Tag Archives: van trouble\

Ghost Town

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The problem had begun months before.

One day when I turned the key in my van’s ignition, I got a click instead of a start. That was weird, I thought.  I turned the key again, and this time the van roared to life. I thought it had must been a glitch and didn’t worry.

Over time, the problem happened more often. Sometimes the van started right up, and sometimes I got a click. Eventually the click was normal, and sometimes I had to turn the key two or three times before the van started. The situation was definitely getting worse.

The Man was pretty sure the problem was the starter. He could replace it, he said, He’d only have to remove two bolts. He wouldn’t even need to jack up the van; he could just crawl under it. I was glad he was willing and able to do the work, but at the moment I didn’t have the money to buy the starter. I just hoped the part wouldn’t give out completely before I could afford the new one.

After three weeks of work on the mountain, I had the money I needed. In AutoZone, I told the young man at the counter the make and model and year of my van and he told me my options. One starter only cost $35, but he didn’t recommend it. Another had a lifetime warranty, he said.

I’d bought a starter at AutoZone in 2014, a couple days after I’d purchased my van. I asked him to look at my purchase history and see if the starter I’d bought four years ago had a lifetime warranty. Good news: it did! I had to pay for the new starter, but when I returned the old starter, I’d get a full refund. That sounded good to me.

The new starter sat in the tent for a week while my van’s situation got worse. Every time I sat it the driver’s seat, I wondered if this would be the time it wouldn’t start at all. I didn’t expect The Man to work on my van after a long day at his job; I figured he’d do the repair in a week when we had two days off in a row.

On our Wednesday off, we went on a long, hard, ridiculous hike which wore us both out. On Thursday we were still tired, and I didn’t push the issue of the starter. I hoped the old one would hang in for another week until our days off rolled around again.

On Friday, The Man left the mountain. He was frustrated by the paperwork and having to account for the money he’d collected during the week, and he really wanted to do something else with his life. I wasn’t mad at him for going, but I did wish he’d changed my starter before he left.

On Monday I began making calls to mechanics in civilization. Les Schwab didn’t do that kind of work.  When I asked the office manager if they recommended anyone in town to do the job, she mentioned a place whose name she was unsure of. I figured it was a suggestion more than a recommendation, and I didn’t bother trying to find that shop’s phone number.

I’d had some work done on my van in 2015 when the battery was giving me trouble. I’d liked the guy who’d done that work well enough. I had the receipt from the previous repair in the folder where I keep information about the van, otherwise I would have never remembered the place’s name.

I found the phone number via Google and called the shop. I explained my situation to the man who answered the phone. When I said I worked up on the mountain and needed to make an appointment so the repair could be completed in one day, the guy on the phone said he remembered me. I was speaking to the mechanic himself! He said he could replace the starter for $76. He said I should come in at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning. I moved, he warned me before we hung up and told me his new address, which matched the information given by Google.

On Wednesday morning, I moved the van from where I’d slept in the parking lot of a 24-hour supermarket across town to the discount grocery store. I went in to use the restroom and pick up a few things. When it was time to leave, I put the key in the ignition and turned. Click!  I turned again. Click! I must have turned the key five times before the engine engaged. It looked as if I was getting the repair done in the nick of time.

When I’d used this mechanic before, his shop had been on a busy street in the heart of town. This time I had to drive to the outskirts. For a few minutes, I thought Google Maps had sent me off on a wild google chase. Just when I was beginning to wonder if I should pull off and investigate further, the Google Maps lady told me I’d arrived.

The shop was much bigger than the one I’d been to before, and I thought the mechanic had come up. The shop was farther away from the action, but had plenty of space now.

I parked the van and went to the front door. Locked. There was no open sign either. I was no more than five minutes early. Had none of the workers arrived yet?

The gate on the side of the building was open, so I walked through. I found the mechanic sitting behind a cluttered counter, eating a grocery store pastry.

When I’d been to the mechanic’s other shop, it was a bustling place. The bays were filled, and vehicles waited their turn in the large parking area. Several other mechanics worked for this guy whose surname was on the sign in front of the shop, and everyone moved briskly about their business of car repair. The shop I was currently standing in seemed lonely. My van was the only vehicle parked in front of the shop and the mechanic seemed to have no employees.

I have an appointment at nine, I told the mechanic.

You have the van? He asked hopefully. He seemed relieved when I said yes. Maybe he thought I wasn’t going to show.

He asked me to give him a few minutes, then he’d come to collect the van. I went back to the van and gathered the things I’d need while I waited for him to complete the repair.

At the other shop, he’d had a clean waiting room larger than most independently owned auto repair shops offer. An office manager greeted customers and answered the phone. I think I’d even been able to charge my phone while I waited. I was prepared for a similar place to hang out while the mechanic did his magic.

As promised, the mechanic joined me in a few minutes. He asked me again about the problem the van was having. I explained I’d often turn the key and just get a click. The problem is intermittent, I said, and the mechanic interrupted to say, What does that mean?

I felt bad about using a word he didn’t know. I wasn’t trying to show off. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of another way to explain the problem. I don’t know why my brain couldn’t come up with it doesn’t happen every time. I stood there blankly.

Let me try it, the mechanic said, and I handed him my keys.

He leaned into the van, put the key into the ignition, and turned it. Click! He turned the key again. Click! Turn. Click! Turn. Click! Finally the van started and he said he’d take it to the back.

I looked around the parking area. There wasn’t a tree to sit under or a lick of shade anywhere. There was no way I could sit in the direct sunlight for the hour it was going to take to replace the starter.

Do you have a place where I can wait? I asked the mechanic.

I have a waiting room, but it’s dusty and full of cobwebs, he said discouragingly.

It would be ok, I assured him. I just needed to be out of the sun.

He unlocked the front door and led me into a ghost town of a waiting room. To the left was a big office area with a counter and a window behind which the office manager would have sat, had there been an office manager. To the right was the area where waiting customers were meant to sit. Three plastic chairs lined the wall and in the corner a coffee table held magazine covered in an eighth of an inch of dust. Everything in the room was covered in an eighth of an inch of dust. Everything was so filthy, I didn’t want to sit or set my backpack down.

When the mechanic said the waiting room was dusty and full of cobwebs, I thought he meant no one had run a vacuum in a couple of weeks. What he actually meant was that he’d taken possession of an abandoned automotive repair shop and hadn’t done a single thing to make the waiting room decent for his clients.

Where does his expect his customers to wait? I wondered.

By the time I was ready to leave, I was wondering where his customers were. No one arrived after me. No one came in to ask about a repair or to pick up a vehicle that the mechanic had finished with late the day before or to bring a vehicle in for the ten o’clock appointment. The phone rang once—once!—in the hour I was there. Never before in my life had I sat in an auto repair shop for an hour and only heard the phone ring once. What in the world was going on here?

I heard the beautiful sound of my van’s engine turn over. Finally, this was done.

The mechanic stuck his head out of the door between the bay and the waiting room. He was finished, he said. I could come with him.

I followed him through the bay to the counter in the corner. The top of the counter was littered with greasy car parts and the over crispy ends of fried convenience store snacks.  That will be $68, the mechanic said.

I was pleased that the final price was less than what he’d quoted me over the phone. I pulled out four twenty dollar bills and handed them over. He started pulling money out of his pockets to make change. That’s right…out of his pockets. There was no cash register, no lockbox, no zipper bag from the bank. He was going to make change out of his personal pockets. The last time I’d seen this man, he’d been running an auto repair business; now he might as well have been running a lemonade stand.

He pulled from the pocket of his pants a few crumpled ones and a wad of twenties he rummaged through looking for a smaller bill. He didn’t seem to have any fives or tens on him.

I picked up the two ones he’s dropped on the counter and said, It’s ok. Don’t worry about it.

I’d planned to pay $76 anyway. Why get uptight over two extra dollars?

Are you sure? He asked.

Yes, I said. I appreciate your help.

He got a smile on his face that made it seem as if my not insisting on change was the nicest thing that had happened to him in a very long time.

 

 

Tires (A Cautionary Tale) Continued

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After crying for a couple of hours after arriving at my house sitting job, I calmed down a little. Actually, I calmed down after crying for a couple of hours, eating lunch, and communicating with my friend Mr. Prius through instant messaging and then an actual voice conversation. Mr. Prius helped me clarify my thoughts by asking questions and making suggestions, but never told me what he thought I should do.

The more I thought about the offer from the salesman at Discount Tire to give me a free tire if I bought three, the sketchier it seemed. I didn’t believe the tires I’d bought should be worn to the point of needing replacement after a year’s use.

As I told Mr. Prius, after the salesman saw the front tires, he acted surprised by how worn down they were. That’s when he told me I needed to get two new front tires too. I thought if the tires were wearing down faster than they should have been, it was Discount Tire’s responsibility to replace them. If the tires are supposed to last x number of miles and the tires were not going to last that long, I didn’t think that was my fault.

Once I was calm, I called the Discount Tire regional office. I explained the situation to the woman who answered the phone. She suggested I  talk to a store manager, but I said I wanted to talk to someone higher up. She said she would have a vice president call me back.

The VP called me back that afternoon. He was very nice to me, listened to me, and answered my questions. He said they could  give me $50 to $60 (depending on what replacement tires I bought) credit on each tire. That seemed like a better deal than getting one tire free, which is the “deal” the salesman was going to give me to “help me out.” Also, by giving me a credit on the prematurely worn tires, I felt as if Discount Tire were talking some responsibility, which made me feel better.

The next morning I paid a visit to the Discount Tire location closest to where I was house sitting. I talked to Larry, the manager. I felt good about what he told me.

First, despite what I understood the vice president to say, the manager said they could not give me a credit for the two tires damaged due to improper alignment. The manufacturer viewed that damage as due to my negligence and would not accept them as a return. While that decision didn’t make me happy, I understood it and thought it was fair. While I didn’t think it was my fault the tires were damaged (I didn’t even know the van was out of alignment and as soon as I did, I had it repaired as soon as possible), I could accept the damage to the tires as my responsibility.

The salesman I spoke to initially told me I needed bigger tires. The manager said it was not bigger tires I needed, but stronger tires. He said vans and big trucks are heavy and need really strong tires. Lesser tires simply wear out too fast.

The first four new tires I bought were a higher quality than what the manufacturer recommended for the van. When I went in to have the tires mounted, the recommended ones were out of stock, so they gave me a free upgrade to the next higher quality. But as far as I can remember, no one tried to tell me maybe I needed better tires. Of course, I would have probably just thought they were trying to upsell me and not bought the better quality tires anyway. Also, I was working with very little money then, so I don’t know if I would have been able to afford the better, more expensive tires.

Larry made two recommendations to me. He said Michelin tires are the best of the best. They were running about $109 per tire. He said second best, but still very good, are Yokohama tires. They were running about $10 less per tire than the Michelins. He told me he has Yokohamas on the Jeep his family uses for both driving on dirt roads and hauling around kids.

He also told me both companies were running rebate specials. He said Michelin would give a $70 rebate on the purchase of four tires, and Yokohama would give a $60 rebate on the purchase of four tires.

I had a really difficult time deciding which tires to buy. Was it woth $50 out the door to get Michelins? How much difference would having Michelins make? Would I be sorry if I bought Yokohamas in order to save a few bucks? I thought reading online reviews would help me make my decision, but my research only made making my decision more difficult. Plenty of people hate Yokohama tires, and plenty of people hate Michelin tires. What to do?

I’d decided to go with Michelin shortly before arriving for my installation appointment. However, when I told Larry I wanted the Michelins, he got a pained look on his face and said he didn’t have them in stock. He said he thought I’d decided on Yokohamas and had made sure he had those available for me. I’m not sure how he reached his conclusion, as I don’t recall a conversation when he said, so you want to go with the Yokohamas?  and I answered, yes, Yokohamas, please. As far as I was concerned, I’d only made a decision an hour before. But whatever. Larry offered to reschedule my appointment for Monday, at which time he’d have the Michelins, but I said no. I was ready to be done with the entire tire situations. The universe spoke, and the universe said Yokohama.

I got another surprise when it was time to pay. I told the worker running my debit card that I needed whatever I needed for the rebate. He said he thought the rebate hadn’t started yet. Larry was walking by, and when the worker asked him about the rebate, he said to give me an instant rebate. So the worker deducted $60 from the total, which was awesome.

This is the point in the post where I was going to give advice on buying tires. However, I realized the only advice I have about buying tires is to spend as much as you can afford to buy the best, strongest, tires you can get. Vans are heavy, especially when one is hauling around a bunch of stuff. I suspect when the manufacturer made their tire recommendations, the experts were thinking the van was going to be driven around town and/or on camping trips a few times a year. They were probably not thinking folks were going to be hauling around all the things people living in their vans are hauling around.

Invest in the best. I’ve been told the best are Michelin and Yokohama. Other people may have different opinions. That’s fine. But apparently, when it comes to tires, we get what we pay for.

 

 

Tires (A Cautionary Tale)

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In April 2015, I went to Discount Tire and bought four new tires for my van. I was so excited. I’d never had four new tires before. Heck, I’d never even had one new tire before. Any time I’d replaced a tire on any vehicle in the past, I’d bought a used one.

The four new tires cost around $400 out the door (which is tire sales speak for including installation, balancing, and tax). My host family paid for a warranty for each tire. The Discount Tire website says,

This warranty, called the Certificate for Repair, Refund or Replacement…cover[s] the tire problems that really frustrate people-road hazards and defects-from the moment they bought the tires to the final mile of legal tread depth (3/32″).

In October, I proudly took my four new tires in for their first rotation. My good mood was shattered when I was told the front tires were wearing unevenly because the van needed a front end alignment. When I took the van in for the alignment, I was further disappointed to find out the van needed $300+ dollars worth of work on the front end before it even made sense to do an alignment. I worked, worked, worked, saved my pennies, and within a week had enough money to pay for the repairs and the alignment.

Fast forward to April 2016. I stopped at a Wal-Mart and noticed a Discount Tire location across the street. I’d been meaning to find out if I were due for a rotation, so I decided to pull in. I thought if I did need a rotation, maybe the shop could take care of it right then and there.

I told the guy working the counter what was up. We walked out to my van to look at the tires. The salesman showed me the silver metal threads showing on the back passenger side tire. WHAT!?!?!?!?! I told him the tires weren’t even a year old. He said the tire (and the one on the back driver’s side too) were prematurely worn because of the time they’d spent on the front when the van was out of alignment. (Yes, I told him about the alignment problem and the uneven wear. I figured it was in my permanent Discount Tire record anyway.) He said driving the tire in the condition it was in was REALLY dangerous. He said I needed two new tires back there.

I asked about the certificate on the tire. He told me it didn’t cover wear, only road hazards and defects.

I asked him if it would be ok if I only bought new tires for the back wheels and kept the two that were on the front. Well, as a matter of fact, he told me, the tires on the front were worn way more than they should be, dangerously worn, and if I were going to buy two new tires, I really needed to buy four new tires.

By this point, my head was spinning. I thought I was just going to deal with a tire rotation, but suddenly I needed to replace four tires that were barely a year old.

He’d do me a favor, the salesman said, because he wanted me to be safe. If I bought three new tires, he would throw in the fourth one for free. I explained to him that I didn’t currently have the money to buy four new tires. He tried to tell me about the Discount Tire credit plan. I shook my head while laughing ruefully. Discount Tire was not going to approve me for any credit, I told him. Perhaps I could get a co-signer, he countered. When I told him that wasn’t going to happen either, he said I should at the very least let them (free of charge, thankfully) replace the badly worn tire on the back passenger’s side with the spare. I thanked him for the offer and handed him my keys.

While waiting, I called a couple of friends and ranted and cried. While I was ranting and crying, the service technician came out and asked me what tire needed to be changed. I probably sounded like an asshole when I told him he should change the tire the service order he was holding in his hand specified. He told me the salesman had written two different things on the service order. So I stopped ranting and crying long enough to walk over to the van with the guy and show him which tire was in the worst shape. After the guy got the van into the repair bay, he walked back over to where I was sitting on the sidewalk (once again ranting and crying) to ask me if he could get me into four new tires today. It took all of my self-restraint not to yell, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I explained (while trying to refrain from laughing maniacally) that I didn’t have money for four new tires. Then he tried to suggest I use the Discount Tire credit plan. So I explained I had already told the other guy that wasn’t going to happen, and he finally left me alone.

I cried all the way to my house sitting job. Just when I thought I’d have a couple of hundred dollars (the extent of my savings left after paying for transmission work in February and a new fuel pump in March) to live on until my temp job scoring standardized tests started, I needed more money than I had for tires. I’m tired of being a burden, I thought. My life is not sustainable.

But also, I was really mad. What’s the point of buying new tires if they’re just going to wear out in a year?

Once again, what I thought was a short story has turned into a saga, which I will continue tomorrow.