My 2007 Prius blew up 4 days before Christmas this past year (2013). It had had electrical problems for quite some time, and many of the “essential” functions had quit working – the touch screen gave up the ghost before it even had 100K miles on it. Toyota knew there was an issue with poor manufacture of it, but refused to issue a recall; a new one was something like $1400 to replace so dead it remained. It also never alerted to let me know that, due to a design flaw in the engine, oil would cake up and cause it to start blowing out the exhaust. I ran the car literally dry in between oil changes at 140K miles; from then on it was a race against the inevitable. I was on my way to work when the engine blew. I limped it the last 20 miles to work but it was towed from there. I sold it for a pittance, with full disclosure, to a Mexican (nationality, not racism) man who was sure he could get it running again.
Unfortunately I had planned to finish my holiday shopping the last two days before the holiday, so it was a very meager holiday for several folks in my little family – money that was going to be spent on gifts instead had to be hoarded for a new vehicle. I still have mixed feelings about this – on one hand, I’m grateful that my busy school and work schedule prevented me from shopping earlier, because it meant money I had been saving for months was still there for us to use on another vehicle – but on the other hand I’m guilty feeling about the fact that I didn’t get gifts for important loved ones. Not that presents equal love, but I think you know what I mean.
Anyway. Fast forward to July 2, 2014. We’ve had said pickup since the first week or so of January; it’s been a good running truck for a vehicle that’s 20 years old and has 200K miles on it. I was on my way to take my final exam for my pediatric management class when the truck began making a HORRIBLE noise. If you’ve ever heard the sound of a rod getting ready to go you KNOW the sound I heard. If you haven’t, imagine the sound of a jackhammer under your hood, metal on metal. It’s a sound to put fear in the hearts of strong men and women everywhere. It’s 112 degrees outside, I’m 50 miles from my class, and 40 miles from home. I try to limp it on side roads, but the noise keeps getting louder. I finally pull off into a parking lot and call my husband. “You have to come get me and take me to my final!” I also text my instructor my problem; she is totally understanding and tells me just to get there when I can. Mr. TF tells me to call for a tow truck. OK, I think, we have towing coverage on our insurance (we have full coverage on our vehicles, even though they’re old, because we can’t afford to be in an accident without it), no problem, we can get it towed to our local mechanic (who is a local resident and we’ve known him for nearly 20 years – good mechanic, decent human being).
This, is where the trouble starts. State Farm has contracted out this service. The representative for the service informs me that they will only tow me 10 miles or to the closest shop, whichever is closer. HUH?? She tells me the name of the closest shop, and I immediately call Mr. TF to inform him of this development. He is not happy either, and Googles the shop – which turns out to have very mixed reviews. Mainly in cases, like ours, where the vehicle was taken in for an unknown (to the owner) problem, and they keep finding things ‘wrong’ and jacking up the price of the repairs. GREEEEAAAAT.
The tow company they contacted gives an ETA of 45 minutes. An hour and 15 minutes later we are still sitting in the parking lot, in 112 degree heat, waiting for them to show up. Mr. TF calls the dispatcher – he’s having trouble with another tow and will be there in 20 minutes. DH calls BS and says the tow truck driver is probably having dinner. 20 minutes later, he’s still now shown. DH calls them back and tells them we HAVE to leave, I’m supposed to be taking a final exam, can we PLEASE leave the key inside the truck? The dispatcher isn’t happy, but agrees when DH (nicely) browbeats her and stresses the importance of my FINAL EXAM to her.
I show up to class over an hour late. I have forgotten some of the paperwork that must be turned in, so I have to go to the computer lab to print it out. I still finish before everyone else. Uh oh. Either I don’t have a clue or I am careless I think. I end up with an 80% on the final. Which means the third option I haven’t listed is probably the culprit, in looking over the answers I got wrong — dyslexia is a real problem for me and I misread some of the questions, probably due to my level of stress. Thankfully, I end up with a 96% for the class. Thank the GODS.
The shop tells us the next morning that it’s the exhaust manifold that’s the problem, it came loose, and it will be $250-300 to fix. Mr. TF is ecstatic, thinking I was wrong and it’s a simple fix. I think that can’t explain the noise, but keep my thoughts to myself. He agrees with the shop manager that we will be down around 4pm to pick it up. The bill turns out to be $485, not $300. And the they’re not done yet. And the truck is still making the noise. While we’re waiting, before they fire up the truck so I can hear that they didn’t fix it, we have a chat with someone who is there to pick up his own vehicle. He says he’s $2100 into repairs on his car and they still haven’t fixed what he brought it into them for in the first place. This starts off major warning bells in my head. So when the truck gets started, and I hear the SAME NOISE, I’m rather stressed out. The manager says “we couldn’t hear THAT noise over the exhaust noise”…I get a little hysterical and contradict him, saying that’s the exact noise that made me pull over to begin with, and I can’t believe he didn’t hear it, and NO THEY CANNOT KEEP MY TRUCK TO FIND OUT WHAT’S WRONG AND FIX IT.
Long story short, the guy refunded our money. Which was quite a nice thing to do, and goes a long way toward restoring my confidence in basic humanity. But we’re still left with a dead vehicle making a horrible noise. So we go to the local Uhaul and rent a pickup truck and trailer to tow the truck to our mechanic. Mr. TF loads it onto the trailer, I drive it home. All’s well until I pull into our circular driveway. By that time I’m emotionally exhausted by the strain of the previous days, and I get careless when pulling into the driveway. I don’t swing wide enough and get the trailer hung up on the rocks that border the drive. Yay.
Since it’s raining and it’s the holiday weekend anyway, and we have 24 hours to get the rig back, we decide to leave it in the yard till the morning. Next morning, we drive 40 miles to FIL’s house to get his truck so we have a way to get to work at both our jobs. We come back home, and, after much freaking out by myself, get it UNhung up, and take it to Mark’s shop.
His guy calls us in the mid afternoon and says it’s all done, that the distributor cap arced and caught fire, and we need a new cap, rotor, wires, and plugs. OK, great, but I keep saying that I can’t understand how THAT could make it make that noise. DH says not to be so negative, that it’s better than a new engine, after all. I agree. Mark’s employee says he wants to test drive it before we pick it up to make sure it’s fixed. Mr. TF tries to talk him out of it, saying he can test drive it himself, but no dice.
He calls back in a few hours and says he has bad news. The noise is still there, and radiator coolant is dripping out the tailpipe. Which means a cracked head and/or a blown head gasket. New price: $1685. NOW I say, THAT explains the noise!! Oy.
On the bad side, we had to borrow a credit card from FIL to pay for this. We are now into a 20 year old vehicle for nearly $6000 and it’s sure to have other problems in the future.
On the good side: the exhaust manifold is repaired, with a new seal, and new bolts holding it on. The distributor, rotor, wires and plugs are all new. We will have a new head on it soon. It should run like a top for many thousands of miles to come. It’s paid for, and we don’t have car payments or depreciation to worry about.
So, while I wait for my truck to get out of the shop, I meditate on the quality standards of Nissans and Toyotas made 20 years ago versus in the last decade. We also own a 96 Camry. It is a dependable vehicle that just goes and goes, and also has nearly 200K miles on it. I’m sure there are maintenance issues coming up in our future with this vehicle as well, but I also feel confident that THIS Toyota will be worth investing money into to fix, UNLIKE the Prius which was a maintenance sinkhole. And I know for certain that I’ll be driving one or the other of these vehicles for the next decade at least – one, because we can’t afford anything else right now – and two, because we’ve invested so much into these vehicles that are paid for that it simply doesn’t make sense to buy anything else for quite some time to come. The Prius was probably the biggest disappointment of my recent years – a vehicle that cost so much money could be so unreliable and of such poor quality as this from Toyota was an eye opener. If THAT doesn’t show for certain that the empire is crumbling, I don’t know what does.