Sunday afternoon on the way home from Pinball Circus in Minnesota I stopped to buy a few $1 chips from Majestic Pines Casino (my dad collects poker chips). Noticed the car was up-shifting fairly late, so I checked the transmission fluid and sure enough, it was low. Bought some from a nearby gas station, problem solved. About an hour later on the highway I had to slow down for traffic, and when I got back up to speed the car had trouble up-shifting again. Figured I might not have added enough fluid since the diptsick reads differently when the engine is hot from expressway travel. So I pulled off at the next exit, bought some more tranny fluid, back on my way. At this point I'm thinking at *worst* I have a slow leak, and that I'll have to stop a few times on the way back to Chicago, then get the thing looked at ASAP Monday morning.
This time the fluid didn't last nearly as long, so I knew I had a fairly serious leak. Pulled over *again*, called Lisa to ask her if she could meet me halfway, just east of Rockford, IL. The plan was for me to hobble along the last 45 miles or so, stopping once or twice to replenish the fluid. So I added transmission fluid for the *third* time, then hit the road with my fingers crossed.
I'd like to add that the wind was blowing about 30 mph in Wisconsin that day, which made the flimsy paper funnels from gas stations frustrating at best. Transmission fluid gets added right to the tiny diptick hole, unlike oil. Trying to hit the mark while the wind was tossing the funnel around and blowing my t-shirt up over the back of my head was maddening. Oh, and did I mention the second gas station had a bee infestation? That's right, motherfucking bees, dozens of them. The *only* thing not blown away by the wind. I quickly gave up on swatting them away, resigned to the fact that I'd have several landing on me and buzzing around my face while I wrestled with the goddamn paper funnel.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I'm hitting the road to try and limp along for 45 more miles to meet Lisa. What I was going to do with my car at that point was the least of my concerns... I just didn't want to get stranded. Less than a mile back on the highway, I knew my trip was over. I was *already* low on fluid after just filling it (a little more than full actually, to compensate for the speedy leak). I managed to crawl to the next exit, find a phone, and call Lisa, but she'd already left. Didn't think I'd catch her, but it was worth a shot. This is the point where her night gets ruined, because I have no way to reach Lisa in her car. She'll be driving an hour, waiting who-knows-how-long for me to arrive, giving up, then driving an hour back home.
Got back in the dying car to drive it across the street in hopes of *eating*, which I hadn't done all day, figuring out what to do next, etc.. Then the car figured out what to do next all by itself. It blew the transmission out completely, taking a reddish-brown fluid dump in the left turn lane at a busy intersection. That's all she wrote. Play with the gear shift all you want, it's not leaving neutral; I have no transmission.
Called a tow truck, of course. When the guy arrived he glanced at the soaked asphalt and said "let me guess, 1995?"
"Because '95s always blow the transmission out the side."
He walked around behind the left front tire, looked underneath and said "yep. Well, where do you want it towed?"
"Uh, to any place that does transmission work and will look at it tomorrow morning. Got any in mind?"
"That transmission's completely blown out, it's gonna cost you fifteen hundred or two thousand to get it fixed."
I knew he was right, or at least close, and I knew the blue book value of my car was under $1500... so no transmission shop. He asked how much money I had, presumably to pay him for a ride home. I told him I lived 2 hours away, so that was a no-go. He then offered to trade me a Chevy S-10 pickup for my carcass, but it was a moot point since I can't drive stick (the kids these days, eh?). Finally he offered to trade an '89 Chevy Astro Van (automatic) for my car. My initial gut reation was "no f'n way! This guy's trying to take advantage of the fact that I'm stuck." After mulling it over a for a few minutes, I realized that even if he was *somehow* getting the better end of the car swap, that I was getting a good deal as well.
If I trade, I get to drive home tonight, feed the cats (instead of calling Lisa *again* to ask her to do it), go to work tomorrow, and the guy won't charge me for the tow.
If I don't, I get to pay for the tow, a hotel room, waste a vacation day, rent a car for the next few days, pay more than the blue book value of a 10-year-old car to get it fixed, then drive the rental *back* to Wisconsin and pick up my car.
So... I'm now the proud (ha!) owner of a 1989 Chevrolet Astro Van, spray-painted black, with only two seats and an interior that looks like it housed a fraternity and/or a meth lab. Took it to Merlin's this morning and found out the brakes are life-threateningly piss-poor, and the exahust system is so bad that I'm actually breaking the law by driving it. It would cost around $1000 to get it safe & street-legal, which of course I'm not paying. I wasn't kidding myself by thinking I had a substitute for my daily vehicle; I traded a piece of junk for a ride home, and it got me home, dammit... that's all I cared about.
So... anyone want a free van to tinker with? =)