My Weekend

I love long drives.  Especially long drives with no real destination and no time limits at all.  And since I’m temporarily (?) relocated 170 miles from my home-home, I have an added bonus that makes it much, much more interesting: I can drive in just about any direction and see landscape that I’ve never seen before.

Here in central Pennsylvania, there are some decent mountains.  Now I’ve been out west once, and the mountains here aren’t THAT decent, but they’re much better than the mountains in the Philly suburbs where I really live.  It’s an amazing thing to watch the daylight recede behind a range of mountains, where there’s a soft and fading blueish glow above the ridge, and it’s pure darkness below.  And there’s one stretch of road out here that I’ve driven that’s in the valley between two parallel mountain ranges.  It’s so sparsely populated, and driving that at night, it’s almost pitch black on either side, with a bright sky full of stars overhead.

Last night I went for a drive in the general direction of Montoursville, which is about 60 miles away.  There’s a bike shop there, one of the few shops in PA that sells Kona bikes, and of those the closest one to me.  I knew it wasn’t open, but I felt like going for a long drive, and figured I’d drive by and get a feel for where it’s at before going there one day this week during business hours.

The road from here to there is route 220, and I love that road.  It’s got an alternate route that’s only two lanes, with so much interesting mountainous landscape.  I set out, hit "random" on the stereo, and it picked "Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo" by MxPx.  I got that album almost six years ago, and was crazy about it for a long time, but for the past couple years I listened to it less frequently.  But it was perfect for last night.  I was feeling really melancholy and thinking of a musical selection to match, but this album is pretty upbeat (it’s pop-punk after all).  But the lyrics are also really introspective and some of them are pretty sad.  It fit.  "My words don’t come out easily, so I will tell you honestly... no one wants to spend eternity alone."

It was almost dusk when I left at quarter after seven, still completely light but fading, and it got dark 15 or 20 miles into the trip.  Route 220 eventually turns into a four-lane that’s 65MPH, and it was dark by then.  Driving 70 MPH (much slower than most of the traffic -- this was a drive for the sake of the drive, remember), I saw for a split second what appeared to be a raccoon walking across the road in front of me.  Another split second later I hit it, and it went right under my car.  I was fairly mortified since the biggest thing I’d hit before was a squirrel or rabbit, and this thing was about the size of an smallish-average dog.

Well about two minutes later, my radiator fluid light came on, indicating that the level was too low.  I took the next exit and pulled into a gas station, which was maybe 5 miles from where I hit the ’coon.  In that time, the engine temperature didn’t rise at all; the guage stayed right in the center, at 190 degrees, where it always is.  I looked under the car, and it was dripping from everywhere.  The radiator fluid reserve tank -- the one that never needs refilling under normal circumstances -- was empty.  I read through my owner’s manual a little, called my parents, and looked around under the hood, but couldn’t see where the source of the leak was.  The red radiator fluid was sprayed or pooling all over in the bottom of the front driver’s-side of the engine compartment.

I needed water.  Gallons.  This little Citgo gas station didn’t have gallons, just 1-liter bottles of spring water for $1.85 each.  I bought 11 of them.  I poured three and a half of them into the reserve tank, at which point it filled up.  After about 45 minutes of talking with my parents and assessing the situation, and realizing that there was a truck stop about 5 miles back toward home, I decided to drive back.  The engine temperature hadn’t risen at all, so I figured the radiator had to be holding some amount of water.  Right after I got back on the road, the fluid-level light came on again, but still the temperature didn’t rise at all.

At the truck stop, there’s a 24-hour service station but only for trucks.  But the guy was nice enough to come out to the parking lot and look under my hood, and got on the ground and was looking under there too.  He couldn’t tell where the leak was.  He sold me a $3 bottle of "radiator stop" but it didn’t.  Went right through with all the water we poured in after it.  So either there’s a big crack/hole, or a hose came off, or something, but dude couldn’t figure it out, and I sure couldn’t.

Here, they actually had gallons of spring water, so I bought two, which brought my total to about four.  I knew there were a couple stores in the 30 miles between there and home, so I decided to give it a try.

I didn’t push the engine much above 2200 rpm, which limited me to 45 mph (in a 65).  I coasted all the downhills.  I stopped every five miles to pour a gallon of water through and let the engine sit for ten minutes.  The whole time, the engine temperature didn’t rise at all, and the radiator didn’t steam until I stopped and poured some water in, and even then it didn’t steam much.  I’d pour about half a gallon in, and it would hold it.  But just above that amount, the radiator made a sound as if it was throwing up, and forcefully expelled all the water out the bottom of it onto the ground.  Then the radiator fans would turn on, and the other half-gallon seemed to pour almost straight through.

I got home that way in about an hour and a half, with no (other) problems.  Konstantin is one of those fix-the-car-himself kind of guys, so he’s going to look at it tomorrow, and unless he can figure it out, I’m taking Golfy to the radiator shop.  Fortunately for him there’s one in town that "specializes in Volvo - VW - Audi" repairs.  He so hates being treated like he’s on the same level as the other kinds of cars on the road.

Posted by Anthony on 6 replies


01. Sep 22, 2003 at 12:40pm by Mark:

That’s beat street.  So was it the racoon that did the damage.  If so that one way to get back at someone for running you over.  Also was your dad mad at the racoon for darting out into the road?

02. Sep 22, 2003 at 01:04pm by Konstantin:

Tell me one thing I am really worried about: is the racoon OK?  Did you notify PETA of such an unfortunately horrible loss?

03. Sep 22, 2003 at 05:43pm by Anthony:

Dogg, the raccoon definitely did the damage.  Some animals just can’t take a joke, you know?  Anyway, what was he doing walking gingerly across a 65 mph road?  That’s what I want to know.  Can’t he read?  65 == way too fast for safe raccoon travel, obviously.

And no, Konst, I didn’t notify wackjobs-R-us PETA.

I did, however, find this in the dictionary:

1 a : a small nocturnal carnivore (Procyon lotor) of No. America that is chiefly gray, has a black mask and bushy ringed tail, lives chiefly in trees, and has a varied diet including small animals, fruits, nuts, and radiators b : the pelt of this animal

I had no idea.

Anyway, I took it to a local shop (Peake’s Auto Repair) and the guy says it needs to be replaced.  Total cost, including labor and the labor he’s already done to determine the problem/solution, is just under $500.  You have to take the whole front end off the car to replace the radiator, so most of the cost comes from the labor (he said).  I also apparently need a new serpentine belt, in a bad way, which is quite ridiculous considering that I just had a VW dealer do a check-up 2 months ago, and they didn’t mention it at all.

I called another local shop to compare the price, and the guy said the same thing about removing the front end, and costing a lot of labor, and he said $220 for the radiator itself.  So that lines up.  I also called a local VW dealer.  They said $80 for labor and $320 for the radiator.  That lines up on the bottom line, but it’s reversed.  My dad says it’s because dealers lie through their teeth by saying the parts are much more expensive than they really are, in order to try and hide the high labor costs.

But my insurance is covering it, minus the $100 deductible and $85 for something-or-other else.  $185 isn’t bad at all.  Well, except when you consider that I need to pay this money because my poor car got assaulted by a large carnivorous rodent.

Oh, and the insurance claims guy asked me if anyone was injured in the accident.  I replied, "No humans."  I’m so witty.

04. Sep 22, 2003 at 09:27pm by Mom:

’...Anyway, I took it to a local shop (Peake’s Auto Repair) and the guy says it needs to be replaced’.  The raccoon????

05. Sep 23, 2003 at 07:23pm by Anthony:

I think the raccoon needs a lot more than replacing at this point.

06. Sep 25, 2003 at 01:16am by *amanda*:

Funny you should find out you needed a new serpentine belt... because it reminds me of my own strange car story.

The day before I was scheduled to take the FE exam, I decided to drive into town and get a haircut.  The night before, I had come home rather late after a band rehearsal, no problems with the car.  But after I backed up my car and started to take off down the driveway, something was clearly not right: I couldn’t hardly turn the steering wheel.  So I shut off the engine, applied the brake, and hopped out to look under the hood.  I couldn’t see a thing wrong, and the power steering fluid was alright.  I decided to try and make it to my dad’s shop a mile away.

There we discovered that the serpentine belt was mangled beyond belief.  But after peering around with the flashlight and checking the manual, we determined that nothing  vital was running on that belt, such as the all important water pump.  So I drove it on into town to the local garage.

They didn’t want to fix it that day, but I looked sad and said I needed to go to Grand Rapids the next day, so they squeezed me in.  A few hours later the mechanic presented me with a chipmunk.  So, there you go!  Small animals...

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