7 Stages Of Greaser Grief

If it ain’t broke, it will be.

I heard it happen, a sound—a wrong sound, but it was early and I was almost to the office and I really didn’t want to pull off the freeway for no reason. A lane change clued me in; I had no steering assist, and in the seconds it took me to process that, the temp needle buried itself to the right. Crap. I made it to the shoulder and turned off the car. It had been so long since I’d had a non-race-related breakdown that I couldn’t even remember the proper procedures—something I used to know by heart with my old, more breakdown-prone car. It didn’t take more than a second under the hood to see the damage: one fan belt wrapped completely around the fan shaft, the rest hanging loosely around the pulleys. A tougher gal might have tried to bump the remaining belts back in place, but I’m fond of my fingers and not at my most nimble at 6 a.m. I called a tow truck. While waiting for rescue, I found myself going through a series of moods psychologists refer to as the seven stages of grief.

01] Shock and Denial: “Maybe the belt is still good. Maybe I can reattach it with something I have in the trunk…maybe this paper towel, a hairband, and some gum.”

02] Pain and Guilt: “My poor engine, I’ve blown the head gasket—I know it, I’m a bad person, I should have pulled over sooner, I should have changed the belts, I should leave it in the garage and drive a Toyota.”

03] Anger and Bargaining: “This sucks! Pleeeease don’t let the engine be blown up. I’ll never do burnouts in the fast-food drive-through again.”

04] Depression, Reflection, Loneliness: “Look at all those people just driving by…nobody cares. I’ll sit here at the La Tijera Blvd. exit of the 405 for the rest of my life. I really wish I had some coffee.”

At this point, the LA freeway rescue came by. This is a state program of tow trucks that move stalled cars off the freeway to wait for a real tow truck from the safety of the streets. As I sat in the cab and watched the driver winch up my ’70 Challenger, I listened to the dispatcher on the radio: “…blue sedan on shoulder southbound…” Ha-ha, poor sucker…oh wait, dammit.

Once I was off the freeway, things began to look up. For one thing, I got some coffee, and my tow arrived. I was finally on the upslope of grief management.

05] The Upward Turn: “The engine is probably fine. It wasn’t on fire at least.”

06] Reconstruction and Working Through: “I think the engine is fine, but if it’s not, maybe I could start work on that aluminum stroker-motor plan.”

07] Acceptance and Hope: “It was just a belt, I’ll get a set on the way home. Hmmm, I hope I can get a ride home.”

The reality is, there’s no way to drive anything without eventually having some sort of mishap; most of the cars being discussed over the tow truck’s radio were new models with flat tires or out of gas. All you can do is be aware of changes in the sound, in the gauge readings, and in the feel of your car. If you drive it often, you’ll know what is normal. Finally, have a calm plan to get to a safe stopping place should something go wrong.

It doesn’t hurt to occasionally change the belts, too.

Something to Say?

4 thoughts on “7 Stages Of Greaser Grief

  1. Mine was on I-5 between the rest stop and Buttonwillow. I know those stages well. Turns out the difference between 15 mpg and 12 mpg is about 3 miles. This also happened to be the distance it was to the next gas station. Yeah, I should have fixed the gas gauge before heading off on a 400 mile road trip. The funny thing is, on other side of the highway I could see a steady flow of guy’s going home after the King of Hammers., taunting me.

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  2. Then there’s the flipside, where you know EXACTLY what is happening.

    I was travelling to my parents, and they were in the car. (They had brought my weekend toy back up to me because I had to do some work on the car I was driving). I had just done a full ignition tuneup, valve adjustment, changed the oil, and fixed a ground issue. There was some roadwork over the mountain road (the kind that makes the road one lane in the middle of nowhere with a stoplight). I had a lean fuel bank engine code, and the fuel filter on the back seat next to my mother to replace when we got home.

    The light turns green, and I give her a little gas and let off the clutch, and the car won’t move. It’s barely running. There is no cell service on this mountain, and getting stranded in my pavement princess with my parents is the LAST thing I want to happen, so I put the car in 2nd gear and punch it. I don’t shift past 4th the entire remaining hour home.

    I remove the factory fuel filter and it has brown coming out the upstream side. Yuuuuuck! Then when I put the new filter in, it’s puking all over the garage. My best friend and I take it off and put a different brand one on 4 different times before I realize whoever made the pipe flare at the factory had NO IDEA what they were doing. The basically half-heartedly made the flare then overtorqued the filter on to keep it from leaking. (I had to use a 2 foot breaker bar and a crowsfoot to get it off). Of course, the flaring tool won’t fit down in there. I had to cut the pipe a foot upstream of the filter (the point at which my buddy says “we’re Roadkilling it now!”), repair the flare on the bench, and then use a compression fitting to put it back.

    An almost stranded experience, with a change that took way longer than it was supposed to. But hey, it’s part of the car culture!

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  3. I’m not sure if you had a video camera when this happened but I could almost swear to seeing this on video somewhere. Maybe I read about this story before and your description was so vivid, it was almost like being there.
    I’ve had some break downs in my time, some humiliating. It’s all part of the driving experience.

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