Adventures with the mystery car that wouldn't start

By Minx McCloud

Jim and I pride ourselves on the fact that for 25 years, we have survived with only one car.

Recently though, our neat little arrangement developed a glitch when our 4-year-old car started stalling out for no apparent reason. This was disappointing, to say the least, because everyone had told us that this particular Japanese car would run for 110,000 miles without a problem. Here we were, barely off warranty, and I was waiting for a tow.

I took the car to my trusted mechanic, who could not find a thing wrong. It wouldn't even malfunction for the two days he had it. I took it home, drove it for 10 minutes and it stalled out. The mechanic suggested I take it to the dealer. They kept it for two days and told me ruefully that it wouldn't stall out. They had put almost a hundred miles on it.

"Please hurry," I told them. "It's hot out and I have diabetes." OK, so I'm shameless, but let's face it -- there aren't many good things about having a disease, so for once, I used it to my advantage.

Four more days went by, the temperature was 102 degrees and I found myself sitting on the shoulder on Route 22 with a dead car. I called AAA, and they said there were breakdowns all over the place and I'd have more than an hour wait.

"Please hurry," I told them. "It's hot out and I have diabetes." OK, so I'm shameless, but let's face it -- there aren't many good things about having a disease, so for once, I used it to my advantage.

The AAA person was concerned and sent a truck within 20 minutes. The poor kid driving the truck treated me as if I were going to keel over before he could get the car on the flatbed.

Back to the dealer, who could still find nothing wrong. Jim and I decided to simply buy a new car, because I knew I could never trust this one again. He thought I was being ridiculous, but because I have to travel to Connecticut alone once a week to visit my ailing mother, he decided to humor me. (But I think he's worried that if he ever malfunctions, I'll just bury him in the Meadowlands and invest in a new model.)

We started the process of financing and I planned to visit Dealer X on Aug. 25. Our loan didn't come through on time and I limped around town for another week. My mechanic had hooked a scanner to my engine, but nothing was detected. Meanwhile, it either wouldn't stall out for days, or it would choke along, stalling every 100 yards for a couple of hours.

There was one particular day when I indulged in a bit of road rage, which I abhor. It was hot, it was sticky, and I stalled out a particularly busy intersection while the light was red. I immediately put on my flashers and when the light changed, I signaled people to go around me. Well, there always has to be one jerk in the group.

"Hey lady, what's the problem? Move your butt," a burly truck driver yelled, ignoring my flashers and my waving hand. (Geez, remember when truck drivers were the "knights of the road?") I frantically waved harder. He got out of his car and stalked over to my window.

"You're holding everyone up, lady," he yelled. "What the @#$% are you doing?"

"Gee, I'm just writing a few postcards and balancing my checkbook!" I said sweetly. Then I exploded. "What do you think I'm doing, you moron? I can't get the @#$% car started! If you're helping to row the boat, you're an anchor, so either push me to the side of the road, call the police or get out of my face!"

He made a calming motion with his hands, backed off a bit, and said, "OK, OK, lady, calm down and I'll help you out."

He sounded like he was trying to hypnotize a rabid dog. I'm normally a good-natured person, but I have this hysterical side to me. I can make someone think I'm a complete psycho at the drop of a hat, and that talent comes in handy sometimes. However, at that moment, the car started up again, and with a cheery wave of my hand, I got out of Dodge.

During the next week, my neighbors were very sympathetic and offered me use of one of their five cars, but I've been hit by so much silly bad luck lately that I was hesitant to put their car in jeopardy. However, I found myself calling them more than once when the car stalled out on my way to the train station. The next day, the car would run fine.

Finally, we made it to Dealer X and bought our new car.

This car glitch was an enlightening experience though. I left a lot of drivers shaking their heads and cursing at me, and if nothing else, I promise to heavens above that if I'm ever stuck behind someone who's stalled, I will not only refrain from beeping my horn and gesturing wildly, I will shame my husband into getting out of the car and helping to push them to safety. (Heck no, I won't push.)

I even came out of this whole thing with a respect for car salesmen, believe it or not, but that's another column, filed, for now, in the Twilight Zone.

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with permission.

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