Lemon Aid

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:00 pm

By Debbie Baldwin

I drive a lemon. Let me clarify: According to Webster’s Dictionary, a lemon, in the vehicular sense, is a car that ‘does not work the way it should.’ So, in that sense, my car is a lemon. According to the state of Missouri, however, it is not. Not that I disagree with that. The ‘lemon law’ exists, and is effective because it deals with cars that have more immediate and obvious defects. In other words, the lemon law deals more with car heart attacks—my car has cancer.

Let me be the first to admit that I am not the easiest person on a car. The ‘check engine’ light is more of a guideline than a rule. I once found a Ziplock bag of Cheerios in my tailpipe. A certain car wash politely requested I take my business elsewhere after discovering a somewhat disturbing odor source. So suffice it to say that when the bells and lights on the dash started going off like a winning slot machine urging me, ordering me, to pull over immediately and turn off the engine, I did what any normal woman with a car full of groceries would do: I drove it home and tried not to think about it.

After a quick once-over at the mechanic, I was informed that my little malfunction actually was a big malfunction. Something that apparently is integral to the car’s operations was dead, and the repair would cost several thousand dollars. Now I am hardly a nitpicker. If I’m overcharged at the grocery store, so be it, but $3,000 is a pretty big nit. So, at the urging of my mechanic, I called the manufacturer. What could go wrong there? Surprisingly, they were willing to help. In fact, there was a chain of command already in place for just such situations (something that perhaps should have concerned me, but didn’t), and they were going to cover a substantial portion of the work. Sure, I was still writing a four-figure check at the end of the day, but it seemed like something that it was less than I originally thought. It’s the same reason I’m a sucker for sales.

Things seemed dandy with my then 5-year-old car. The dash board would warn me to get gas, the radio scrolled the band that was playing, the seat warmer toasted my back nicely. Then…the slot machine again, warning after warning, alarm after alarm. If it hadn’t been so sluggish, I would have worried it was going to blow up. Well, I’d already had the big repair, so how bad could it be this time? 

A new engine? What else is under the hood? (I would find out soon enough). My engine, as it turns out, was sludgy–not to be confused with sluggish, which apparently is survivable. Sludgy is bad, very bad–$7,800-and-some-change bad. This time, when I called the very nice lady who had been so generous with her employer’s funds the last time, I was rebuffed, decisively and with prejudice. She rejected my plea as she read from the prompts in her customer-service manual. (When I may or may not have threatened to come to her house, she re-read the canned response, so I thought it best to end the call.)

So I replaced the engine. It was a small fortune, but it was still less than a new car. Now my 6-year-old car has a brand-spanking new engine. At least I will have a newish car. I mean everything that could break has broken. Cranky even pulled off a windshield wiper over the summer. For the most part, I should be good to go, literally.

Apparently, there is this thing called the transmission. It makes the car go. According to the mechanic, my transmission looks like the bottom of a junk drawer. He assures me; however, that he thinks my friend up north will be willing to assist with this particular repair and sure enough, they are in for half. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but I assume this particular malfunction is not, shall we say, expected. I’m not sure how taking responsibility for half a defective part makes sense, but if I think too hard about it that little vein that throbs in my forehead will threaten to burst.

So I drive a lemon. When it’s working, I actually like it. I guess that’s all I wanted to say. I won’t buy that brand of car again. That seems to be my only recourse; after all, there aren’t many items one has owned for seven years that can be returned. So, much like the airbag that will no doubt deploy without need or warning, I just wanted to get that off of my chest.