Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Case of the Misdiagnosed Vehicle (Part One)

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

I have a mystery for you today. As a child I was a fan of mystery novels and short stories that gave you, perhaps, not all of the information, but enough information that if you take your time, you can likely work out the mystery for yourself. I’ve never been good at creating that type of mystery, and I’ve noticed that many detective novels shy away from giving clues in favour of holding off the revelation for all readers until the final chapter. It’s too bad, really, but today I have one for you, and the great thing is that it really happened. I will give you more information than you need, but some of it will be relevant for solving the mystery. To be fair, I will leave out a train of thought that I had during these events, because to dwell on it would be to make things too clear. I want to point out that while this should read like a bad Sherlock Holmes story, it doesn’t. Since it involves diagnosing a problem with my car, it reads more like a bad episode of “House M.D.” Enjoy.

In October 2011, I bought a car for $1,100; a Honda Accord. This became necessary as I went from having two vehicles to having nary a one. Ok, I’ll try not to sound like I’m writing in the late 1800s. The car was by no means in great shape, but when it comes to certain vehicles, Honda Accords being one make and model, you’re more or less buying a car that won’t die an easy death. At 243,000 miles though, it promised to have its share of problems.

The guy selling the vehicle explained a few of these “personality traits” to me. There was minor body damage. The door handles to both front doors were basically functional but broken. A previous owner of the vehicle had done some custom wiring that caused a number of issues; one being that rather than turn the key in the ignition to start the car, you turn the key to the on position, and then push a button that starts the car. He said that it must be a theft prevention thing.

Maybe or maybe not related to the rewiring, were some odd problems. The doors are auto-lock, but one of the doors doesn’t lock, so you have to do it manually. The gas gauge won’t go past a quarter of the way full, but will flash the light letting you know that the gas is low. There is a speaker that cuts out randomly. To make matters worse, it’s hard to say why the speaker cuts out, because the radio isn’t installed properly. It could be that the speaker is bad, or that the wire is bad or otherwise not connected properly.

I made sure of one thing before I bought the car, which was that the heater worked, because while it was still hot out and the seller was making a big deal that the air conditioner worked well, I knew that I would need a good heater in a couple of months for sitting at my security guard job. I made sure of that one thing, but I should have made sure of two.

One thing that I also need when at a guard post is stuff to keep me awake. For me, this is a wide range of electronic devices (including my cell phone and laptop) that need to be charged after a couple of hours of use. I noticed three problems that the seller had not pointed out, each seemingly insignificant at that price. The first was just that the side view mirror was being held in place by a piece of cardboard. The second was that the trunk leaked when it rained hard. The third was that there was no cigarette lighter or other jack to plug in my chargers. This has caused me the most trouble in writing. I used to write as much as I could write in a night, even if it meant charging my laptop. Now I write for a couple of hours, and even if I still have stuff to write, I have to shut the laptop down because of a low battery.

The car worked fine for the first couple of weeks, but I soon found myself having to take it to a mechanic because the brakes were out. I didn’t take the car to my regular mechanic. This was simply because I was not certain of being able to get a ride to pick the car up, so I took it to a mechanic less than a mile from my house. This way I could walk to pick it up if need be.

They looked at the brakes, showed me that one of the lines was out, and then got to work on fixing it. They did the front pads, the master cylinder, and the brake line. This was a lot of money, so when they started talking about how my alternator and air conditioning belts really needed to be replaced soon, I told them I would have to deal with it later. I went about my merry way, and had no problems until December 20, 2011.

I had no problems, but I did take it to my regular mechanic. I took my older kids to Tulsa to see their grandma for Christmas. Because I feel it is cheaper in the long run, for wear and tear, to rent a vehicle, I took my car to my mechanic while I was in the rented vehicle. On my laundry list of things to fix was: the side mirrors, the speaker problem, the door handles, the lack of a cigarette lighter, the leaky trunk, and an oil change. They were only able to do the oil change and the side view mirrors, because most of the parts had to come in from the dealer. One other thing; I’d asked him about the belts, and in his opinion they weren’t a pressing issue. He was wrong, but we’ll get to that soon.

If you’re taking the part about solving the mystery seriously, you might want to take the time to review all the facts again before we get into the events of December 20 to 21, of 2011, which we will do tomorrow in Part Two of this exciting-ish mystery.

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