My luck has been fairly poor the last couple of weeks and I’ve had just about enough of it. The previous owner of our house took out the windows on each side of our chimney and installed inset boxes. On one side are all of our electronics like the TV, DVD player, Xbox, etc, and on the other side are the CD’s, DVD’s, and the like. Well, to build these dandy little boxes they had to extend the roof out over them and here is where they went wrong – they failed to install any kind of flashing. For those of you that haven’t had to learn all of this construction crap, flashing is usually made out of metal, and is used to keep water from getting between joints and crevices where it can do harm over time. Yepper, much like my upstairs bathroom that still has not been rebuilt, the water has apparently been happily pouring inside of this wall for years, and the entire interior structure is the consistency of a sponge. My attention was brought to the matter because the exterior siding on this box was noticeably sagging, and I discovered the interior damage when I went out there to replace the siding. There was no way in hell that I can completely rebuild these boxes in one weekend and so I had to make the judgment call to leave it alone until the first week of July, when I am scheduled to have the entire week off. Since the time that I discovered this damage, there has been heavy rain here in Central Texas almost every single day. Normally I love the rain and enjoy a good thunderstorm, but now I find myself looking at this window box with dread, wondering when it is going to simply fall off the wall, leaving a huge hole in my living room. Sigh . . .
You thought that was the end of the bad news? Uh huh. To get to that window box area, I had to clear a lot of vegetation out of the way, and some of it was poison Ivey. Now we knew it was poison ivy, but the stuff has never bothered me before and I’ve never reacted to it, so I dug right in and got the stuff out of my way. Well, apparently it bothers me now, because my entire face and left arm turned a great shade of red, and turned into an endless series of horribly red and itchy bumps. A week later, when I went to perform a service call at the University of Oklahoma, my face was still swollen, red and purple splotches in places, and the skin on my nose was peeling off in little tiny strips that couldn’t just be pulled off like you would with a sunburn. Talk about embarrassing. Yeah, the poison ivy was two weeks ago and it is still all I can do to not scratch my left arm raw.
So there I am driving home to Austin Texas from the service call in Oklahoma City when my pretty modern Mustang just sort of stutters and loses all power. I pulled to the side of the road and sat there for a few minutes while a rain storm of biblical proportions pummeled my car and I. I'm 300 miles from home, I know nothing of the area, and it's a Friday afternoon on the start of a three day holiday weekend. Despair really doesn't do justice to the way I felt as I sat there in the rain looking at all of the warning lights on my dash showing that the engine had died. . . I let the car sit for a couple of minutes, thinking that maybe some water had made its way into somewhere it didn’t belong, and then I tried starting the car. To my great relief, it did indeed start. To my great disappointment, it ran super rough, was knocking and pinging loudly, and made it only a mile or two before dying again. This time I really didn’t wait at all – I pulled over, turned it off, and then immediately started it again. Once again she started, knocking and pinging, and with little to no power, she limped me about two miles down the freeway to a gas station where I stopped. Thinking that maybe I had gotten bad gas in OKC, I went ahead and put some injector cleaner in the tank, and refilled the car with premium gas, and then tried to start the car. Apparently happy that she had managed to get me to a gas station, my Mustang now flat refused to run. She would start, but had so little power that I couldn’t even pull away from the gas pump. With a disgusted sigh, I left my car and entered the gas station where I asked the lady behind the counter of she knew of an automotive garage anywhere nearby.
“Hold on a sec!”, she told me, and then started digging through her purse where she found a card, then she picked up her phone and made a call.
“Yeah, are you busy? Uh huh. There is someone here with a brand new car that won’t run. Uh huh. Ok – see you in a sec.” She hung up and looked at me. “He’ll be right here!” She then promptly ignored me and went back to taking care of her customers. I thanked her, but then started wondering who was going to be right here? A wrecker? A Mechanic? Her husband? I had no idea, but I didn’t have any better ideas so I waited about ten minutes before a huge Chevy pickup pulls up next to me, and a guy in a tank top gets out of it. I explained that I was doing 80 MPH when the car just lost all power, and that at least at first, it would start and run poorly if I let it sit a minute or two, and that now it just flat refused to run at all. We talked about where I had last gotten fuel, and ultimately he and I agreed that it sounded like a fuel problem. I watched him as he plugged in a little computer that reads the fault codes out of a car, and after a few minutes of watching him, I got the distinct impression that he really had no idea how to operate it.
“So what’s it telling you?” I asked him. While I waited for him to reply, I glanced at the huge grill of his truck where I saw the Chevy emblem. “And don’t tell me that it says ‘should have bought a Chevy’ either or you’re going to the top of my shit list. . . “ I added with a laugh.
“No, no”, he replied with an honest laugh, but still didn’t answer my question. “To be honest, my buddy has a better code reader. Hang on and I’ll be right back!” As I watched his truck roaring away, black smoke billowing out of the diesel exhaust, I already knew that I was in trouble. You know that you are not in the right hands when he hasn’t got the right equipment, and his buddy has a better code reader. Yeah well, ten minutes later he is back inside of my car with another widget, pushing buttons, and trying to navigate the menu structure that he clearly is not familiar with.
“Well, the only thing that it says is that both banks are running too lean.” He tells me, then sits there for a minute. “Hey! I’ve got an idea!” he says, and then asks me to step back so that he can close the door. Once the door is closed, he takes the key out of the ignition and starts pressing buttons on the key FOB. I hear the door locks start to cycle.
“Clunk, click, clunk, click, clunk, click”
Then he opens and closes the door without ever getting out, puts the key in the ignition, and starts the car. It started perfectly and sounded almost normal as he revved the engine over and over.
“All right, it’s sharing time! How the hell did you do that?!” I asked him. Well, he tells me that there is some sort of security feature that can be reset by locking and unlocking the doors three times, then opening and closing the door. I would have thought it was complete bullshit if I hadn’t seen it just work! The car is running, but it is running really poorly, so clearly I am still not out of the woods.
“Keep the RPM’s up and follow me to my shop!’, he tells me, quickly gathering up the code reader that he didn’t know how to use, and running with it to his truck.
“OK, at least he has a shop!” I think to myself as I take the drivers seat and try to keep up with him on the wet roads as he speeds about a mile down the highway before he has to stop for traffic before taking a left turn. Naturally this is when the Mustang dies on me again, so I coasted as far off of the road as I dared to do considering that I’d be stuck in the mud if I left the pavement. As soon as I got the car stopped, I threw it into park and played his little game with the door locks – presto – the car started again, and we made it all of the way to his “shop” with me riding the brakes and keeping the RPMs up.
So his “shop” turns out to not be a repair shop. It is a salvage yard full of wrecked and half dismantled cars and trucks. There my car and I sit in the mud parking lot, me standing on the brakes and the gas pedal at the same time, rain roaring down on me, trying to see as he waves me up into the garage of a large tin building. In short order, I have four young men all standing around my car and staring at the engine as if they have never seen one before. One guy is taking photographs of the engine and using the flashlight app on his phone to peer into the darker sections. We all talk for a bit, and the general consensus is that it sounds like I either got a bad tank of gas, or the fuel filter is clogged.
“You know, I have no idea where the fuel filter is on this thing!” I admitted to the other gathered red necks.
“Me either, but that’s what the internet is for!” says the guy that had been at the gas station with me. “Look it up on the web and find out where the fuel filter is!” he says to the young man who was using his phone as a flashlight under my hood. He promptly turns off the flashlight app and starts surfing the web on his phone. “
“Oh shit. . . “ I thought, “They don’t even have a PC or laptop to use for researching the problem, and they are reduced to using the phone for a flashlight. This can’t be good.“
“OK, O’Reilly’s has the fuel filter and they are gonna deliver it right away.” He tells me a moment later and then he moves back to the front of the car.
So there we are in an open garage, under a tin roof, with the rain pounding down so hard that we can hardly hear each other talk, with the dream team staring at my poor car. It was pretty clear early on that the car was out of their league, but I figured that it would be hard to mess up changing a fuel filter, so I stuck around. They had four guys staring at my car and scratching their heads and their asses and throwing guesses out there while we waited two hours for the fuel filter that will "be right here". An 80 year old man (and yes, during our two hour scratch your ass fest, he did tell me his age) was clearly the only one who actually knew what he was talking about. He kept telling all of us that it wasn't going to be the fuel filter. He kept saying that it just didn't sound like that to him. The rest of the guys weren’t really interested in talking to me, so the old man and I talked a lot while I waited. He had been a mechanic his whole life. He had never wanted to be anything but a mechanic and had gone to every school on the subject that he could get to during his long career, but he also admitted that he hadn't worked on a car in twenty years. It became clear to me during my two hour wait and conversation that the old gentleman I was talking to was the only one in the bunch that was professionally trained, and he was certain that the fuel filter was not going to solve my problem. I figured I better start doing some of my own homework, so I pulled out my laptop, and started searching the web to find out where my fuel filter was located. This was when I found out that you CANT replace the fuel filter in a 2012 Mustang.
I'd been waiting for over two hours for a fuel filter that they weren't going to be able to replace anyway. . .
Yepper, THIS was when I pulled the plug and decided to try and either limp my car four hundred miles home, or at least to the nearest Ford Dealership. One thing was certain – these guys weren’t going to lay another finger on my car. I pulled the owner off to the side and told him that I’d be happy to pay for his time, but that I was going to take the car to a dealer. When I asked, he told me that he would be happy with $25, so I gave him $50 as long has he agreed to come get me if I didn’t make it far down the road. As I was closing the hood and getting into the car, the old man that I had been talking to all morning walked up alongside of me and quietly spoke to me.
“You’re doing the right thing!” He said with a knowing look and a nod. I shook his hand and thanked him for the conversation and for the advice that had probably just saved my rear end. I then pulled my car back out into the muddy lot, desperately trying to keep the RPM’s above 2000 so that the car wouldn’t die in the rain again.
Yeah, I made it all of five miles down the freeway before it started knocking and pinging super loud and then stalled out again. It started up immediately though, and I made it another three or four miles before it started sounding like the pistons were trying to work themselves out of the engine. With my heart in my throat, wondering what the hell I was going to do with no transportation and a car that won’t run, 300 miles from home, on a three day weekend, I started to edge my way off of the road yet again. Here is where things started to look up though, because as I was pulling off of the road I saw something that made my heart soar and sing – a huge “FORD” dealership sign a mile or so down the freeway. With the sound of a heavenly choir ringing in my ears, I limped my car to the entrance of the Ford service garage, where it promptly stalled out and died. I knew that I might end up thousands of dollars in debt on my credit card, but at least I knew for certain that these guys would be capable of diagnosing and repairing my little pony.
It’s too late to try and make the long story short, but what it all boiled down to was that the air filter that had just been installed during my last oil change, had a torn seal on it. That allowed stuff, and probably just a touch of water from the super heavy rains, to get past it and short out the air flow sensor. It took them a few hours to look at my car, but once they got to it, it only took them half an hour and $400 to get it back up and running. Given the horrible knocking and pinging sounds it had been making, I had been terrified that it was going to cost me a LOT more than that, so I was actually fairly relieved at the bill. So, major thanks and a shout out to Glenn Polk Ford in Gainsville Texas – you guys rock!
That’s all of the time that I’ve got for writing. Now I gotta go outside and stare at the window box that is about to fall off of my house. Much like the rednecks that sat there scratching their heads and butts and looking at my car, I’m gonna stare at that window and scratch MY head and butt. Oh, and my arms. They STILL itch from the poison ivy . . .