I'm an Idiot

Posted by Kirby Turner on June 18, 2013

I am, what I like to call certain individuals, an idiot. Yep. I too am an idiot.

Last week we bought a used Subaru Outback from a private seller. As with buying any car, used or new, there is a period of discovery as you learn more about your purchase. This is especially true when you buy a high mileage car. Our “new” Subaru came with 161,702 miles on it so I knew we would make all sorts of interesting, but hopefully not expensive, discoveries. I knew before buying the car it needs new tires, despite the seller insisting that the tires are in good condition. (Side note: I showed the seller what good condition tires look like by showing him the tires on our other Outback. This was a plus for us because it helped drive down the price of the car.)

I also knew the car needs new rear brakes, not immediately but soon. And I knew we would need to have the interior detailed to get rid of most of the dog hair and smell. No offense to dog lovers, but I can’t stand a car that smells like a dog. So de-dogifying the car was a top priority for me and another point that I raised to help drive down the price.

We’ve had the car for almost a week, and so far no surprises. But that changed yesterday.

I had our local mechanic take a look at the car yesterday to let me know what discoveries he finds. I also had the car inspected. The car passed state inspection as expected, and the mechanic didn’t find anything problems with the car that I didn’t already know about. Life is good, and I felt like we got a good deal on the car. But then, shortly after leaving the car shop the car started acting up.

As I was driving the car lost power. It was still running, but it wouldn’t go when I gave it gas. Then the car would take off as the transmission made hard gear shifts. My first thought was, “Oh no. There goes the transmission.” Then the check engine light came on. I continued driving the car in a stop and go pattern hoping to make it back to the car shop, which was only a couple of miles away. Next the check oil temperature light came on and started flashing. “Great!” I thought. “This car is about to totally crap out on me.” Then the car died. Luckily it cranked right up and I was able to continue my crazy drive to the car shop.

I made it back to the car shop, and they ran a diagnosis. The throttle sensor was acting up. Apparently there is some dirt or corrosion in or around the sensor, which is not uncommon with higher mileage Subarus. Apparently in poking around the car, the mechanic giggled a wire or something that caused the sensor to fail. It’s an easy fix and is something that doesn’t have to be addressed right away.

I started feeling good about the car purchase again despite this new discovery. But this morning we made another new discovery. The car battery was completely dead. “Oh great. The car has some type of electrical problem,” was my first thought. I called the mechanic and he too thought the sensor problem and the battery problem might be related. He suggested that the battery might be the source of the problem, so I replaced it with a new battery. This was something we needed to do anyways because the other battery looked old, and I wasn’t sure how much cranking power it would have this winter once we’re in chilly Vermont. (Another side note: We have had battery problems in the past in Vermont when the temperature drops below zero, so replacing the battery was already on my to do list. I was just hoping to wait a couple of months before spending the money.)

Because I wasn’t convinced the problem was related to the battery, I had the guy at the auto parts store check the old battery. The diagnostics showed that the battery was fine but it needed a charged. Still, I opted to buy a new battery because I knew I would be buying one soon enough, and I wanted to make sure the battery was eliminated in this guessing game of why the old battery was completely drained this morning.

I installed the new battery and my wife immediately pointed out that the parking lights were on. Bingo! Now I knew why the battery was dead this morning. But what I didn’t know was why the parking lights were on. Between the throttle sensor problem yesterday and the always on parking lights, I was starting to believe more and more that the car has some type of electrical problem. I drove the car to car shop to have the mechanic look at the problem. He too was baffled by this latest discovery.

This is our third time purchasing a high mileage Subaru. We don’t drive much, so we don’t have a need for a newer, nicer car (though my wife wouldn’t mind having a newer, nicer car). We pay cash for the older cars and drive them until they die. Our first Subaru had 193,000 miles on it when we purchased it for $1500. Our second had around 165,000 miles and we paid $3300. And our latest ride had just under 162,000 miles on it and cost us $3200. We know going into each purchase that we’ll put about a thousand dollars into the car, but after that it’s been our experience that we don’t have any major, unexpected issues with the cars as long as we follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. When our first Subaru started to finally have major issues, at around 215,000 miles, we sold it. And knock on wood, our second Subaru hasn’t had any major issues with it yet. But there is one thing different I did with our first two Subaru purchases that I didn’t do with our latest. I didn’t have the dealer check out the car for us.

This time around I had our local mechanic check out our newest Subaru. We trust our mechanic and he performs the scheduled maintenance on our other Subaru Outback. But our newest Subaru started having trouble after he looked it over. And even worse, he wasn’t sure why the parking lights were on and wouldn’t turn off. So I decided that’s is. I’m taking the car to the dealer that serviced our first Subaru and our second one up until about a year and a half ago.

In case you are wondering, the only reason I stopped going to the dealer was that the local shop is cheaper for regular maintenance work such as oil changes.

I walked into the Subaru Service Center and explained that the parking lights would not turn off and as a result I had a dead battery this morning. The gentleman behind the counter said he knew exactly what the problem is and it’s a really simple fix. He asked me to show him the car, so we walked outside to the car. He then said, “Watch this,” and proceeded to flip a switch on top of the steering column. He said, “Parking lights are off.” Switch. “Packing lights are on.”

Boy, I am an idiot!

It turns out that our local mechanic accidentally hit the parking light switch yesterday, and idiot me didn’t think to check the obvious this morning after I discovered the parking lights would not turn off. But idiot me is in good company because our local mechanic didn’t think about the switch either. Instead, we both were looking at the problem from the wrong point of view. We both were thinking the throttle sensor problem, dead battery, and parking light issue were all related when in fact they were not. It took having a third person with a fresh perspective to point out the obvious. And he was nice enough to not point out how I’m obviously an idiot.

Posted in personal. Tagged in life.

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