Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How I Almost Blew Up My Car, But Not Really

Technically, I didn't have a "first car," in the sense that the Roadrunner belonged to my parents and was mainly designated the "college car"--i.e., for use by the children in college. On the other hand, I was the only kid in college, and watching my sister drive it when I was home on breaks was an exercise in self-restraint because my precious is in the hands of another.

The Roadrunner, so named because of its pathetically wimpy "meep meep"-sounding horn, was a 2002 Toyota Corolla. Prior to its acquisition, I was of the strong opinion that I would prefer to drive a minivan (which I learned to drive in) for the rest of my life. That went out the window when I discovered the tighter turn radius made a three-point turn into no more than two points.

The Roadrunner was awesome. My school was an 11-hour drive from home, more than 1300 miles round-trip, and I could get nearly 40 mpg on the freeway for most of that. Gas milage, quickness, room for had only one downside: it ate oil faster than college students eat, well, anything. It didn't leak, but I was having to put in two quarts a month, at least, and made sure I did about a week or so before one of the breaks my freshman year.

Something that doesn't seem related, but really is: I can be very forgetful. For most things, I keep a planner and so life doesn't generally go awry, because the planner keeps track of definite things AND things that are only a possibility AND how to do everything associated with them.

So it's once again time to trek home. Over 600 miles, but I make it. The car is used for normal around-town trips, and it's several days later that I notice it's starting to smell funky. Dangerously funky, in a burned kind of way. I'm afraid that driving five miles from the craft store will be time enough for the engine to blow up and kill me.

Ready to duck and cover if this somehow sets off an explosion, I open the hood.

And discover the oil cap sitting on top of the engine while everything surrounding it is covered in a fine layer of black.

I've been driving around for two weeks without a cap on the oil.

Despite the fact that ten more minutes driving home will probably not do that much more harm, all things considered (re: 11-hour drive home), this calls for a minor freak out in the craft store parking lot the involves lots and lots of paper towels from the store's bathroom and calling my dad on the phone, because dads fix everything.

When I was reassured that so long as the car had enough oil (it did, though it ate it like a speed demon soon after) and I'd cleaned up what I could (there were not enough paper towels in the world), then the smell would linger but it was just the excess oil burning off and was harmless. Yes, harmless. Yes, that means no harm. It's safe to drive and will absolutely not blow up, Kayto, you are fine and stop being a wimp.

And that's when I started checking every gauge on my car obsessively forever after.

The moral of the story is obvious: even if your car is awesome, it will still find ways to mess with you because cars are like cats that way. They even start with the same two letters.

Also like some cats, the Roadrunner came to an untimely, crunchy end, but that's a different story.

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