Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I am the prototype of the car of the future

For no less than two years now, the light on my trusty Saturn's little odometer has refused to provide any light. I can still see how many miles I've gone, but only in the daylight. I would like to think this means that any nighttime driving hours are not logged, which might bide me a bit more time before I have to accept the fact that my car has lived a good life but it's time to retire it and say hello to a car payment once again. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. The odometer just keeps scrolling along, whether it's bright enough for me to see the numbers or not.

I've grown rather used to the dim and subtle odometer display, so I was more than a bit alarmed when I turned my ignition key the other day and all six numbers lit up in bright orange. You'd think I would be happy when this happened. You'd think that someone with as overactive an imagination as mine would proclaim the miracle of my car's self-healing powers and deem my Saturn invincible from here on out. My imagination rarely works in such a positive and optimistic way, however, so instead I started wondering what on earth was wrong with my car that suddenly made that long-gone light re-light. Had a squirrel crawled up under my car and somehow reconnected the wire assigned to that light, but then decided to chew through my brake line while he was rooting around in the region as well? Had the connections rusted and corroded in such a way as to fix whatever short caused the light failure, but it was only a matter of time before the delicate balance tripped some other malfunction in its place?

Obviously, not only am I insane, but I am highly knowledgeable about the inner workings of modern vehicles, too. I think it's pretty clear I've missed my calling as a mechanic, isn't it?

What's more alarming is that two days later, I was convinced that I was right. I could see no other explanation for why the "Service Engine Soon" light suddenly displayed on my dashboard panel. Damn squirrels. Damn rust. Damn Saturn service center goblins.

Service center goblins? Oh. Right. Perhaps I should explain.

The Saturn repair shop where I take my car employs several full-sized, adult humans who speak in complete sentences and walk upright. I get to talk to them only when something is genuinely wrong with my car, however--when I request diagnostics of some sort and pull in to the special Service Center door on the right. For routine maintenance such as oil changes, I drive up to the "Quick Lube" entrance, which is staffed entirely by goblins.

I could be wrong, of course. They might not be real goblins. They might be Satan's tiny minions. Every time I see them, I'm reminded of the Stygian Triplets--the evil little skate punks who did Jason Lee's dirty work in Kevin Smith's Dogma. The don't roll around on wheels, but they're all diminutive and a little squinty-eyed, and I don't think a single one of them is a day over 19.

Until recently, I felt a little judgmental assuming the lube techs might be itty-bitty servants of Beelzebub. They seemed perfectly friendly, after all (if a bit dim-witted at times). Why shouldn't I trust them with my car? But then I turned down the fuel-booster and road-side assistance add-on that they wanted to sell me, and eleven hours later, I was driving on my wheel rim after a mysterious tire failure. Coincidence or sabotage? You be the judge.

So where was I? Oh. Right. The "Service Engine Soon" light. As it turns out, I may not have the service center goblins to blame for that one after all. Ignoring the words of a boy who claimed, "Don't bother hauling out your owner's manual; all it's going to say is 'See your dealer,'" I read the corresponding page in my manual and found that there are at least two very easy-to-troubleshoot reasons why that light might decide to light up. The first one, "Did you drive through a puddle? Your electrical system might be wet." did not apply, but the second one, "Did you recently refuel?" actually did. The manual instructed me to verify that my gas cap was intact and see if the light goes away afterwards. I unscrewed and re-tightened the cap, drove another ten miles or so, and suddenly, the insistent "Service Engine" message disappeared. Voila! I am a born mechanic after all! And my Saturn maybe actually is a tad invincible. I'm suddenly dubbing it Kitt. It's wired for self-preservation, it seems.

Or so I'm telling myself at the moment, anyway. Tomorrow the transmission may spontaneously fall out, and then all bets are off.


Anonymous said...

Saturn: heal thyself!

Good job! Maybe next time I pull up to get an oil change (hopefully not any time soon) I'll find a smiling Stefanie, ready to service my car. :)

Anonymous said...

I would think this is odd, but back when I had my sister's old '98 Saturn, the light on the radio clock was always off and could only be read in the daytime. Then, one day I was driving Birmingham somewhere, and he touched the radio and the light turned on! It stayed on for a full year until I sold the car and got the new one.

I too thought it was a sign that something was wrong, but it was probably just a short somewhere that Birmingham fixed with his magic touch (and boy, he never let me forget that). So, this may just be a common charactersitic of Saturns. If, one day, you find you can't get the gear out of "park" in the cold, drop me a line, because I remember those days.

The Other Girl said...

So ... about these little evil skate punks. Do they sing anything while they change the oil? I think they should sing.

Whiskeymarie said...

Your Saturn and my Jetta must be related. I have all sorts of little "oddities" with my car, including a flashing temperature light in the winter that no mechanic has been able to figure out.
I think it's my car's way of talking to me.

lizgwiz said...

See how important reading can be? You fixed your car; I fixed my refrigerator. Because we can READ.

My Suzuki Samurai (a couple of cars ago) used to flash an ominous light periodically, which I could make go away by banging just right on a certain spot on the dash. I think it was an after effect of having to replace all the electrics in the steering column after someone broke in and tore it up one night. After a while I didn't even think about it, just--bang!

Anonymous said...

Glad you avoided a trip to the mechanic. There's nothing I dread more. Well, except vomiting, but even that is cheaper.

L Sass said...

Please call Car Talk. Please please please?

I have no car to call them about, so you're like the next best thing!

Jarod said...

I think all service mechanics should be in 1950's garb, complete with hats and zippy dialogue.
"Gee, there, miss, what ya got there? That's swell, I'll fix 'er in no time!"

Mair said...

My Saturn odometer light is out, TOO! WEIRD!!!

Excuse the yelling.

They told me it was a $9 bulb to replace, but $100 to take the panel off. Guess who elected to leave it dark?

Guess who also can't find a buyer for her car?

-R- said...

Oh my gosh, L Sass has the best idea ever. Call Car Talk! Or I could call Car Talk for you! I love Car Talk entirely too much.

don't call me MA'AM said...

I have a similar problem, but it's the light behind the gas gauge that went out on me. It sucks to be driving at night and not know how much gas you have.

Isn't there some test for goblins? Like try splashing a little water on one of them to see if he turns into something even more evil... oh, wait. That's GREMLINs. Never mind.

Stefanie said...

NPW--You'd let me touch your brand new car? Wow. That's trust. (More trust than is warranted, actually.)

Noelle--You actually thought that the light going back on meant something was wrong, too?? I can't believe my mind isn't the only one that works like that.

Also, I have a friend with a VW Golf that occasionally won't get out of park. That happens to Saturns, too?? Damn.

TOG--Ha! They totally should. Or at least mutter mischievously to themselves or something.

WM--But what is it trying to SAY?? This we will never know, will we?

Liz--Wow. You're like the Fonz. What else can you fix that way?

Nabb-I would not have connected those two things, but thanks for that.

L Sass and R--OK, I'm sorry, do not hate me, but... I can't stand Car Talk. Feel free to call in for me, though, and tell me what they say!

Jarod--That's certainly another way to go... Does 50s-era sexism come along with that? (Golly, I hope so.)

Malia--They told me basically the same thing. Is your daytime running light indicator also flickering? The odometer light magically healing itself seems to have fixed that as well.

R--(See above)

DCMM--Actually, water is what made Gremlins MULTIPLY, which makes sense, come to think of it, as what started as one tiny young girl in the quick lube area somehow over the months turned into a whole staff of tiny young girls and boys. I'd hate to see what happens if I were to feed any of them after midnight, though!

djkrupa48 said...

I too am among the "no light" behind odometer" group. I had heard it was kind of expensive to replace and you guys have confirmed that. It is one of the little irks in life I can live with:) My 2003 L200 has been good to me in the 4 years I have owned it so that's not too much to ask I guess. I have also had the experience of the "check engine" light coming on when the gas cap needs re adjusting. It initially scares the crap out of you until you remember, 'oh ya, I just got gas", check that first and it's always the same.