RICK MACLEAN: Two seers? Pffft. Five? Oh dear

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The car started talking to me. It was then that I knew my retirement plans were going to get complicated.

Cruise control kicked in first, along a lonely stretch of freeway where the car was running, my brain stalled, and the audiobook was just getting to the good part.

“Will Jamie Fraser survive the Battle of Culloden? Does that mean Claire will never see him again?

Then.

“What is the…”

My trusty set of wheels, circa 2013, started to slow down.

“I had to nick the button to turn it off or touch the brake.”

My brain refused to process anything that could be WRONG with the car.

I am one of those people. I don’t fall in love with cars. New car smell? The smell of money flowing out of my bank account. Rev the engine at a red light to make a point about the guy in the next lane? Gas coming out of the tank.

And open the hood to look inside? Oh please.

Success in my automotive world is buying a car and never popping anything but the gas cap – for years. Oil changes. Tires. New brake pads. Cost of doing business. But someone else does.

The goal is to open the door, sit down, turn the key and it starts. If that doesn’t happen, it’s broken.

The car continued to slow down, even after pushing the cruise control button repeatedly. I pressed the accelerator pedal. Always slower. People with places to go and people to see started passing.

My lifelong strategy of driving 10 kilometers faster than the speed limit, and no more, was over. The car settled down to 42 kilometers per hour, in an area where the limit was 100.

Then came the orange light on the dashboard: VSA warning.

“What is the…”

The goal is to open the door, sit down, turn the key and it starts. If that doesn’t happen, it’s broken.

There’s no internet in the car and even at 42 km/h I’m not looking for anything on my laptop. Turns out VSA is doing something to help avoid swerves. It seems important.

I clicked the button that turns the big orange light into a small orange light, easier to ignore. Wait long enough, it will pass. It worked before.

Another orange light: ABS warning.

Then another: Check the power steering! Yes, the exclamation point was part of the warning.

Two more. No, I don’t remember what they were talking about. One could have said something about the “braking system”. It didn’t sound good.

I turned around – no reason to slow down – rode my bike faster and rode home, 103 kilometers away. At 42 km/h, it would be a two and a half hour drive.

“Jurassic Park!” I was thinking.

The solution to a computer system gone crazy in this dinosaur movie was to turn off the computer, count to 60 – “one banana, two bananas…” – then restart it. Somehow the computer takes this as a sign: “Oh, you want me to fix the problem for you? No worries, buddy.

How it works? No idea. That’s all The Matrix to me. I shouldn’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car. Turnkey. The car starts. That’s it.

I stopped and did a Jurassic Park. My new speed – 35 km/h.

Bad words ensued. Then, having nothing more to lose, I tried again. Five warnings, but a top speed of 105.

Don’t turn on the radio, I thought. Maybe that will overload him. Don’t answer the phone with the hands-free thing. It might do it.

Two hours later, the car was in the garage. Bad cable something or other. About $400 for parts and eight hours of labor later it was fixed. Until that is no longer the case. It seems that there are two cables and the other was angry too.

Repeat the portfolio depletion exercise you just described.

The plan – which makes more plans, since Covid, I mean really – was to talk nice to that car for another six months or so, and then I’d have something that would last for years into retirement.

The repairs – times two – means I just lost six months worth of car payments on my nine-year-old, rust-free, and so far still dependable set of wheels.

I will have to keep it at least as long to make the investment profitable. Maybe I’ll delay retirement.


Rick MacLean is a journalism professor at Holland College.

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