Posted by: Kiersten | January 4, 2010

Something’s Burning

Today was all about cars.  Learning about maintenance, researching different models for sale, making calls about insurance, inspections and emissions testing.  Basically learning everything I’ve avoided learning about cars in the last 10 years.

One good thing about Toronto is that car ownership is optional.  In fact, owning cars is pretty much foolish in Hogtown.  Gridlock, parking and insurance will drain your bank account and your will to live.  Public transit will get you there, and you’ll probably get there faster than if you drove.  You might have 100 strangers invading your personal space, you might catch SARS or the swine flu, you may even get up close and personal with someone who smells like pee, but you will reach your destination almost every time. 

The past ten years I walked, biked and took public transit to get where I wanted to go.  Four to six times a year Kat & I would rent a car to run errands to go on a road trip.  I’m used to driving brand new vehicles and a different vehicle every time.  I was a member of Zipcar, a car sharing group, and I loved it.  I have never had to learn how to change a tire, when to get a tune up, or what could go wrong with a car.  It wasn’t my problem.  The one time I got a flat in a rental vehicle I called the company and they sent someone out to put on the spare and paid for the repair.  It was inconvenient but ultimately Not My Problem.

Here in Ukee a car really is necessary.  It really is.  We thought we could get through to spring without a car – we can’t.  I need to be able to get to a part time job, even if it’s in Tofino.  We need to be able to get to Port Alberni for appointments and business meetings.  We need to be able to drive to the dentist or hospital if we need to.  We’re hog-tied without one.

More than that, a car is a necessary tool to cope with geographic isolation.  We love Ukee.  We love the beaches and the eagles and the sea lions… but we want to be able to go to Long Beach or any of the dozens of other beaches within a 30 minute drive of here.  We want to be able to take our bikes up to the mountains and ride through the trails.  We want to find some of the secret beaches and waterfalls.  Hell, we might even want to go and see a movie.  Even if it’s worth little more than the metal it’s made of, a working vehicle will get us there. 

And since we’re in the market for beaters, suddenly all that can go wrong with a car is a huge, relevant Our Problem.  We can’t buy a beater that breaks down immediately, we need it to run for a year or two.  So we just have to learn how to buy a used car.

I didn’t know much about mileage, but now I know that highway km are easier on a car than city km.  All that gas-break-gas business in the city is harder on the transmission, clutch, breaks and suspension.  In order to understand that explanation, I had to learn what specifically was the “transmission” “clutch” and “suspension”.  Are you scared for me yet?

My father had showed me how to top off the wiper fluid and check the oil, so I’m good for knowing about those fluids.  But now I’ve learned about automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, coolant, and power steering fluid.  Not to mention all those fluids that are more difficult for me to check myself, things I need to remember to have the inspection mechanic check before buying the car.

I’ve learned a few good questions to ask about used cars like “Do you have the service records?” and “How old are the tires?  Battery?  Clutch?  When was the last tune up?”

I have a good idea of what the mechanical inspection should cover: cylinder compression and balance check, oil leaks, load-test the battery and check the charging system, check the tire condition, check the exhaust system and the front end (had to Google again to find out what the “front end” is – no it is not the part of the car from the front bumper to the windshield.)

Back in Toronto, Kat found a second-hand copy of “Total Car Care for the Clueless” by Ren Volpe.  Six bucks well spent!  It has all the essential information on safety, lights & gauges, fuses, fluids, tires, jump starting, maintenance, repairs, tune ups, accidents, selling and thank goodness even buying a used car.  This book is a great place to start for any car virgin. 

When you can only afford a scant thousand or two on a car, you find yourself looking at cars that are a good 20 years old.  Legendary cars with hardcore fans. 

There are so many Ford pickup trucks out there.  Huge, rear wheel drive, open back beasts that never die.  There are a lot of Honda Civics out there, and Toyota 4 Runners, Jeep Cherokees and Ford Escorts.  The models we’ve researched have had great reviews.  People love these cars because they just don’t die.  Time has weeded out the lemons.  They have over 300,000 km and come with a list of quirks that are not worth repairing.  “The gas gauge doesn’t work, but you don’t need it anyway.”  “The passenger window sticks but the driver’s window is fine.”  “The A/C works but the fan doesn’t blow the air.”  Cars with personality.  Relics of past decades.  Survivors.

We’ve arranged to see a 1989 Volvo 740 wagon.  306,000 km.  Has been driven from Nanaimo to Long Beach hundreds of times.  Same owner for 15 years. 

There are four other options we’re investigating, all of them built in 1989 – 1991, all of them with 250,000 – 300,000 km.  A Jeep, a 4Runner, an Escort and a Civic.  There’s even an 04 Toyota Echo with over 400,000 km!  I don’t know what they did with that car – maybe drove it across the country a couple of times. 

Wish us luck – we’re going to need it!

Yesterday Kat & I took the dogs to the beach and had a campfire.  Wait, let me elaborate:  we had a campfire on top of wet beach sand, made from wet pieces of driftwood we found laying around on the beach.  And it was raining!  We felt pretty bad-ass.  I think we deserve a girl guide badge or something for that.

It took the usual 30 minutes of babying it and a lot more newspaper than we usually need.  The coals glowed brightly but the flames were discouraged by the rain.  Kat fanned the fire like a madwoman while I did a poor impression of Liza Minnelli in Cabaret singing “Maybe This Time” 

A couple of older fellows with their keeshound-ish dog came over to make a bit of rainy campfire conversation.

 “She’s a bit hesitant today eh?”

“Yup, everything’s wet.”

“Well I’m too old for that now, I like to cheat.”  He planted his beer into the sand beside the fire, reached into his pocket and produced a handful of chalk-white charcoal starters.  “Chuck a couple of these in there and that’ll help ‘er along.”

And so we did, and soon the happy little fire was blazing away in the rain.  We invited the men to sit with us but they didn’t stay.  We put on a pot of water for tea and enjoyed our cozy little fire on the wet beach on the rainy afternoon.  Bonus was a cranky little campfire dog who resented being swaddled in a wool blanket on my lap while Mocha got to wander around and drink ocean water.  The bald eagles chattered away in the trees on the other side of the beach as we watched the sun set. 

We’ve learned a few things in the last couple of years about campfires:

–         Set the stage.  If the earth is damp, start the fire on top of a large log or create a bed of rocks that will hold the kindling  and coals off of the ground.

–         Shelter the flame.  Set a couple of large logs close to the kindling to protect it from wind to make “wall”.  These large logs will also dry out during the first 30 minutes of fire tending and will be ready to burn when the fire is hot enough to take larger wood.  Lean medium logs against the large wall logs to make a roof.  The medium logs will be exposed to the high heat directly over the flames that you’re starting in the kindling.  When the medium logs burn when they get hot enough, and the coals will fall right where you want them.  This “roof” will also protect your kindling and coals from raindrops.

–         Use a lot of newspaper.  Don’t skimp in the beginning.  Use a lot of bark.  Bark has oils that like to burn.  Gather three times as much little branches and twigs as you think you’ll need.

–         If it’s raining, be prepared to cheat.  Sure you can spend an hour fanning flames and singing show tunes, but you could also be enjoying tea instead, and what do you have to prove anyway?  The charcoal starter briques will be added to our fire kit, along with the paraffin wax fire starters and the huge box of extra large, extra long matches.   

–         You can make your own fire starters out of drier lint, egg cartons and paraffin wax.  Stuff a blob of lint into each egg holder and fill it halfway or 2/3 the way with wax.  Set it in the freezer and then cut them into individual starters – ta daa!


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