30 January 2013


I'm a longtime fan of the NPR radio show Car Talk.  Co-hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi, brothers who run one of Boston's premiere auto repair shops, are lively and hilarious as they respond to the questions of callers with car problems ~ their knowledge is encyclopedic as they sort through possible solutions to try to parse out the answer to each mystery.  It's like listening to grown men revert to adolescent boys as they feed off each other in good-natured teasing.

Each has developed his own philosophy on certain age-old questions, and each staunchly defends his position.  An example is this ~ should one buy a new car and keep it for the duration of the warranty, and then trade it in on another new car?  Or should one buy a quality used car, maintain it, and drive it until it collapses of terminal metal fatigue?

I fall in between.  I've bought both new and used cars over the years, and in both cases I've kept the vehicle until it is on its last legs.  My 1995 Ford Explorer (the best 4-wheeled vehicle I've owned) has been a champ when it comes to reliability and performance, but with 160,000 miles on the odometer, it is getting a little long in the tooth.  I've never experienced a major breakdown or failure, but that may be about to change.  Three months ago, I got in to run errands, and even though the starter was turning over, the engine refused to catch.  Oddly, the next day and every day since, it has started with no hesitation.

Until today, when it showed the same symptoms.  I'm far from being a competent mechanic, especially with today's complex computerized engines, but it seems like a fuel feed problem to me.  The AAA man who showed up in response to my call agreed, saying it is most likely the fuel pump or the fuel injectors.  He showed me a trick ~ turning the ignition key to "on" but not far enough to engage the starter, the driver can listen for the hum of the fuel pump.  If that hum does not materialize, the pump is the problem.

And it appears to be mine, though only intermittently.  I've been putting off taking my truck in to my regular mechanic for a thorough diagnostic exam of all systems, mostly because I can't afford the repairs I suspect the vehicle needs (brakes and minor electronics come to mind) .  But I may have to swallow my careful budgeting and bite the financial bullet, sooner rather than later.

Like most Americans, I'm dependent on my vehicle, even if only for three days a week.  I've babied my Explorer (my son calls it an Exploder), and it has stood the test of time.  I hope to get another ten years and/or 100,000 miles out of it.  As it ages, each milestone becomes just a little more expensive, until one reaches the point of diminishing returns.

And then what?  I'd love to have a vehicle which gets excellent (40-60 miles per gallon) mileage, sits high enough that I can see in traffic, has decent cargo capacity, yet is small enough to park easily.  SUVs have received a bum rap, in my opinion.  They are quite versatile.  Hopefully by the time I'm ready to say adios to my Explorer, car companies will be producing mid-sized SUVs with hybrid engines for fuel economy, and a proven track record for reliability.  Hey, it could happen.

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