Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Car Trouble

Nobody likes car trouble.  The biggest concern I want to have is keeping it clean, putting gas in it and getting the oil changed.  I am not mechanically inclined nor do I like getting dirty or recognizing the magnitude of my ignorance.

7:55 AM (35 degrees F) – While dropping my 6 year old off at school in the drive through drop-off, I put the car in park, she exits and I start to put the car in drive and the gear shift is stuck.  I go through my usually diagnostics of pushing the brake harder, jamming the buttons on the transmission, jiggling the gear shift, jiggling the steering wheel and turning the car on and off.  All the while, I have created a logjam at the school and my 4 year old is patiently waiting in the back seat while internally she is dreading missing show and tell at her daycare.

8:00 AM – Several people stop by and are willing to help.  The consensus is that it is a safety feature to make sure the brake is on before putting the car in gear.  This makes sense to me.  I decline help from Helper #1 to take my 4 year old to daycare and call my wife to come and get us. 

8:07 AM - My wife arrives, picks up my 4 year old and contacts our insurance company for a tow.

As the brake lights are not coming on, it may be relay or fuse that is the problem.  Helper #2 helps me locate the fuse box, under the steering column on the left hand side, and he visually checks several fuses before exhausting his available time/expertise.  Helper #3 contacts her husband who Googles my problem and the hunt starts for the safety override which according to the schematic is underneath the center console.  Helper #4 is generously helping me look for the override and no luck.  We start checking other fuses thanks to Helper #3’s tools and Helper #4’s electrical and troubleshooting knowledge.  The manual is being passed around, the hood is up, and all three fuse locations have been opened.

I am having flashbacks to the fuel pump going out on my truck while dropping the same daughter off at day care 5 years earlier.  I got it towed to a service center, had it fixed and promptly sold the vehicle.  I convince myself that I am buying a new car with a manual transmission once finances allow.

8:41 AM – I call the tow company to verify that help is on the way.

9:00 AM Helper #4 spots a dangling wire near the top of the brake pedal.  This is most likely related to my problem.  We try to reattach this to several points on the switch, but the brake lights are not coming on and the car is still stuck in park.

9:20 AM – I call Firestone to let them know I will be having my car towed there.

9:30 AM – Helper #3 and Helper #4 have done all they can and wish me the best of luck.  I am absolutely impressed by how friendly and helpful people are.  I am still waiting on the tow.  I grab a pop-tart and have breakfast in the car.  I go inside the school and use the restroom.

9:45 AM – The flatbed tow truck arrives and is dismayed that the car is stuck in park.  He cannot load it or tow it like this.  He puts the car through the same paces I did, albeit more aggressively.  He calls the dispatcher and they agree to send out a different tow truck.

10:00 AM – I call the dispatcher and find out the tow is still probably 30 minutes out.  To pass the time, I start flipping through the manual and find several nifty features of my 9 year old car including how to open up the trunk from inside the car (pg 52).  Under the “Driving Section” (pg 109) there is a section titled Brake-shift interlock which is a technique to get the car out of park.  There are 5 key locations.

1 = ACC
2 = LOCK
3 = OFF
4 = ON

The technique involves putting the turning the key to the off position, putting the car in neutral, starting the car and then putting the car in drive.  I can’t believe I did not see this before.

10:33 AM – Miraculously the car starts and I cancel the tow and drive to Firestone.  I definitely want the car checked out despite the apparently successful work around.

10:40 AM – I arrive at Firestone and they are willing to take a look at it while I wait.

11:00 AM – My car is pulled into the bay

11:35 AM – My car is apparently all set.  The front desk has two blown fuses which were apparently my problem.  I get to talk to the technician that says he soldered the loose wire to the correct place, checked all of the fuses and replaced those two and that I should be all set.  The pulled wire, likely contributed to the fuses blowing.

11:45 AM – I am on my way to work with a paid bill for 30 minutes of labor.

Lessons learned:
  1. There are a lot of amazing people in the world.  I can't imagine trying to get someone else's car moving without any specific expertise in the matter.  Especially when it is cold outside.
  2. Firestone is a great service provider, squeezing me in between customers, troubleshooting my problem and fixing it for a very fair cost.
  3. I need to keep some tools in the car including spare fuses, multi-tool (maybe a Christmas present?), duct tape, electrical tape, screwdrivers, flashlight and probably a light blanket as well.
  4. I should keep my car clean.  It is bad enough to be crawling around on somebody’s floor mats without having to move aside paper towels and drink bottles.
  5. On the upside, nobody got hurt, I met some great people, have an obligation to pay it forward, and learned something today.

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