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24 November 2010 @ 03:23 pm
Grr argh hmm  
One nice thing about being retired is that I don't have to commute in the snow, which Portland drivers absolutely cannot cope with. However, today I got my comeuppance. Although we had only a sprinkling of snow, the temperatures were below freezing, about 25° F, and when we went out to the car this morning to go to the gym, it wouldn't start. The lights and radio came on, but when I turned the key... nothing. Not an "rr-rr-rr", not even a click. Weirdly, the headlights didn't dim, so it wasn't the usual cold-weather problem of a weak battery.

Oh, bother. But that's okay, we have another car.

Kate's car wouldn't start either, with the exact same symptoms.


After trying a few more times to get both cars to start, I gave up and called my friendly local mechanic, Hawthorne Auto Clinic, which is literally two blocks away. A little while later one of their technicians came by (on foot) with a "jump box" -- basically a battery in a case with attached jumper cables.

It wouldn't start either car.

He also tried banging on the starter with a pry bar, in case it was frozen. No change.

Okay, he said, I'm going to go back to the shop and come back with some more diagnostic tools. But a little while later I got a call: they weren't going to keep sending him out on foot in this weather. I would have to have the car towed in.

I called AAA and they sent out a tow truck about 40 minutes later. With amazing alacrity he picked up the car, towed it to the auto clinic, and zipped it into their parking lot neat as you please, all covered by my AAA membership. The auto shop said they'd get to it as soon as they could. But there were a lot of other cars there that had been disabled by the cold.

By this point our trip to the gym was shot, but I had a 1:00 appointment downtown and we were meeting a friend to see Harry Potter at 4:30 and I still hoped to make both of those. I checked online and found there was a bus that would take me right to my 1:00 appointment, but I'd have to eat lunch real quick to make it.

I was also really concerned about what was going to happen with the rest of today and tomorrow. We could maybe get our friend to pick us up on his way to the theatre, but if the car didn't get fixed before we left for that we probably wouldn't get it back until after Thanksgiving. And if that happened, how would we get to Thanksgiving dinner? Worry worry worry.

As I was scarfing down lunch, the auto clinic called. When they got to my car it had started right up, immediately and repeatably. Their best guess was that it had been a frozen starter or solenoid (the weather was not only below freezing, it had been duck-drowningly wet for the past several days) and that the jostling the car had received from being towed had broken whatever was frozen loose.

So I got the car back from the shop (no charge! I love Hawthorne Auto Clinic) and drove downtown where I got something from Lucius Shepard for Ellen Datlow. We had a nice little chat about Monsters and other movies.

So all's well that ends well. Though Kate's car still isn't starting, I hope that it will recover when the weather gets back above freezing.

I have to say that I'm really noticing my privilege right now. I have a lot of friends who, when they have car troubles (and they have them frequently, because the best cars they can afford are crap) it turns into an appalling cascade of can't-make-it-to-work and can't-afford-to-fix-it. Whereas I, with money, have a well-maintained car that rarely breaks down, have a AAA membership (a form of insurance) to tow it when it does, and live in a neighborhood with a fine auto mechanic right down the street who will cut me some slack because I've been a good customer. So I really feel like I've gotten away with something here by getting out of this car crisis with no major problems and no money spent.

billeyler: snow cold penguinbilleyler on November 25th, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)
I can see the 'it's so freakin wet that the moisture has gotten into the circuits and frozen' versus the 'it's below freezing and nothing's working' bit.

25 is just barely into the hard freeze category! :-)

But condolences on the car problems. It sounds like it was rampant up in those quarters.

If you hadn't looked, the forecast for the NW US is "Colder than Average" for the winter.
Amy Sissonamysisson on November 25th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
Reminds me of my North Dakota days, when every apartment worth renting has an assigned outside outlet to plug in the engine block heater. But once in a while someone would steal your extension cord, which meant car would not start in the morning....
kathrynmicekathrynmice on November 25th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
I bussed to work Monday - got home at 10:15 pm. Sigh. Chickened out on Tuesday, which was good, everyone else at the office did too. Bussed to work on Wednesday and got home at 7:00 pm. Awesome!

The station wagon is hibernating in the driveway covered in a beautiful white blanket of snow. I am not even going to pretend she will start until it warms up a little bit!

No heater in the car. No money to have heater fixed in the car. Not stupid enough to commute 60 miles a day with the chance of getting stuck somewhere with no heater in the car.

No guilt though! You worked hard for that money and you earned the right to enjoy it! I like not having to worry about you two! Or my other friends who are doing just fine. Good sense will serve me even if I don't have the ready cash to just have things fixed when they break, or even before. Preventative maintenance, I have dreams about that!

paulshandy on November 26th, 2010 01:21 am (UTC)
Your friends with car trouble should consider just sticking to the buses. I lived in Portland for five years without a car.

Try not to blog about Harry Potter until I see it Sunday. haha