Bad Halloween Car Karma?

KLS van being towed 11-02-2015Hey, I did my part. I bought a giant bag of candy. There was a plastic jack o’lantern on the planter by the front door. The porch light and pole light were on. I waited patiently for little ghosts and goblins to show up.

Nary a tap, ring, honk, hoot or holler all Halloween night. I was forced to diminish the bag of candy to assuage my disappointment.

Sunday night, needing to go to the store to restock the pantry. I crawled into the car and turned the key. The silence was deafening. It was as quiet as the doorbell on Halloween.

There was a guy dumping glass in a recycle dumpster at the fire station across the street. Somebody who recycles would surely be willing to give me a jump, right?

He agreed to help, but then he remembered that his battery lives under his rear seat. I’d never heard of that since VW days, but I wasn’t going to argue with him.

Neighbor tried to help

KLS van being towed 11-02-2015The neighbor down the hill from me was home, so he hooked his truck up to my battery. No joy. We changed the grip on the terminals several times, touched the ends of the cables together (which created an impressive arc), revved up his engine, scratched our heads, then gave up.

The headlights still burned brightly and the power doors and other toys all worked fine. That made it unlikely that my new battery was dead. Someone on the internet suggested disconnecting one of the battery leads for ten minutes, then hooking it up again as a way of rebooting the computer. While it was off, I used a terminal cleaner wire brush to make sure the terminal was clean. No go.

It was time to use my Hondacare extended warranty. Within an amazingly short time, a young man from Sperling’s Garage and Wrecker Service showed up. After doing all the things I had done, he tried tapping on the starter to get its attention. Still silence except for one tiny “click” from the starter when the key was turned.

He said it needed to be towed to the Mother Ship, Cape Honda. I told him to close out the ticket and that I’d arrange to have it towed in the morning rather than having it sit on their lot overnight.

Everybody was super nice

KLS van being towed 11-02-2015

After trying to start it Monday morning, I gave up and called Hondacare again. Another nice guy from Sperling’s showed up. After hearing everything we had tried, he said it was time to play Hook the Honda. There was a problem, though. The van was parked ass-end out, and it needed to be grabbed from the front. Wrecker One called Wrecker Two for assistance.

[An aside. One late night, I heard over the police radio, “Athens 1 to Headquarters.” “Headquarters, go ahead Athens 1.” “Headquarters, call me a wrecker.” “Headquarters to Athens 1, you’re a wrecker.”]

Before long, the two guys had me hooked up and headed to Honda. A couple hours later, the service department called to say my van’s starter was Dead on Arrival, and a transplant would have to come in from St. Louis on Tuesday. It should be ready by the end of the day. The good news was that I qualified for a loaner car and the warranty would cover the repair (roughly $358 to $657 based on Internet estimates).

I forgot to mention one other Only in Missouri thing: the neighbor from down the hill came up while the wrecker guys were working and offered me the use of her car for the day if I needed it. I’ve NEVER had that happen in Florida.

Computer had sympathy pains for the van

Oh, yeah, if that wasn’t enough. The first thing I saw Monday morning was a cry for help from my computer: one of my hard drives had gone critical and needed replacing. If you don’t hear from me, then the replacement didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped.

What do I do to chase this mechanical rain cloud away? Do I have to post a cute cat picture to reverse the bad car karma?

Bill Hopkins Gets Steamed Up

OverheatedI sent a copy of this photo to Bill Hopkins for interpretation. Bill has had a hard time holding a job: he’s been a lawyer, a judge, a goat roper and a far from adequate student body presidential campaign manager. Right now he’s an author, just like Wife Sharon.

Anyway, Friend Bill said, ” I don’t recognize the car but it looks like me under the hood.”

I’m pretty sure the other guys are John Hodges, Kenny Fischer and John Mueller. You can click on the picture to make it large enough to confirm my IDs.

That’s about the right ratio of folks: three people to watch another guy stare at a motor. I have to give Bill credit. Based on my long relationship with him, I would have thought he would have opened the trunk and not the hood to look for the reason the car wouldn’t run.

Monteagle Pass Surprises

I’ve hinted that my 2000 Honda Odyssey is getting a bit long in the tooth. When I was in Cape the summer of 2011, I had to have a rebuilt transmission dropped into the van by LeGrand Bros. Transmissions for $3,498.34. This trip home, I felt an unusual vibration in the front end. Plaza Tire was enriched by $700 to replace the left front axle (I sort of like the idea of my front wheels staying on at 75 mph), new struts and an alignment. It sure made the car ride much better.

About 10 miles south of Manchester, Tenn., on the Friday I headed back to Florida, my Check Engine light came on. That didn’t scare me because my catalytic converter is overdue for replacement. Then the TCS (Traction Control System) light came on. That’s not what you want to see if you are going to have to go over the Eastern Continental Divide, but the car was running fine and I soldiered on to the peak of Monteagle Pass in Tennessee (elevation 1,923 feet).

I pulled into the parking lot of one of my favorite stores, Mountain Outfitters, and called LeGrand for advice (I have an extended warranty). They suggested I take it to one of the shops in their nationwide network. Unfortunately, they didn’t show any in my next big town, Chattanooga. They said it would be a good idea to see if anyone could read the computer error codes that turned the light on to see if the problem was serious. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Monteagle Tire & Auto Service

Fortunately, right across the street was Monteagle Tire and Auto Service. I had stopped in there on an earlier trip when the van was mysteriously blowing fuses that would cause the car not to shift out of park, would keep the cruise control from working and would black out the brake lights.

I walked up to the counter and asked if somebody could read my error codes. A nice guy pulled my car into the bay, hooked up a gizmo under the dash and promptly reported that the only code showing was for the converter. He reset the warning lights and backed the car out. With some trepidation, I asked, “How much do I owe you>”

Let’s put this in perspective. If I had pulled into a Honda dealership, that three-minute process would have cost me $95 plus tax (based on experience). Here I am, on a mountain in Tennessee, miles from a big city and in a vehicle with Florida tags. If that’s not a license to steal, I don’t know what is.

Nice Guy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” I slipped him a twenty and felt fortunate.

Looking for lunch

With the car problem out of the way (I hoped), I poked around the Mountain Outfitters. If I lived where it was cold, I’d have walked out with lots of cool stuff, but temptation was averted. I asked the cashier if there was a good place to eat other than the Smoke House, which used to be good but had been disappointing the past couple of stops.

He recommended Dave’s Modern Tavern, just east of the Interstate by about a mile. He liked their fried green tomato BLT, which would have pleased Wife Lila, but isn’t my thing. His second choice was the Oink Moo Burger, a Hereford patty topped with pulled pork, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese. Huge homemade potato chips came as a side. Instead of drenching the pulled pork with BBQ sauce, it was served as a side. The sandwich was WONDERFUL. Juicy without being sloppy. When I’m hungry, I’m more interested in eating than pictures, so I made do with this semi-fuzzy shot with my cellphone.

I ordered a cup of lobster bisque for an appetizer. It’s described as having a “hint” of brandy. If I had ordered a bowl, I’d have probably blown over the legal limit if I’d have been pulled over.

Donna Smith of Monteagle Tire

On the way out of town, I stopped back at Monteagle Tire to tell owner Donna Smith how much I appreciated their great service. She said that she and her husband moved to Monteagle in 1987 and opened the service shop about 10 years ago. When he died, she stopped providing wrecker service, but the store is spotless, well-stocked and her employees are friendly and helpful.

All of the delays cut into the time I would usually have spent stopping at Larry’s Army / Navy at the next exit down. There are plenty of excuses to pull your car over to let it cool down after the long climb through the Pass.