When I was young, flexible, poor, and had the intellect of cauliflower, I did my own car repairs. That was back in a time when you could open the hood of a car and find the motor, unless you lived in Chicago. (We once took our youngest daughter to the University of Illinois hospital in Chicago for some tests. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, and I parked our van out front in the parking lot. I asked the woman at the front desk if it would be all right to leave it there overnight. “That depends,” she said. “Do you want the whole van to be there in the morning?” I moved it to a nearby parking garage with security.)
These days I open the hood of a car and I’m greeted by a jumbled tangle of hoses, wires and tubes. I imagine somewhere underneath there is still a motor, but I don’t have the persistence to look for it anymore. Now I take it to a mechanic. It isn’t like in the old days when a mechanic had to guess at a diagnosis of what was wrong with a car, and then start by replacing the air cleaner and working his way down until he solved the problem. There are so many electronics in cars now that the mechanic just hooks it to a computer, gets a printed readout and starts replacing the air cleaner and works his way down.
My wife has a friend who has never ridden in our car without hearing a “funny noise.” It’s always a clicking, rattle or a hum—you have to watch out for those hums. Usually I can take care of the problem by just turning the radio up a little louder, but sometimes my wife insists on a more permanent fix. Then I have to take the car to the mechanic.
Me: My wife hears a clicking noise when she turns to the right if she’s going north on a Wednesday.
Mechanic, nodding knowingly: That’s pretty common in this model of car.
Me: Can you fix it?
Mechanic: I think so. We’ll start by replacing the air cleaner.
Me: How much is this going to cost?
My wife has an obsession with tires. She’s never met a tire that didn’t need air. She doesn’t believe tires should ever bulge. I could put two pachyderms, a Sherman tank and a tyrannosaurus rex in the back of my truck, and if the tires bulged even a little, she’d think they needed air. Her car has a display screen on the dashboard that gives her information on various things: how much oil life is left, what the car is getting for gas mileage, whether we have enough milk in the refrigerator to get us through the week, etc. One of the statistics is a display of how much air is in each of the tires. They are supposed to be at thirty-five pounds, and when she starts driving, they usually are. As she drives the tires heat up and the pressure will increase. Rarely are all of them at the same pressure at the same time. Sometimes each of them is at a different pressure. Occasionally one of them will go up to thirty-eight pounds.