Saturday, October 08, 2005

I Drive a 1995 Mazda Deathtrap

When I looked back at what I’ve posted this week I was surprised to find that I wrote nothing about my car. I’m sure it will come as a surprise (as it did to me) that I was driving a deathtrap. And I say that with no exaggeration.

Not too long ago I did my brakes because one of the front right side brake pads disintegrated. I replaced the rotors and the pads and replaced the pins in the caliper because they were corroded. It was my first time doing brakes, so it took a while, but it went well. I know what you’re all thinking – it’s a deathtrap because he did the brakes wrong, but that’s not it. Just had to put that in because of a comment made later. When I first bought the car I had to have the alternator replaced, and when that was being done the shop told me that I had to have my front axle assemblies replaced soon. I had one done then and decided to wait on the other. Well, in the last week and a half the other side CV joint (which is part of the axle assembly) started making clicking noises as I made turns, which (according to a coworker) was a sign that it needed to be replaced. That’s only about a $250 repair, so I wasn’t too upset about it. Not that I have an extra $250 lying around, but it could have been worse. Of course, I couldn’t have any work done until I was paid, so I was hoping that the car would make it until then.

It did, but in that time the symptoms got worse. The car started vibrating as I drove (not the vibrating you get at certain speeds if your wheels aren’t balanced correctly, but a constant vibration. It was annoying because it vibrated just enough as I was driving to tickle my nose – that’s torture. On Monday I made an appointment to get the work done the next day. I went out to my car to drive home and something caught my eye. I was looking at the front left tire (the side that needed the new CV joint) and something just didn’t look right. The tire looked, well, bent. A whole section of the tire was bulging out and the tread had been nearly worn away at that point. The bulge was about 8 inches of the tire. So now I was going to need two new tires (since the tires were old enough that you can’t just replace one). The next morning I drove to the shop to drop my car off. I showed the person who was picking me up the tire and they looked at me like I was crazy. The bulge was on the bottom against the ground this time, but it was still apparent.

He said that a couple of bands inside the tire must have broken and that was what was causing the tire to bulge. He also told me that this is a very dangerous condition because the tire can just catastrophically fail – he described it as “disintegrate”. A front tire disintegrating at 75 mph on the highway in the kind of traffic I see could have been fatal.

Later on I got a call from the shop about what needed to be done. The first thing he told me was that I’d need two new tires. He told me that there was no choice here because I was showing steel on the front left tire. This had not been the case the night before, and I’ve since found out that a tire in that condition will wear extremely fast. I guess this one did. He also asked about the power steering. He was surprised that I’d been driving the car without it. I’ve driven cars without power steering before, but it’s a lot different than driving a car that has power steering that’s failed. Steering this car is a LOT harder than steering a car designed to be driven without power steering. He told me he could run a belt to give me back power steering by not including the AC compressor (somebody had left a comment about this months ago), so I told him to do that too.

The repairs came to a total of $578. Good thing I got paid. The only one I could have skipped was the power steering, and that was only $59. The car is unbelievably easier to steer now. I could literally make all my turns just using my pinky finger. It seems like it’s much easier than before it broke, but that may be my imagination. It’s amazing how much nicer it is to drive now. No vibration, the car is quieter and it’s just easier to drive. And it’s not a deathtrap anymore.