COAL: Project Subaru Update And The Pitfalls Of Hooptie Life : A Dire CC Community Prediction Comes True

To recap from an article last August, I purchased  a 2002 Subaru Forester with the intention of it ultimately being my new driver 17 year old sons car. I recounted how his driving skills were less than confidence inspiring and there was no time table for him getting his license. A steal, I  guess – $1050, and it had only run 1,500 miles in 10 years, and things aged out. Tires, brakes, etc…..I was $3,500 all in at that point.

A funny thing happened though, I really got to like the quirky little car.   I liked the utility of the hatch, where my bikes and other things would fit easily. Not great gas mileage, but great in the snow. We call her Marge, it was just seemed to fit. I rarely drove my Regal GS for almost 7 months. Another funny thing happened…..while there is no logical explanation for it, or someone was bribed or records were mixed up, Shane passed his drivers test. He’s now driving it in a small radius around the house and wanted to make use of it.

Suggestions were made by the CC Community that I should of had the water pump and timing belt changed as that too likely aged out during Marge’s long slumber.  There was  comment  that I  noticed …funky intermittent “coolant-ish” smells in my first write up.  But I drove it for many months without incident then decided to have the water pump and timing belt done.  $740. I had my mechanic look into that smell when we were about to do the work.  Quite a few commentators warned me about this…that it would ultimately need what all Subaru’s with this motor need sooner or later  (and often sooner) – the head gasket. And yep, that’s what it was.  Damn. Damn!

What do to? Mechanic Paul said that while not imminent , it would need it eventually.  He didn’t  want me to throw good money after bad (maybe?)…and  even recommended that I roll the dice and NOT do it.  I had a few directions I could take.  Nothing, but if the belt went I could ruin the motor.  I could do the water pump/timing belt only so the motor wouldn’t grenade if it the belt went .  If the gasket went, I could address it or not address it at that time, sell it to a crazed hipster for parts.   After all, $3,500 nowadays is more or less a disposable car, right?

Work In Progress

But here is the rub…in these crazy times, there is no way I could get a decent car for Shane that was $3,500.00. I wrestled with what do to for about a month.  I learn from past mistakes approximately 22.7% of the time, and I decided maybe this time…maybe no half- measures.  With the repair with the far better after market head gaskets…..we’re at $6.200.00 for a hopefully solid car with 68,000 miles that Shane will have through high school and beyond for a couple more years. A brilliant strategy that works unless (or until?) something else major happens. And the shop is boning up on their Subaru work and  has done 2 recent engine swaps in Subaru’s.

And fate also intervened. All auto insurance policy holders here in the Mitten State got a check from their insurer for Insurance Reform, mine was for $2,000 which will cover 75% of the repair.  Marge is now back on the road, running like a top.  So the big question here is did I make a smart move?  I just don’t know.

On to another family Hooptie, our 2008 Saturn Astra that has been in the family since new in 2008 and now has 167,000 miles on it.   I let oldest son Adam take the car to college this year to Michigan State University, but he really didn’t need it much other than to come home. Despite me saying to get over there once in awhile and drive it or start it,  twice the car needed a jump, a process which I walked  him through on FaceTime.   He is on campus and since there is no adjacent dorm parking for residents available, he has to park at the infamous Lot 89, which is a 2 mile walk from his place, (usually) accessible by bus.

A  Resourceful Roadside Repair

The Permanent Fix

Following him on the way to campus with his belongings last summer, he ran over a shredded truck tire, lying in wait like a coiled snake, which bounced around under his car and … ripped off the rear bumper cover.   It did it with such force that it ripped out the body clips and made the slots for the body clips bent. We pulled off and did mass duct tape application  to hold it on, and he drove it like that for 4 months. No collision insurance, so no fix.  The corner shop shot some sheet metal screws to hold it onto the rest of the body for a permanent solution. Good to go.

Suffice to say  last couple years has been tough on the Saturn and it’s been nickeling and diming the House of Carlsberg66 a lot.    Three weeks ago, Adam called me as he’s packing up to come home  from school: “Yeah, its weird Dad, there was this  smell and now it’s hard to steer”. He drove it over 100 miles like this and didn’t give it a second thought.

Power steering out, owing to a failed fluid line.  But the plot thickens, as  they only imported 18,000 of these 14 years back , the power steering lines – Astra specific – are not quite hens teeth but close. It got worse when the quoted price was $1200 to fix it. See, you have to drop a lot of stuff to get at it… and when done, as a cherry on top, an alignment is needed.  The tech had skinny hands and was able to do it without the drops and it came to $593.00. Maybe this would be it for while.

Decided for old times sake to drive the Astra  to work and then to see my 91 year old mom after.  Drove like a champ until after I stopped for a quick bite, left that place and the gear selector wouldn’t engage and it would only go in first. High revs from the old girl : WHEEEEEE.  Decided to limp home…but first I’ll just try and ….see…if…I ….can just…….then POOF, it would not go in any gear and not start. This was in front of a red light on an extremely busy Mad Max Road Warrior type road with lots of semis driving by. I have not been stranded like this in……20 years at least. This time, with no jacket, 20% cell power, and it was 55..and raining and no umbrella. I had no choice but to exit the vehicle , fearing it would be struck.

Alas, I will just call my tow service I pay for on my insurance.  Oh, but you cannot call and talk to a human…. you fill out an online form then wait. Got through that only to get a call from a third party call center in the Philippines 45 minutes later only to find out that on Hooptie#1 and Hooptie #2,  we actually don’t have towing service ..wait, I really didn’t sign up for that? Guess not…. but she’d be happy to call me one at my expense. Please and thank you!  Another 20 minutes passed only to have the agent call and say it would take 60 minutes for their tow to get there. But in between all that a very nice policeman showed up and called their contracted towing service as car was a road hazard.  The tow driver was a great and pleasant fellow and also is apparently a Saturn Whisperer. He did some jiggling here and popped the shift cover on the console off and  viola, the old girl started and went in gear.  $75 for his time.

So, it turns out that it was the gear shift cable, a part we replaced in the Pandemic Summer of 2020 .  A part that usually lasts the life of the car but somehow failed twice. The shop felt horrible especially after  I’ve recently paid for a head gasket, a power steering line fix and now this. They just charged me for the part, which was $282.00. Let me see now, in the last two years its been:  2 shift cables, 2 tires (or was it 2 last summer, 2 the year before?), an AC compressor, a ball joint or 2, struts, brakes, fixing a misfire, two new key fobs ($18 total, but $75 to program at dealer),  the power steering line…and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.

What we have here is a very solid older running car but things are aging out at the peripherals and failing at a rapid rate. Runs and drives great, really.  Everything internal still works: air, cruise,etc.    For the House of Carlberg66, it’s death by a thousand financial cuts.  But…I’m not ready to cut and run. Hoping another 2 years out of her, Adam graduates and he’s on his own and can get his own damn wheels.  Adam signed on to work at his old job at the James John Corporation delivering subs , which was very lucrative last summer.  I know over the next few months if I get a phone call at 12:21 PM from Adam when he’s working…it’s not going to be good. Hooptie Life has it’s ups and downs, that’s for sure.