I can most assuredly tell you it will NOT be to Incompetent Garage #8,456. No, we are toying with the idea of taking it back to the Dodge garage here in town. Yes, the same place where I made a scene back in January because they refused to even attempt to fix the vehicle. I simply don’t feel we have a choice, at this point. Two independent garages have been unable to fix several different issues with it. I’d strongly prefer to take it to the guys in Norman but problem 1 = we can’t drive it up there and problem 2 = it would cost the annual budget of a small Third World country to have it towed up there (70 miles). So I’m feeling a bit backed into a corner on this issue. If we do take it over there, Robert will be dealing with them entirely. I refuse to go over there and deal with those people. He is home today so he can go explain the problem to them and give them his phone number for a contact. If I pretend it isn’t happening then it isn’t, right? *sigh* At least they won’t be able to claim they can’t replicate the problem, because it’s now doing it every sixty seconds or so. Still….I really despise those people and it positively galls me to think of giving them any business.

Update when available.

Stuff That’s Wrong With My Van

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This is mainly for my own records, but feel free to peruse, on the off chance you are needing to be talked out of buying a Chrysler/Dodge vehicle. This is current through this afternoon; list to be updated as will, undoubtedly, be necessary.

April 2006: Bought 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 Van. Has less than 35k miles on it and was in excellent condition. We’re thrilled.

November 2006: Ran over object in road which punctures the gas tank, resulting in over $1500-worth in repairs to replace said gas tank. On the surface, this wouldn’t appear to be Dodge’s fault. However, the object was a small one — it was flat, in fact. Apparently it bounced up when I nicked it with the tire and did the damage, which leads to a question: what kind of idiot designs a vehicle with the gas tank placed in a position where it can be punctured by random small objects?

January 2007: I attempt to start the van and find the key will not turn. No amount of muscle or wiggling or reinserting does any good. It is late at night so I can’t call anyone. It occurs to me to Google the problem and I discover that this is a well-known and widespread issue with Dodge vehicles. The only “solution” is to replace the ignition shaft to the tune of several hundred dollars, and the problem is equally likely to recur with the new shaft as with the old one. I read about a quick fix, which is to whack the key firmly into the ignition with a solid object, after which it will turn. As of 8/7/08, I have gone from having to whack the key once every few weeks to get it to turn to now having to pound it a number of times nearly every time I want to start the van.

Date unknown, 2007: Van won’t start at random times and needs to be jumped. Turns out to be a bad battery cable. Fixed, but after two visits to mechanic.


Date unknown, 2007:
Check engine light comes on. There’s a leak in the evap line. It’s fixed fairly quickly, but at our expense and inconvenience. Also fixed while we were there: the back seat seatbelt which, inexplicably, has become unscrewed from its lower mooring.

October 2007: The long and horrific Computer Saga begins and drags on until January 2008. During these three months, I have use of the van for less than 24 hours, total. Thinking about it makes me vair, vair tired so I will just provide links: Dodge Wars Episode I: The Saga Begins, Dodge Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo, I Fought the Dodge and the Dodge Won, The Resolution.

Spring 2008: Brakes begin making godawful noise which sounds like metal-on-metal grinding. (“Tonight on the Auto Fetish Network: Naked Brake Grinding! Hot metal-on-metal action!”) Take it in for repairs (NOT at local Dodge dealership); never quite sure what it is that is wrong, as they didn’t explain it and I, frankly, am SO over it. I’m just thrilled to get out of there in under 24 hours and for less than 200 bucks.

July 2008: Robert arrives in California with the van and says, “Oh, by the way, it started making a clunking/banging noise on the drive out here.” (Robert: “We should have it looked at.” Me: “F**********ck!!!”) When parked, one front wheel is tilted inward. Parents’ mechanic neighbor takes it to his garage and finds the entire front wheel apparatus is hanging on by a thread. As in, we should be happy that the whole damned thing didn’t fall off while Robert was driving down the highway. This is #2 on the list of Things About This Van That Could Potentially Have Killed Us. Neighbor reattaches appendage properly and we have the wheels aligned the next day. Begin wondering if I can hire a hitman to kill van and make it look like an accident.

August 2008: Effing check engine light on again. I take the thing to the guys in Norman again. There’s another leak in the evap line. Either the previous mechanics did a crappy job fixing it the first time or it’s just poorly made. Knowing what I now know about all the elements involved, I’d say the odds are split about 50/50 in favor of either explanation. One of the horde of salesmen who are circling the repair lounge, vulture-like, says they quit making Ram vans a few years ago, to which I reply, “Really? I can’t imagine why.”

Same day: After the Norman Dodge guys told me to come back at 1:00 so they could look at the van, I take the kids to lunch. When we come out of the restaurant, the van starts and we drive away. A half-mile down the road I realize that none of the lights on the instrument panel (blinkers included) nor the stereo are working. It’s completely dead. I report this when I give the keys to the associate. A few minutes later he comes in and says that everything worked just fine when he started it to move it inside, and that is must’ve just been that the key didn’t click back after I turned it all the way to start the engine. Whatever. Everything is normal the rest of the day and this morning. However, as I’m driving home around noon, I hit a bump — and the instrument panel goes dark. Stereo shuts off. Blinkers dead. When I get home I turn off and restart and everything comes on.

Keep in mind, folks, that the odometer just turned over to 70k miles yesterday. We shouldn’t be having all these issues. And, yet, I see another trip to Norman Dodge in our future. They can fix whatever the bloody flipping hell it is that’s wrong with it THIS time, plus the damned thing needs new shocks, too. Then maybe I’ll have them take it out to the parking lot, strap five hundred pounds of TNT to it, and blow it into a million itty-bitty chunks of scrap metal. I wonder if that’s covered under the warranty?

Another addition. Big surprise.
Week of August 25th: Van dies two different times as it’s idling in the driveway. For reasons you may be able to understand, I choose to convince myself it was a fluke and there’s really nothing wrong. It runs fine for a few days after that but then, on August 30th, it dies twice as I’m driving down the road. It took me a few tries to get it started again. We then drove it on Sunday and it was fine all day. Monday I looked into taking it to a mechanic but they couldn’t get it in until Thursday, September 4th. I took it in on Thursday to the garage. They dinked around with it until Friday afternoon and decided all it needed was a simple $250 tune-up and it would be fine. “Um…okayyyy” was my thought, but who am I to argue with the “professionals”? So we picked the thing up and it was fine….for two days. On Monday it commenced again with the croaking. Most inconvenient when one is driving down the road.

So, off it went, back to the garage. They had it for three days before handing down the proclamation that we should put some new gas in it and run a gas cleaner through the tank. Okay. Righty-o. Because that has happened to SO MANY PEOPLE I know. Cars dying on the road right and left, and all because the owner is lacking the miracle cure of a bottle of gas tank cleaner. Oh, and their excuse? “We couldn’t get the problem to duplicate when we drove it.” Sound eerily reminiscent to anyone else?

Robert decides to use it on Saturday to take some stuff to our new house because, by the way, we are moving and need the g*ddamned van to help with that. He leaves the house and, as I know for a fact he’s only going there and coming straight back, I expect him back within thirty minutes. An hour-and-a-half later I decided I’d better go look for him. Turns out, he’d made it to the new house, but not until the van had died about twenty times on the way there. Once it took about twenty minutes before it would start again. By the time I got to the house, it had deteriorated to the point that it won’t even run for more than a minute or so. You turn it on, and idles and then it’s like someone flips a switch and it just shuts off.

We ended up driving the thing to our friends at Norman Dodge where they discovered a bad code stored in the crank shaft computer. They replaced it and it solved that problem. (Cost: $500 range)

October 15: On our way out of town, van overheats. We make it back to the mechanic and it’s a bad water pump. We have to rent a car to take our Dallas trip. The new water pump and a new serpentine belt are installed October 20th. (Cost: $400)

October 21: 18 hours after picking the van up from the mechanic, I attempt to start it to take the kids to school. It won’t turn over; makes an “rrrrr-rrrrr” sound and the dashboard lights fade in and out as it does so. When I do get it to turn over, then catch, it immediately turns off again. Van has been towed back to mechanic.