Loyalty To A Car

Before you can be old and wise, you must finish being young and stupid.

* * *

In the summer of 1992 I packed my valuables into my white Yugo GV, and drove her to Memphis, Tennessee for a new job. From there, I drove her into Southaven every day for work. I drove her to Utah to visit my mother. I drove her to Elora, in a heavy rainstorm, to meet a relative. For several months, I drove her into Millington for line-dancing. I drove her to singles activities in Talahassee, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Huntsville, Independence, St. Louis, Nashville, and Baton Rouge. I’d plan my vacation time around Thanksgiving and drive her to Branson, Missouri and hang out there for several days at a time; shopping, dining out, and watching various music shows.

There were a couple maintenance issues that came up with the car. The first was a worn-out clutch. The second, discovered during a routine tune-up at a shop in Southaven, was a ripped wheel bearing seal.

I didn’t see exactly what happened to that seal they were talking about, or why it was so important, but a mechanic explained that I didn’t want to allow the bearing grease to leak out or get contaminated, which might dry out the wheel bearing, and cause the wheel to seize. I took the bad advice of that mechanic, and purchased a whole new axle assembly. He could have re-packed the bearing with fresh grease and installed a new boot cover, but that wasn’t as profitable as convincing me to buy a new axle assembly.

I didn’t realize they were taking advantage of me until a year later, when the same mechanic told me again I had a ripped wheel bearing seal, and he had already checked on a price for a new axle assembly. It didn’t feel right. To borrow an old proverb…

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

I left that repair shop and never went back. I also examined the wheel bearing seal, and discovered that it was a flexible rubber boot with a clean straight cut in it. Someone could have sliced it with a knife. If I did nothing to it, the boot was probably sufficient to protect the bearings for another two or three years. No new axle was necessary. A friend from work, Brian Murrell, suggested that it was easy to replace that boot, and he would help me do it.

This emotional affair with my car began to decline when she was struck broadside by a United Parcel Service tractor truck on Millbranch Road in Memphis. The impact dented the driver side door, and knocked my eyeglasses off my face. No visible damage to the UPS truck.

You might wonder how I put myself into the path of a UPS truck. Okay, I’ll try to make this quick, so pay attention. I was trying to help a chaplain of some sort who had broken down on interstate 240, who needed to get to a hospital to provide ministerial service to a sick person but we were headed east which was the wrong direction, so I trusted the chaplain to navigate us to the hospital in question, which he seemed anxious to do, and after I exited 240 onto Millbranch, I glanced at the signs and was inclined to take the jughandle loop to get turned around, but the chaplain had a different plan: he directed me into an illegal left-hand turn at the Nonconnah intersection, where he seemed rather cautious, telling me to wait for northbound traffic, during the which we were sitting in the path of – and oblivious to – southbound traffic.

* * *
When you’re driving on a strange busy road, and you get a feeling that something isn’t right, it just might be too late already to avoid having the sense knocked out of you.
* * *

After that incident I was driving damaged goods. The white Yugo GV wasn’t a new car anymore. But things could get worse with her – and things did. I was asked by a member of my LDS Ward to give somebody a ride to church, one Sunday, during Sunday School. He handed me an address to an old section of Memphis, and I rushed off in my Yugo, thinking if I hurried I might make it back to church before the opening prayer of sacrament meeting.

I had no GPS device to help me find the place, and no cell phone to call ahead. But I did have paper maps in the car. While rounding a curve, my Yugo suddenly lurched sideways. Before I could think clearly my foot hit the brake pedal. Bad idea. Her rear end pivoted around over 180 degrees, into the direction I was headed, and her rear wheel crashed against a curb. It made a loud crashing noise, which at least one man heard a block away. He asked me if I had hit a road sign, before he directed me to the address I was looking for.

It was more aggravating, though not surprising to me, that nobody answered the door at the address I wanted. I went to the side and back doors, looking for a note, a word of gratitude. No joy.

I had plenty of winter driving experience, but I didn’t expect to hit black ice in Memphis. Upon close inspection, I learned I had bent my car’s suspension, and ruined a wheel. She would never drive smoothly again. However, I looked at my Yugo like a good husband might look at his marriage. Just because a spouse is getting older, and has a few bad bumps, doesn’t mean you divorce her. I was willing to work with my Yugo to keep her running as best I could. What better choice did I have?

I found a replacement wheel at a junkyard in West Memphis. For several months, I continued driving my Yugo, and she carried  grateful friends to church with me. Without warning, she gave me grief when starting up in the morning. After trying simple remedies like new spark plugs, new ignition coil, new spark plug wires, new air filter, new gasoline, I sought help from an auto repair shop.

The auto repair shop was supposedly operated by import car specialists. I’m not sure about that. These guys proved they were not Yugo specialists. I was told that I needed a new magneto-distributor assembly, which was not a cheap item. After the mechanic  received and installed the new distributor assembly, he decided he had received a faulty new distributor and ordered another one. Second new distributor, same diagnosis. He said he would have to order another one, a third one. But by then he said wasn’t really sure a new distributor would fix the car.

At that point, I lost faith in that mechanic, and sought help from another friend at work, Jim Sanders. Jim was a meticulous troubleshooter, almost to a fault. With the help of a Haynes repair manual, he figured out that the distributor was fine. It was sending sparks to the spark plugs, but the timing was somewhat tricky to adjust. We got it running, and I drove it home.

She ran fine for several more months, then the ignition problem showed up again. I tried making adjustments for several days, which didn’t seem to do much good. I got tired of the time wasted fiddling with the Yugo, and being late to work. I wanted a reliable car, or truck, and it was time to cut my losses. I sent that Yugo to a junkyard.


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