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A Rare Failure of German Engineering

A Rare Failure of German Engineering

The BMW is in the shop, and by “in the shop,” I mean in the garage where the husband is figuring out what happened to it and how to fix it.

First, a story, just because I feel like telling one: I got my driver’s license in the spring of 1982. I turned 16 in November of 1981, but I had mono on my birthday and it took another couple of months before I was recovered sufficiently to take driver’s ed and get my license. As soon as I had it in hand, my father turned over to me the 1976 Chevy Monza he had been driving and bought himself a Chevy S-10 pickup. With a stick shift. That he refused to teach me how to drive. (I suspect that was a calculated move designed to guarantee that he would be the only person driving that vehicle.)

The Monza was a fine example of the quality of American vehicle manufacturing in the 1970’s. Sporting an anemic four-cylinder engine that struggled if the air conditioner was running, it just about guaranteed that I wasn’t going to get a speeding ticket. It also had an annoying habit of breaking down. Frequently. My father, for all his wonderful qualities, had a bit of a traditional streak. When I asked him to teach me what I needed to know about the car, his response was, “All you need to know is how to put the key in the ignition and turn it on. If something happens, find the nearest man who can fix it.” Ironically, most of what I know about vehicles—which, admittedly, isn’t much—is because of that car. During my two-year relationship with it, all of the following happened. (I may be forgetting one or two things, but it’s been 35 years.)

  • The carburetor conked out at the top of my friend Karla’s driveway one morning at 1 a.m. Thankfully, Karla’s house was only a mile from our house, but I had to wake my father up to come get the car running again.

  • One of the tie rods fell off as I was turning into the driveway one Friday afternoon.

  • The frame rusted through thanks to liberal applications of road salt during those Cleveland winters and had to be welded back together.

  • The timing chain broke at the end of the exit ramp from I-90 to Detroit Road.

  • Something happened to the transmission (I think a hose came off) and I had to drive it for a few days by manually shifting through the gears.

  • And the best one—on a scorching hot July day, the radiator hose broke and leaked coolant all over my orthodontist’s parking lot, but because I wasn’t aware that that had happened, I drove off and was surprised to discover that the car doesn’t run after the engine overheats and blows up.

We spent a lot of time at Commercial Auto Wrecking getting various replacement bits and pieces for that car. It ended up getting an engine from a Chevy Nova, which—as you might imagine—wasn’t a big improvement. And after I went off to college? They bought my sister a Chevy Chevette and got rid of the Monza.

I did take my father’s advice to find the nearest guy who could fix cars. I even had the good sense to marry him. He thought I should know some basics about my car—by that time, I was driving a 1988 Chevy Cavalier—so I did (theoretically) learn how to change the oil but really, it was just an excuse to spend the weekend at my then-boyfriend’s parents’ house north of Baltimore. This is a picture his mother took that day:


That’s Michael, on the left, who was the husband’s roommate and best friend in college. Having had the good sense to marry the husband, I have not had to change the oil in any cars since then.

All of this only tangentially relates to what happened yesterday, but I was thinking about that Monza while I waited for the tow truck, so I thought I’d share the story with you. And now, what happened to the BMW:

I had an appointment yesterday at 1:00 p.m. to meet one of the owners of the new organic market in Bigfork to talk to her about my grocery bags. I was halfway there when I got to an intersection and stopped at the stop sign. When I stepped on the accelerator to pull out onto the highway, I heard (and felt) a very loud “bang!” At first I thought someone had rear-ended me. I looked, but I was the only one on the road. I then tried to put the car in park, but it wouldn’t shift. The car was on a slight incline and started rolling back as soon as I took my foot off the brake. I engaged the parking brake, turned off the engine, and got out. There was a restaurant at that intersection, so I walked over and asked a guy getting into his truck if he could come over and help me get the car off the road. I steered while he pushed the car across the road and onto a gravel strip where I was out of the way of traffic.

The husband was working on a job about a mile away from where the car broke down. I called him, but the pump truck had just dumped several yards of concrete into the forms and he couldn’t leave. I had to call three tow companies—the BMW has all-wheel drive and I had to find a tow with a flatbed—and then sat for another hour while I waited for the truck to come out from Kalispell. Eventually, a very nice tow operator showed up and asked me where we were towing the car. When I said, “Back to my house, about four miles up the road,” he said, “Are you sure you don’t want to take it to a shop?” I responded, “We are taking it to a shop. My husband is the only mechanic outside of the dealer who has worked on this car.” He looked at me a bit sideways but agreed to do as I asked.

[One of the nice things about having a base of even just theoretical knowledge about vehicles is that I can have a reasonably intelligent conversation about them with most men. (And really, all you have to do is ask a few questions and let them talk.) We discussed the various merits of automatic transmissions (very few) versus manual transmissions (lamenting the lack of that option in any cars and trucks nowadays) and it was a pleasant 10-minute trip back home where he deposited the car for me.]

The husband spent a few hours after dinner running diagnostics and checking out the mechanicals. His working theory at the moment is a cracked transfer case. Apparently this is not an unknown problem. Of course, with 70,000 miles on it, the BMW is out of warranty.

I am trying to look on the bright side, even though this is an expense I hadn’t expected or budgeted for. The good news is that this happened four miles from home instead of at the top of Lookout Pass. We still have the Crown Vic police cruiser that DD#2 used to drive, so I have a backup vehicle. (I could also drive the plow truck if I had to.) The husband can figure out what is wrong with the car and fix it. And while a transfer case is not a cheap repair, it’s cheaper than a remanufactured transmission. Even if the BMW has to sit for a few weeks, this is a manageable problem. I just don’t like having my beloved car out of commission.

To make myself feel better, I worked on my Redwood Tote and got most of the exterior assembled:


You’ll notice that I changed it up a bit from my original plan to use the Anna Maria Horner print. When I took the yellow waxed twill out of the stash, it happened to land on a horizontal surface next to a piece of Kaufman Essex Linen. The two fabrics looked so nice together that I decided to use the linen as the accent piece on the front panel. (Anna Graham did something similar with one of her Redwood Tote samples.) There will be a piece of brown waxed canvas on the base of the bag, and I also used that same brown for the D-ring straps. I would have liked to have used brown zippers, too, to pull the whole design together, but I could not find 6” and 12” metal zippers in the same colors. I could find 6” metal zippers in dark brown and 12” metal zippers in chocolate brown, but not both in either color. I chose to go with matching cream-colored zippers instead. (I do hope all this zipper nonsense sorts itself out eventually.)

I like this a lot. I especially like that I’ll get to “wear” some yellow. The lining is going to be some Tim Holtz fabric (shocking, I know). I should have this done in another day or two, barring any other unforeseen events.

And This is the Part That Failed

And This is the Part That Failed

Where Did that Blogger Go?

Where Did that Blogger Go?