I’m not sure what it is about Flagstaff, Arizona, but there seems to be a car trouble magnet floating around the general vicinity. It seems like a nice town, but we can’t seem to get through there without some sort of road trip malady. Our recent Thanksgiving trip was no exception. Our vehicles are getting older, and I expect things to go wrong from time to time, but when do you know when it’s time to think about a new car?
We’ve only been on the right financial path for a few years, so this is our first foray into owning higher mileage vehicles. Currently our garage holds Jim’s 2006 Toyota Tacoma with about 150K miles and our becoming less trustworty by the moment, 2008 Altima, with just over 130K miles. The Altima is our main travel car because of it’s good gas mileage, and it has a DVD player!
Fred Sanford Would Have Been Proud
Nissans are pretty reliable, and I expect this one to make it to at least 200K miles before we part ways, but it seems to have some sort of problem on most of our road trips these days.
A couple of summers ago, we had transmission problems and had to call the tow truck about 30 miles outside of Flagstaff. This summer, something called a brake switch went out right after we got back from a road trip. Thankfully, that only left me stranded in town and not on the highway somewhere. Our most recent problem was actually quite comical, but annoying nonetheless!
To get to any major city from where we live, you either have to drive across miles of desert or go over several mountain passes. There are lots of places with no cell phone service. On our Thanksgiving trip to Scottsdale, we stopped at a little dot on the map called Tuba City, Arizona, which is right in the middle of the Navajo reservation. The actually have a small grocery store there, and we stopped for some lunch provisions.
It was fairly warm, so we rolled down the car windows while we got lunch in order. When we were ready to head out, one of the back windows would not roll up. After realizing that we did not have the knowledge or tools to manually force it closed, Jim fastened a sheet over the window and like the Clampetts headed to Beverly, we were off. Strangely, I couldn’t stop humming the theme song to Sanford and Son as we went down the highway.
I now know what if must feel like to be a flag on the most windy day as I had to hold one edge of the sheet to keep it from blowing out the
window. I’m sure I have some sort of hearing damage from the noise. To top it off, our daughter got a touch of diarrhea about that time, so we had to stop at every nasty gas station along the way, including the one where the toilet seat was sideways. I had to keep my foot up to hold it in place while she was taking care of business. Let’s just say the 73 miles to Flagstaff were possibly the longest ones of my life.
Standing On A Corner In Flagstaff, Arizona
The dealership in Flagstaff was jam packed and at first, I was told it would be at least 2-3 hours before someone could take a look at our window. In my most sad voice, I asked if it would be possible just to tape on some cardboard it so we could be on our way. I guess the lady took pity on me because she called out a service tech who forced the window closed and put some duct tape over the down button so no one will accidentally get it stuck again.
Not fixed but we were able to complete our trip. We’ll add that to the list of things that no longer work, like all the check engine lights, the transmission in very hot weather, the driver’s side mirror that was knocked lose by a deer, and something called a Kamber clip that just seemed too expensive and unnecessary to fix.
During the hour or so we were at the dealer, we had to walk around outside because we had the dog with us. We could not help but look at all the cars that were for sale. We didn’t even go into the new section, but even the used ones all had low miles, working gages, and the promise that we could get to our destination without something tearing up.
No, we didn’t trade our car on the spot, but I would be lying if this incident didn’t make me think about it. I have no idea what to expect with an older car, so is it normal that we should plan for something to go wrong on long trips?
Alternatives To Driving an Older Car
I guess there are other alternatives. We could stay home. This would be cheaper, but one consolation we make to ourselves for living in the boonies is taking road trips as often as we can. It’s so cheap to live in Southwest Colorado, and usually we love it, but we do crave more action a few time a year.
I’ve also written about renting a car for road trips. This is cheaper than buying a newer car, but our plans have to be just right. We only have one rental car agency in our small town, and they open at 9AM. We wanted to be on the road before then and didn’t want to pay for an extra day to get the car early.
I’ve learned that car trouble is not the end of the world, but we’ve also been lucky that we’ve broken down in areas where we could call someone for help. If I crap out at the top of Lizard Head Pass in a storm, I’ll have to flag down the snow plow for a ride. That actually sounds kind of fun but would be inconvenient at best. I know there is no guarantee that a newer car would not break down, but we never used to have problems before 100K miles.
My thought for now is to keep the car for a few more years. We only have one more road trip this year, and it’s only 4 hours. We do have some big trips coming up next year, but we are using points and miles to fly out of our regional airport and shouldn’t need to be on the road that much. Hopefully, we won’t have any more car trouble to make me change my mind!
For people who drive older cars, do you expect to break down? How do you plan for longer trips?
Beverly Hillbillies Image courtesy of Wikipedia