Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Suburban Adventure

It's been a while since I made a canary post, which I suppose is a good sign for my own health and existence ;), but this canary was not actually me. Like all my canary stories though, it has a happy ending, you just have to wait for it.

My parents have a wonderful "durable car" story in that when I was a kid they purchased a Range Rover in England and drove it across Europe to our new post in Iran. Seems simple enough until it broke down somewhere, Germany maybe? At that point, they discovered that the folks who checked off on their brand new car had failed to add any oil. It had driven more than half a continent on packing grease...and once it got some oil in its system, continued on to be the favorite car of my childhood without (as far as I know) any mechanical consequences.

That's pretty spectacular, but today I got my own modern version.

I was scheduled to do a career fair at my kids' school and had timed things so I was on time but not very early, since that's how I do things.

I had 15 minutes to do an 8-10 minute drive, find parking, and get to the library. Easily enough time to spare.

Then, when turning out of my housing complex, I heard a strange thump. I pulled to the side of the road and glanced back to see what looked like a gas cap on the road.

Now my car was almost below the last quarter so the odds of it having been mine and on the roof this whole time were astronomical, but I was in a rush and not thinking clearly. I turned on my hazards and waited for two cars to go by on this 35 MPH road before dashing across the lane to pick up the cap. I then had to wait for another couple cars before I could pop my gas tank cover only to discover my cap in place.

Now I had cut my time margin, AND got slick, smelly stuff on my fingers, all because I rode over someone else's cap. Sigh.

Forgetting about the 60 MPH winds, I put the cap face up on the curb where the hapless gas-cap loser could have a chance of recovery, having had my gas cap replaced not too long ago when my husband drove away from the gas station with it sliding about on the top.

I wiped my fingers with a tissue, continued on to the school, raced into the restroom to wash my hands with soap, and arrived just as things were getting settled.

As the career fair carried on, the whole incident slipped from my mind. After all, I hadn't lost my gas cap, I hadn't been embarrassed by being late, and nothing else had come of it, right?

So after a successful career fair in which I got some decent questions and had fun listening to the DJ and reporter who made up the other two panelists in my room, I headed back to the car and drove the short distance home.

Despite the winds, though, it was warm in my car as it had spent the last almost two hours under the hot desert sun. So I cracked the window and let the breeze flow over me.

Even so, I kept spelling burning oil or something like it. At first I thought it belonged to one of the other cars, but it lingered after they'd gone their own way.

I decided to park the car out front and ask my husband to take a look when he got home because sometimes I pinpoint problems by smells...and sometimes the smells are memory triggers that have nothing to do with current reality ;).

Then curiosity got the better of me.

Despite being in nice clothes for the presentation, I snagged another tissue and figured I could at least check the oil level.

When I popped the hood, I was stunned to see oil all over the engine block, dripping down from the raised hood, splashing down one side of my beautiful car (okay so she's a 1990 Corolla wagon with a bloomed paint job, but she's my first car, my baby, and always beautiful in my eyes :)). Horrified, I took some inadequate swipes at her with my tissue, all the while imagining oil seeping into the air filter, radiator and who knows where else.

So, scared now, I called my husband and told him what little I knew. He asked about fire, burning smells, weird sounds. Nope. Nothing but a faint smell of oil.

While he finished out his work day, I walked back to the corner where I'd picked up the "gas" cap, about a half-mile round trip. But when I got there, I couldn't see the cap anywhere on the curb. Frustrated, I scanned up and down only to find it in the middle of the lane again. Remember the winds?

Well, I dodged a couple cars, hoping no one would hit my cap, and rescued it once again. Only this time I happened to glance at the back. It was clearly labeled "Engine Oil." Sigh. I could have put it back on immediately if I'd just done that glance when I first found it.

Not only that, but in its tossing about in the wind, and/or the intervention of a car, it was now chipped as it hadn't been when I first picked it up.

So I trudge back home, use another tissue (hmm, maybe I should put in another box?) to wipe it clean, and put it back on the engine block, locking the barn door after about 3.5 quarts of oil had already escaped.

Hubby gets home and we (mostly him) wash off the engine with a garden hose and Dawn to cut the oil. I'm still worried because I'm not sure about the chip, because even with the washing there's still oil, and I'm worried about long term consequences on my baby.

I'm also not all that happy about the place that gave me my oil change. They're the only ones who ever touch the cap. My baby runs clean and clear. She doesn't lose oil or burn it, or at least not enough to be a cause of concern between oil changes and certainly not enough to pour some in on my own.

So here I am, grumbling about the mess, the injury to my car, and the person who'd failed to close the cap properly when my friend Val tells me to call the shop. At minimum I should report it, she says, so they can emphasize the importance, and at best they could do something to help. Well, I'd mentioned that to my hubby, but even though I'd only driven 98 miles (I use my car for road trips and little between), it had been over two months since the oil change. I hadn't been the one to take her in either. So I thought about waiting for hubby to get back from taking my youngest to the dentist, then I said no, I will deal with this disaster.

I called the company with my data on the mileage and the dates in front of me, expecting argument but hoping for the best as I asked who I should speak to about a problem with my last oil change. I was transferred to the service department and given into the hands of a gentleman called Ed. I laid out both the time and the few miles as I explained that the cap had come loose and sprayed oil all over the place.

I'd barely explained the basics when he asked: How soon can you bring it in?

Just like that. No quibbles, no "when did you last add oil," no "you waited too long."

I was stunned.

But then I remembered the chip and said that I wasn't sure she was drivable. But when I described the chip, he said it sounded fine to drive that far. And they would check it when I got there. Oh, and he also said that using Dawn was a bad call, not because it won't cut the oil, but because it can damage the paint job. Just in case you're ever in need of this info.

So not waiting another moment, I tossed my things in the car and set off. She drove okay, especially considering she'd just been hosed down with dishwashing soap. My hubby had warned me about some slippage of the belts so I was prepared for that, but when she stalled out, 18 years old and she does NOT stall, at a light, I started getting worried. I love my car if you haven't guessed and this shook me. Another almost stall, and I'd made it there. Found Ed, and he brought two others out to check the car. I went over everything again as they stared into my still-dripping engine. He unscrewed the cap and saw the damage there, declared she needed a complete engine detailing, a top off of oil, and a little TLC.

As we walked back, I asked about the gas cap, but he said the O-ring was fine so the chip would not affect the seal at all, one less worry. Then the guy moving the car can't get her to start. I'm staring at my little baby, watching her engine fail to turn over and imagining all sorts of disasters when a puff of black smoke comes out of her tailpipe and off she goes.

In comes Ed again to the rescue. He not only explains that the stalling and hard start is most likely water in the distributor cap from our attempt to wash the car, but that they'll deal with it. And the smoke is just because of the oil running everywhere. He takes me off to get a cup of coffee, listens to me waxing lyrical about my baby, my first car, my wonderfully reliable vehicle who is still on her first ever clutch after 18 years (got a surprised look on that one like I always do :D), and gets me a comfy seat to wait in.

Some time later (actually quite a bit of time during which she passed into my view then disappeared again much to my consternation), he comes for me and shows me my beautiful car again. Not only have they cleaned the engine, but they cleaned the rest of the car too just because. He proudly shows off the engine, saying I've probably never seen it so clean. I mildly deflate his statement as I remind him I bought her new, but she certainly hasn't been so clean in a long time. There's still hints of oil waiting to drip down from inside the hood because they can't very well clean up inside those tiny screw holes, but overall my car is in wonderful condition.

When I got home, my hubby noticed the receipt said their work was guaranteed for 90 days, so I was actually within the warranty period, but still, Ed took the time to take care of me, to reassure me, to answer questions about how to get the stains off our driveway even. I was impressed and coddled by their grand customer service.

My poor little canary is quietly back in her spot, having driven at least twice with oil splurting all over her engine without catching fire, blowing up, or doing any of myriad things that would have ended her little existence.

And now I have a car to take me back to the school to help with registration. I just hope this trip will be a little less eventful :D.

5 comments:

Deirdre said...

If you haven't already, you should either write a separate note, or just forward this post, to Ed's boss, and if it's a chain to the chain's customer service...that kind of extra attention deserves notice.

Margaret said...

Yep. That's the plan. Actually part of the reason I wrote this up now is to keep a "record" because I'm too swamped right now to track down who to send it to.

Absolutely that kind of care deserves recognition.

jodi said...

lol--it's a good thing it dropped out and didn't end up wedged into your engine. Sounds like everything ended well...:)

Margaret said...

Eep! Good point. I didn't even think about that part. Luckily, my car is perfectly fine now with the exception of a faint burning smell as she works off all the places the oil ran to :).

Jean said...

So glad you have a happy ending to the story (and that's amazing about your folks' Range Rover!).

Definitely write in about that wonderful customer service. Ed and his crew need to be rewarding for making that situation right again.