Photo Credits for this blog go to my 2 kids and their new, cheap cameras.
You can’t blame me for driving with the Service Engine light on, it had come on and off for 3 years, and nobody exactly knew why. So, all you automotive Pharisees, don’t look down your pointy beak at me. But I get ahead of myself.
The story begins with frequent flier miles from United. Every other year, we earn enough through our credit cards to fly our family of four to the home of deep dish pizza and the Chicago Cubs. The problem is actually booking a flight with those miles. I started months out, and couldn’t get 4 seats from any nearby towns. So, we settled for Reno. We’d fly Reno-SanFran-Chicago. The weird thing is I couldn’t book SanFran-Chicago… no. I had to drive 3 hours to Reno first, and then fly to SanFran.
Not wanting to drive three hours with little kids, and then fly/lay-over for another 7 hours, we decided to stay overnight in Reno at Circus Circus! for $20.
We loaded the family van, and drove to Reno. About an hour later, the Service Engine light came on. No bother. About a half hour later, the engine started overheating. No bother… I pulled over, added water, temp came down, and drove.
I am a man of faith.
You have to understand that the drive to Reno starts through picturesque rolling contryside, and quickly turns to barrenness. No trees, towns, gas stations, or homes. Just miles of scrubby plants and high desert, punctuated by the occasional barbed-wire fence.
Forty-five minutes later, the family van sputtered, fumed, and coughed. I pressed on. It ran pretty rough. I pressed on. All the engine lights came on, I pressed on. Like I said, “or something.” It died. I coasted on… to the side of the road. One day, and $490 later, I’d discover it was dead forever.
Forty-five minutes out of Reno. In a desert. Wife and two kids. Broken down on the side of the road. The stuff of creepy movies.
I did what any self-respecting dad would do: I looked under the hood for a while. “There’s the radiator cap, I know what that is. And the battery, I’m sure about that. Oh! Oh! That’s a brake master cylinder…” I added, triumphantly. As I explained under-hood-land to my wife, she wasn’t impressed. “Can you fix it?” was all she said.
“No problem… take the kids over there,” I pointed to the scrubby bushes alongside the road. “And let them run around… Just watch for rattlesnakes.” Her head whipped around so fast, she gave ME whiplash. “Rattlesnakes?”
I buried my head in the engine. What’s that smell? That smell of burned rubber and burnt grease. Hmmmm…. Look at those shiny pully-things! Yikes! Where’s the belt? Where’s my serpentine belt?
The belt had disintegrated, leaving us stranded. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. So much for a low-cost vacation! Providentially (see how I avoided “luckily”?), we had cell-phone coverage. A quick call to Google-411, tow trucks in Reno, and a driver was on his way.
Fast Forward… Truck comes 45 miles to get us, loads up the van, has room for the family, takes us to a mechanic near the hotel. “I can’t tell anything until I replace the water pump and the belt.” Hence the $490. “Engine is seized… a new one is $4,000.” Hence the additional creases in the skin around my eyes.
Fast Forward… leave car in Reno, take shuttle to airport, enjoy vacation in Chicago in a rented van. Lovely. What did we do in Chicago? Zoo. Kiddieland. Family. Friends. Food. Pizza. Italian Beef at Buena. Lou Malnati. Family. Downtown. The Picasso. Annnnnndddd…. Shop for a car.
Annnnd…. try to dump the van. Options….
- Sell to a junk yard in Reno. Several calls, highest offer: $125.00. I had just put 2 new tires on the car, and a new transmission. Waaaaaahhhh.
- Sell to ByMyWreck.com. Highest offer, $400.00.
- Sell on Reno Craigslist. Highest offer—I did this trade while we took our kids to Kiddieland, which is PERFECT for little kids—$900.00. SOLD!
My mother-in-law found the car-title filed away in our house and mailed it to our Chicago family, so we’d have it when we flew back to Reno. The kids, by the way, were great through all this. Wonderfully sweet, and they love vacations! Margi and I were great too. We had fun, though we had this “project” to work on of figuring out what to do. And our family pitched in to hang with the kids, while we shopped for cars, hoping to buy one in Reno, and just drive it home.
Now, our only problem is getting around in Reno.
We settle on a car: one of those no-haggle cars with a fixed price.
I call the Reno dealer: “Hi, I’m Bill, and I want to buy a car from you. Can you pick up my family and me at the Reno airport? There are four of us plus all our luggage. Oh… and if we don’t buy the car, you have to agree to take us to Budget Rent-a-car.”
Deal done. We flew to Reno. He picked us up. We bought the car from him. Drove to the mechanic, cleared out and sold the old van to the Craigslist guy, and drove home.
And then everyone at church asked, “How was your vacation?”