The roads around here have been dicey lately, what with incontinent weather systems leaving piles of precipitate all over the place, so it wasn’t until Sunday morning that it was safe to push Rocinante, my loyal Honda Civic, past fifty on the highway.
At which point he started shaking so hard, I thought he was going to lose a tire and jettison his undercarriage—not a happy prospect when one is a quarter of the way across a slick bridge above the frozen Mississippi, with two kids in the back seat making those “uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh” noises that kids like to make when they vibrate.
We managed to arrive safely, if shaken (Hey-o!), at our destination, where I asked my friend Larry—the one who lent me a roll of duct tape when Rocinante’s driver’s side mirror fell off this past summer—what he thought it might be.
He thought it might be a lot of things, most of them expensive. Of course.
We managed to get home again, by dint of taking streets with speed limits of thirty-five and briefly irritating the crap out of the other drivers on the bridge who would have liked for me to go just a tad faster. But I started to notice other things, too, like the way Rocinante was lagging when I hit the gas, as if he had to figure out how to get his wheels all going in the same direction first. And how even at slower speeds, I was feeling a definite wobble in the front wheel on the driver’s side.
I had to wait until Monday evening to get Rocinante to our favorite mechanic, and I’d already half-decided that it was time to trade in my faithful 2005 steed, with his battered body and imaginative gas gauge. Instead of laying down the money for new struts/tires/axel pins/exorcisms, maybe I should use it for a down payment on something new, or newer.
I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a car payment, but maybe it wouldn’t be too bad—surely a nine-year old car with under 65,000 miles on it would earn a decent trade in, dents and dings and broken latches aside.
Or I could sell him myself. Surely someone would want to adopt a small loyal car that might be a bit . . . homely . . . but always started—battery willing—and offered effective heating, low gas mileage, and a brand new windshield . . .
Maybe for parts. Or the demolition derby.
I suddenly realized why some people spend thousands of dollars on chemo for their pet goldfinches. Unfortunately, in this situation, “Over my dead body” isn’t just a phrase, and I had the safety of my children’s’ bodies to consider, too.
So I drove to my mechanic’s shop with heavy heart and light pocketbook and told my car wizard all about it while one of his guys took Rocinante out for a test drive.
The guy came back and drove my baby onto an empty lift. My mechanic went out to talk with him and about fifteen minutes later, he came back into the office, where I’d been reading depressing magazine articles about cleansing diets and echinacea, and shook his head.
My heart sank.
“Charlie didn’t feel that vibration at all,” he said. “When’s the last time you drove it over forty-five?”
“Yesterday morning,” I said, wondering if I should call my kids in as witnesses and have them demonstrate that “uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh” noise for him.
“Did you park inside last night?”
“Is your garage heated?”
“Okay,” he said. “Your struts are fine and everything else looks good—bolted down tight. But you have a lot of ice and packed snow around your front wheels and I’ll bet it was worse before you reached your garage and some of it melted off. That can throw off your balance by several ounces. We just cleared all that out, so why don’t you take another test drive with Charlie, and see if that fixed it?”
So I did. And it had. And I was charged $17.60—but only because they replaced my wiper blades.
Rocinante is in fine, inexpensive shape, at least on the inside, and I wouldn’t trade his ugly mug for any of the prettier ponies out there.
Not even for heated seats and a USB port.
What are you driving these days?