Adventures with my car

Fair warning: This is not one of those exciting car-chase type stories, like “The Fast and the Furious” or “The Bourne Identity” or “Winnie the Pooh.” This is one of those frustrating, money-into-a-bottomless-pit, neverending maintenance type sagas. Didn’t want to mislead you.

The adventure begins late in June, when I get into my car to drive to work. My warm yet devastatingly handsome brown eyes scan the horizon for potential threats as I put the key into the ignition of my stylishly dilapidated 1993 Mazda 625. (It used to be a 626, but it got demoted because of the huge dent in the rear panel.)

The key won’t turn. I crank the steering wheel over and shove against the gear shift – two actions that (experience has taught me) usually free up the key and allow me to crank the car. I try again. Key still won’t turn. And now it’s stuck in the ignition. And the steering wheel lock has engaged.

This can’t be good.

I make alternate arrangements for transportation to work, and call the service department at my local Mazda dealer. I explain the problem, and there’s 18 seconds of silence on the other end of the line. “Your key is stuck in the ignition?”


“Huh. Hang on a second.” I hear a bit of scrabbling on the phone, as though the mouthpiece is being covered on the other end, and then, faintly: “Hey, Earl! Pick up on line two! Guy’s key is stuck in his ignition! You ain’t gonna believe it!”

I speak to Earl. Earl offers various suggestions, all of which I have tried. Finally he says “Well, bring it in and we’ll look at it.” This does not inspire confidence.

So I talk to my father-in-law. He knows cars. He has done tons of maintenance work on cars. He’ll know what to do.

He listens to my problem, and says, “Oh, that’s easy to fix. You just need to replace the ignition switch.”

Thank God. It’s an easy fix. I was worried I’d be out hundreds of dollars over this stupid key stuck in my ignition. So, what do I do to fix it?

“I know this guy who works on Mazdas. Name’s Earl. Lemme call him …”

Hope begins to fade.

“Or, we could try to do it ourselves. It can’t be that hard. You just need to get a replacement ignition switch. Go to this guy I know. He sells auto parts, but don’t ask him where they come from. If he yells “ATF” while you’re talking to him and the employees begin burning papers and shredding documents, just run away and don’t look back.”

Luckily, nothing strange happens when I go to get the part. I had visions of an “ignition switch” being a self-enclosed metal thingydoo – something that could be inserted directly into the steering column and *voila! * the problem, she is solved.

This is not the case. The “ignition switch” is actually 4,836 individual pieces, only one of which is a self-enclosed metal thingydoo. I gaze at the cacophony of springs, notched bars, keyed fobbins, self-adjusting stabilizers and random metal parts. My hope is that all this stuff is just shock-absorbing packaging, like cotton wads or Circus Peanuts.

I take the ignition switch to my father-in-law, and we spread all the pieces out on a picnic table and gaze at them in fearful puzzlement, like monkeys trying to read Sanskrit. He turns to me. “We may be in over our heads on this,” he says.

Nevertheless, the following day he comes to my house and we begin Project Ignition Switch Swap (or PISS, as we came to call it). After 90 minutes, we have succeeded in removing the steering wheel from my car. We can see the old ignition switch, with my key still nestled cheerfully inside. We cannot for the life of us figure out how to get the ignition switch off the steering column. We try drilling, pleading, brute force, the application of blood (don’t ask), and finally dynamite. Nothing works. Finally, my father-in-law slumps in defeat. “I can’t do it,” he says. “Let’s go to a mechanic.”

We drive five miles down the road to a mechanic he knows. They come tow the car and keep it for several days. At one point I get a phone call from the mechanic. “I found the problem,” he says. “Your Rastafarianism was hung up on your Halliburton. Musta happened when the nacelles cross-wired the warp core.” His advice? Replace the entire steering column. That would be cheaper, quicker and easier than trying to replace the ignition switch. “I hate them thar ignition switches,” he says. “Only a Sanskrit-ignernt monkey would try to replace them thangs.”

So I tell him to replace the steering column. A week (and $320) later, he calls me to tell me the car is ready.

The next day, I happily snuggle behind the wheel and prepare to go to work. I turn the key (which turns quite smoothly, I must say) … and nothing happens. The car won’t crank.

I mutter a few colorful colloquialisms, arrange alternate transportation to work, and tell my lovely and talented wife that my battery is dead. She and I go battery shopping that evening. I replace the battery. The car starts. The adventure is over. Finally.

The next day, I’m taking my stepson to daycare. I walk him inside, and then return to my car. I hear the ominous music start when my hand moves toward the ignition, but like all foolish people in horror movies, I ignore it.

I turn the key. Nothing happens.

If you were interrupted or startled by a distant scream, the sound of ultimate suffering, around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 20, my apologies.

I get a tow back to the same mechanic. He keeps the car for a day, and tells me that I was lucky – it wasn’t the alternator, as we had thought. It was the terminals on the battery cables. They were broken. He replaced them, and the car started right up, no problems. So, after four weeks, a total of $390, and endless levels of frustration, I’m finally going to get my car back.

Yesterday afternoon, my lovely and talented wife drove me to the mechanic’s to pick up my car. I go in, pay the guy for replacing the battery cable terminals, and walk out to my car.

You know this isn’t going to end well, don’t you?

The car won’t start. I sit in the driver’s seat in utter disbelief. I’ve become some sort of automotive equivalent of Job.

Luckily, the mechanic steps in again – his assistant accidentally left the parking lights on. They charge the battery, and the car starts right up. It’s running just fine now.

Although I keep hearing this ominous music in the background.

Well at least I’m not the only one with car troubles lately! :stuck_out_tongue:

You outta just bite the bullet and get a new car…

$390? A measly $390?!! Pfft. You’re only just getting started. My '92 Integra managed to tag me for a few grand before I wised up and unloaded it. I almost can’t remember all the things that started falling off when it topped 120k miles. Let’s see now… Power window switches, radiator, camshaft seals ($20 worth of parts, but about 4-5 hours of labor), brake rotors, brake calipers, brake pads, exhaust (third time), CV boots, fuel pump relay, distributor, catalytic converter shield, etc., etc.

The frustration is that you don’t see it coming. You think, “Well, I’ve fixed these few things, and the car will be fine for another couple of years.” Then something else craps out, you fix it, and think that will be all for a while. But it isn’t. By the time you realize the car has turned into a money pit, you’ve put so much into keeping it running, you can’t bear to sell it, since its street value is less than the repairs have cost. If you knew what was going to happen, you’d have unloaded the beast before the endless repair cycle started. But no!

Oh, $390 is all I spent this time. I spent $800 on the car early in December '93 on a variety of ailments.

If we had a little more money, we’d bite the bullet and get a new car. As it is, I’m hoping the Mazda will limp along for another few months. If it can take me to February '05, it will have served its purpose.

Of course, I’m not telling it that.

Which brings us to a thorny question: suppose you take your car to a mechanic, and the mechanic calls you back and tells you that you ought to get a new car, because it’s going to cost more to fix your current one than it’s worth.

Do you hold onto this mechanic for dear life, ecstatic to have found someone that you’re sure is going to be honest with you?

Or do you drop him, not trusting your car repairs to someone dumb enough to kill the golden goose?

From such dilemmas is wisdom born.


(Great story, Sauron!)

You don’t have to - it knows already. I’m firmly convinced that machines know when you’re even thinking about replacing them, and exact their revenge.

It isn’t just cars - when I was a sysadmin/LAN manager type, every time I had a new server coming, the old one would go up in smoke, usually a few days before the new one arrived. Without fail. Spooky.

I know that sound. My heart made that sound the day my timing chain broke on my Nissan Pickup and I was forced to enter the elite club of 1983 Corolla drivers. We Montoyas do not accept defeat easily, but I knew enough to walk away from the truck and unload it for $500.

Like you, I was pretty sure I could rebuild or replace the engine on my own…pretty sure. But I know that I can’t read Sanskrit, and I’ve spent my share of time in the garage with my buddy & me gripping a screwdrivers & wrenches & looking at each other making “hoo hoo” chimp noises.

My advice, if anything, and I mean ANYTHING else goes wrong with your car, and I don’t care if it’s just a flat tire or a burned out dome light, take it out back and shoot it and get something else to drive. Radio Flyer makes a hell of a wagon I hear…

My car sure as hell did. I was (not very seriously) toying with the idea of getting a Mini Cooper (but I can’t afford it, so it was a moot point anyway. But I can dream). Within a few days, I had to replace my clutch. It can read my mind, I swear.

Fantastic rant. :slight_smile:

Very little to add - I’ve been lucky in the car department. Regular maintenance and a few replacements like exhausts and warranty replacement of a water pump on a car that was already 8 years old - can’t say I’m doing too badly.

Of course, typing this out means that my precious Citroën will self-detonate out front within 10 seconds.

OK, now I’ve got this image of Coldfire out in the driveway, crouched over his car, stroking it and muttering, “my precioussssss…”

A driveway! My kingdom for a driveway. No, my precious is parked on a spit public road. The horror. :stuck_out_tongue:

$1800 in Sep 2003 to rebuild the Bubbadog’s car engine.
$3600 in March 2004 to replace the Bubbapuppy’s truck engine.

Them motors have been real bad for me this year.

And Sauron, I believe your scream reached my place Tuesday morning 7:28am. It made the dog hide under the table

i’m sorry, but hooray for Honda. My Ignition switch took about 30 seconds to replace.

great rant, as always. I saved it for the last thread i’d read before I went to sleep (7.28 am yay) cause I know it’d be a good one. Keep up the good work!

I hate you with all the fire of a dead battery.

Just a side note: When the battery is dead again sometime this week (probably Monday, if you don’t drive it on the weekend), suggest to the mechanic that you suspect a bad ground in the sttering column, and have him double check his ignition switch installation.

look Out! There’s A Bee!

Oh, you’re pure, distilled evil, you are.

That’s because this is a fairly routine repair for one of the most frequently stolen cars on the planet. :smiley:

Honda’s just doing their part to make everyone’s life a little easier.

Haha true. After having looked at the mechanism I’m pretty sure I could hotwire it in 30 seconds too.

Incidentally my roommate’s Honda’s battery exploded under his hood when he started it last week. Acid all over his engine. It seems your hate is precognitive, but misdirected.

Well Damn Sauron. Had you have been 3 hours north (in huntsville) I could have put that ignition lock rekeyed to your existing key no problem. Is what I do and is what I have done week in and week out for 12 years. Locksmiths are your friends, send them candy and food.
Hope this ends your string of bad luck. Be grates ful you do not live two hours north. I would have to sneak over every night and disconnect your battery cables just to read your fantastic rants.


A moneky who reads Sanskrit