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April 27, 2009

Repair this car for less?

April 27. Day 301.

As anyone following this blog for some time knows, my car has been teetering on the edge of the abyss for about a year now. For a while, the engine was shutting down randomly while I was driving, then the tachometer started jumping up and down erratically. Now it still routinely won't start. And, I'm sad to report, there have been leaks.

Poor little thing. Poor little pearly white 1995 Nissan Maxima GXE with tan interior, moon roof, moody CD player, a single hubcap left and enough dents and scratches to fill a rap album.

We go way back -- bought it in 2003 from my dad, drove from Texas to Boston, Boston to San Diego, San Diego to Boston, Boston to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego. And countless Boston-New Jersey round trips, back in the days when Mr. A and I were doing the alternating weekends long distance thing.

Oh, the memories. There was the Chapel Drive of 2007, when as maid of honor I drove my friend E (of ET and the recent Paris dinner) to her wedding, serenading her with "Goin' to the Chapel!" by the Dixie Cups.

There was the Great Deluge of 2005, when the moon roof stopped closing and it rained inside, leaving everything damp and fungal for months.

There was the Alternator Enviro-Debacle of 2004, when the faulty alternator caused me to keep the car idling for half an hour at a time, locked but with the keys in the ignition, just so I could do my Christmas shopping. Just awful.

And the Last Gas-p of 2007, when I almost ran out of gas in Montana but made it to the station thanks to a really long, smooth slope.

And then there was the Boston Massacre That Wasn't, when a police officer pulled me over at the end of a 3,000 mile road trip and towed my car, which was holding my life's possessions, leaving me alone and rideless at 3 a.m. on a deserted turnpike. For speeding. When I begged him to have mercy, he snapped I should be grateful he wasn't putting me in jail. Jail?? Jail!!!! I could have killed him, but there was no room in the trunk to stuff his body and I was not about to sacrifice my shoe collection for a mere crime of passion.

Somehow, every time I've been ready to write off my car this year -- only because a repair would be too expensive to be worth it -- for some reason it has started working again. Usually that reason has involved Mr. A, who keeps replacing parts and using his diagnostic prowess to figure out the cheapest way to fix it.

Well, in the latest round it turns out the radiator needed to be replaced, and that's not a do it yourself kind of job. The garage that confirmed Mr. A's suspicions wanted to charge $440.

Normally, years ago, I would have paid up. Because I used to be a trusting little lass. If someone recommended a garage, and if the car was already there for the diagnosis, that was that. It wasn't laziness, it was just ignorance. I didn't know there is a different way. The Daily Asker way.

Well, hit the accellerator and welcome to 2009.

I posted a note on Craigslist, explaining I needed a new radiator and thermostat and invited mechanics to beat the price. I also called a bunch of garages and tried to get them to lower their prices by having them beat the previous lowest price.

But when I called Thao's auto repair, I realized my efforts had been in vain.

"I can do it for $295."

"For parts and labor?"


"For thermostat, radiator and new coolant?"


"And what's your turnaround time?"

"A couple of hours."

Now, I don't need to ask just to ask. Because I recognize there's something even better than a negotiated discount. And that's a great value.

"See you tomorrow!"

Gained: $145. And gave my car a new lease on life. Again.

(Pictured: Pics from Boston to Seattle roadtrip in 2007, snapped in Upstate NY, the Badlands National Park, and a parking lot in Anytown.)
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