A macro shot of just one of the dandelions that has obliterated my lawn.

Des Informations, des Idées, et des Opinions Suspectes - rarement mises à jour et de qualité douteuse.

The Echo of Doom

my 2004 Toyota Echo hatchback

Well, my little red wagon finally gave up the ghost about 10-days ago at 270,000km. The car that never cost me a dime (more on that in a bit) reported to me via white smoke out of my tailpipe that its head gasket was shot. Well, either that or there was a new pope. After taking it in to my scumbag mechanic and agreeing to pay the $1000 for a new head gasket, I was informed a day later that the head was in fact cracked, the car was garbage and on its way to the wreckers - come and get my stuff out of it and pay the shop $200 for their troubles.

I took the whole family to strip my little car of all my possessions. It's funny actually that a car that still looks so good is ready for the garbage heap. I mean the interior is in excellent condition, there are no cracks in any of the glass, and the body has hardly any rust. I guess there is a lesson in there somewhere - something like "just because something looks good doesn't mean it's worth anything..." or something like that. For the record the crack in the head was very tiny! Just a barely visible half-centimetre crack in the head between cylinders one and two. Hard to believe that makes a whole car garbage.

For the next week I floundered a little. I ordered a copy of Lemon-Aid from Amazon, but then because I really needed it sooner, I spent an afternoon in Chapter's with their copy and a chai latte reading passages into my voice recorder. I drove my wife's van around, all the while acutely aware that her van really doesn't like the 320 kilometers I drive every day. And driving the van made my wife house-bound and somewhat persnickety let's say..as long as you garnish the word "persnickety" with about 50 swear words... I was also concerned I would end up killing both of our vehicles if I didn't hurry and find something to replace the Escort Wagon of Doom. (I call it the Escort Wagon of Doom because prior to the Escort I had 4 Tempos - I named each one "The Tempo of Doom". When I got the Escort, it seemed only natural to name it "The Escort Wagon of Doom" even though that doesn't make any sense any more...")

This time around, I wanted a car that would cost me very little, cost virtually nothing for fuel, be very luxurious, and be bullet-proof in it's reliability - like the Escort Wagon of Doom was. Near my home, I discovered a 99 Sable Wagon with 125,000km on it for $4000. At first glance I thought this might be the car and that it was a pretty good deal, except I could hardly believe that my replacement car would end up coming from someplace so close to home, and taxes meant that the price was closer to $4600, and the thing had a trailer hitch on the back which meant somebody had to be towing something with that car over the last 8 years - how long would the transmission last? So, I never even took the car for a spin. These concerns turned out to be the same ones that cropped up again and again over the next several days as I looked at used cars and tried to figure out not only which car I would be happy in, but whether I should buy it privately or from a car salesperson, etc. etc.

I spent two solid days looking for a Chevy Aveo before ducking into Chapter's for a second time and discovering its rating was only "average" And finally on Friday night I settled on a 1998 Suzuki Esteem Wagon. $4000 and 130,000km on it. Highly rated by lemon-aid and it met all of my personal criteria for a car.

On Saturday morning bright and early, I was out inspecting the Esteem from a list I printed off the Internet, with my daughter close by told to write down on her clipboard anything I called out to her. Over the next hour and a half my daughter busily jotted down:

mismatched tires

passenger door dent

rusty rotors

seized fuel release

To the car's credit, we took it out for a test drive and it handled well if a little uninspired. No real steering or suspension problems. Even Ellie said that she like the car and that we should get it...but the thing reeked of cat and I just couldn't get past the smell of it. I knew that if I bought the Esteem, I was just guaranteeing myself 4 more years of thrice yearly trips to the shop - if I was lucky enough to not have to be towed there...

So finally later that Saturday morning with nothing better to do, I called my brother-in-law at the local Toyota dealership, and told him (without much expectation and therefore without much enthusiasm) that I wanted a 5-speed Echo hatchback, with no more than 100k, with A/C, and not red or white. And he actually had one! A 2004. I knew as we walked up to it that this was the car I wanted. By the time I had gone 2 kilometers, I knew it was the car for me. Timing chain instead of timing belt. Variable-valve timing engine only requires oil changes every 8000kms instead of 5000 kms. Electrically assisted heating, and less than 6L/100KM! As I test-drove the Echo I imagined that this is a lot like what driving Thomas the tank engine would be like. I would say to the Echo: "go please" and the car would say: "Yes sir! Yes! Yes ! Yes! I can do this!" and then would give it everything it had to the cause. If I said: "stop car" The car would say: "Yes! Yes! Yes! I'll stop! I live to please you!"

Now in the Thomas stories, isn't there a grumpy old train engine that figures in some of the stories? Then that would be the Escort. To the Escort, if I said "go car" the wagon would say: "what the @$@# are you asking me to do that for? Here's 60%. And I would say, "You're a 4-cyl 2L DOHC engine! You can do better than that!" And the Escort would say. Alright fine. Here's 62%, but first let me rattle this steel cup full of cutlery under the hood for about a minute..." I'm saying the Echo tries and the Escort only grudgingly complies.

Anyway, after the test drive I decided that I definitely liked all that ECHO eagerness, but the car costs way, WAY more than I thought it should. But...I was out of time and energy, so I bought it. Because of this, I was not a happy customer initially. I went home after paying the big bucks, and for the rest of the afternoon I drank rye and cokes and miserably watched TV. Finally, my wife came downstairs and in her trademark voice that sounds like a cross between Barry White eating glass and Satan, she said to me: How long did you have the Escort for anyway? Have you ever added up how much it has cost you over the years?"

So I grabbed my file and checked it out. Let's see... $2700 for the car 3 years ago, $500 to certify and ...this can't be right...$4600 in repairs?! $8000 for just three years - I had to have the car towed three times, the A/C broke last year and I haven't been able to get the rear windows down since last Spring - much to the horror of my heat-stroked children in the back. What a piece of crap!

Now I find myself very happy with my Echo of Doom. I'm sure his cost of ownership will be less than $2700 per year, and I'll spend more time having fun driving and less time worrying about if I will make it to my destination. I'm going to get him pimped out with a moon roof and tinted windows and I'm getting Patti to make me those fuzzy dangly balls that run along the top of the windshield. I'll let you know how it goes.

Update: January 2010

Patti never made me the dangly balls, but I did get the cruise-control installed, the windows tinted, the thumping stereo and the GPS. I love running up and down through the 5-speeds on the country roads near my house, and I still feel spoiled by the quality and dependability I feel with this car. The paint is failing on the front bumper and Toyota is being scummy about it, but it's plastic underneath so I don't have to worry about rust. And that's the only issue I've had in more than two years now. And I'm still on the same half a tank of gas that the car originally came with. Well, almost.

The Echo of Doom

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Maybe read No Big Deal, a story I consider to be the very best thing I ever wrote.