Strange Musings *hyuk*
Thursday, June 16, 2005
  9:14 PM — Car

Unfortunately, I'm once again having car troubles. There's a reason it's named Bill. Around a year ago now, at the beginning of last summer, my steering wheel strangly started to have a lot of slop in it. The whole wheel would translate sideways and up and down when I applied force to it. This wasn't normal steering turning (that would be rotating about the steering column), and it wasn't like the tilt wheel (that's only up and down, and it didn't feel the same).

At the time my favorite mechanic had shut down supposedly for long term renovations and perhaps moving, so I found a random other one in Amherst. They told me the bolts that held the steering column in place had loosened, and charged me a few hours labor ($400?) to fix it.

Earlier this year, my turn signal stalk started giving me the same problems. That's got all the important junk on it: turn signal, wipers, high beams, cruise control. I took it to my landlord's shop in March I think, as I was having them fix my horn and thought they might end up taking the steering column apart anyway. They took a cover off the base of the stalk and saw that a piece of the steering column frame had broken off! Aaron suggested it'd cost way too much to be worth fixing, and they slapped it back together. And the high beams no longer worked.

So Tuesday I called the Meineke at the bottom of the campus hill and made an appointment for Wednesday. Dropped it off at 8am, had a very productive day stranded on campus, found out around 1pm that I'd need a new turn signal lever and maybe high beam switch and would have to bring it back next week, went to pick it up at 4:30pm, they said it'd be done at 5pm, lost patience at 7pm and went onto the floor to get the scoop.

... Turns out that the guy who "fixed" the steering wheel slop was full of shit, and had somehow wedged the high beam switch in to make it stop jiggling. Maybe the turn signal lever broke in this process but was also wedged in place, or maybe it broke later, that is not clear. The guy who took the cover of the stalk base then disturbed the delicate balance, and just slapped it back together somehow. When Bob at Meineke went to put it back together, it was like trying to reconstruct a Jenga tower: ain't gonna happen. I left the car, got a ride home from them, and took the bus to campus today ($1.50, 30min).

From my talking to them and my dad doing so, it appears that while it's theoretically possible to fix the three problems individually (high beam switch, turn signal lever, steering wheel slop), it would be an ass-load of work involving creating parts. Only slightly easier is scouring the nationwide database of junkyards to find me a whole new steering column. The search should take a day or two, the shipping another few days, and the total replacement a few hours to a few days. So sad! So $$$!

Meanwhile, my commute to campus is normally 5.1 miles or 10 min (according to Yahoo Maps), and is probably 10-30 min home during rush hour. One way, 5.1 miles, turns out to be $0.79 spent in gas one way (calculations available upon request). Bus fare is double that, bus time is double that, but neither are prohibitive, so I may start bussing more to save the environment.

Especially since my car's now gonna be in the shop through the middle of next week: they didn't manage to find a steering column nation wide (well, he's got a backup including the gear shift behind the steering wheel), so now he's going to try and find just the parts necessary to rebuild it. I asked for an estimate on parts and labor, and he had no clue! Any one want to donate to Zandi's car fund? I have to keep reminding myself of a BOTE (back of the envelope) calculation TacoTortoise did for me a couple days ago: new car payments would work out to roughly $400 a month, and I'm not paying nearly that much for the work on my current car.


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