Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Van Woes

When we got back from our vacation, it was midnight.

We just emptied the rental van, piled into the house, and crashed in our beds.

The next morning, I was up early, running errands, getting groceries, hitting the post office (expecting some great snapfish photo albums from the first week of horse camp!), off to the Chinese market that sells beef tenderloin for $5/lb, then the local produce market, because by golly, we are going to EAT HEALTHY after our vacation of snack food! Realized, while I was out, that the rental van needed to be back by noon, so went home to grab Ken. Turns out we had until 6pm, but let's strike while the iron is hot, and get the rental returned (and my nice shiny new FIXED Homer, which was ready to be picked up) before we have to go to the airport to get Ken's brother Andrew (flying in from Dubai with his family), and Ken's other brother Fred (Visiting from Ireland, and in town for some smarty-pants Physics conference).

We went off, and Homer was looking lovely! So nice to see him all polished up (and cleaned out! They did a very nice job of detailing the van, which was completely unnecessary, seeing as we have three kids that live like slobs in the back of it). Then it was off to return the rental car, and reward ourselves for our efficiency by going out for dessert and coffee/tea without the children, at a little one-off coffee-roaster place that bakes their own pies. YUM!

Anyways, I realized as we were going to the rental car place, that Homer's radio wasn't working. It required a 'secret code', and who knows what that is? But I did know that my Honda service guy had my secret code on file, so I planned on driving by Honda on the way home (actually, on the way home via Game Stop, seeing as StarCraft II was released the night before, and Skip had been beta testing it for the past 6 months, and really could use the real deal, and he'd be so surprised if dad and I just dropped it in his lap. He never gets surprises)

Just before we got to Honda, I remembered that there might be a reference to the secret code in my owner's manual. I think I'd had the guys write it down cryptically on my insurance holder. Sure enough, I just saved us a trip through the long lines at the Honda Service Department, and we went home ahead of schedule. But then it was nearly an immediate turn around to get to the airport in time to greet the Emirates flight from Dubai, and welcome our little cousins to San Francisco.

We had fun with the cousins for 2 days (but that is another entry), and before we knew it, it was time to go back to the airport, so they could fly up to Canada and spend some time with Grandma. We loaded up the van, and I volunteered to drive, as Ken had to get ready for a meeting he was hosting later in the morning. I got into the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition, and NOTHING HAPPENED. No 'click-click-click'. No "beep-beeeeuuuuuurrrrrrrp" that sometimes happens as the last drops of battery juice get used up to flicker the lights one last time. Nothing!

Panic at the disco! We had to be at the airport in 20 minutes, and would we be able to get everyone (and their luggage) into Ken's little 2-door BMW? We started frantically unpacking the van, and opened the little trunk of the car. Ken came out and said "We don't have jumper cables, but maybe we should diagnose what's wrong"

So I got back into the van. Put the key in the ignition. And the blasted thing started up like nothing had ever been wrong.

And it asked for the radio secret code again.

So it's an electrical thing.

We were pretty pleased to get to the airport without incident. And of course, it was the weekend, so there was nobody around at the auto body place that had fixed Homer after the accident. A few more times over the weekend, the same thing happened, but now we knew that if we jumped up and down, and slammed doors, eventually, whatever was unplugged got plugged in again, and we'd be off.

But first thing Monday morning, I was back at the shop, explaining my problem.

I've gotta say, I really like the guys that fixed my van. They have seemed to bend over backwards to make me feel special (and not in a bad way - like "you are especially BAD because the accident was your fault"), and at ease, and as soon as I'd said what happened, they were calling the owner out from his office to personally take care of things. Within 10 minutes, they'd taken it back into the bay, had done a sweep of the electrical system, and had found the loose wire (a battery post?) and had tightened everything down.

The owner's last words to me were "if ANYTHING else happens, you make sure you call US first. We want you to be completely satisfied and happy with your van. And we want you to feel safe, like this vehicle is as good as new, and will not let you down.

Fast foward to this morning.

I'd dropped the girls off at Horse Camp car pool, dropped Nate off at his camp, and had run a bunch of errands. I was just patting myself on the back as I drove back to the elementary school (where I would be dropping off a fairly polished letter of recommendation that I had been asked to write), when I pulled up to a light.

Beside me was a pretty sweet looking old, old, old Corvette. He revved his engines. I laughed. Yeah. Race a minivan up the hill. You're a loon! I have no acceleration, so I just pulled out gently, and he kept pace with me. I soon noticed that he was blowing thick clouds of smoke. Poor guy. What a way to kill an old car. You really should have some mechanical work done on that old thing, I was thinking...

Until he pulled away from me, and there was NO smoke coming out of his butt. It was all coming out of mine!


I limped into the school parking lot, and another car followed me. The man rolled down his window, and wondered if I was OK, because that was some impressive cloud of smoke billowing out from under my van.

What a nice guy to check on me like that. But I was fine.

And when I finally got the adrenaline under control, and realized that the smoke wasn't because the van was ON FIRE, I pulled out my phone, and called the body shop.

They agreed that billowing white smoke is never a good thing, and had me do a few minor can-be-done-by-an-idiot-woman-driver diagnositics, and then told me they were impounding the car, and could I just leave it where it was.

I had meetings, and errands, and stuff, but Toni came through and got me, and we got a lot done this afternoon while the shop came and towed the van back. They said I could just leave the keys in the van, and the van unlocked. There were teachers working at the school, so I had no qualms about leaving the van unattended.

I just got a call from the shop.

A brittle "transmission rubber line", that the shop owner cannot in good faith blame on the accident. He said that if he had ANY shadow of doubt that it was connected with the accident, he would be putting in a claim addendum, but that he really thought that the line looked too brittle as if it had been damaged a long time ago. Interesting.

But he is a good guy. He towed the car for free. And they're doing the work for free. I have volunteered to purchase the parts.

I may be talking to Honda later this week. I wonder if that is something that they have seen in recent warranty work.

Seeing as Homer just passed 50,000 miles, I doubt that much is covered, but it wouldn't hurt to check.

I just hpe it's a quick fix. We leave on Saturday morning for Palm Desert, and Joshua Tree National Monument.

And it will be a VERY nasty 9-hour drive if we have to all squeeze into Ken's little 2-door car.

And now I must leave, as it's a mile and a half walk to school, where Nate's camp is happening. I think I can get there in 27 minutes. What do you think?

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