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On a less heavy (if not precisely “lite”) note: momentarily carless

Mechanic came out to my house today, poked around under the hood of the Xterra, and kept repeating, “Interesting. Hm. Interesting situation …”

Trust me, “interesting” is not a word you want spoken by someone examining your vehicle’s engine.

Seriously, though, things aren’t too bad.

I noticed a grinding noise in the front brakes a couple of weeks ago and figured I needed new brake pads. No surprise. I’ve been driving only “litely” since then and had already made an appointment with the mechanic for next week.

Then yesterday, the grinding in the front end took on a whole new character. Now it wasn’t just when braking. But also when backing, fronting, and steering. And the steering characteristics at low speed became “interesting.”

Sure enough, I peeked under the engine compartment this morning then opened the hood. Power steering fluid everywhere.


The mechanic refilled the reservoir and has given his blessing to one-mile trips to the grocery store and post office until the parts come in, but I’m opting to leave the Xterra in the driveway.

So it’s carlessness for the next week. Which, given how close I am to everything I need, is no biggie.

You might remember that I was carless for 15 months toward the end of my years in Cabin Sweet Cabin. That was also “interesting,” though also mostly no biggie. Eventually a heroic reader fronted me the price of an ’84 Subaru station wagon and even drove it 150 miles out to me. I reimbursed him in silver coins — which promptly lost 20% of their value the very next week. Poor guy. He was a good sport about it, though.

Loved that little car. When it rained the passenger compartment floor would fill with several inches of water, and “interesting” was the best word to describe its exhaust system. But it was great to drive. I’d have another one like it in an instant.

The Xterra’s been super reliable, but OMG, what a gas guzzler. Been meaning to cut down on my driving, so here’s my chance. It’s only a week or so and I find I’m actually looking forward to being footloose and peripatetic.


  1. Claire
    Claire March 28, 2015 4:53 pm

    Pat — LOL, no freakin’ way. Sure they’re practical, but I am much, much too cool to ride one of those. 🙂

    I did have a motorized recumbent trike for a while when I was carless at Cabin Sweet Cabin. It had style. Unfortunately, it didn’t have enough oomph in its little battery to make it up the giant hill I lived on and its gears were too faulty for peddling that hill. Damn, I’d cuss and cuss pushing that horrible, heavy, awkward thing the last quarter mile home.

    Then the Great Gale of Ought-Seven came along. After that I ended up having to store it outside and it rusted to death.

    Nope, no trikes. Fortunately, it’s a perfectly nice little walk to the store and PO and if I need to get a lot of groceries, I’ll hitch Ava to a wagon.

  2. jed
    jed March 28, 2015 5:24 pm

    Heh. Tricyles? I have a memory of that. Ape hangers? Yeaahh!

    I’ve been carless. When I moved to Denver, I was without a car for a year. Bus to work, walk to the grocery, get rides from friends elsewhere.

    There there were those times when I was carless due to being moneyless. I muddled through. I rode my bike to work for 6 months, which actually was good for me. These things build character, I’m told.

    Once, I traded a utility trailer for a Subaru DL wagon. I for sure got the better end of that deal – I’d say it was a charitable act. I drove it until the transmission went tango uniform. Don’t recall what year it was – maybe it was a GL? Well, before they made them all rounded. I guess it was an 80s model. Other than it had less than mediocre acceleration, I had no major complaints. I did have to disable the hill-holder clutch mechanism, as it was stuck, and over-stressing the clutch cable.

  3. Ellendra
    Ellendra March 28, 2015 8:09 pm

    Train the dogs to pull a chariot?

  4. Bill St. Clair
    Bill St. Clair March 29, 2015 4:38 am

    Cars are perishable, not investments. But at least they aren’t boats.

    “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” — unknown

    I’m driving a 1999 Saab 9-5, gifted by my sister-in-law when she got a new car. It hasn’t been free, but cheaper than new car payments, so far. Waiting impatiently for my Elio.

  5. david
    david March 29, 2015 7:14 am

    I was once given a small car that also filled with water wvery time it rained. But under the carpets were drain plugs. Once I removed those it stopped holding water.

  6. fuzzydoc
    fuzzydoc March 29, 2015 9:04 am

    I wish I knew more about cars. My “blue whale” started vibrating at first when turning under acceleration then became constant and developed a terrible noise when turning too. Needless to say my very handy husband did some internet research and started ordering parts. Turns out there are a lot of possible causes. Two months later my volvo has new struts, new brakes, new motor and transmission mounts, new axles and a a flush/ serviced power steering system. No more noises or vibrations. We likely spent more on the parts than the car is worth, but it is running great and I am so lucky my husband can fix anything. Needless to say there are some very good forums on the internet to research what is causing the “noise” and get suggestions for how to deal with it.

  7. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2015 9:13 am

    fuzzydoc — Yep, a handy man is a handy thing to have around the house. (The dogs are useless when it comes to car repair.)

    In my case, the problems are blessedly obvious: front brake pads and power steering fluid pump (that goop sprayed all over the engine near the PSF reservoir was A Clue even I couldn’t miss). But yeah, if I had some vague thing like misc vibrations I’d feel very, very lost. You’re definitely lucky to have that husband.

    No handy men around for me, but it’s nice to have a mechanic who works at a reasonable rate and makes house calls.

  8. revjen45
    revjen45 March 29, 2015 9:45 am

    Starting in the 80s vehicles became increasingly complex and harder to work on until we mere peons were finally forced to engage the services of a mechanic for the most basic of servicing. The most reliable motorcycle I have ever had was a ’41 Indian Chief upon which I could perform all but the most involved mechanical operations. It’s probably just as well that a new Aprillia Tuono is beyond my financial means right now.

  9. Joel
    Joel March 29, 2015 10:03 am

    Good lord, that tricycle ad brings back memories. Memories of herds of them, ridden through tolerant traffic by overweight Century Village denizens in South Florida. If I ever get that uncool, someone please shoot me in the head.

  10. LarryA
    LarryA March 29, 2015 11:58 am

    Life was a lot simpler before cars were intelligent.

    When I bitch to my mechanic I get two answers:
    1. “That’s mandated by the government for your safety.”
    2. “We added that feature for your convenience.”

    If not for registration, there would soon be a black market for dumb cars.

  11. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2015 12:06 pm

    LarryA — Ohboy, is that ever the truth! My vehicle’s a 2000 and it’s already “too smart” for my liking. But of course it’s nothing compared with new cars with black boxes, GPS units, and computerized everything. Yup, all set up and ready for government (or hacker) control.

    All my life I’ve just wanted a basic, plain-vanilla car. Stop. Go. Stick shift. Heater. Windshield wipers. Okay, seatbelts, too. In the 1970s, I actually had one. Now? Ha! You can get one only if you’re ready and able to maintain a vehicle from the 1970s.

  12. Ellendra
    Ellendra March 29, 2015 12:33 pm

    As 3D printing gets more advanced, I predict a time when there will be basic car designs that can be printed to order. The nature of open-source designing will mean those cars will be easier to build, fix, and maintain than anything mass-produced.

    But we’re not there yet.

  13. Sam in Oregon
    Sam in Oregon March 29, 2015 1:44 pm

    “…it’s nice to have a mechanic who works at a reasonable rate and makes house calls.”

    House calls? You have a mechanic who makes HOUSE CALLS? Bring me a dose of smelling salts, Mable, I feel a fainting spell coming on!

  14. jed
    jed March 29, 2015 2:05 pm

    Here in CO, there are at least a couple companies providing mobile mechanic service. There used to be a mobile oil-change outfit, but I don’t recall seeing their vans recently.

    What I want in a car is a pre-smog chassis with a modern turbo diesel under the hood. That’d be a project to build.

  15. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2015 2:49 pm

    Sam 🙂 — Yep, I have a mechanic who makes house calls. Low rates, too, because he doesn’t have a fancy shop.

    For heavy-duty work, he’ll take my vehicle back to his home where he has a garage with some decent equipment in it. For smaller things, he’ll work in a customer’s garage or driveway. But indeed, house calls. On weekends, even.

    Eat your heart out.

  16. Sam in Oregon
    Sam in Oregon March 29, 2015 3:51 pm

    “Eat your heart out.”

    I don’t know if the color green suits me or not, but ……

    (I’m obviously living on the wrong side of the tracks, LOL.)

  17. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 30, 2015 10:10 am

    I found such a mechanic here too. He has a good shop in an old Quonset hut down the road, even a tow truck. He sells tires and does most common mechanical work at fair prices – suggesting trusted other outfits in town for things he can’t or won’t do. He’ll come to the house if the car won’t run, and he’ll ferry customers back and forth if he needs to keep the car for very long. He doesn’t stock much in parts, since the costs can get crazy, so he has to order anything the two local parts places do not carry or price too high. Or, he’ll give you the info and you can get the part yourself. Then he’ll only charge for the labor. I needed a part the local Napa store sold for $90. Found it at Amazon (yeah, that one, Claire!) for only $63. He charged me just $10. to install it.

    I found him the day I went looking for snow tires. He walked around the car, then said I should probably replace the “all weather” tires on the front wheels. There was still good tread on the back tires, but I didn’t know if they were safe since they’d been run for nearly five years. I was amazed that he didn’t suggest I replace all four… He just shrugged and smiled, then said he would drive on them. He’s had all my business since. I MAY replace the two rear tires this fall, five years later. They still look ok, but I’m really getting antsy about them. He still smiles, says to wait for the price to come down a little more. LOL The two snow tires I bought from him still look almost new!

    My 2001 Saturn runs like a top, gets 36 MPG, and it’s all due to the local “shade tree” mechanic. Quonset huts just work better than trees in a Wyoming winter.

  18. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau March 30, 2015 5:24 pm

    [When it rained the passenger compartment floor would fill with several inches of water.]

    That’s what drills and drill bits are for.

    My wife had several gallons sloshing around in her Touareg spare wheel area. She never even asked me, probably never wondered why the windows were foggy every morning. Women! Anyway a couple minutes drilling some holes took care of that, and a little more work with the rear hatch hinged stopped the water coming in. Crappy German design…

    BTW simple motorcycles are still available. Almost anything with 1 cylinder, and Moto Guzzis are still essentially using a 1970’s (if not earlier) design.

  19. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2015 5:57 pm


    Well, who says I didn’t eventually figure it out? Actually, I thought of it right away but didn’t want dirt, bugs, etc. getting in through holes in the floorboards. I tried a car cover first. Helped a little. Eventually drilled holes.

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