In which the author looks optimistically at auto repair.
By Mike Smith
For the half a dozen or so that read this column, you may recall that I have owned about 18 different cars. I’ve owned many models of car. This is a result of being cheap and not too picky.
Number 18 is my “little red wagon” Dodge Caliber. I actually really like this car. I admit, though, that this car was sort of loud to drive. It was beyond “road noise,” as Car and Driver likes to point out on almost every car they test drive. (This is the chief reason I am a Motor Trend reader instead).
So my Caliber had some road noise when we first bought it. It was not too annoying. However, lately it has become a bit loud. A bit hard to hear the radio. A bit hard to have a conversation. A bit deafening.
A bit annoying.
Now, I know road noise. Road noise is the combination of engine whine, tire sound, wind, and background noise associated with driving any vehicle. Even the Tesla and Leaf (electric cars) have road noise.
This is because movement makes a sound. (There, you’ve had your free physics lesson for the day.)
Our loud beyond-road noise was beginning to make us nervous. We took Number 18 into our trusted mechanics at East Hill Tire in Kent. (Free plug.) They drove the car. Did some investigations and comparative customer complaints and discovered that the transmission is sort of known to make a sound like this. I think I mentioned this in a way in my column about the Caliber back in February. They said that the transmission makes a sound like that but that their current customers who drive the Caliber have the same sound and never have had an issue. That was a relief.
So last week, I got into the car to drive to a friend’s house. He is an ace mechanic and instructor at South Seattle College (another free plug; I’m a generous guy, am I not?). This particular day our car made a new sound. It sounded a bit like someone jumping into a pile of dried leaves in the fall. Sort of a crunch and grind and swirling sound all at once. Now, having been a transmission mechanic, and long time leaf jumper, my first thought was: Ooh, our transmission is making a funny sound. You see, most of the time automatic transmissions don’t make a sound when they fail. Primarily because all of the little pieces that would make a sound get thrown to the sides of the case due to centripetal force. Ours was different. It made a sound. A “bad sound” to quote Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. (One of my all-time favorite spoofs and an extremely clever take on the whole Star Trekkie phenomenon.)
Did I digress?
Oh yes, a bad sound. I told my wife as we pulled out of the alley behind our house. “This thing is on its last legs.” In hindsight, I should have said, “you can quote me on that.” We made it within one half mile of our friends’ house and Number 18 expired. Gave up the ghost, if you will. Became no more. In short. Stopped dead and wouldn’t move. Our transmission went kaput.
I am a great admirer of Webster’s dictionary. It always has the right word. Kaput, as silly as it sounds, means: No longer working, utterly finished, no longer able to continue, completely ruined or defeated.
This describes not just our car but me! It is the quest of a writer to find the words that say the most in an efficient and succinct manner. So, kaput it is.
But, as defeated as I felt, there was a silver lining. Our friends told us of an honest transmission mechanic, not as oxymoronic as you might suspect, who was a friend. Plus, his shop is only a mile from our house. We had our car towed there. It is so close we can visit our car while it is in the hospital. Also, the car will most assuredly have less road noise. We’ll be able to listen to the radio. Maybe even renew our Sirius radio account (plugs abound in this article), and have normal conversations as we drive our car. The car is only a few years old and we really like it. So in a sense we are thrilled. And in another sense we walk a lot lately.
But it will be finished soon. You see, this transmission cannot be rebuilt or repaired as I used to do. It is simply replaced. The company that built our unit has since made improvements and we will be getting a remanufactured / new unit that is made for our car. In that respect we are a bit relieved. We didn’t expect to spend this much additional money on this car but new car shopping is an exercise in astronomy. We’ll take what we can get.
We are optimistic. We are looking forward to having a quieter car. We are looking forward to driving again. I’m prudently hedging my bets though. I bought some new walking shoes today.
Wish us luck.