Thursday, November 7, 2013

Goodbye to a four-wheeled friend

This past Monday I took our 2002 Pontiac Montana minivan in for service because the heater hadn't been working right for a week or so. When I turned the heat on, I'd get cold air. I discovered if I fiddled around with all the heater/fan controls like a little kid trying to break them, warm air would eventually start blowing. But then it would stop just as soon as it started. Not a good thing with winter approaching.

So I took the car--affectionately known as "Tony Montana"--to the dealership's service department and explained the funkiness that was going on with it. The service advisor said they'd check it out and give me a call. "Could be the thermostat," he told me. "Or something with the heater core. Or it could be the controls. It's hard to say."

As I walked home from the dealership, I had six blocks or so to start "running the numbers" in my head. Since I know absolutely nothing about cars, my "calculations" were anything but that. I was simply trying to answer the "How much is this going to cost me??" question. A hundred bucks? Two hundred? Three hundred? I really had no idea. I just didn't want it to be a big number because things are always tight financially in my world.

When I got home I Googled "Pontiac Montana heater core repair" and found some site that estimated the cost at about $600.00. Ouch. That was not what I wanted to see. But I remained cautiously optimistic and got my work day started while I awaited the call from the dealership.

A few hours later, I got that (as it turned out) dreaded call. You know it's bad when the service guy starts out the conversation with "I don't think any of these things are things you're gonna want to take care of." Ohhhhhhh, shit.

He then proceeded to tell me all of the "things" that were contributing to my heater not working properly. The radiator was leaking. The head gasket was leaking. The intake manifold was leaking. Something called a bypass tube was also just about shot. And, as a special bonus, whatever the power steering fluid runs through? That was leaking, too.

As the patient's diagnosis was recited to me over the phone, my heart sank. "This is it," I thought. "This is the end of this car." Mr. Goodwrench finally told me that he ran a rough estimate of what the repairs would cost and came up with something in the neighborhood of $4,000.00. "But it could be more," he added, because the car was old and deteriorating and once you get in there and start messing with stuff...well, then other stuff can break, too.

I was heartsick. I know: A car is just a car. But we got that minivan in December of 2001. Almost 12 years ago. It was a part of the family. It took us all over. To Florida and back for an awesome vacation. To the Little League Great Lakes Regional tournament in Indianapolis after my son's team won the Michigan state tournament. To my wife's family cottage in Canada many times. To New York several times, to visit my sister and for weddings. Hell, my younger son grew up in that car.

It was indeed like losing a member of the family. That car held sooo many memories. Including one of the worst memories of my life: When my wife and I drove our son to rehab while he was in the throes of heroin withdrawal. I'll never forget seeing him in the back seat, shivering, shaking, sweating, and moaning from the pain. It was all so surreal. (That is definitely one memory I hope will fade away someday.)

So after 12 years and 182,717 miles, Tony Montana was toast. I thanked the service advisor for the call, hung up the phone, let my wife know the bad news, and then called Volunteers of America to tell them I had a car to donate. Hopefully they can get some money out of it. After all, I just put a brand new set of tires on the car in August (ouch). At the very least, maybe they can sell the thing for parts and help some needy people out.

When they came to pick up the car last night, I got a little choked up. I watched the tow truck driver load Tony onto the flat bed and all the memories of my family's times in that car raced through my head again. Except that one. Oh, it tried to sneak in. But I wouldn't let it.

Rest in peace, my friend.

1 comment:

  1. I feel your pain. I have a 2002 Expedition. That baby is my life! I have loved it from the moment I brought it home. The good news is it is in awesome shape. My husband is so particular about vehicle upkeep. We've had to change out some major components over the years, but it was easier to do that than make four more years of car payments every month. You would be shocked to know that my Expedition only has 60,000 miles on it (give or take a few hundred).