Parker is my 1991 Buick Park Avenue.
He can’t talk. Cars don’t grin like the Cheshire cats either, right? Or, claim the gas with the special additives makes them feel like dancing in the street. If Parker could speak he would say those ads are silly.
I know this as well as I know what my wife’s weekly to-do-list is, before it goes on the fridge. Cars – old ones like Parker – are telepathic. This isn’t true for newer cars, like Mike, my wife’s 2006 Nissan Quest.
This is Mike’s story. A year ago, lights on his instrument panel started to fade; firstly, random numbers on the odometer, then all of them.
After that, Mike lost the yellow bars that showed the gas left in his fuel tank.
Fixing this should be simple – solder a wire, change a fuse. After all, every other icon on the panel lit up – dimmer light, clock, speedometer.
No, said the dealership. Repair meant replacing the whole unit – plastic pane and all – that houses the “electrical cluster.”
“Guess how much?” I grumbled to Parker one day. “The unit is $1,083, labour – two hours at $136 an hour – and taxes of 12 per cent. That’s $1,214.06.”
When an old car misfires loudly after a tune-up, it’s not a mechanical problem that’s choked him up. A loud voice in my head said, “A fool and his money are soon parted, Jack.”
I’m no carnival yokel trying to pop balloons for teddy-bears. I started looking.
Just after the odometer blacked out completely, we learned Mike’s tie rods had “play.” They keep the wheels straight. Mike needed a left inner tie rod, and a right outer. The quote for Nissan parts was $707 and labour $375. Replacing tie rods requires wheel balancing at $99. Add taxes. Total? Well over $1,200.
I told Parker this at the gas station he likes, the one with additives. I knew what he was thinking.
“Jack, money doesn’t grow on trees. Check around town.”
Phil, at T&T, a vehicle supplies store, found two “after-market” rod ends for $90. “Guaranteed a million miles,” he said.
I delivered them to Brian at B&F Automotive. Labour, alignment and taxes – was $421.34. I had saved about $700.
Some idiot backed into Mike’s front end, damaged bumper and driver-side headlight. Craftsman did repairs. The new, clear lens made the old one look like it had cataracts. “Mike deserves two good eyes,” Parker told me.
New frig note: “Replace van headlight.”
The dealership quote was $428.80, labour $62.50, taxes 12 per cent total, $550.25. Craftsman offered an after-market one – installed – for $230.
Mike carelessly dropped one of his hub caps somewhere. The note on the frig said, “Replace lost hub cap.”
Cost of a Nissan wheel cover was $119.49 plus 12 per cent tax. “Get generic ones for $50 at West Coast Detail and Accessories,” suggested Dillon, at Craftsman. If Mike’s careless again, he’ll have spares now.
Mike needed a new window lift motor too, after it started moving erratically up and down. Motor $457.11. Labour $100. Add taxes. T&T could get me one for $188. But, on Parker’s advice, I had called Clay at Stave Falls Auto.
“Clay keeps me on the road,” Parker said. “Remember, the hood release cable we couldn’t find anywhere else. Didn’t even charge us. Just said, have a good day.”
Clay found a motor for $130.
Mike had waited long enough for an instrument panel. Brian at B&F had a number for Denis of Vancouver Clusters who fixed the old one with new parts for $150. Mike’s odometer and fuel gage lit up again. Parker was delighted. I could tell by the hum of his engine the next day.
“Denis gave the kid his smile back,” Parker was saying.
I’m sure he was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.