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[icon] Patti
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Subject:Vehicular adventures
Time:04:41 pm
Lots of you know some of this, but some of you only know part of the story so I'll tell the whole thing.

I just got home from a week and a half in Vegas. Because I was going to be gone so long, I wanted schedule flexibility, and because I sort of enjoy it, I decided to drive down rather than flying. I had a bunch of maintenance done on my car before the June WSOP trip, including brakes, tires, and belts, so I figured the car should be up for the trip.

Wednesday morning I got the car out of valet parking to go to breakfast, and it was clearly having some issues-- I had no power steering, and the dashboard was full of glowing idiot lights. I managed to get the car away from the flow of traffic, peeked under the hood and thoguht I saw a missing belt, sent the boyfriend off to breakfast in a cab, and went up to the room to find a tow service/mechanic. I found a shop that was a few blocks from the hotel, and looked like my kind of place-- an old-fashioned mom & pop (& son) operation. I called them and they said they'd be happy to look at it right away, and if I'd like they could bring their tow truck over to get the car. Yes, in fact, I'd like.

Really, how can you not like a shop run by guys named Homer & Ron? Ron, the son, showed up quickly, loaded the car, and we headed to the shop. As I expected, it had thrown a belt. As I did not expect, my mechanic had put a belt on that was one size too big. I told him they'd just been replaced, and he went out to check the others. One of the others was also the wrong size... would I like it replaced too? Yes please. A couple of hours later, I was back on the road. They gave me the old belts, and suggested that I take them back to my mechanic at home to see what had happened. They asked me to swing by on my way out of town, so they could doublecheck everything before I hit the road.

Sunday the transmission was acting a little bit wiggy, like the clutch wasn't fully douing its clutchy thing when I pressed the pedal. Hrmm. I fretted a bit, but it didn't seem drastic.

Monday morning I wandered by the shop, had them check things, and told them what the clutch was doing. The fluid level was OK, and they tthought it might've just been the valets driving it badly, so I headed for the freeway. A few blocks later, I had a lot of trouble putting the car in gear, and when I did I drove very carefully back to the shop.

They saw no obvious leaks anywhere, but it certainly sounded like a hydraulics problem. I'd had the clutch replaced about 30K miles ago, but couldn't remember if they'd also replaced the master cylinder. I called my mechanic in Oakland, and no they hadn't. They weren't sure, but thought that was the most likely culprit, and should they just replace it? Yes please.

While I waited, I wandered down to Main Street Station to get breakfast. Both restaurants were closed until 11 a.m., so I sat down to play video poker. That worked out pretty well-- I hit a dollar royal for $4K. A couple of hours and a buffet later, the car was ready to go. I drove it around Vegas for a bit to make sure everything felt OK, then hit the road.

I'd gotten out of Vegas mid-afternoon rather than the early morning that I'd planned. Somewhere along I-5, and I still don't quite know where, I realized that I was really tired. It seemed prudent to find a place to crash for the night, rather than crashing on I-5.

This morning the clutch felt a little weird but mostly OK, and I headed home. All was well until I hit stop & go traffic in Livermore. At that moment, the clutch returned to its previous not-interested-in-working state. I surveyed the traffic, and realized that while I probably could nurse it home without a clutch, doing so in that traffic looked significantly un-fun. I'd had the foresight to get into a lane next to a wide median, so I pulled off to safety and contemplated my strategy.

First step: figure out where I was. Google maps to the rescue-- I was on I-580 west approximately here, just past 1st Street. I searched for Livermore towing, and just as I was about to call someone a CHP showed up behind me. I explained the problem, and he wanted to push me to the right shoulder rather than staying on the left. Fine with me... I got to be That Person for once. He then suggested that he should call a towing service for me, since if he does it they're obligated to be there within 30 minutes. Also fine by me. He did so, and hung out with his lights on until the truck showed up.

"Where to?"

"How much will it cost to get me to Oakland?" I'd already done the mental arithmetic, and figured out that I'd probably prefer to pay dollars to tow the car to my shop at home rather than dealing with the hassle of dealing with a shop 40 miles away, plus the extra bonus hassle of getting home from there. The price came in at about my estimate, so off we went.

Poor April!

And now, three shop visits and two tows later, I'm home. At this point the whole thing has crossed over from annoyance to hilarity.

And yeah, it might be about time to start car shopping. I'd really rather keep this one a couple more years, though-- I don't really feel like I can afford a new car right now. Anyone want to leave a nice late-model convertible in my driveway? :-)

Also, I was reminded a couple of times during this trip that lots of people aren't very good at handling problems when the crop up. I don't get it... it all seems pretty straightforward to me. Deal with the immediate need (e.g. get the car out of traffic, make sure you're safe) then figure out what you want to accomplish next (get the car to a shop.) Once you've done that, you just need to figure out what steps to take to get there (ask the valet for a recommendation, use Google to find a mechanic, whatever) and do it. Why is this hard?
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Time:2011-08-11 06:48 am (UTC)
For me, these things usually just fall out of a little bit of thinking:

What happens if I tow the car somewhere close? Well, first off I have to find a shop. Then, since it probably won't be fixed quickly, I'll need to find a way to get home. That means I probably will have to rent a car, maybe for a few days. It will also be a lot of hassle, since I will have to spend extra time going back and forth between Livermore and home. This is high-risk, since I'll be dealing with an unknown shop.

I'll estimate, oh, $100-150 for car rental for a couple of days. Finding a shop, getting a rental, and dealing with all of that will take up a lot of my time. Towing to a local shop will probably cost me $75-100, I'd guess.

On the other hand, I'm guessing it will cost me about $250-300 to tow the car to Oakland. If I do that, I'll be walking distance from home. Plus, I'm familiar with the shop, they know the car, and I have a good working relationship with them.

OK, so getting the car to a shop in Livermore and renting a car will probably be $175-250, depending on my estimates. Getting the car to Oakland will be $250-300. Is it worth a ballpark of $100 to me to avoid all of the hassle, time, and risk of trying to deal with a shop in Livermore? For me the answer is hell yes, especially since that was a small fraction of the cash that I had on my person. If money was extremely tight, I might've used different strategies and decided differently.

OK, so where did my estimates come from? Some years ago I had a motorcycle towed from Death Valley to Las Vegas. That cost me about $400. I also had a mental estimate of the cost of a short-distance tow from having done it in Vegas a few days before. I guesstimated a number in the middle. I figured $50/day to rent a car, and 2-3 days of rental. It might've been cheaper, but that was a pretty decent all-inclusive estimate.

Given that I value my time quite highly, I concluded that my "easy decision" threshold for the tow to Oakland was around $300. If the price was around that point or less, no more thinking was involved. If it was a lot more than that, I'd have to get more information and weigh my options before making a decision.

The actual estimate was, "It's $200/hour. Figure it will be $250-300." That was squarely in the no-brainer zone for me.

Of course, all of this happened after the immediate "am I safe?" concerns. Staying out of traffic and paying attention to my surroundings was the first order of business, but that was easy... I was in a wide median, and pretty much just had to stay in the car. When the very friendly and helpful CHP showed up, it got even easier.
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Time:2011-08-11 07:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks. That all makes sense. I think part of the problem is that I haven't had a lot of experience with this kind of stuff, and even when I have, I can't remember how much it cost to tow my car when it broke down that time in Santa Barbara.

I also think there's this thing that happens in my brain where it gets filled up with panic and there's little room for actual thoughts. I can be aware of this and try to manage it, but it's tough.
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[icon] Patti
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