Good Enough

I don’t know how long most people own a car before they reach the point when washing it that they say, “good enough,” but I’ve definitely reached that point with Anderson.

When I first got him, he’d get washed twice a week. Sometimes I’d even get up early, just to do it before heading to work. I’d obsess over every nook and cranny. No streaks were allowed anywhere and he’d get a full waxing every couple months. I’d even jack the car up periodically take the wheels off to clean inside the rims.

But now? This past year or so he’s lucky if he gets washed every two months. I just want to get the dirt off. Every nook and cranny does not get obsessed over. I still want it to look nice, but let’s face it: Anderson is eleven years old and no matter what I do he’s showing his age. Because of the way I get in and out of my car, the driver side upholstery is in tatters (happens with every car I’ve owned). The one headlight that wasn’t replaced five years ago has completely oxidized. All the black plastic trim has faded beyond repair, and the black rubber gaskets at the base of the windows are revealing themselves to be black rubber paint on top of metal frames. So that’s why today, after wetting the car down, doing a quick wash, rinse and dry followed by an equally-quick once-over of the interior I announced “Good enough!” and packed it in.

Well That’s Unfortunate

I took Anderson into the MINI dealer yesterday to have some recall work done (the passenger seat air bag sensor that’s been wonky for the last six years). While the recall repair didn’t cost me a dime, I got the car back with a multi-page list of recommended repairs. Thankfully, none of them were critical, and all the major mechanical systems were in good shape. But still, the total (should I win the lottery and decide to have the work done) for all the recommended repairs came to a whopping $3400. Even if I were working, this would still have given me pause.

Curiosity drove me over to the Edmunds Blue Book site to see what the car was actually worth at this point, and I came away severely disillusioned; it came in at $164 less than the cost of repairs.

Before I left the dealer, I asked the Service Manager about two cosmetic items that didn’t appear on the estimate: the passenger headlight lens and the driver’s side seat cover.  The passenger headlight lens has gotten severely oxidized over the last two years. I tried buffing it out myself with one of those $25 kits a little over a year ago, but the results were…disappointing. But yes, the dealer had some voodoo magic capable of bringing it back to like new for a meager $40-60. The other item was the rapidly disintegrating edge of the driver’s side seat cover. Because of the way I get into and out of the vehicle, this has been an issue with every car I’ve owned; the difference being the damage is much more extensive this time because of the mileage I’ve racked up on Anderson. I paid a premium for leather seats in the last couple cars I’ve owned, erroneously believing that the leather would handle the abuse a bit better. (Hint: it doesn’t.)

The Service Manager suggested getting the seat cover done through a local upholstery shop, since because of the age of the car MINI probably wouldn’t have any more in stock and would have to custom fabricate one anyway, making it hella expensive (well over $1000 just for the cover itself, not including installation).

I’m not averse to getting a new MINI as an alternative to shelling out that chunk of change (plus an additional $1600 down the line for a new clutch in about 20K miles) once I’m gainfully employed again—but I’ve enjoyed not having car payments these past couple years, and frankly it’s not going to be easy to say goodbye to lil’ Anderson in any case. We’ve had some grand adventures, and I’ve can honestly say I’ve never bonded with a car the way I have with this one.

So yeah.

All this has done is contribute to what I can only describe as a sense of melancholy that has overtaken me of late. Between this, my recent aborted employment adventure that I had so hoped would be “the one,” some ongoing problems Ben is having with one of his students, the general level of stupidity screeching from a certain portion of the population, and the fact I’m pretty much sleeping like crap every. single.night, I’m feeling drained.

I think Ben and I are both also feeling a little disappointed that our return to Phoenix hasn’t been full of sparkle unicorns shooting rainbows out their asses as we’d hoped. When I start feeling that way however, I have to remind myself that it usually takes a year or so for me to get into the groove of a new place after a move. While Phoenix isn’t “new” to me per se, relocation is still considered a major life change and stress producer.

At least it’s finally cooled down and we can turn off the air conditioning for the year.

How’s that for a non-sequiteur?



I’ve been a very bad boy.

I don’t remember the last time Anderson’s air filter was changed. Probably at Service I (30K miles). I’ve now got more than twice that on the odometer.

Now that I know how ridiculously easy (and inexpensive) it is to change on my own, I’ll be setting up a six-month reminder on my calendar to swap it out.

And the cabin air filter?  Even worse. I knew it was overdue for replacement prior to our relocation to Denver, but I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and…

Ugh. I can’t believe we’ve been breathing through this.  Again, ridiculously easy to change. I should’ve done it a year two years ago.


Back in June when my clutch went out, the shop also informed me that I had a small power steering fluid leak and that the front control arm bushings were shot and needed to be replaced. Neither item was critical or had to be done immediately, so since it happened right before we were scheduled to leave Arizona and I really didn’t have the extra cash, I put off getting the work done.

This past Christmas, Ben gave me $250 to cover the deductible on my mechanical breakdown insurance to get the bushings repaired (I figured I could keep topping off the power steering fluid), and yesterday I took the car in.

Of course, the appointment was on the one day this week that snow was predicted.  Of course. Right after I vowed that the next time the white stuff was scheduled to fall I would leave the car at home and take public transit.  Still, I wasn’t too concerned; the forecast was for only 1-2 inches. When I got up at 5 am, it was just starting to come down, and it really didn’t look so bad.

By the time I left the house an hour later however, it was coming down hard, and of course nothing had been plowed—as usual.

While I was at least able to get out onto Colorado Boulevard this time without getting stuck, it was still white-knuckle driving all the way to the shop in Littleton.  In fact, after I’d arrived and pulled into the parking lot, my hands were shaking so badly I could barely text Ben to let him know I’d gotten there safely. (I don’t think I am ever going to get used to driving in snow.)

Originally I’d scheduled a loaner for the day, but at that point there was NO WAY I was doing any more driving that day—especially in a car I was completely unfamiliar with. The dealer shuttle was already on its way downtown (not the way I needed to go), so my service advisor had one of his assistants take me to work. (Totally unexpected, but that alone earned my loyalty to Ralph Schomp MINI.)

The snow continued to fall during the day. 1-2 inches my ass. That much had fallen before I’d even left the house that morning.  And I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was when the shop called and told me they’d have to keep the car overnight. I’d be taking public transit home and back to work in the morning.

While the snow had pretty much stopped by the time I left work, it was now bitterly cold, and while I enjoyed the walk from work to the train station (about the same distance I used to walk from my last apartment in San Francisco to the Castro MUNI), the one thought I kept having was, “Forget the cap tomorrow. Wear your damn beanie!”

My bus/train commute this morning was very pleasant. There were a lot fewer people than I’d expected and I had a seat the entire way.  Amazingly, I only left about fifteen minutes earlier than usual and got to work at the same time I normally do.

I’m seriously considering doing this more often—and not only when it snows.  In fact, even though it’s supposed to be clear through the first of next week, if I didn’t have to go to the bank at lunch tomorrow to deposit my first pay check as an employee, I’d take the bus/train again.

So, $315 later, I have the car back with the two items from last June’s to-do list done. (I ended up paying about $60 out of pocket for the power steering leak to be repaired; if I’d known back in June it was only going to be that much—maybe I did; I was pretty freaked out over the clutch at the time—I would’ve gotten it fixed then.)

Of course they found two more items that now need attention: there’s a crack at the top of the front passenger side strut, and there’s a slow coolant leak (which I already knew about) from the thermostat. Replacing the strut is the next thing to be done; thankfully it too falls under my insurance. The coolant I’ll just keep topped off until I have the money (less than my deductible) to get that fixed. Since the next major expense will be getting the car registered in Colorado, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

And then there’re the two struts that hold up the rear hatch that have completely failed with the onset of cold weather. Fortunately that’s something I can do, and relatively inexpensively.

Anyhow, if you’ve managed to stay awake through this post, you’re entitled to some eye candy:

One of the MINI Advisors. (Unfortunately NOT mine.)

Dodged Another Bullet

Can you see me smiling?

If the original factory warranty has expired on your car and you don’t have an extended warranty, run—do not walk—to your insurance company and get mechanical breakdown coverage if it’s offered.


It turns out it wasn’t a simple repair on the car.  It wasn’t a broken linkage and it wasn’t a blown slave cylinder. It was the entire effing clutch.  But thanks to Geico and a little foresight on my part, what would have been a $1300 expense cost me only $250. Granted, it’s money I still didn’t need to spend, but two fifty is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

Inspection also uncovered a small leak in a power steering hose and that the front bushings need replacement.  Both are also covered under the policy (albeit with a $250 deductible for each) and while they shouldn’t be ignored, neither one was something that had to be repaired before moving to Denver.  Of course the shop also came up with another list of routine maintenance items that total around $1500, but those can be done piecemeal as funds allow.

Interestingly (or not) enough, Anderson is actually driving much better.  The amount of resistance I’m feeling in the pedal is about what it was when I first noticed the problem the other day, but it’s definitely working now, and shifting is so much smoother than previously.  In fact, the amount of force required to depress the pedal previously was not normal.  Go figure.

The shop told me there was .9mm left on the clutch plate; 1.0mm being the spec for replacement.  So yeah, I was overdue.

Now I know that with my particular driving style a MINI Cooper clutch will last approximately 60,000 miles.

Anderson Has Issues

When Ben and I were pulling out of the carport to go to lunch yesterday, I noticed that something was “off” with Anderson’s clutch. At first I didn’t realize what it was, but as we drove out of the apartment complex, I realized there was no resistance as I pushed the pedal down. It was very odd. And while I could still shift gears, it required more force than usual.

I immediately pulled back into the complex and returned to my carport. Low clutch fluid? I thought the MINI had a hydraulic clutch, but I didn’t remember ever seeing a reservoir mentioned in the car’s documentation or seeing one anywhere in the engine compartment. Just to be sure, I popped the hood and looked around. Nope. Only the brake reservoir, and the fluid level in that was fine. (It turns out it’s a shared reservoir system.)

I waited as Ben went back inside to get his keys since he’d be the one driving us to lunch, and all sorts of horrible things started running through my head.  While it was hopefully something as simple as a broken linkage (or perhaps a leaking slave cylinder), what if it was something much, much worse? Anderson’s factory warranty ran out about 5,000 miles ago and visions of dumping all the money I’d put aside for the move to Denver into a very expensive car repair kept flashing before my eyes.  So much for it being a happy birthday.  Of course, on top of everything it was a holiday weekend, so I couldn’t even call the shop to make an appointment to bring it in.

When we got home I went online, and started searching for “MINI clutch pedal no resistance.” It didn’t help my anxiety level one bit. There were two schools of thought: one said bad slave cylinder (apparently they’re all plastic) or broken linkage (both relatively inexpensive to repair) and the other said complete clutch replacement (white knuckle panic attack).

I pulled up my auto insurance policy to verify that I at least had towing covered, so that wouldn’t be an out-of-pocket expense, and—praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster—discovered I had completely forgotten I was also carrying “mechanical breakdown” coverage.  I had added it to the policy a little over a year ago when I realized that Anderson’s factory warranty would be running out in short order and there was no way I was going to pay the outrageous amount quoted for an extended warranty.

I spoke with the insurance company today and I think can relax a bit. Supposedly no matter how bad it is, the most I will have to come up with is the $250 deductible. They said all I had to do was inform the shop I had the coverage, provide them with my insurance policy number and the direct phone line to claims and they’d take care of the rest.

So first thing tomorrow I’m calling for a tow and taking poor ol’ Anderson in to be looked over.

And in the overall scheme of things, it’s better that it happened now and not in two weeks, or—gods forbid—on the way to Denver.