Stress, Car Trouble, and Bike Commuting

I have been feeling a little stressed over the past few weeks. Some of it is normal holiday stuff, like hosting Thanksgiving at our place. Much of the stress has been car related. Just before Thanksgiving both of our cars broke down at the same time.

Two Cars Down = No Transportation

Dream’s car broke down on a Saturday as we were headed to Outback Steakhouse to enjoy a nice dinner paid for by a gift card we had received from a friend. During the drive we smelled something stinky. We both have a pet peeve about stinky cars, we call them stinkholes, and we hate getting stuck behind them. I zipped around the car I suspected as being stinky, and the smell didn’t go away. As I slowed for an upcoming traffic light, I saw some smoke rising from our hood. I realized I was the stinky one and quickly pulled over to investigate.

I saw some coolant running out of the overflow for the radiator. I checked the temp gauge and saw that the car was indeed running hot. I pulled off the street and into a parking lot. Determining that we shouldn’t drive it any further, we altered our dinner plans to eat at the Zaxbys across the street and called Dream’s father for a ride home.

It was getting late so I decided to wait until morning to get it towed to our mechanic. Sunday morning I drove my Jeep to meet the tow truck driver. We have AAA so the tow is included in our membership.  The driver arrived within 45 minutes and we got her car towed to the mechanic.

On Monday morning I went out to start my Jeep and nothing happened. I turned the key and got nothing but a clicking sound. I thought it might be a dead battery as I had to get jump started a week before when I had left the dome light on overnight. Since Dream’s car was still in the shop that left us without a vehicle.

On top of all that, my bike had gotten another flat tire, the second in the same week. That really left us without transportation. Dream doesn’t work on Mondays and I was able to work from home. After work Dream’s father came over and we tried to jump start the Jeep. No dice, it wouldn’t start even with a jump.

I figured it was likely the starter. Dream’s father drives a work van for his job, so he let us borrow his pickup truck so I could get to the auto parts store in the morning. I decided to take a vacation day on Tuesday to take care of the Jeep.

It ended up being a dead starter. Luckily this is an easy item to replace on the Jeep, so I did it myself. Cost was $140 for the starter and about 45 minutes of my time. It was a relief to have at least one vehicle running again.

Meanwhile Dream’s car problems were diagnosed and repairs started. The overheating problem ended up being a failed water pump, which on this car, is behind the timing belt cover and very difficult to get to. The stinky smell was an idler pulley on the timing belt that froze up and nearly shredded the timing belt. We were lucky the timing belt didn’t break. I’m not sure if the water pump caused this or if we were just lucky that it happened at the same time. The end result was $1200 in parts and labor.

Every month we set aside $200 into a savings account we deemed as our new car fund. We know her car will need to be replaced eventually, so we’re trying to save up so we can pay with cash. We had to take money from the new car fund to pay for our existing car troubles. While it’s disappointing to have to use money from that account, I’m glad that we had the money available to use.

By the Wednesday before Thanksgiving we had both cars operational and were able to get our food shopping done before the big day. Hosting Thanksgiving went well as I discussed in this post.

Trouble Again

On the Monday after Thanksgiving I was thinking about bicycle commuting. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep doing it. The colder weather put a damper on the fun factor and the time savings from driving gave me an extra 40 minutes in the evenings.

If you’ve been following me here for a while you might remember when I was considering selling the house and moving closer to work I put the question out to the universe and looked for signs. On the day I asked the question and drove home pondering it, traffic came to a halt on the Interstate. There was a huge accident that shut down the entire road, and it took me three hours to get home. Signs don’t get much clearer than that.

As I was considering giving up the bike commute, I started the drive home. On my short 15 minute (by car) commute home, a bad accident had shut down the entire road. I detoured but traffic was really bad on the detour due to the main route being shut down. I was on track to get home in about an hour when my Jeep stalled in traffic. I GET IT! I got the sign with the road closure I didn’t need the break down on top of that!

Fate smiled on me ever so slightly as I broke down in front of a Ford dealership and they were nice enough to scan the engine codes at no cost. The codes revealed a bad Crank Position Sensor. I briefly considering having the Ford dealership fix it, but I figured the cost would be too high and instead opted to get it towed to our usual mechanic. If you’re keeping track, that’s three breakdowns and two tows within the span of two weeks.

While the Jeep was in the shop I asked them to take care of an oil leak also, which they determined was due to the oil pan gasket needing to be replaced. The total for the Crank Position Sensor and the Oil Pan Gasket came to just over $500.
That’s $1845 in car repairs for the month. On the bright side of things, we had money to cover it, and everything is running good now.

All Signs Point to Bike Commute

After signs clearly pointing towards getting back to commuting by bicycle, I needed to fix my flat tire. I have gotten entirely too many flat tires in the past six months, so something had to be done. I attempted to remedy this a few months ago by adding some puncture resistant strips. The strips go between the tire and the tube. Even with these I was still getting flats.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and order some puncture resistant tires. I did my research and settled on Continental Gatorskins. Amazon had them in the size I needed for $40 each. I also ordered some better tubes and a new bike pump.

The tubes I had been using were ones the bike shop gave me for free if I paid for the labor to change them. I suspect the cheap tubes may have contributed to the high number of flats, so I upgraded to some Michelin tubes that had good reviews on Amazon.

For airing up my tires I had been relying on an air pump plugged into my Jeep. This was a bit of a hassle to use so I decided to by a bike specific floor pump. The new pump is much more convenient and I find I’m already using it more to keep my tires at optimum pressure.

I also decided it was time to eliminate bike shop labor from the equation, and I replaced the tubes and tires myself. It was really easy with the small plastic tire tool that I picked up at Target.

The new Gatorskin tires are road tires, which basically have no tread at all. My old tires were more of an all-purpose tire with an all-purpose tread. I am astounded at the difference. The new tires make the bike ride much, much faster.

The new tires really brought the joy back to riding. I no longer feel like I’m slugging along. Instead I’m whisking along at a rapid pace. I had no idea tire choice could make that much difference. Faster and puncture resistant, I’m a happy camper now.

It’s been a stressful few weeks, but I think I’m back on track now.

I hope things have been better, less stressful, and less costly in your life as of late. Thank you to those of you that shared your funny Christmas tree stories in the last post, it really helped brighten my day.


  1. Amy says

    I’m sorry that you’ve had a stressful few weeks. I hate paying for car repairs, luckily we rarely have to do it. If something happens I can usually fix it, unless it’s freezing and then I refuse to do car repairs since we don’t have a garage. We’ve been talking about replacing our van that was totaled 2 years ago recently. I didn’t have a desire to drive again until recently. The idea of buying and dealing with a second car though is not appealing to me at all.

    • says

      Hi Amy,
      Yeah, it’s been a stressful couple of weeks, but I’m hoping most of that is over now. I used to do my own work, but at some point I started letting someone else do it. It all depends on how you balance the time vs. money equation. Like the starter on my Jeep was easy to do myself, but digging in to the timing belt would have taken too much time so I let the mechanic handle that one.

      I sometimes think about getting rid of my Jeep and going down to one car, but I really like driving it, and my daughter and her friends love riding in it. Plus there are many occasions when it’s nice to have two cars, especially if you live in a city that isn’t very walkable and doesn’t have good public transportation.

  2. says

    Oh gosh, car trouble is the worst! We’ve been in a similar boat a lot over the last year since our move. One of our cars actually broke down during the move. We luckily found one mechanic open in this small New Mexico city during Thanksgiving weekend to fix it the same day. Once we got to Austin, our over car’s transmission went out. We then bought a used car off Craiglist and ended up getting massively scammed. We had to do a lot of repairs to get it to pass emissions. Then our other car broke down multiple times requiring many tows (not covered under our bare bones insurance). This last weekend, my husband gave me a list of all of the things he needs to fix on our cars for them to hold out until this summer. It’s a huge $1200. Thankfully, my husband is able to do most the labor himself, so that saves us a huge amount. But it does make me wish we could do the bike thing. Sadly, I don’t see that or even being a one car family anywhere in the near future. We’re just hoping we can keep the cars running long enough until we can sell our house in AZ and use some of that money to buy a new car (or at least one with a good warranty) with cash.

    I’m glad to hear your love of biking has returned, and I hope this is the end of your car troubles for a long time!
    Megyn´s last blog post ..Deception in a Box

    • says

      Hi Megyn,
      Wow, sounds like you’ve had a bad batch of car trouble as well. Breaking down while traveling is stressful. We had to deal with that on a recent trip where we blew a tire and had to find someone open that had the right size tires.

      Doing the work yourself does save a lot of money, I bet that $1200 would double if you took it to a mechanic instead of doing the work yourself.

      I hope things improve and your house gets sold. I hate it when good people go through rough spots like this. I have a feeling the changes you have been making, with the move and everything, will bring better things. :)

  3. says

    Wow Freedom…when the universe responds…IT RESPONDS!!

    Sorry to read about all the transport trouble you’ve been having, but it seems like you’ve gotten back on track. I’m curious as to how those new tires and tubes will work out for ya. Keep us posted please.

    It’s moments like yours when I am glad that i don’t own a car. While I get how convenient they are and how, if you have a big family, they can come in handy for “bussing” people around, it’s just that I find them too be too much of a hassle…and an expensive hassle at that. No judging…just sayin’ is all :)

    Take care and my best to all.

    lyle @ the Joy of Simple´s last blog post ..The Joy Of Simple Gift Giving

  4. says

    My hubby hasn’t been biking to work lately. The ride home would be in the dark and a couple of the roads just aren’t safe at night. However, I’m going to mention those tires to him. He does most of his own repair work on his bike (and mine) and he too has had a number of flats lately. I think it’s just ‘stuff’ on the roads.

    I’m sorry for all your car woes. Hope it’s not catching!

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