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Monday, March 16, 2015

When your car makes weird noises. . . Pull over!

So, the other day I was on a quest zipping along in Grand Rapids in my now 21 year old Acura Integra. In the over two decades that I've owned it I can only think of two times it had broken down and failed me over the years. Each time it needed a fairly minor repair. So there I was, driving down the street when all of a sudden I heard a strange rattling noise.

I thought: Hmmmm, that doesn't sound right. I was just a few blocks from my destination so I stopped at the store and when I came out the rattling noise was gone. I thought I better have that looked at ASAP. I drove just a few more blocks and was parked at a red light in a turn lane of a fairly busy intersection when all of a sudden the rattling started again only this time it was louder. . . And then my engine died. And that was that.

It's always good to know what to do when something goes wrong, like have a plan. I knew to:
  1. Turn on my emergency flashers
  2. Get out of the car and raise my hood to signal to other drivers my car was broken down
  3. Get to a safe place to call and wait for help. I chose the sidewalk and called AAA.
In the meantime a nice man offered to help me push the car out of the intersection. If AAA was just around the corner I figured I'd let them deal with it because I often read about Good Samaritans being run over while doing a good deed so I thanked him and he left. But while I was on the phone with AAA another man, Thomas, came over and offered his help as well. AAA said it would be 30 minutes until they could make it there so after promising me he wouldn't get run over while helping me we pushed my car out of the intersection and into a nearby parking lot.

I took what little cash I had on hand and split it into two piles: One for Thomas to treat him to lunch (if he eats at Subway or part of a lunch anywhere else) and one for my tow driver. I know not everyone tips tow drivers but I like to since they're out there doing hard labor often in risky circumstances.

My tow driver was also really nice. Rick first exclaimed that he thought I had a great car. So great he almost never gets to see Acura's because they rarely breakdown. On the drive to my garage he was worried I'd broken my timing belt. This is the thing you need to know if you know nothing about timing belts: If your water pump breaks it will cause your timing belt to break and if you have the wrong kind of engine it can cause the engine to be damaged and instead of a moderate repair you're looking at a thousands of dollars repair bill.

I gave myself a Google crash course on broken timing belts, water pumps, valves, cylinders, pistons, and interference engines. By the time I was done I was certain that my engine had been damaged because almost everything I read said a broken timing belt while the engine was running, with an interference engine, will always damage the engine. Always.

Imagine my relief when the garage called and said after replacing my broken water pump (that caused my timing belt to break), and the broken timing belt, my car missed me and wanted to come home. What? The engine was ok? Yes! They said I'd dodged a bullet.

Now I have another list of actions to follow while driving, two actually.

Regarding car maintainance:
  1. If you have an interference engine be sure to replace both your water pump and timing belt every 70,000 miles. Yes, it's a pricy replacement/labor charge but it will be a fraction of what it costs to fix your engine if things go wrong.
And when I'm driving in the future instead of the list I shared at the beginning of the post the first item on it will now be:
  1. If I hear a strange noise park the car safely on the side of the road or in a parking lot.
  2. Call AAA and have the car towed to my garage
All I could think was I'd taken a really stupid risk. Because I pay AAA for a year's coverage in advance the tow didn't cost me a cent so I didn't save any money by letting the car breakdown before being towed. I was also fortunate that I have the Premiere package because it gives me a free tow for 200 miles instead of the 5 mile range the Classic plan offers. I was 30 miles from my garage so instead of 5 free miles and $4 per additional mile (that's the going rate here) for the extra 25 (which would have cost me $100) I can say my membership has already paid for itself this year and it's only March. And it covers towing my trailer too!

The moral of this story is the next time I hear my car making a really weird noise I have a new and better plan than driving till it dies. You should have a plan too!

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