Unemployment Nine: Check engine

OK, I really don’t need this right now.

While on a very quick errand to BJ’s yesterday to fetch a case of G2 — the low-calorie Gatorade, which has become as prominent in my blood stream as Guinness and Jack Daniel’s — the “check engine” light in my car flickered on and stayed on.

Check Engine

Check Engine

First of all, as anyone who looks at this blog can see, I’m unemployed right now.

Second, I already had my big car expense for 2008 in March, as the result of an unsuccessful scuffle with a gigantic pothole in February. I fought the pothole and the pothole won.

On the bright side, everything about the car felt the same. I drove the car for a little while just to complete my errands and get home, paying very close attention to its performance, and there was no difference.

So I am seriously hoping that whatever caused the check engine light to go on is minor, because I really can’t deal with a major expense right now. If my mechanic calls with some really bad news, the next light to go on might be “check pulse” or “check blood/alcohol level,” depending on whether or not I pass out on the way to the liquor cabinet.

At peace

My strife over the big decision on my car is over. I picked up my trusty merlot-colored Accord Friday, and it looks absolutely beautiful.

I know it sounds cliché, but the car really looks like it just came out of a showroom, which isn’t easy to pull off with an 11-year-old vehicle.

The car’s running great (which has nothing whatsoever to do with the body work, but just saying), and replacing the tacky, horrendous gold trim with normal chrome trim did wonders for its appearance.

Another good result: I’m being extra careful with the car now. Seeing the car looking this good is incentive to keep it that way. I’ll never be one of those obsessive-compulsive people who springs out of his car with a cloth every time a drop of water hits it, but I’m really going to make an effort to keep my ride in tip-top shape.

Thanks to all who chimed in with advice. Viva la Honda!

Am I making a huge mistake?

I currently drive a 1997 Honda Accord with a little over 102,000 miles on it. After recently spending nearly $900 on the car last month due to an encounter with Pothole-Zilla, I’m on the verge of doing something even crazier.

I’ve had the car about six years and, as time has passed, I’m more and more convinced that it was in an accident of some sort and was repainted. What started out as a small sun spot on my roof spread like a virus. And the paint is starting to peel on other parts of the car.

The person who previously owned it clearly had no taste, as they had a chance to change the car’s color and elected not to do so. The previous owner clearly was not of the Caucasian persuasion, either, as the car is dark purple with gold trim. I, however, prefer to call it merlot.

Anyway, a body shop that I’ve brought cars to for years is closing at the end of the month, so I decided to bring my car in and let them have at it before they shuttered their doors.

Bottom line: I am about to spend $3,500 on an 11-year-old car with 102,000-plus miles on it. The plus side is that they do great work and it will look like it came out of a showroom. The minus side? Duh! $3,500!

Am I crazy for doing this? Part of my motivation is that with the way the car looked, I would have been lucky to get $500 for it on a trade-in. Now, at least, if I can get through one more year with it, I should be able to get something half-decent back. Plus, it would be nice for the ego to look like I have a newer car, even though it is what it is.

The car runs well and always has. However, as I said, it’s 11 years old, so performance will inevitably deteriorate, as will parts.

But I really can’t afford a new (and by “new,” I really mean “decent used”) car right now.

So I guess I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and hope I didn’t chase bad money, to steal an expression from the gambling world.

Pothole of doom

For my 40th birthday, I was lucky enough to be honored with an incredibly well-planned surprise party and some far-too-generous gifts.

For my 40th birthday, I also got a present from the city of Hoboken and its road-maintenance crew (or lack thereof): a meeting with a pothole that has now cost me nearly $900, and counting.

For those who know Hoboken — and if you know Hoboken, you know this pothole — the offending crater can be found by taking Observer Highway out of town toward the Exxon station, the New Jersey Turnpike and 1/9. It’s underneath the railroad bridge, just after you make the left turn. For those who don’t know Hoboken, feel free to tell me to shut the fuck up.

I hit the pothole hard — and I DO mean HARD — the afternoon of Feb. 23. The impact was unlike anything I’d felt in a long time. One of my front tires was completely flat in seconds, more than likely after one or two revolutions.

After a little over $300 and some work that I needed done anyway — two new tires, rotating and balancing, oil change — I had a car again.

That lasted about two weeks.

During the far-from-strenuous eight-mile drive back from the Izod Center last night — Nets 104, Cleveland 99, HOLLA! — I realized that the needle on the oil-temperature gauge was WELL past the red line. Nervous as all hell, I took the rest of the trip home at a very easy pace. About two blocks from my apartment, smoke started coming out from under the hood, but I was able to cruise the last two blocks, park in my spot and wait a full 10 minutes after turning the car off for the exhaust fans to turn off, as well.

What’s the bottom line? A new radiator, a new radiator cap, two new hoses and a little more than $500 on my Visa card — exactly what I did NOT need right now.

My head hurts, possibly even more than my checking-account balance.