Twelve days ago I was driving along when all of a sudden my car started slowing down on its own, it slowed, and slooowed, and sloooooooowed. It felt like there was a chain attached to the undercarriage at the back of my car and that that chain was hooked up at the other end to a giant freighter ship. I had accidentally left my house that day without my cell phone and just needed to get to my friends so I could feel safe instead of finding myself stranded. I got off the arterial and slowly made my way closer and closer to them on roads less traveled and I did not stop, I rolled through the stop signs and eventually made it to the block the restaurant was on. As I pulled into the parking space my car died altogether.
I went inside and got to work calling a tow truck. Oh, did I forget to mention, it was a Sunday so all auto shops were, of course, closed. My car was dropped off at one of the very best automotive shops in my county and I waited for word of what was causing the problem and how much it would cost to fix it.
The next day they telephoned me to get more information. And I told them everything I could think of to describe what was happening. In my mind I was thinking, fuel injection system, or transmission, or timing belt… all expensive fixes.
They drove the car and nothing. It was fine, no issues. Tuesday, they drove the car, nothing, no issues. Wednesday they drove the car, nothing, no issues. They drove it in town. They drove it on the highway. They drove it up very steep hills. They put over 70 miles on the car and it ran perfectly for them every single time.
So, on Thursday I went to pick it up. They did not charge me. I drove it around the corner and came to a stop at a red light. And the car started rocking hard, jerking forward and back. I pressed my foot harder upon the break, pushing it up against the floor pad in fear that my car would leap out into the traffic of the busy arterial that I was waiting to cross. I watched as the RPM gauge jumped up and down in tandem with the jerking motions of my car. When the light changed I crept forward and then, without notice is jerked again and suddenly I was speeding fast through the intersection! I thought, well, it seems fine now so I kept going without incident.
Without incident, that is, until I came to the next stoplight. Again, it began jerking wildly as the RPM gauge hopped like a kid on a pogo stick and then suddenly the car stalled altogether. So I put it in park, and hoped it would restart and it did. I would try and go back to the mechanic. I was only about a quarter of a mile away. It should be fine. The car started right back up and I began driving, but next, it stalled out while I was driving down the road. It just gave up and died. Well, it didn’t actually die. I was able to restart it again. But the fact that it died while my foot was on the accelerator certainly added more stress to my already quivering-with-fear arms.
I did make it back to the mechanic shop and telephoned a friend to come pick me. Now that the car was behaving badly we, the mechanic and I, immediately took it on a test drive so they could see, feel, hear what was happening. They did not think it was the transmission because if it was, it would be consistent rather than intermittent. It was beginning to get late in the day and they would be closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It would not be until Monday when they could try and figure it out and make a real diagnosis.
And on day eight of not having my car, they test drove it again and, wouldn’t you know it, it ran perfectly. No warning lights or error codes to be discovered. They began to suspect that it was the Catalytic Converter (the part alone costs a thousand bucks). However, they had no definitive way of knowing that was the issue and didn’t want to replace such an expensive part when it was just a guess. They recommended I take it to another mechanic who had another tool for checking the cat as the tools at their shop were not indicating an issue.
So on Tuesday, my son drove me to that city so I could move my car from that shop to one about a mile and a half up the road from the first mechanic. My son followed me in his vehicle and, at first, I had no issues. I made it maybe 4 blocks and then I hit the hazard lights as my car was slowing. I turned off the arterial road we were on and made my way to lesser trafficked streets. This meant I would be turning left and right at various points (using my arm as blinkers) but at least I wouldn’t have to worry quite as much about being hit by another vehicle.
Eventually, we made it there, but not after my car slowed to a stop and at important moments too, both were mid-turn in the intersections. The second turn was onto a major road I could not avoid. At that turn, it came to a full stop though the engine did not die. I aimed my steering wheel toward the sidewalk deciding I was probably going to have to tow it the remaining 3 blocks when suddenly the car lurched forward. It was very scary! Had I not reacted swiftly I would have leapt onto the sidewalk and hit a decorative tree, it was that close! Of course, thinking swiftly meant turning away from the sidewalk and back into the traffic. I was lucky though, the timing was perfect to keep me safe. My little car jumped in front of a van instead of hitting the van had it been a second later. We managed to get it to the second mechanic shop. Another excellent shop. And the next day, Wednesday, he told me that it was not the Catalytic Converter. He too was stumped by what was causing the issue. His best advice was to take it to the dealership. Which of course I wanted to avoid the high cost of dealing with them for my 14-year-old car.
I would never be able to drive the car to the dealership, the closest of which was a 20-minute drive on the freeway. So I called a tow truck and had it delivered to them yesterday. I was 10 days without transportation at this point and felt grateful that despite the enormous price I was likely facing ahead, at least I would be given a loaner vehicle. I have appointments tomorrow, Friday, that I had already postponed a week.
Today I get the call. They found the problem. And it was a remarkably simple one. It could have, would have been discovered by any of the mechanics who looked at it before had the check engine light come on. The dealership, in fact, admitted they got lucky in discovering the mystery. The coolant sensor literally crumbled when their mechanic touched it. Once replaced the car ran perfectly so I got off easy on cost.
This Thursday I am grateful that I once again have a running automobile. I am grateful that none of the mechanics who looked at the car ripped me off. And I am grateful that the fix was affordable.
Here’s the mysterious little guy who caused me so much stress:
The wonderful photograph at the top of the post was taken by Christopher Windus and acquired through Unsplash. It’s a great source for free photos under the Creative Commons Zero license, so check that site out!