Posts Tagged ‘car talk’

I was on Car Talk

December 5, 2009

On December 5, 2009, I was on Car Talk. (For the second time, actually; the first was in 2006 but there was nothing particular for me to fix.) I called them in October about my ’98 Corolla which, for several months, sometimes spews smoke out from under the hood. I know why it does, but wanted to see if a) it was dangerous and if b) my remedy of topping off the power steering fluid every 1000 miles or so will work indefinitely. They gave me advice. It’s time for me to follow it.

Listen to the clip, if you want (thanks to my dad who digitized it and sent it to me before I heard it on the air!), and I’ll tell the whole story in the next post.

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What do I know?

December 5, 2009

Not much.

About cars, at least. I work for a car sharing organization and know a decent amount about Priuses, and I can solve minor problems. The problem, however, is that our cars are all new. Nothing goes wrong with them. Never has anyone called our office and said their car had smoke pouring out from under the hood.

My car, the 1998 Corolla, is slightly older. Things go wrong. And I don’t really have a clue what to do. It’s that I’m a mechanical dimwit, but I just don’t have much experience. I can handle a wrench and a hammer, I’ve taken apart and put back together a computer, but I’ve not done much with cars. The two things I can do “under a hood” rather well are jump a car (I do this for work dozens of times a winter) and change a tire. But that’s easy stuff—I’ve never replaced a part, or wired a radio, or replaced a master cylinder. It’s not because I can’t (well, except maybe the master cylinder), it’s because I’ve not had the chance. Now, perhaps, I will.

How it all started …

December 5, 2009

In 2005, I was returning to college for my senior year. The Twin Cities do not have the best transit infrastructure in the world, and biking in the winter is, well, less than ideal, so I pestered my folks to kick in for a car. In the mean time, my sister was starting college and my dad was looking at being in the hole 80 grand for our educations, so he contacted the schools and pled for their mercy. My sister’s school told him to pound sand. Mine said after consideration they’d be willing to chip in five thousand towards my education. It was found money. And five thousand just about buys a new car.

So I hit Craigslist. Since my folks are a Two Prius Family I looked at Toyotas. I wanted something dependable. I also wanted fuel efficiency, but couldn’t afford a Prius. But Corollas get in the upper 30s (I’ve gotten over 40 several times) and seemed like a fine choice. I found one in the neighborhood, got it checked out, kicked the tires, and bought the car. Then I drove up to the RMV to get plates in another car, lost a gallon of oil on the highway (the guy at the shop hadn’t screwed in the oil plug) and barely got the plates that day. No matter. Two weeks later I headed west, stopping in Chicago, got the car towed for parking too close to Wrigley, and then drove on to Minnesota.

My first Car Talk experience was in early 2006. I drove to campus once all semester because my car was full of skis, and had to find a parking space. I found one right out of class which was the exact length of my car. But it was icy enough that I was able to scoot in, touching the other cars’ bumpers (the boys called it “The Braille Method.” The assistant to the dean of students, whose car had been nudged, accused me of “ruining her transmission.” I said, and Tom and Ray agreed, that by tapping a bumper a la Boston or New York you could not damage a transmission. If a bumper wasn’t meant to be bumped, it wouldn’t be called a bumper.

The car came with me after college, and I’ve put 40,000 miles on it in the last four years: it now has 135,000. It went from Minneapolis to Colorado to Louisville to Boston and back to Minneapolis, where I’ve been working for a car sharing organization for the past two years. It’s seen its fair share of snow (a couple of skids in to snow banks) and has a few quirks (most notably the broken driver-side interior door handle has been replaced by a neon pink string) but drives like a charm, gets 40 on the highway in summer, and, from April to November, generally sits idly by in favor of a bicycle.