Crazy B*tch (Memoirs of a Lemon Lover in Recovery)
Chapter 18—You Mean Cars Are Supposed to Drive Straight?
Hanging out with my grandparents was just what the doctor ordered. They spent their summers at their cabin on the lake. We watched sunsets sipping tea and listening to the loons. In the afternoon, they took me with them to their friends’ place for “coffee”. “Coffee” was a four course lunch followed by heated games of Yahtzee, Cribbage, Wist, Canasta, or Gin. Suppertime meant cooking lessons, a heart-healthy meal followed by coffee and brandy. My grandparents enjoyed their booze, and though it may seem kind of nerdy—getting drunk with them was kind of fun. My grandpa had me help him fix a few things around the cabin, but we never talked about cars. Instead, he told me about what life was like in Europe when he was a boy. My grandma would happen by at times when Grandpa needed help remembering a name or a year. They were very good at finishing each other’s sentences, and they had long grown out of infuriating each other in the ways that my parents still did.
When I returned home, my shiny new blue car seemed even shinier somehow. I found out later there was good reason for that. My dad went a little wax-crazy. He washed and waxed the exterior of my car, he treated the wheels (hubcaps included), and he totally WD-40’ed under the hood and the entire interior. Sitting in my car, I felt a little giddy. Some might speculate that it was because my car looked so awesome, but I think the WD40 fumes also had something to do with it.
My dad was jubilant and rejuvenated. Working on cars renewed him in ways that baffled most. He proudly explained, detail by detail, the whole repair. He then went on to tell me about this new tinted car wax he found. He took it upon himself to by a bunch of this stuff and wax all the cars within his reach. When he was done with my car, he was impressed with the results, of course, but felt that the rest of the car (under the hood and the interior) seemed a little dull now. That was when he discovered the awesome versatility of WD40. According to him, that stuff polished my tires (hopefully excluding the brakes), door jams, dashboards, seats, engines—the list was endless. He took me on a guided tour of my car—showing me every detail of his detail. It was a lesson of sorts. He made it clear that I was expected to maintain this new sheen. There was this promise, that if I did, perhaps my car might stop breaking. He made me feel very hopeful.
When you drive a car as shiny and clean as my car was, it feels different—sleeker somehow. I felt as if I was going faster somehow. Maybe I was driving faster-hard to say. My dad was with me on this test drive. We took turns driving. While I was driving, he kept staring at my steering wheel, but he didn’t say anything. When he took over, he finally said what was on his mind, “You realize if you hold the steering wheel straight, the car veers off to the right?”
I had realized that when I first got the car, but when I mentioned it to my dad he offered me such a convoluted justification that I pretended to understand just to make him stop talking. He had refused to believe my claims and I just resigned myself to make do. That concern was a million car problems ago, and I had really forgotten about it. Therefore, my response was one of unique surprise, “I thought that was normal”.
My dad just about exploded. “NORMAL? I have to hold the steering wheel at a 20.5 degree angle—THAT is not normal! Do you realize how dangerous that is? Lord, it is a miracle that you’ve stayed out of the ditch this long!”
I can only surmise that my dad missed me while I was away. Otherwise, he may never had taken the time to notice the steering problem I had had with the car all this time. I winced and smirked inside as the warm and fuzzy glow of my time away rapidly evaporated. Turns out it was high time I learned a thing or two about wheel alignment and steering calibration.
As one might imagine, there are any number of reasons why a car would “dog track”. That’s right, “dog track”. This is a term used to describe a car’s (incorrect) inclination to drive in a line that veers gently to one side. So it goes, we had some trouble-shooting and diagnosing to do. The very first thing examined was tire tread. I found out that in addition to assessing traction, or remaining tread left, wear patterns could help deduce whether or not the tracking problems had to do with alignment or not. I never saw my dad shake his head like he did while examining my car’s tire tread. He kept muttering stuff like “unbelievable!” and “luckier than smart!” He was disgusted by what he saw, and acted as if I had lapsed in my car’s maintenance in some profoundly lazy and stupid way.
Finally he said, “I can’t believe you didn’t notice this—how could you not notice this?” I reminded him that he too drove my car, and he didn’t deign to notice anything either. Perhaps he was too busy avenging “asshole drivers”, but really, if it was as bad as he said he should have noticed this ages ago. In fact, he could have noticed it when I initially expressed my concerns at the outset. I reminded him that I did notice, and tell him about it very early on. He cleared his throat and changed the subject.
The problem was two-fold: crooked frame, and poor wheel alignment. The frame problem was far beyond my scope both in budget, and talent. The alignment, however, was something we could try and fix. So try and fix we did.
As repairs are wont to do, one thing led to another, and we fixed more than the alignment. First was the tires, the tread was so badly worn, that the tires were ruined. During this time, I got scolded for not rotating my tires more often than I did. Silly me, I thought twice a year was enough. The second repair we happened upon was undercarriage rust. True, this had little to do with the dog-tracking issues, but it was something to that would lead to larger problems in the future. Next came the realization (once we got the tires off) that the brake rotors could do with a grinding. I also, according to the tire shop, I had worn rims, and should either repair or replace. Finally, my dad noticed a small leak of power steering fluid. Fixing a few seals saved me replacing the whole system.
Looking back, I realize the sane people of the world would have sought to sell the car at this point. The repairs could be defined as bordering on excessive—to sane people. We were not sane people. More accurately, when it came to cars, I was not being mentored by a wholly sane person.