I felt wrapped in a cloak of invincibility the day the insurance adjuster’s report arrived in my email. All of the repairs I had been postponing on my rental house, for lack of funds due to job loss, were covered.
A devastating storm had produced huge hail balls that rained down on my house, destroying all of the aging roofing, gutters, and the dilapidated shed. This storm also dinged and dented all of the cars on the Airport Motor Mile up the road.
I was driving a high-mileage Mazda MPV that I had purchased as a repo from my credit union for $2,000.00 a week. This vehicle came after the high-mileage pickup truck that I had been driving for ten years lost its transmission in the Burger King parking lot.
All of these occurrences, after being canned from a job that I liked and needed, seemingly presented an upswing in fortunes, a metaphysical yin after the wang of the yang. I didn’t know how long my prosperity would last. In the foolishly optimistic nature of the human spirit, I believed it had to last. I thought the hail that brought my good fortune would produce one more benefit: a slightly dented vehicle with a very good price tag. I bought a Kia Sedona, used, but with very low mileage. Trading in my Mazda MPV for $2,000.00 provided reinforcement to my feeling of euphoria. And so the downward slide began.
Parking the van at home, I used the key to lock the car door. A buzzing noise emanated from the vehicle. I was so impressed that the makers provided a warning that alerted me to the locking action. I only had a single key, and I knew if I didn’t get a spare, I would surely lose it. Lowe’s didn’t have a blank for a Kia. I hesitated, not wanting to go to a dealer where it might be more expensive, but there was no choice. When the key-maker tried the new key in the door, it didn’t work. He had to cut another. The second key slid into the lock. He turned it smoothly, and the buzzing noise began.
He turned to me, shrugged, and said,” The door actuator is worn out; you should have that replaced.” It was then that I realized the buzzing was not a good thing.
The key, however, was surprisingly inexpensive.
I thought it would be fun to take a road trip now that I had a low-mileage, reliable vehicle. A drive to Key West had always been something I wanted to do. I proposed the destination to my lady friend, Ruth, and she agreed. We planned the trip, determined our route, and booked our rooms through Hotwire.com.
A week before our trip, the “check engine light” popped on while I was in Asheville, North Carolina; $664.36 later, the light went off. I asked the mechanic “Is this repair normal for a Kia with such low mileage?” The reply gave me pause.
He shrugged his shoulders and responded in a doleful voice, “Well, it is a Kia.” Not yet discouraged, I considered this a fluke. We proceeded with our plan, confident that the trip would go well.
We had planned the trip not as a marathon driving excursion, but as a leisurely tour through the hinterlands with stops along the way.
Our first stop was Apalachicola. The morning after we arrived, we went to a Saint George Island beach. It was the year of the great Gulf oil spill. Tourists were almost nonexistent. There were three people within our sight on a nine-mile beach of soft white sand, and mine was the only head bobbing up and down in the warm, massaging waves.
After a sweltering day on the beach, we got into the car to go back to our hotel. I turned the key in the ignition, and the engine started smoothly, but when Ruth turned the air on, the blower motor didn’t run. After grumbling a few expletives, my calmer attitude prevailed, and I used the time traveled from the beach to the hotel to diagnose the problem.
Sitting on the curb next to the hotel, paging through the owner’s manual, I found the section explaining which fuse matched each function of the vehicle. I opened the fuse box cover and found the little fuse puller gadget. As I pulled it out of its little clip holder, it flew out of my hand, immediately swallowed by a myriad of wires, pulleys, and other mechanical equipment, never to be found again. I located Fuse Number 23 and began to wiggle it with my stubby fingers, then prizing it with the ignition key. It became dislodged from its slot. After inspecting the fuse and determining that it wasn’t defective, I reinserted it into the slot. After starting the car, I wiggled and tapped on the fuse, and cool air started flowing from the vents.
We departed Apalachicola for our next stop, Fort Myers Beach. While on the road, I would hold my hand up to the vent to make sure the air conditioning was still running. As we pushed forward into the ever-increasing heat of southern Florida, I began to doubt the reliability of the system.
We arrived without further incident, and all was well. We awoke early the next morning to go to Sanibel Island, intending to hunt shells on the beach at low tide. The engine started, but again the air conditioner’s blower did not work.
We pulled out of the Firestone auto repair store after having a new air conditioner motor resistor installed, and with $183.47 extracted from my account, we were on our way to Sanibel Beach at high tide. We walked on sand strewn with small shards of shells that gouged painfully into our soles. A hint for the unaware: always take shoes, thick-soled shoes, to walk on the beach at Sanibel Island.
We spent our evening absorbing tropical drinks, limping from bar to bar on tender, slightly swollen feet. Optimistically looking forward to the next day’s trip to our final destination, we retired for the night.
When departing Fort Myers and heading for our ultimate destination of Key West, I noticed a wobble to the gearshift handle that I’d not noticed before. We pulled off the highway for breakfast in Naples. The day was already heating to a scorcher when we got back to our van. We were relieved that starting the engine also produced the hoped-for whirr of the air-conditioner blower as it pumped vigorously. The momentary feeling of well-being was dashed when, as I pulled the gearshift from park to reverse, the head of the shift stick came off in my hand.
The button that activated the overdrive flew out, hitting the door, and a spring followed it out of the hole, hitting my leg and falling to the floorboard. After a long string of expletives, calm resolve again washed over me. While gathering the parts, my examination of the floor produced the errant screw that had allowed the knob to come off. Ruth dug around in her purse and produced a useable tool, her nail file. After reassembling all of the parts, I used her file to screw the mess back together, and we were on our way. We joked about stopping at Walmart for a tool kit for any future repairs. Although we made light of the matter, a feeling of dread was creeping into my consciousness. Now each time I turned the key, I would say a secret prayer to the gods of automotive fortune.
We stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel along the way. Exiting the car, I noticed a black rectangular something lying on the floorboard; it was the rubber cover of the brake pedal. I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and went to lunch. On returning to the car, I stretched the cover over the bare metal pedal, said another silent prayer, and started the car. The engine started, the blower motor pumped out cool air, and I shifted into drive, tapping the brake pedal gingerly as we navigated the parking lot. I wished I had my old van back.
At some point during our travels, I began to walk around the outside of the car to see if anything had fallen off before climbing inside, and then I would go through a preflight checklist. When we reached the desolate stretch known as Alligator Alley, my anxiety rose with each mile. An audible sigh escaped me when we finally made a turn south, heading toward Key West.
My trepidation was palpable while traveling over long stretches of bridges providing no real recourse should the Sedona decide it didn’t want to go any farther. We finally arrived without incident in Key West. Realizing we would have to travel over those same bridges on the way home probably caused the consumption of more alcohol than normal.
Upon leaving Key West after two nights of fun, we headed to our next stop, Ocala. We stopped for lunch, and, upon returning to the car afterward, the air-conditioner blower again did not work. We rode on in stifling heat, not rolling down the windows because the back blower still added a small amount of cooling. After a two-hour spell, the air-conditioner blower popped on again and ran until we stopped for the night.
The next morning started out hot, and the forecast promised it would be even hotter as noon approached. We stopped at a Dollar General store to buy a bleach pen to remove a coffee stain in Ruth’s new tee shirt. Turning on the car, this time did not spark a response from the air-conditioner blower. We drove the last three hours in 110-degree heat, arriving in Apalachicola by late afternoon. A garage across from our hotel was our first stop. I explained the symptoms to the mechanic. He shook his head, walked around to the passenger side, crouched down, hit the blower housing with his fist, and the motor started. Again, the now all-too-familiar “It’s a Kia” shoulder shrug.
The shop owner checked with the nearest Kia dealer to ensure they had a motor in stock. Taking mercy on us, he drove to Panama City to get one. The Kia dealer was closed on Saturdays. Thwarted in his efforts, the owner took the motor from the rear housing and installed it in the front housing so we would have some cooling in our immediate area. His time and trouble only cost $100.00.
We spent the next two days at the Gibson Inn, relaxing and trying to work up the courage to attempt the ten-hour journey home. The inn had a quaint bar that served strong drinks to soothe jangled travelers. We took maximum advantage of the hospitality.
The drive back to Friendsville was uneventful; although a squeamish feeling arose each time I turned the key in the ignition. I did Google “auto parts stores” near our house and found a NAPA store close to home. I added it to my speed dial and called to order a new air conditioner blower motor. For only $139.00, I secured a replacement blower motor for the under-dash blower. I saved on the installation. After watching the procedure in Apalachicola, I could do it myself.
Since the Florida trip, I have done the expected maintenance: oil changes, timing belt replacement, brakes and rotors, and one unexpected replacement of an ignition coil. The expected stuff doesn’t bother me. The little nagging things set me to ranting.
I no longer use the sun visor on the driver’s side because the little clip that holds it in place is about to fall off. When I pulled the phone charger out of the socket on the console, the console came apart.
Last September at Boomsday, a farewell-to-summer celebration in Knoxville, I extracted the headrest from the rear seat to allow the tailgate to close with the seat in a reclining position. The locking clip sprang from the post holder, sailed past my left ear, and landed somewhere out on the grass. I looked at Ruth with the sad eyes of the defeated, shrugged my shoulders, and exclaimed in a disgusted mumble, “Well, it’s a Kia.”
I almost forgot the reason that prompted me to sit down and finish this woeful tail. Do you recall the buzz of the door locking system that I mistook for a feature of this well-designed, well-constructed automobile? I finally had room in my budget of automobile repair expenses to repair this item. I had no experience in this matter, so I had a licensed, professional mechanic do the repair. After inspection, it was determined that a new door operator assembly was needed. The part came in a week later, and I scheduled the repair to coincide with a needed oil change. An added benefit to the repair: the interior door panel had pulled away from the door, leaving a half-inch gap between them. This tenuous connection left a feeling that they would pull completely apart when I tugged on the handle to close the door. The mechanic secured the panel to the door as part of the repair. The door mechanism was installed, and all was well for about thirty days.
After driving into the bank parking lot one day, I pulled the door handle and nothing happened. I checked to see if the lock was still engaged, but it wasn’t. I pulled the handle again and still nothing. I relocked the door, unlocked the door—no familiar noise. Exasperated, I bounced against the door with my shoulder, and the door popped open. This was the beginning of a degenerative process, which would eventually lead to a second replacement of the mechanism.
The door latching and locking mechanism has served as a reminder to get the oil changed. The mechanic installed the fourth one last Saturday. Conveniently, it was also time to have the oil changed. They did tell me that they would no longer repair this item and that from here on I would need to address the matter with Kia directly. I am reluctant to do this; after all they are a Kia, too.
Well the inevitable happened. The mechanism failed again. KIA supplied the mechanism. I stopped at the dealer arrange to get the part on order, knowing from so many experiences that it takes three to five days to get the part. I talked to the parts manager about the problem. He stated unequivocally improper installation was the culprit. It could not be a problem with their part. The date was set to have their service experts install the part properly.
The KIA service expert installed the new mechanism on August 22nd. I received a call from the service manager inquiring as to my satisfaction with their service on August 28th. I did not have time to call back until the next day when the part failed for the fifth time. This was sooner than any previous installation. Of course, I patiently recounted my experiences to date. I also added that the cover over one of the screws was missing and that the mechanic did not affix the door panel properly and it was pulling away from the door. He assured me a proper repair. I waited to make my next appointment until my state of mind had improved. I took the car in for the sixth part replacement a week after our conversation. The service manager arranged for a loaner car for the day so they could assess and repair the door properly. A voice message made me aware the repair was complete. I left work early to pick up my car.
The service representative greeted me at the service bay door and proudly announced my car cured. The problem was a defective part, like I didn’t know that, and everything was put back to normal. After processing the paper work I was given my key and directed to my car. Opening the door I was instantly agitated. The button cover the disguised the screw was missing and the door panel was flapping. Neither of those problems addressed, I wearily went to beckon the service manager to the great white van. Asked about the screw cover he said it was on order. Asked about the door panel he said it had been broken at some point in time and the screw that some ingenious person installed to hold the panel in place was not standard equipment. When pressed to answer why the door panel was in place when I brought the car in he reiterated he statement to the point of infuriating me. Rather than taking three minutes to replace the screw he was insistent that he would not fix it. I left feeling hopelessness in combating this insanity and a fury that I have seldom felt.
I replaced the screw that held the panel in place applauding the ingenuity of the original installer in fixing this problem. The process took two minutes. I feel this is in vane because after replacing the exact same mechanism six times I don’t look forward to this lasting more than a month. I am however prepared to haunt the KIA dealer as long as I have too. After all I have a twelve month warranty which starts over after each replacement.
As good fortune would have it, I received an email from KIA thanking me for my patronage and inquiring as to my satisfaction with the service this morning September 15, 2012 in my email.
I think this story will be my response.
With all that has happened this will probably end up as a journal on my blog as well as some interesting twitters.M..
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Short Story / Editorial and Opinion
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