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JACK SMITH

Her Loyalty Lies With a 10-Year-Old Lemon

March 06, 1995|JACK SMITH

My wife's car is terminally ill. But she won't junk it or trade it in on a new one. She loves it. She calls it "my little darlin'."

That's the only way to explain her stubborn devotion to her 10-year-old Nissan Maxima. When we go anywhere together, she drives my 2-year-old Honda Civic. It is somewhat underpowered, but otherwise reliable. Or it was, anyway, until the other day, when the brakes began to sound like two sheets of metal rubbing together. We took it to Tommy's Brakes and left it for the day, meanwhile switching to her Maxima.

For one thing, the Maxima smells strongly of gasoline. "Someday this car is going to blow up," I said, "and burn you to a crisp."

"Well," she said, "at least you won't have to pay to have me cremated."

We both have arranged with the Neptune Society to cremate us on our deaths. I am afraid of being buried alive. With my claustrophobia, I'd die.

When she turns the ignition key of her car, it goes "Ga-runk . . . ga runk. . . ." It will make this dismaying sound several times before the engine catches in a labored rhythm.

"Someday," I tell her every time this happens, "it's not going to start and you're going to be stranded."

"I know," she says in her exasperating way.

I've been telling her for two years that she has a lemon, and that she might as well face up to it and get a new car.

"I'd miss my little woman," she says.

She means the voice that tells her "Your fuel level is low" or "The key is in the ignition" or "The front door is open." This female voice sounds Japanese.

"You can get that in another car," I tell her.

"Also I like my sliding sunroof," she will say.

I point out, too, that that feature is available in many other models. Besides, I don't like it when she opens the sunroof. The wind blows my hair.

She says she also likes the car's oomph. It does have more horsepower than my car, but still not enough to make it up our hill without downshifting.

The problem reached a crisis recently when she went to Hawaii with a group of women friends. Our son Curt had driven her to the airport and kept her car at his home. It acted so badly, he was frightened. He took it into a garage for an analysis.

They checked it thoroughly and made a list of things that were wrong and the cost for repairing them. It was appalling. "Starter is bad, $285. Power-steering pump leak, $575. Rear shocks leak, $475" . . . and so on. The total was more than $4,000.

I showed my wife the estimates. "Even if you go for the $4,000 in repairs," I said, "you've still got a 10-year-old lemon."

It infuriates her when I call her car a lemon. It only makes her more determined to keep it.

"I like the color," she says, evidently unaware that you can get a new car in almost any color you want.

The other day when we took my car into Tommy's and switched to her car, I was forcefully reminded of its defects.

The smell of gasoline was overpowering. "I mean it," I told her, "this car is going to blow up."

I pointed out that if she bought a car with more horsepower, it could make it up our hill without laboring and she could go to Bakersfield without having to shift down.

She wasn't speaking.

Tommy brought my car back that same day. The bill was $129. He had eliminated that grinding sound.

"See," I told her. "It's possible to get a car fixed."

Since we watch television a lot, we are inundated by automobile ads. I tend to favor the luxury cars. Mercedes . . . Cadillac . . . Lincoln. I have even suggested that she consider buying one of these. But she thinks it's ridiculous to spend that much on a car when her Maxima gives her everything she wants.

We have a friend, Dottie Furman, who owns a Cadillac. We have ridden with her a couple of times and the feeling of luxury is bliss. Soft ride . . . quiet engine . . . power.

I think my wife is in serious trouble. Sooner or later her lemon is going to undo her. She does need that woman who tells her that her gas level is low. She tends to stop for gasoline only when she is almost out. I stop as soon as the tank is half empty. I know that means I have to stop twice as often as she does, but it's better than running out of gas on the freeway--which she has done.

The only answer, I suppose, is for me to buy a Cadillac.

* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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