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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Taking Chances and Car Trouble

my engine
explanation follows

Friday, as I pulled into the driveway as I returned from Huntsville, steam billowed from under the hood of the car. The appearance of steam from under the hood is an occurrence that strikes fear into my soul. My head started pounding, my stomach knotted, and my hands started shaking. All the pleasantness of the little jaunt out of town drained from my body.

My car engine is at risk. My wallet is at risk. My precious form of transportation is at risk. My peace of mind is at risk.

My first move was to get out and see if water were pouring. It was right over on the passenger side inside the wheel. My heart sank. I called Bob for some comfort and advice, and he asked questions that called for raising the hood, something I don't do as my injuries have mounted. As I struggled to raise the hood of the car, I could hear a ripping sound in my shoulder. With a torn rotator cuff in both shoulders, this was no mean feat to lift the hood and hold it with one hand while I put the rod into the slot to hold it.

There was no obvious hose burst. Nothing. No steam. Nothing. I don't know why I look under the hood. Rarely can I find anything. Well, there was the time I saw the rapidly deteriorating serpentine belt, trimmed it with my cuticle nippers and drove another two hours. But, I digress.

When I called my Bob in Huntsville to calm me down. I just needed to tell someone and see what to do, if what I was going to do was correct in this case. He asked about water in the radiator. No, there is no radiator cap on my radiator. There is only a cap on the plastic overflow container. I think he called it a "coolant recovery system."

With the hood raised, I still could not see into the plastic overflow. Well, it appeared there was no water line. I have never gotten the cap off, and I have owned this car for twelve years! That means I have never been able to check the antifreeze or add coolant on my own, something I always did before this car.

The cell phone had to be put down on the ground to raise the hood and now to try to open the cap. However, as I touched the cap to twist, it fairly popped off into my hand. There was no steam pressure by this time, just a loose cap. There are O-rings that must seal. Bob explained that the system was not pressurized if the cap was not tight!

I put antifreeze into the overflow some time in December and the guy who put the cap on did not get it on right. I questioned him and he pulled on the cap and assured me it was on tight. grrrr Yes, the guy was someone I conscripted to open the cap. However, mechanics have not put it on tight in the past, and I have had to point this out and sort of insist they do it better. Yes, I am a know-it-all, pushy bitch about putting the cap on correctly.

Bob assured me I could put water in the overflow without turning on the engine. I only put about a quart for my five minute drive to Walmart where I purchased antifreeze. Whew. This is a hairy experience that even now upsets me.

When I arrived at the shop out in the country about 2 pm, the only mechanic was busy. I waited 30 minutes and he turned his attention to my car. There is a hose sort in front of the driver, a fat hose, that he nonchalantly squeezed as he looked elsewhere. He felt in places he could not see, he looked all over. Then, he felt the radiator facing the engine as he looked at it. "It looks like the water pump has been throwing water on the radiator. It appears you need a new water pump."

"Can you put it in now?" "No, bring it back Monday." I have used this shop before. For over 30 years, their reputation has been stellar. However, new folk work there now, not the old guys.

A guy who was in my son's class has a service station with mechanics, certified ones. So, I went there and told him my tale. He said that the certified mechanic would be there at 8 am on Saturday. I was there at 8 am, okay, one minute after. I was amused that I arrived before the station opened. I never can manage that I turned the car off as I was sitting crossways in front of one of the bay doors. Immediately, the doors to both bays flew up with that noise they make and the door of the station opened and four guys in red shirts burst out.

Heart Attack!
Seriously, they really frightened me. I could barely speak when the guy cheerfully demanded to know how they could help me. I stammered and could not find words. I just needed to go curl up with a blanket over my head. He took my keys and car while I went inside with the Coke with caffeine and sugar, opened it and sighed.
Shortly, the friend who owns the station came and listened to what I had to say about the sequence of events. When I got to the part about the cap not being on tight, that I barely touched it and it came off, he said, "Just a minute. Did you tell that to him? Well, I'll be back. I need to tell him." Those guys frightened me so that I only blubbered "steam," pointed and handed over my car to them. Oh, I may have said a bit more but had not told them about the cap being so loosely affixed. I am quite sure I did not use complete sentences.
This is why I tell guys all the tiny details--because I never know what is important! As it turns out, the whole water system is under pressure. Air was introduced into mine and I have been losing coolant for awhile. The mechanic loosed some screw on top of something and air escaped instead of water. So, the something was bled of air. And new coolant was put into my car.
The price for my spending 45 minutes there and the mechanic's expertise and work + a gallon of antifreeze and water?
I thought that was excellent. Is it? Well, I do know it is cheaper than a water pump. Bob said that was a deal for what they did. So did exbf.
On to the EGR
I need an EGR valve. The cost there at this station? $200+. When I remarked that the cost of the valve for my 2000 Malibu was just $79, he said bring it in if I could find it at that price, and they would put it on for $40.
The difference Bob said was "factory something" and "after market" parts. I think for this car that "aftermarket" would suffice. My instinct (or maybe that's fear) is to get the "factory" because "aftermarket" might not be good enough. But, my experience says differently.
Mechanic advice 
If you look at the picture of my engine, you will see the hose that the first guy gently squeezed as he looked elsewhere. I placed a red handle from a plastic spoon on the hose to show you what I am talking about. The friend who is a mechanic and owns the service station, opened my car and showed me what was what. He said that if that hose is hot to the touch, then the water pump is pumping water and has not failed. He showed me where the water was pumped through lots of hoses, but I forgot all 
At any rate, I do know that I had a water pump on the car before this that had a leak, still pumped water, cooled the car,  and was due for a catastrophic failure and did need to be replaced. A guy/mechanic in my GED class I taught showed me the little "weep hole." It is really nice of men to tell women these little things about cars. All this information does not have to be proprietary knowledge. But, of course, that is how some mechanics make money--withholding information.
I have seen mechanics gently squeeze/touch that hose so many times, yet none volunteered information that could help me help myself.
"Don't ever underestimate the knowledge and 'smarts" of a possessor of a GED certificate!"
Your turn
Does anyone else become physically ill when your car has problems? I am going to get aftermarket EGR. Is that a part that needs to be "factory something"?  I know some parts should be the real deal and others work just fine being aftermarket. Well, I am told so. And, I appreciate mechanics and men who give me these little tips!


  1. Scary times. On so many levels.
    I don't drive, but car issues bother me. A lot.
    And I am glad that you found a cheap and effective fix.

  2. A car is my only transportation unless I took a cab. It's freedom. And, I have no one to drive me anywhere. Thanks. Cheap was what it should have been instead of replacing a part that works!

  3. I am so glad it turned out to be a small expense. Once I had to have my engine taken apart due to a mechanics' fault. The service station denied it and I have sued them. 3 years later I was paid in full plus interest! It was such a heartache and a big expense.

    1. T'Pol,
      Oh my! I am glad you prevailed. Three years is a long time to have that in your life. Thanks for that story.

  4. Aftermarket parts can be good, or bad. Usually, they are and are less expensive. If they fail, they can be returned for an exchange, but the labor to replace the part is not reimbursed.

    Factory parts are supposed to be more dependable, and are made specifically for the automobile, instead of generic applications, like some aftermarket parts.

    Warranty work requires factory parts, since the mechanic is reimbursed for the work.

    As far as your EGR valve, I doubt the aftermarket part will fail. Since this is a part that doesn't usually have problems, you might consider a better grade of gasoline and use a fuel additive to keep your injectors clean. That, and new plugs.

  5. Jess,
    Thanks. I will get the aftermarket part. I use the lowest grade of gas. Better gas and a fuel additive adds more expense to my life...sigh. How much better gasoline? What fuel additive? Thanks.

  6. Engines used to be so much fun to work on, but now days you must know engineering, computers, and electronics. Not any fun anymore, but they are still simple things. Just not the same engines I was used too. And mechanics, most anyway, are notorious crooks. They know you don't know and can say anything. You are lucky you have someone you know through your kids. That helps. I also suggest you clean off the leaves and stuff over the vents.

    1. Coffeypot,
      Actually, I know that guy more through him living a block from me. It just happens that he was a friend of my child. My child has not been here in decades. However, he is honest, it appears. But, his mother is a nice woman, too.

      Around 1980 Daddy was ill and tried to keep going. He said sadly to me that he could not help me with my car because they made them where he could not work on them. I wondered how many old men could not help daughters with cars because the old men were now obsolete. It was one of the things we could always count on--Daddy helping us with our cars. He even helped our girlfriends who were having trouble. He might never see their car, but could help them over the phone about what was their problem and what was not their problem if a mechanic tried to pull a fast one.

      I did have male friends who could tell me what was what. Two died. One moved. The other was older than I am and just doesn't much want to talk cars, and he was a mechanic in the Army!

      I park under two oak trees. I did not even know that showed in the picture. How do I clean those off? They seem to just fall down in the little vents when I try to get them up. It is very expensive to go to the vacuum at the car wash. I have a shop vac and someone threw away the filter when I took it out to vacuum water. The filter is $35! I suppose I ought to get a new filter.

      Will the leaves ruin my car? How?

  7. Also, for his honest and help, I suggest you take a tray of cookies or a cake or something by to show your appreciation. It will help in the long run, too.

    1. Coffeypot,
      Good idea! Thanks. I will do that this week.

  8. Car problems scare me quite a bit as well. Cost AND safety (especially since I commute on a busy highway M-F). My Dad has worked in the auto industry since he was 18, my grandpa retired from the same auto company, & my other grandpa & ex were knowledgable about cars.

    My ex is obviously gone (and I have ZERO intentions of ever constacting him again), my grandpas live 5 hours away, and my Dad lives 1 hour away (and works full-time). So I've had to transition from Dad helping maintain all car issues to body shops. Luckily, I found a large dealership that is fair on prices and doesn't treat me like an ignorant woman. They also have have a free shuttle to take me to and from work during daytime repairs. I'm actually taking my car in for routine servicing next week.

  9. Vents have a function, though I am not sure what those are. But it has to do with airflow. Nothing that will hurt the engine, though. All that kind of stuff is forward of the firewall - which is where the vents are.


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