Thursday, April 25, 2013

New Year's Eve adventure

I promised this story months ago, and most of the excitement has long since worn off, but here it is.

I have to preface by saying that on the drive to Michigan from Maryland, we had some trouble with the tires. Jake's car has needed some work done for months (he tried to get to it before he moved, but didn't finish) and so our 500-mile drive from Baltimore to Ypsilante wore the insides of the cheap Sears tires down to the metal belts. In Ypsilante at about 2am on Christmas Eve, we decided, in the parking lot of a gas station, that we'd have better luck calling someone to rescue us from the highway during the day than in the middle of the night (plus it was quite cold). We found a hotel nearby (hooray for Google Maps) and checked in.

Christmas Eve morning we promptly located a Discount Tire which was thankfully open til 1pm and had them replace the worn-out tires.

The Michigan visit was, I'm sure, much less fun for Jake, who spent many hours of it under the front end of his car, replacing a broken sway bar link, then the shocks (one of the springs broke -- rusted through -- while he was working) then a few other things that he didn't know were worn out in the first place. We finally got everything together on New Year's Eve and left early enough that morning to get back to Baltimore in time for celebrations that night.

Except somewhere in Pennsylvania that evening, after a fairly stressful day of driving in snow while listening to what sounded like a bad wheel bearing (after everything else) the car made a decidedly unsettling clunk, shuddered, and lost some speed. We pulled over and checked the suspected wheel; it was fine. We continued on. The check engine light came on. Then it started blinking. We lost nearly all acceleration power and began, as would be expected, to freak out a little bit. In our extraordinary favor though, the next exit ramp in view had a Firestone sign sticking up into the sky.

There was, of course, no way they were fixing the problem that night. We sat for awhile in the waiting area while they diagnosed the issue (bad vaccuum tube in the engine) then ventured out into the snow to find a hotel (of which, fortunately, there were several within view -- it was a pretty busy area). We settled into our room (in Mars, it turned out) then ate dinner at a steakhouse next door. Our celebrations were decidedly anti-climactic; we bought some Yuengling in cans and watched Star Wars Episode VI on TV (with a 10-minute break around midnight to watch the ball drop).

Firestone got to the car first thing in the morning, and Jake went to pick it up while I packed up our hotel room. Then he called to tell me that he'd barely gotten out of the parking lot before something else went wrong -- the coil pack, which was another hour (and more money).

But no, it STILL doesn't end there. Once that was taken care of, we pulled away from the Firestone and back onto the freeway, wary because the car wasn't shifting properly. Up at high speeds, it wasn't shifting at all. We'd had about enough at that point, and were expecting the worst. Fortunately, my dad is brilliant, and when we called him to describe the problem, he suggested that we check under the hood for a particular plug. The next rest area was nearby, so we pulled off and opened the hood. This is what we saw:

Really, Firestone?
Of course, reattaching said plug remedied the problem immediately and we made it home without further incident. Regardless, we've been very wary about taking the old Focus on any long-distance trips since then... though it sounds like Jake is debating trying again for our Michigan trip in June. After he does "some work" to it, of course.


  1. Wow! I knew that you had car problems then but I didn't know just how bad it was. Some times one has to wonder where some of those mechanics get their license from.

  2. I know it. I've never heard very good things about Firestone, but we didn't really have a choice at that point. At least they managed to fix the real problems. :P