Saturday, February 09, 2008

It all started with over-heating ...

Normally I don't pay attention to the temperature gage in the car while driving. And that habit has not caused any undue dent in my wallet due to an overheated engine. Then last Monday when coming home from work, my eyes sort of just glanced at the dashboard to make sure that I wasn't moving too fast along Fowler, and my peripheral vision caught the upward pointing temperature indicator, seemingly inching toward the big red “H” (for hot). Its normal position is a horizontal one between C (for cold) and H, at 3 o'clock.

I was only another 2 miles or so from home. But after debating for a while at a red light, prudence got the better of me and I drove into the parking lot of CVS next to the traffic junction. After calling in to AAA for a towing service to home (it was past 7pm and too late to be towed to a Toyota Service Center which I intended to do the next morning), I released the latch at the bonnet to lift up the top to help cool down the engine. The cap and the rubber tubing felt hot, but no sound of sizzling steam. I had an urge to open up the cap but heeded the warning thereon not to open it when the engine is hot.

But that did not stop my diagnostic mission, armed with more than 30 years of driving experience that included a few run-ins with radiator and fan belt problems. I did not detect any leakage from the radiator, but noticed that the fans did not turn when I started the engine (I kind of recall that the fans are activated on a time delay switch or a thermostat control).

The fact that no leakage was detected led to my conclusion that the radiator was probably still full, and the overly high temperature could be due to some kind of electrical fault that stalled the fans. I rationalized further that if the engine had cooled down somewhat, then I should have a legitimate shot at a two-minute dash (well-timed that the 5 traffic lights along the way are all green, with a stroke of luck) for home.

By then more than half an hour has passed and the tow truck had yet to show up (the AAA lady promised help within an hour but she was silent on what recourse I could have should the tow truck fail to materialize. Incidentally, she told me that as part of my AAA basic membership, I'm entitled to a free 5-mile towing assistance to which I answered confidently, no problem, since I know the area territory well and am pretty sure that it is definitely within the distance.)

Being sure that my logical deduction was foolproof, I put my plan to the test, but not before I touched the rubber tubing again and felt that indeed it had cooled down somewhat. I figured that I might save a few seconds of cooling by switching off the engine at the traffic lights, a rather dumb move on hindsight. I had one eye on the road, and the other on the ever-inching up temperature indicator on the dashboard.

And I did switch off the engine at the last traffic light, knowing that the left turn signal there would take a while to turn green from my experience. And I nearly panicked when the engine just gave a soft thud when I turned on the ignition. Another turn, another soft thud. What the ... Did the car just give up on me because I decided to push it a bit? Then I realized that the car is an automatic automobile, meaning that the engine will only start when the stick is in the park position, a safety feature that may bring chagrin to one used to driving the “stick shift”. Just an indication of how simple maneuvers can elude us in a moment of agitation.

After turning into the parking lot in front of my apartment, and noticing that the temperature indicator was at the two o'clock position, I called AAA to cancel my service request, saving the free towing service for another day.

Having learned my judgment on the previous night to be well-founded, I drove again next morning to the nearby Toyota Service Center, another two-minute's drive. This was my first trip to the Toyota of Tampa dealer on Fletcher since the previous service of my Siena has always been handled by Stadium Toyota where I bought the minivan from on Dale Mabry. But that is a good 12 miles away and what with the morning rush hour, it would certainly be stretching a bit if I were to destine for it.

The lady who greeted me at the counter, Deborah (it says on the counter), was very courteous and helpful, and offered several other alternatives of the overheating problem that I had not thought before: faulty water pump, leaking coolant storage. Then she gave me an upfront estimate of $89, should those be the problems. Throw in a 10% discount for AAA membership (another fringe benefit in addition to free roadside assistance). I like this practice of giving the customers a kind of ceiling repair bill, helping to overcome the anxiety of chalking a huge cost.

I waited for the next half hour at the waiting lounge while the mechanics went over my car, possibly with a fine toothed comb.

The sofa seats were comfortable, not too crowded, arranged to face a large screen thin TV that displayed very clear image (HDTV?). It was on Fox News Channel and the hosts were talking about the Super Tuesday of the twin-track race for the presidential nominees from the Republican and Democrats parties. The sound volume was set at an unobtrusive level, just loud enough to be heard from the furthest seats away.

I had actually started reading a book that I had brought along, a habit cultivated in anticipation of the long wait, having undergone numerous such occasions including wify's shopping stints (note that I did not say sprees, meaning such outings are well-controlled and not impulsively long-drawn affairs) as dutiful husbands do. The book was The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci (Penguin Group, 2007). But it lasted till the Preface by His Holiness the Dalai Lama only before I was drawn to the intrigue of the election heat unfolding on the TV. The segment was called You Decide 2008 with random interviews with various people including those on the street. Occasionally, there were news flashes on the results of various national polls, each attempting to dissect the conventional wisdoms of the day in an effort to distill the latest on who the front-runners and the laggards are.

I don't normally follow these political developments consciously, save when I happen to be in the right place at the right time, and in the right mood. I guess that Tuesday morning everything just kind of conspired to making me watch the TV broadcast. I recall watching on C-Span, another random event when I was channel-surfing, last Sunday that Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey were there on stage at the UCLA campus, toasting Michelle Obama. Then Maria had just waltzed up to the stage, her natural face literally lit up when talking about women exercising independent choice, an apparent departure from her Republican husband, Arnold, the action hero-turned Governor of California who has endorsed John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, just days before.

Then on the same day, the St. Pete Times published a letter endorsing Obama by the US Nobel Laureate in Literature, Toni Morrison. In her letter to the Illinois Senator, she writes:

"In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom.”

Now that's wisdom perhaps in the conventional sense that is often found wanting in politicians, but is an endearing, and often defining, quality in a statesman. Often a statesman seen as so during the runup to the political office can quickly transform into a politician where incumbency demands expediency, often politically motivated, and one that trumps everything else, including those that wisdom would dictate. Power really corrupts, and the absolutes ones, absolutely. I just hope her glowing accolades are not misplaced. And that's as much of my two cents worth of political astuteness that I would like to dispense.

Another newsbit was that there are six millions eligible voters from overseas. That reminded me of my own status in the coming general election in Malaysia this year. That I need to find out about absentee voting.

Anyway, back to the Toyota Service Center. It also provides free shuttle service to downtown in addition to complimentary coffee. I wonder whether these are also the general fare in Malaysia, which I did not avail of when I was there.

Then Deborah came back with some good news. Apparently there was a leak from the coolant piping near the chassis that is part of warranty, which means I do not have to pay for the part. But the part would only arrive after tomorrow. But she assured me that the technician had topped up the coolant container and that it being a slow leak, it would tide me over for at least a couple of days' of driving.

Thus assured, I left the Toyota Service Center, with a promise to return two days' later for the replacement. And that should be good for another blog.


Kitty Girl said...

Hmm, perhaps I should look into joining AAA as well... As for the political stuff, what exciting times for Americans! There's a black man and a woman--although I am not eligible to vote, I will be very excited to see who the new President is.

Say Lee said...

You should. It's the best deal for us who know next to nothing about car maintenance. FYI, Malaysian elections will be held on March 8, which also happens to be the International Woman's Day.