Monday, November 28, 2011

And then there are things that I'm less thankful for...

So after a pretty perfect Thanksgiving with my family, we headed home.  Packed the kids and the bags and the very big dogs into our two cars and said goodbye to our family.  I never like the feeling of driving away from my parents but I do love the feeling of arriving home, especially if I have the foresight to tidy up before we leave.  But that didn't happen quite as normally planned this time.  See, we'd been dreading the traffic since our drive down took twice as long as usual.  And as it turns out the traffic was light, the boys were well behaved and about two and a half hours into the drive we were seeing signs indicating we were just 20 minutes from home.  And that's when it happened.  The console started blinking "STOP" in bright red letters and a little alarm sounded a screaming kind of burst to let me know I needed to immediately pull my car to the shoulder.  The oil light also blinked at me in time with my turn signal as I maneuvered to the side of the road.

Mr. Dog pulled up behind me and called to ask what was going on.  I offered a brief if somewhat short-tempered and slightly shrieking explanation and he left his car and came up along side the car.  We popped the hood and checked the oil level.  It was on the low side of things, but not seriously so.  We added a bit to bring it to a more standard level and we waited a few minutes.  Mr. Dog walked back to his car, then came back.  I wasn't sure what he was doing, but I also am unaccustomed to unplanned car malfunctions so I didn't really think much when he appeared at my passenger-side window.  Turns out when he left his car to come to my aid, he made sure his door was secured.  Unfortunately he did so with his keys inside the car.  And let's not forget that the dogs were both in the backseat.  Unsure what to do next we discussed calling a locksmith.  How long would it take?  What if we took a very long time and we all had to sit on the shoulder in the cars until they arrived?  And how much would that cost?  In our somewhat compromised judgement, we decided it would be quicker and probably cost about the same (or even less) if he just broke the window.  It wasn't until he was mid-break when it dawned on me that I could probably call the police and get the door opened, but obviously that was too late.

With the window glass smashed and keys retrieved, we had one problem solved, one to go. We decided to see if my car had been soothed by the addition of oil.  When I started the station wagon up, the alarm was gone, but as I started to pull forward, it started again.  I immediately stopped, uttered some choice words which I'm sure the boys will be repeating at school and accepted our situation.   I called a tow truck and began to sink deeper into my panic.

I was not sure what is going on with my car, but felt strongly that if the car decides it is necessary to scream at me, chances are the news isn't good.  So as we stood on the hill near the shoulder waiting for our tow I started to google the symptoms on my ever-present iPhone.  I was right.  Turns out VW Passat's have a nasty design flaw that can lead to oil sludge problems and these problems can lead to expensive engine repairs or in some cases engine failure.  There's even an official recall on oil sludge related damage.  If you have properly documented receipts for your oil changes at intervals of no more than 5,000 miles, VW will pay for the resulting damage including a full replacement of the engine if necessary.  But you need to have the documentation.  And I don't.  It's not that I don't have my car's oil changed regularly, it's that I stopped going to the dealership for this service after being overcharged on one occasion and nearly charged for hours of labor diagnosing a nonexistent electrical problem that was actually just a blown out headlight (that was later correctly diagnosed when I brought the car back and happened to be assigned a different service adviser).  After the breach of trust, I started taking my car for oil changes at those smaller local, drive in, oil change and drive out kind of places.  And I don't think I've gone to the same one twice.  And I know I've chucked the receipts, because who in the world would be interested in my oil changes when I plan on essentially driving this car until eternity or the car turns to dust in my hands as I drive.  So in other words, if it is an oil sludge issue, I'm screwed.  I've resigned myself to this.

If I've ever doubted that either of my children had a melodramatic side, all doubt was removed as we waited.  Big Dog, in a weepy dread-filled voice that "I don't want to die," then later, "I guess this is better than being killed," and "I'm so happy that we all survived."   Little Dog began panicked pleas for his stuffed hippo toy who was left in the car because poor little Hippo was terrified and lonely.  He also began randomly screaming short, sharp screams completely unprovoked.  And because this clearly was not enough, as we stood on the other side of the of road that ran along side the freeway and up the small embankment hill from our cars, Dashiell, our great Dane, decided he'd rather be with us than waiting in the stranded vehicle and started to try to climb his way our of the broken window.  Mr. Dog had to quickly, but cautiously, rush back to the car to secure him to the seat with his leash so he would remain safely in place until we were rescued from our plight.

I was largely unable to sleep last night and instead stayed up late reading everything I could about the 2004 Passat oil sludge issues and possible outcomes.  I then went on to investigating what cars might be suitable replacements for the Passat if it did end up being a fatal injury.  All of this has left me feeling very stressed and at loose ends.  See, I'm a planner by nature.  I'd planned on that car lasting at least until it was 10 years old.  I'd held up my end of the maintenance and assumed that combined with the low mileage, I could ensure it would.  According to my plan, I had a couple of years to decide what the next car would be.  How big, what make, which model were all things I hadn't really thought much about.  And now I'm having to decide just what kind of car is going to be with us for the next 10 years.  All I have absolutely decided at this point is that it sure as hell isn't going to be another Volkswagen.  Sorry guys, I think this is how we break up.  Though right now I'm feeling kind of thankful that the back hatch mechanism was broken, forcing us to caravan to Portland in two cars.  I can only imagine that the kind and helpful tow truck driver might have felt a bit more put out if we had to pack two adults, two children and two large dogs into the cab of his truck.

And if you have any great ideas about what the next car should be, please let me know.  I'm compiling a list of what I need to investigate and test drive.  Even if this isn't the end of the Passat, it certainly is a warning call.  As I posted on facebook earlier "putting it out there to all of you... if you had to start thinking about replacing your station wagon, had two kids (who just keep on growing) and two dogs but didn't want to drive a car the size of a small apartment but came from a family of long legged people, and cared about fuel economy, what kind of car would you be looking at?"

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...