The Perils of Owning an Older Car -- AN ARTSY JOURNEY #18

Posted on April 25, 2016 by Kate Moynihan | 0 comments

I had a problem I didn’t know how to fix: The 1984 Chevette.

Unlike last winter, when I had a cozy two-stall garage I shared with Robert, this winter the car was out in the frigid cold, street-side to this old house in Bismarck, North Dakota – the second coldest state in the nation after Alaska.

To help the icy engine start, Mark the Mechanic had installed a twenty dollar radiator heater. Nightly, when the temperature hoovered around inhuman, I’d plug the heater into an electrical outlet on my landlord, Marge’s house. Instantly the electric meter would whirl and I’d gulp, thinking I should give her more money for rent.

With the radiator heater pumping warm fluid through the ice-block of an engine, the Chevette purred. The car continued to burn oil and need an occasional quart of oil. Checking the dip in the artic air, I’d wear a double-layer of gloves to keep frostbite away.

Even with the radiator heater, I had another challenge. It was the Chevette’s rusting body. Earlier in the summer, a wheel-well hole had been repaied, but now the erosion had crept beyond, most tragically into the defrost system. Even on high power, I could hear the fan whirl, yet only a wisp of air blew from the windshield vent. When I crawled into the Chevette the steam from my breath would frost the window. I drove scraping a squint hole in the icy mess.

I needed a new car.

But I didn’t have the money, yet.

Stomping snow from my feet, I trudged into the apartment. I tugged my mittens off and rubbed my hands together feeling the hot pinpricks of thawing. I yanked at the zipper of my parka, and the metal tab, brittle from thirteen-below, snapped off.
Great. Now I needed a new coat and a new car.

Worse yet, I was trapped inside a neck-to-knees, synthetic down-fill jacket as the apartment heat wrapped around me. With stiff fingers, I fiddled with the tab-less zipper. It didn’t budge.

Then I felt the additional hot blast of the entryway space heater on my legs. This multi-window section of the apartment proved to be cooler than the rest of the house so Marge had placed a small room heater here.

I tried to tug off the parka by pulling at the wrists. The snug cuffs, designed to fight cold, were sticking to my moist arms. I yanked harder. The jacket shimmied over my shoulders, trapping my head inside. My face flushed as I sucked in hot air. The hood flopped forward and sealed me inside. I huffed in more hot air. My armpits were soaked and my “wicking” layer was stuck to my back. By now, my face was on fire and sweat oozed down my back.

I twitched and tugged, finally the coat sprung free. I gulped the fresh air. Then quickly, I reached down and turned off the space heater, its wire interior glowed red hot. That little beauty really blasted the power.

Maybe, just maybe, I thought … what if I put the space heater inside the Chevette? I could add a timer so the heater would turn on an hour before I had to leave in the morning, warming the interior of the car so when I crawled inside my breath wouldn’t frost the cold windshield. I bet the car would even stay warm during the short distances I drove in town.

Being mechanically handicapped my heart raced with a bit of fear. I dialed Mark the Mechanic, rushed through my brainstorm, and read him the power watts on the heater. He said it was safe to run the heater a short duration.

I purchased a lamp timer and an extension cord. Shortly, I had the heater/timer contraption huddled inside the Chevette. I set the timer for an hour before I had to drive away the next morning and plugged the extension cord to Marge’s outdoor electrical box. If this idea worked, I’d gladly pay a few bucks more in rent for the additional electricity.

The next morning I scooted to the front of the house. Rounding the corner, there stood the Chevette. The windows were frost free! 

There was a flutter in my chest. I felt like I could make it the two months until spring – my goal to buy a new car. One that could withstand the weight of art fair gear … yet one I could afford.

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