Esmeralda’s tune-up

Driving past a Volvo dealership in Asheville, North Carolina, I decided it was time for a little tune-up after more than 6000 miles on the road. I was lucky to be able to walk in and get her an appointment where she got a new headlight. I hadn’t even noticed that a headlight was blown as I haven’t been doing any night driving. When I realised that, I thought it sounded a little strange to me. Two months on the road and virtually no night driving. I sound like a nanna.

I’m just a girl

Today’s blonde moment occurred early in the day.

While checking under Esmeralda’s bonnet at her coolant levels, I noticed another reservoir looking rather empty. I tried to unscrew the lid to get a better look, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried shining the flashlight app on my phone at it to better detect the levels. I tried wiggling it to hear a liquid slosh. My diagnosis was that it was empty.

Consulting the Volvo handbook I learned that this was the brake fluid reservoir, and I started to feel slightly anxious and sick in the stomach that Esmeralda and I were going to be stranded in the mountainous Colorado. I didn’t actually think anything more negative like “oh my gosh, Esmeralda’s brakes are going to fail and we’re going to go over a railing and into a deep valley, never to be seen again” because I’m not a pessimist.

So I drove to JiffyLube to get them to check it only to be told “we don’t do brakes”. I asked for a suggestion of where I should go and they suggested three tyre places. So I drove to Big O and asked if they could check it only to be told “we don’t do engine fluids”. Thankfully, my femaleness and accent was enough for them to say they would at least check to see if I did need brake fluid.

I pulled into the bay and the mechanic came over, unscrewed the cap and lo and behold, there was a full reservoir of a pinkish fluid. I felt like such a ditz. He didn’t even need to put any elbow grease in to get the cap to come off, the only logical explanation was that I must have loosened it for him.

Esmeralda’s brake fluid levels are just fine, it’s just my pride that’s a little depleted.

Esmeralda is back!

Esmeralda's bits
Esmeralda's broken bits. They have made way for strong, new bits that won't break.

I got to pick up Esmeralda from the mechanic today and the reunification was so sweet.

My excellent mechanic, Vicente from European Motors, was just lovely. He showed me the bucket of bolts that came out of Esmeralda and all the broken bits she had replaced. He then told me to take it easy for 500 miles and then bring her in so he could check everything over and make sure that everything was sorted. I asked for a definition of easy, and he said nothing over 80 miles per hour. I then asked what the speed limit is (because even on the freeways I pretty much hover around 55 – 60 mph) and he said that it is 65 to 70 mph.

No fear Vicente, I will not be going hard on Esmeralda like that. That and the fact that I do not need a speeding fine to add to my car expenses in the US.

The steep LA learning curve

My naivete is a complete disadvantage in this city of hustlers.

The wide-eyed, country girl innocence I have hasn’t been working in my favour of late. Today, I received very bad news about Esmeralda in that she has a major (read very expensive to fix) problem in her engine as a result of a very new looking radiator hose breaking clean through due to a dodgy engine causing pressure on the cooling system.

I must say I was gutted when Vicente told me over the phone that it would probably cost $2800 to fix and that it is a serious problem. I felt sick and then totally sorry for myself. I went to see the mechanics in person and they told me and showed me the issue and explained the cost range depending on what they discovered after taking the engine apart.

Now I have a huge mechanic repair bill on top of the things that already needed doing, like the brakes. It doesn’t make me love Esmeralda any less, but it does make me question my ability to negotiate my way in this city full of hustlers and shady characters and find something that is true to appearances. I received an earnest speech from Nice Neighbour who implored me to be careful and exercise due diligence because he knows that there are so many phoneys who are just out for themselves in this town.

So I feel somewhat chastened and a little dispirited, but after today’s events in the world, this is nothing to worry about and I’ll bounce back with zeal real soon.

Esmeralda’s first tow


I knew there was a reason I signed up to America’s equivalent to the RACV, the AAA. It’s not an alcoholics anonymous for automobiles, but more a towing service. And a tow Esmeralda did need after she almost overheated on the way to the cinema at Alhambra (about 11 miles away) to see No Strings Attached.

It wasn’t until I was less than a mile from my destination that I noticed the oil pressure light coming on when I was idling at traffic lights. It then mysteriously disappeared when I accelerated to a travelling speed. Given that Esmeralda had an oil change on Friday last week, there should be nothing wrong with that department.

I then finally noticed that the temperature gauge needle was in the red zone. The red dead zone. So, in a little bit of a worry, I got to my destination and parked in a well-lit place. As soon as I opened my door I saw bad signs. Steam was coming out from underneath the bonnet and snaking over the windscreen. The whole bonnet felt hot to the touch, and I wasn’t game enough to pop the bonnet lest I get steam burns all over me. So I left her in the parking lot to cool down while I watched a movie.

On my way back to the car, I asked some guys where the nearest gas station was (I have to speak their lingo because they have no idea what a servo is). I learnt that you don’t ask three geeks on bicycles where a gas station is. They spent about 3 minutes talking and debating amongst themselves before finally giving me some directions. I chose to ignore their suggestion and went with the Points of Interest feature on my GPS instead and drove half a mile to a 76 gas station.

As Esmeralda was still feeling a bit of a temperature, I popped the bonnet at the servo and checked the coolant levels. It looked empty. So I bought a 1.5L bottle of water which didn’t even touch the thirsty sides of her coolant container. Disturbingly, water started to flow out from under the engine and across the apron of the service station. I commented to some guys in front of me that it wasn’t a good sign.

Holding out on the tow because I know I have a 7 mile free tow and I was at least 11 miles from home, I went back and bought an even bigger bottle of water, something like a 3L bottle. Esmeralda guzzled that too, and then I peered underneath to see a waterfall gushing out. The first thing that entered my brain was “uh oh”.

So I drove her to a parking space and dialed the number for AAA and requested a tow. Each extra mile over 7 miles was going to cost $10 (even steeper than a U-Haul mile fee), but the good news was that I would be able to ride with the tow-truck driver.

Within 15 minutes Hayden the tow driver had come to the rescue and he started prepping Esmeralda for the tow. Once her front boots were on the lift, she then had chains wrapped around her front axles, ratchet straps tied around her front wheels and two brake lights magnetised to her boot lid. She was ready to roll on the freeway.

I chatted to Hayden about how I had actually considered calling my dad to ask him for Mechanics Advice 101 via the phone, but that I already knew his response would be “You are on the other side of the world, I can’t help you from here, I’m sorry.” And then he’d probably follow that up with something like “You have to learn how to fend for yourself.” Even though I wouldn’t have expected any diagnostics via mobile phone, this daddy’s-little-girl would have just been seeking some sympathy and reassurance from a man whose opinion she values highly.

LA is very tow-happy. They don’t send out someone to see if they can fix it, like the RACV did for me when the Mighty Meteor busted a hose on the Hume Freeway once, they just send a tow-truck. I asked Hayden if he spends his whole 7pm to 7am shifts towing cars, but he says that around 11pm it usually slows down and that he might only get a couple more calls for the night. I also found out that it is polite to tip your tow-driver, it’s not expected, but is an appreciated gesture.

So Hayden got Esmeralda and I home. She’s parked out the back now and fingers crossed she gets to the mechanic without doing any more damage and is easily repairable. Please, oh please, let it just be a burst hose.