Car troubles

If you know me, then you know that there are very few things that I will buy brand new. I’m a hand-me-down, second-hang kind of gal. So obviously, my car is an old hunker. But don’t be fooled, he’s strong and sturdy; heck, he even drove me across Canada back and forth, twice!

There’s always pros and cons about getting a used vehicle versus getting a new vehicle.


Pro – works great, most likely will not need repairs

Con – monthly payments get expensive


Pro – paid in full, way cheaper than the cost of a new car

Con – needs repairs at least once of twice per year

I could list a bunch of other pros and cons but those are the only two that really concern me for now, especially with the recent circumstances.

Every year, I put about $1000 down on my 2004 Oldsmobile Alero. The first year was worse than the others because the timing chain let go not long after my dad bought it – can I just take a moment to say how fortunate I am that my dad is able to help me out with something like this?! – and it needed to be replaced if I wanted to use the car ever again. Boom, $1200 in one shot. It made me nervous about keeping it because I didn’t know how much it would cost me per year, but after several years of driving it around, I was able to estimate an average cost and budget accordingly.

The upside to this is that I know that I end up paying WAY less in repairs than I do on car payments, and that in turn means that keeping up with repairs on my car is worth it. But at what point do I draw the line? When will it be time to say, enough is enough, my car is no longer a financial gain. When will I know when it is not feasible to keep putting money into it? Well, I haven’t really figured that out yet, but I’m on my way there.

On Friday night, Max, Benoit and I were hanging out at Cards, the local board game café. We were enjoying some drinks while finishing our game of Munchkin Adventure Time edition when all of a sudden Benoit suggests we go to Edmonton tomorrow. None of us were working, and we hadn’t done any travelling since we got back from Christmas break, so why not! It was super last minute, and so of course, I got right to planning. We would be leaving in the early morning and spending most of the day at the West Edmonton Mall. The guys also wanted to spend some time at Cabela’s and at a local firearm shop, so I made sure to work that into the tentative schedule as well. Oh, and we had to make sure to stop for homemade donuts on the way out – apparently the best in Alberta! – and get the best poutine in the West Coast at a restaurant whose name escapes me in Edmonton. The only thing we weren’t sure about was which vehicle to take. Benoit had just bought a truck on Wednesday and was eager to drive it around, so he suggested to take his vehicle. Max chimed in right away and said it would probably be a lot cheaper on gas to take my car, and there’s plenty of space too so it would still be a comfortable ride. We agreed we’d rather spend less on gas so my vehicle it is!

The next morning, we got up – OK, I got up – at 6AM and got everything ready for the trip. I packed water, snacks, first aid kit, yarn, spare oil, windshield washer, and comfy shoes and a lighter jacket for walking around in the mall. I woke Max up at 6:30AM, he showered while I packed the car, and then we headed out to pick up Benoit and breakfast.

The drive from Grande Prairie to Edmonton is about 4.5 hours. The weather was great, and it had been so warm in the past week that there was hardly any snow on the side of the road. It was smooth sailing – or so we thought.

When we were about 3 hours or so out of town, my car’s transmission started acting up a bit. I told Max it was probably nothing. It had happened to me once two and a half years ago, and they never found a problem with it. All I had done was stop on the side of the road, turn off the car for a few minutes while I panicked and called my dad, and then headed back home and everything was fine. So Max did the same. We pulled over on the side of the highway and turns the car off. He popped the hood and went to examine. (Side note: I am so blessed to have an amazing boyfriend who is so knowledgable in various domains, including mechanical work!)

He took a look at a few things and then asked me to start the car again. Uh-oh. Nothing was happening. The nervousness started to kick in right about now.

Shit, I knew this was bound to happen… how long has it been since I got repairs done? Ouf… almost a year. Is that bad? That’s probably really bad. Oh God, is this the end? Do I have to buy a new car now? I’m unemployed, I can’t buy a new car!! 

After a few minutes, Max came back into the car.

“Should I call CAA?”

I think Max had been worrying too. He looked pretty relieved when I reminded him that I have a CAA membership. I put the call in, although he did continue to try to see if he could fix the problem. The man on the phone was really helpful and told us he could call for a tow, and we could be taken to the nearest garage in Whitecourt. He just needed to call the Maritime Branch to confirm that my membership was still valid and how many kilometres I had for each tow. While he was making that second call, Max had been revving the engine and all of a sudden it started up again! Ok, so the battery probably just had a short, we should be good for a little while now. When the man from CAA called back, I told him to cancel the tow.

Things were looking up – for about 2 minutes. The transmission would shift out of 1st gear so the RPM was going crazy trying to shift. Max looked for the nearest place to turn around, and not long after, the battery just flat out died. We pulled over to the side of the road and hoped maybe someone could stop by to boost us, see how far we could get into Whitecourt. I called CAA again to let them know what happened and that we needed the tow after all. I didn’t want to chance it trying to drive all the way to a garage with whatever the heck was going on with my car. Max also called the local garages to see if any of them had a mechanic on duty that could take a look at the car. We got pretty lucky because there was only one guy in town on duty, and he said he could squeeze us in.
The tow truck was going to take approximately 45 minutes to get there so we sat and we waited. During our wait, a man stopped by and actually gave us a boost and said he would follow us into town. We drove for a minute or two and the battery died again. He gave us a second boost but Max told him he didn’t have to stay behind with us, a tow was on its way now. We still made a bit of way with the last boost, but still about 4 kilometres away from the garage.

We got towed around 11:45AM and made our way to Fortune Tires. Max had asked the driver to see if he could make a stop at Canadian Tire so we could buy a new battery, assuming that was the problem, but the driver said he was only supposed to take us to one place.

At the garage, it wasn’t long before the mechanic took a look at the car. He checked the battery and it was in fact kaput. He called to get a new one and then set it up. We waited. I don’t know how long, but we waited.

When he finished installing the new battery, he tried starting the car. He immediately saw that the alternator wasn’t charging the battery, so that was most likely what had caused the old battery to die. OK, and the fact that the battery was probably 12 years old didn’t help.

The mechanic started making some calls to see if he could find an alternator in town, but it didn’t look good.

Crap!! I think this is the end of the line. Max’s boss is selling an old Chevy pick up for $500, I should probably make him an offer… 

Benoit tried calling his roommate to see if he could pick us up with Benoit’s truck. Meanwhile, Max texted his boss to get some more info on the truck. He was thinking we could offer $400 and a pack of beer and we’d be good to go. I was beginning to let it all sink it, that this might be the last time I got to drive Oscar – yes, I named my car Oscar.

Plot twist! So the owner of the garage found an alternator at Canadian Tire, but all the employees were too busy to drive there. But, he told Max that he could take the company truck and drive us to Canadian Tire! They didn’t even ask to see his license or anything!! And when I say company truck, I’m not talking like regular small town truck, I’m talking 1 ton truck with a crapload of equipment in the back! What the heck?!

So off we went, Max, Benoit and I in the company truck. We drove to Canadian Tire and got what we needed pretty quickly. Max said I should probably buy a new belt for the alternator as well, since they were changing the alternator anyway. It came out to about $265, and both the alternator and the belt had warranties on them. Before heading back to the garage, Max figured it would be a good idea to stop and get them a pack of beer to thank them for letting us use their vehicle to go get the part ourselves. And I think it was greatly appreciated because they gave us a great deal when it came to the bill!

Back at the garage, the mechanic was busy working on another vehicle, so it was a longer wait. I also have no idea how long it takes to change an alternator, but it’s probably not a quick job. Regardless, we had no where to go, so we just waited.

As my mother would say, “Praise baby Jesus!” The car was fixed! At 2:30PM, the mechanic explained to us what work he did and then printed out the bill. He only charged us 1.5 hours for the whole thing, even though the flat rate for just changing the alternator was 2.5 hours! Big thank you to Max for his idea, it definitely paid off! The total came to about $400, so I pulled out my MasterCard to pay. Unfortunately, I assume my credit card payment didn’t go through on Friday because the payment didn’t go through. Luckily, I have a loving boyfriend whose MasterCard bill is not at its limit so he paid for me. (Don’t worry, I’ve already paid him back!)

Did I mention we didn’t stop for lunch? First stop: McDonald’s for a quick meal. By the time we hit the road it was 3:00PM. Direction: back to Grande Prairie. I guess we’ll have to try to go to Edmonton another day. And we will most definitely be taking Benoit’s truck, even if it does cost a bit more on gas.


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