One Thursday this past June, I drove my usual route home from work. After the off-ramp, I headed down a fast, busy 5-lane street. Suddenly, the RPMs on my car revved super high and then returned to normal. Everything seemed fine. But, of course, RPMs don’t just randomly rev. I might not know much about cars, but I know that much. But sometimes I ignore what I know.
The inside-my-head conversation went something like this:
“Pull over. Drive into that strip mall parking lot in case something is wrong.”
“No, it’s fine. It was a revving fluke. Just get home.”
“It would be smartest to pull over. It’s 5:00 p.m., crazy driving time.”
A few blocks later, I stopped behind a long line of cars waiting at a red light. It would be three or four light changes before I got through the intersection. The light turned green and the string of cars moved forward. I pushed the gas pedal. I went no where. The car was running. All the gauges were normal. I just couldn’t move.
Clearly, that revving meant something. Clearly, I listened to the wrong voice.
The street where I sat led to and from the military base and the first person who stopped had the buzz cut, uniform and age of an experienced soldier. He told me to do a series of things (put the car in a different gear, turn the car off and back on again) but nothing worked. I wasn’t going anywhere.
I sat at a standstill in the lane between the outer lane and the two-directional turn lane. In other words, I sat in a middle lane with regular traffic flow. How did fellow commuters respond? The most courteous of people sped by, flipped me off or laid on their horn. Yeah, that will get my car to move. It just needs to be properly motivated. Several people opened their windows to yell as they sped by giving the oh-so-helpful advice to turn on my hazard lights. No kidding.
In the chaos and panic, I could not for the life of me figure out how to get those on. Later my equally helpful sister would ask, “Don’t you know the triangle means hazard?”
I do now.
The street’s posted speed limit is 45 mph. This meant most cars buzzed by me at 55 mph each time the light turned green. My dog was in the back of the car because I’d taken her to work that day. My biggest fear was someone not paying attention would hit us from behind and she’d take the hardest impact.
I simultaneously texted people for aide, called my auto shop and searched for the illusive hazard lights. Out of nowhere, a young man and women in fatigues ran across the street and asked if they could push my car out of traffic. I hadn’t even seen them pull over. I have no idea who they were. They left once we were safe on a side street but I am grateful to those kind strangers.
And, as soon as it was no longer necessary, I found the hazard lights button. It wasn’t hiding, wasn’t in a secret place. It was front and center, inches from where I’d sat in the driver’s seat. Right where it had been all along. At least my heart rate started to calm.
Cut to the chase: A tow tucked hauled my car away. A co-worker kindly rescued me and my dog. Several co-workers generously gave me rides to and from work for the next week.
The diagnosis: Death of a transmission.
Estimated cost to repair: $4,500.
When I heard that, I almost cried. I told the guy I needed to think. I’d call him back.
The way I figured it, I only had two options. I could have the car fixed or I could dump the car and purchase my tow vehicle now.
Though purchasing the tow vehicle this early wasn’t on my plan, I gave it serious consideration. One less thing to deal with next year. That appealed to me.
A couple days later, it finally dawned on me that, either way, I would be paying to fix the transmission. With a nonworking transmission, the trade-in or resale value of the car would plummet from my budget estimate. The amount I planned on getting when I sold the car would, for all intents and purposes, be $4,500 less. Plus it would force me to purchase the tow vehicle within a short window of time since I was without transportation.
Once all the pieces were clear in my mind, I called my mechanic and told him to fix the car.
Then I spent the next week worrying about how this would affect my plans. But here’s the thing I finally figured out: $4,500, while it sounds like a lot of money (and it is), represents less than two months of on-the-road expenses. When that clicked, I got a whole lot more comfortable with my decision.
Unfortunately, it became necessary to repeat that reminder several times in the months that followed the transmission repair. My dog had a $2,000 surgery. I had unplanned medical expenses of my own. The Alaska PFDs (the payout all Alaskans get annually–see my list of 9 things I’m Going to Miss About Alaska) were cut in half this year due to state fiscal difficulties. In other words, doubts crept in about the wisdom of shaving that extra year off.
In the end, I recognize it will always be easier for me to find reasons to postpone or, even, to not do it at all. My strong drive for security and stability (financial and otherwise) and for operating in the known (as opposed to that mysterious and oftentimes scary place of the unknown is the part of my nature I battle as I Supersize my LIFE.
Join me next week when I post a few things I won’t miss about Alaska. And later this month, I’ll share my thoughts on the ideal tow vehicle.