Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The first car we bought in Chicago was a ten-year old Mercury Tracer. I had been against buying a car, since we lived a block from the Montrose el station and were able to take the train to work. Getting groceries was a little challenging, but doable. Peter really wanted a car though and when one of my friends from work was selling the car cheaply (and was willing to teach me how to drive a manual transmission car), we decided to buy it.

The Tracer was a perfect first city car – we never had to worry about it getting dinged or stolen. It was very reliable for an old car. After awhile, we discovered a long-term health problem, a leaking valve-y thing or something that sometimes caused the car to burn oil briefly when we started it up. It would have been very expensive to fix but as long as we checked the oil frequently and topped up when necessary, the problem was mostly just an annoyance. We were betting that by the time the valve was entirely shot, we'd have gotten a new (or at least a new-to-us car).

We bought the car in the summer and the winter was an adventure. When it got cold, there was always the chance that an old car like that wouldn't start. We'd talk to the car – his name was Baby Toly (short for Anatoly, since we'd bought him a Communist. I mean a Socialist. ☺) "Comon, Baby Toly. You can start. You can do it." For an old car, Baby Toly was extraordinarily reliable. Even on the day it was so cold that the locks froze and we had to climb in through the hatchback, Baby Toly always started.

Until, of course, the day that he didn't start. I still remember standing in the parking lot of a drug store, waiting for the tow truck. Not a great feeling. After that day, we could never really trust Baby Toly quite the same way as we had. He might start. He might not. When he didn't start, it usually meant we were going to have to pay what my brother called "the used car random crippling balloon payment."

That's the thing about a used car – once the trust is gone, it's very unsettling. You wonder all the time – "Are you going to strand me today?" "Are we going to have to spend the vacation money to replace some part I've never heard of?" "Is it a bad sign to know the tow truck driver by name?" Of course, living in Chicago, you nearly always have other options so an untrustworthy car is an annoyance and a money sink, but it's not the end of the world.

Living in the Middle of Nowhere, having a car you can trust is essential. Because cars and insurance are so expensive in Ireland, I can't really see us ever owning a new car. We had to buy a second car and I found the process very frightening. But I really fell in love with my little grey Peugeot so I let myself trust the car.

The trust was quickly broken by a flat battery. (Someone, who shall remain mostly nameless, left the lights on. He was later partially exonerated by the fact that the idiot-alarm that warns you that the lights are still on is somewhat faulty.) But the AA (same as AAA) man fixed that problem without breaking a sweat. So the trust was restored.

Then 4 days later, the car stopped working just outside the next town. Our very kind local mechanic rescued me and fixed the car right away, since I had to drive to the airport later that day. I worried about the car the whole time I was in Dublin. I did not want to be stranded in the airport.

The car started fine and has been mostly starting fine ever since. Sometimes, it takes a second too long to catch or it takes a second try. But, even if it starts every time until the day I trade it in, I will still have a hard time trusting it. (After camogie practise, I start the car first and then change my shoes, just in case there's a problem, I don't want to discover it after my team has already left the car park.) I've learned that not unlike interpersonal relationships, in automotive relationships, once the trust is gone, it's nearly impossible to replace.


At 10 April 2007 at 17:49, Blogger laurie said...

ah, tow trucks trying to get dead cars going in bitter cold snow and wind and usually dark. i hope those days are behind me. thanks for reviving the memory so vividly!

At 11 April 2007 at 16:32, Blogger Col said...

The most important thing is to have a mechanic you trust. Most of the time, you should be OK if you perform regular maintenance. With an older car, a regular schedule of work is essential.

Have you had it in for maintenance since you bought it? If it's not starting well, you should get it looked at. (And get the brakes, cooling, steering, and fuel systems checked as well.) I'm reminding you because I care! ;-)


At 11 April 2007 at 20:03, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - At least it wasn't cold the day I got stranded!

Col - Thanks. :) I got all that done a week after I bought it. Turned out the car needed a new radiator and a ball bearing thingy underneath. Also got the oil changed at that time. He also gave the battery a thorough check at that time (as well as all the other systems you mentioned) but he pronounced it in good health. So you can imagine his distress when I rang him to say I was stranded just outside the next town over. Turned out to be the starter motor was shot and it was draining the battery.

We are blessed with a good town mechanic. How do I know he's good? Everyone in town knows his phone number and his garage doesn't even have a sign in front of it. :)

At 11 April 2007 at 21:42, Blogger laurie said...

ah, i used to have a mechanic named woody who had grease-stained fingers and intense, clear green eyes, and who used to scold me for not taking care of my car. he used to sketch out on greasy scraps of paper towels the different components of my engine and try to impress upon me the importance of good maintenance.

when i drove my toyota 45 miles with a broken headgasket (stopping every few miles to pour more water into the radiator, which was steaming like crazy), i thought he was going to holler at me. he looked at me, and the muscle in his jaw twitched, and then he said the harshest thing he could think of: "if i could take this car away from you, i would."

ah, i miss him.

At 13 April 2007 at 05:41, Blogger -Ann said...

You have a wonderful gift for observing and describing people. Have you considered...I don't know, journalism or something? :)

At 13 April 2007 at 13:41, Blogger Radio Free Newport said...

I didn't know you named the Tracer "Baby Toly." How sweet. ;-)

I'm glad the car served you well, for the most part. I'd completely forgotten about teaching you to drive a stick...puttering around Roscoe Village at 5mph with a terrified look on your face. Good times!

The other funny part of the story is that we bought a used Isuzu Trooper, which led to our selling the Tracer. The family we bought it from was moving to California the next day, so we got a great deal on it. The guy asked if I'd mind driving them to the airport, so when I picked up the car, the couple piled in with a bunch of suitcases, their dog in a carrier, and their young baby. And I hauled them all off -- complete strangers, mind you -- to O'Hare. It was quite surreal.

At 5 May 2007 at 09:08, Anonymous usedautodealers said...

I can say the disappointment level is too high when our cars failed us. Cars are like kids you know, need some regular check ups and listen to them fervently. I think if you sense something's noisy when you start your car, call a mechanic immediately.

If you wish to check some calibrated cars, I've found a website that offers cheap but quality-made cars. This is a secured buying services worldwideand your vehicle will be delivered to your city ports and you still get to receive after sales services at discount.

I'd also advise learning how to fix our cars coz paying for the car's maintenance is way too costly.


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