My 12+year-old minivan was giving me some trouble recently. And no, I have no interest in the cash for clunkers program expiring tonight. The van is in great shape, I’ve maintained it well, it runs great, I only drive 4 miles to work and back, and I own it- A.K.A NO CAR PAYMENT!!
But all mechanical things wear out eventually (even on new cars), so I’ve recently had to replace the muffler and tailpipe, a radiator hose, flushed the cooling system, recharged the air conditioner, and then there was last week.
The car was running fine through the gruesome heat and humidity the past few weeks, and then last Thursday, it died. I hopped in the car at the end of the work day Thursday, drove 3 of the 4 miles home from work, and stopped at the grocery store along the way to get dinner fixings. When I came back out of the store ten minutes later, the car wouldn’t start. It would turn over vigorously (battery was fine – replaced last winter) but wouldn’t catch. I thought at first it might be a vapor lock, but I don’t think you can get a vapor lock anymore, especially with fuel injection. I then thought it might be the thermostat, but having the radiator hose replaced and the system checked and flushed just a few weeks ago, I wasn’t comfortable with that diagnosis/guess either.
So I called Triple-A to arrange a tow to my usual repair place over in Bedford (Sullivan Tire), popped the hood, and settled back in the heat and humidity to wait for the tow truck (estimated wait, about an hour). Every 10-15 minutes or so my curiosity would get the better of me and I would turn the key to see if it was still dead. It was… until about 45 minutes into the wait, it caught! Maybe it was a vapor lock after all! I called Triple-A to cancel the tow request, and drove home. The “Check Engine Soon” light was staying lit, though… not a good omen.
The next morning, I warily tried starting the car, and it fired up again (surprise, surprise!), with the “Check Engine Soon” light still on. I drove over to Bedford and dropped it off without an appointment, told them what was wrong, and told them that they could take their time with it because we were heading up to VT in the newer car to visit friends for the weekend, so they could have it through Monday. That worked, because they were booked up for Friday and wouldn’t be able to get to it until Saturday.
Saturday, up in VT, I got a call on my cellphone from the mechanic, telling me that my CAM and CRANK SENSORS had failed, which apparently is the computerized-car equivalent of a timing belt. It would cost about a one month car payment to fix. Cheap at twice the price!
So, Monday morning I picked the van up at the mechanic, and since it was a quiet morning at work, and my state inspection sticker was about to expire in a week, I drove over to the place in Lexington where I get the cars inspected yearly (Sullivan Tire doesn’t do inspections, unfortunately). It failed the emissions test. Passed everything else, but failed emissions. The inspector said I had sixty days to get it fixed (safety failures have to be fixed in 24 hours), and then I would get a free re-inspection at the same shop.
I drove the rejected van over to work, and called my mechanic shop at Sullivan Tire to ask them if they had a port connector to read the on-board computer to see why it failed, and be able to fix it. The guy on the phone (one of the few guys I hadn’t gotten to know) said no problem, they had all the diagnostic equipment to take care of it, so I told him I’d make an appointment in a few weeks to get it taken care of.
Thirty seconds after I had hung up with him, my cell phone rang – it was my regular mechanic at Sullivan Tire. He heard the other guy talking to me and called to apologize because he had meant to tell me NOT to get the van inspected for a week or so, because they had to purge the on-board computer of all the emissions data, so it was guaranteed to fail inspection if I tried. He said the car is fine, just drive it around for a few weeks to re-establish a database of emissions data in the computer and it would pass fine! Just my luck!!