A really bad car

Why can some things be fixed against all odds, and others can’t?

My son is driving my grandmother’s car. It is a thing of pride and accomplishment, in spite of its looks. I bought it from my grandfather in 2007. A luxurious, pearl-colored Ford Lincoln with white leather seats, it was so expensive the dealership photographed my grandparents in front of the car when they bought it. Both grandparents have been gone now for over five years, and the Lincoln has well over 300,000 miles on it. It’s still running, and I still have the photo of them standing proudly in front of it.

Thanks to Google, I fixed the intake manifold myself, with the help of my older neighbor who helped me remember what went where when we reassembled everything. Like a girl, I put all screws in neatly labeled ziplock bags. It took me about a month to fix, and a bit of creative engineering for parts I couldn’t replace, but it ran great when I was done. In fact, I found a better way to disable the fuel injection system by disabling the fuse box, saving hours on the repair time. (I ended up forwarding this shortcut to the site I found with instructions).

When my driver’s side window broke, I duct taped a plastic, heavy clear bag for a window (the kind that bedspread sets came in). This allowed for a zipper mid-way, so I could order fast food or make bank deposits without opening the door. Eventually that too was repaired, and the car kept going.

In 2009, Brad bought it, and still drives it – perhaps out of obstinancy or plain curiosity? It is a car nearly as old as my 5th child, who is 20.

It has been rear-ended by a hit and run drunk driver while parked on a busy street, creating crumpled stainless steel and forcing a tail light to be permantently covered with red tape (there’s no metal to hold the light cover in). A side mirror was later skimmed by another bad driver, so it’s gone as well.

The driver’s side door no longer opens, so Brad must climb in via the passenger side.

The shocks are shot. The serpentine belt shredded and was replaced.

In what I thought was the final blow, the front ball joint collapsed on my birthday in a gas station parking lot as Brad filled up with gas. We spent hours watching him and the tow truck driver figure out a way to hoist the car up. The birthday party soon moved to Casey’s gas station, and we all had a fun time joking and talking to others who marvelled at what a truly beat-up and junky car it was. The tow truck driver felt so bad for Brad and the car, he gave him an expensive pneumatic jack right from his truck. Yet to our amazement, in spite of all odds, Brad again repaired the car.

While the junky-looking car is funny, it’s also an amazing feat of engineering and plain survival-hood. I think this is why Brad drives it. Now it’s a challenge to see just how invincible it can be.

Conversely, around 1996 I had a coworker whose brand new Mustang’s transmission simply quit just after the warranty was good. Too late for a return, he was battling the loan company since he didn’t want to pay for a lemon that wouldn’t run. A great looking, impressive car inside and out, but for some reason it was just crap. And he was left with nothing but a heap of metal and a mounting credit problem.


So why is it that some things go and go and go, when they seem least likely to do so, while other things that may look great break down?

I think about Brad’s car when I think about Kevin. I have been forthright with Kevin’s five kids about his prognosis, treatments, hopes and narrowing choices. I must now prepare to tell his youngest two – only 12 and 14 – what hospice is and that their dad felt this was his only option.

How do you explain that while the car looks good, it simply doesn’t run? How do you say that while he did all of the right things (stayed active, pursued wholesome activities like fishing, and was an honest and good person) that maybe he just had a bum engine. Most of the people I know who appear the healthiest are racked with pain, stricken with unseen diseases they must deal with daily. While people admire their svelt shapes, they don’t realize they deal unavertised problems like lupus, Crohn’s, joint problems and continuous pain. Like Kevin, some of the most nimble, graceful people I know have the worst engines.





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