Damn Saturns

I don’t really like cars. I only owned one once in my life, for a two month period during the Summer of 1978. It was the end of my first year of college and I was working a summer job at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. My parents said I couldn’t use their car so my only option was to buy my own. The thing was, I was saving the money from this job to help pay for school, since my parents weren’t paying for that either, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the car.

I don’t remember how it happened, whether I found it in the newspaper or by driving by it, but I wound up buying a yellow 1969 Nova for $600. The engine leaked oil out of disintegrating manifold gaskets, and fuel from two small holes in the gas tank.

I imagined that I would fix this car up eventually, putting in a new engine, new tires, new rear quarter panels, new paint — basically everything new. I wound up doing only two things to it. The first thing I did, at my friend Mike’s suggestion, was to turn the air filter cover upside-down. He explained that it would still cover the air intake valve but would make the engine louder. So I did that, and the engine got a little louder. And I replaced the leaky manifold gaskets.

The car sputtered along all Summer — burning oil, leaking fuel — and when the job ended in August I sold it to my brother for the same price I paid. It seemed fair — a car this devalued couldn’t have devalued significantly more in only two months, and if it was worth $600 in June it had to be worth $600 in August. Even more, if you considered that I replaced three gaskets! He had just started working at General Motors himself, full time. (He retired in 2009 after thirty years).

I say this only to demonstrate that I have never had an interest in owning or maintaining a car. Within a year of graduating college, I moved to Manhattan, where you don’t need a car, and I’ve lived here since.

When Rita said she was buying the Saturn her friend was selling, I was against it. “It’s a money pit,” I said. “Insurance, gas, maintenance, parking tickets, towing charges‚ plus you have to move it every day… It’s cheaper to just rent a car when you need one.”

So why did I title this Damn Saturns? Do you see the condensation on the glass? Every time the air is turned on (air conditioner or heater), this forms. If it’s the air conditioner, it forms on the outside, if it’s the heater, it forms on the inside. It starts small but in a short time it covers almost the entire windshield. Turning on the wipers helps with the outside condensation, but nothing works with the inside.

Rita’s hypothesis is that the windshield itself is the problem. A couple of years ago, while I was changing the wiper blades, the wiper arm came flying down and hit the windshield and put a small crack in it. Over time this crack extended to where we would have got a ticket if we hadn’t fixed it. We were even warned to this affect one day, when a state cop stopped us at the Bear Mountain bridge, due to a faulty brake light.

I didn’t see how the glass could be the problem though, unless it was a engineering flaw common to all Saturns, and I had never heard this from any of the mechanics or quasi-mechanics who’ve tinkered with this car over the years, including the guys who installed the new windshield. But about a month ago I noticed a car driving down Avenue C, with large patches of condensation inside the windshield. I looked closer and saw it was a Saturn. A brown Saturn, no less.

Maybe I should turn the air filter cover over.

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