3 Lessons Learned from Replacing My Car Engine

First off, I'm an idiot and, full disclosure, did not change the oil in my car so my engine exploded. In my defense (a little) I think there was a mix-up last time I took it in to get serviced, but it's a pretty lame defense even still since that was long enough ago I should have had my oil changed since then. 

1. Change your oil.
For real. Before the oil light goes on, if possible and you are on top of life enough to track miles or months. Whatever they say on the Jiffy Lube commercials. If you don't track time and the reminder sticker they put in the corner of your windshield is still somehow confusing (guilty), change your oil when the light goes on. Don't wait a day, or 3 like I did, then try to drive in 90 degree weather up a mountain pass. Your engine will explode, dousing dirty, nasty, filthy oil all over the parts of your car that can't handle the goo and it will haunt you.

Also, when your car is getting fixed, don't tell anyone it's because you didn't change your oil. You sound like an idiot and most people will rib you for it in that well-meaning, not hurtful, just annoying way. It gets old fast, making self-deprecating comments about car maintenance. Just say it's a mess enough times and people will stop asking why.

2. Pick a mechanic near you. A nice one.
I made two huge mistakes when replacing my engine. One, I purchased an engine from a shop 40 miles from my home (whose main guy had a thick Japanese accent and condescending attitude). And two, the guy I chose to install my engine was, found on Craigslist, 45 miles from my home. The Craigslist part didn't turn out to be such a problem in terms of quality or know-how, but the guy was not trained in the art of customer service, or really human communication. Run-on sentences in emails were full of terminology and grammar I couldn't understand, and talking in person was a headache. Doable, though, because I got enough of a deal of an install. Problem here was that it takes at least 45 minutes to drive to the shop or the guy's driveway, meaning any time I needed to inspect it, I had to slot in an hour and a half of my precious time, and any time I needed to pick up the car (because oil ruins not just engines but other parts too, and you don't always find out til after you've driven away, because cars are the worst invention ever), Porter had to do it too.

For my final inspections, I took the car to a third mechanic, a 15 minute walk from my office, 2 minutes from a bus stop, a 20 minute public-transit commute from home. Not only was this guy polite, respectful, and helpfully instructive, he was the easiest person in the world to get to. And I will take all my business to him for the rest of my life (as long as he's still close and nice). I sent out a mass email to everyone in my office to go there I liked him so much.

3. Walking is great
Silver lining time. Over the last several months of back and forth between mechanics and replacements and tune-ups, I have been bound to foot-traffic. Porter works from home, so I could use his car sometimes, but the appointments he has are in random places at random times, so I commuted a lot by bus. I love where I live- just 10 minute walk from a major bus stop. The walk in the morning always cleared my head and got me ready for the day. There were a few days where I had random appointments where I had to track down bus routes and make transfers and that part I'm not so good at or fond of (and somehow almost always ended up on crowded buses standing up near the front. How could I almost always be the last one on??), but walking from point to point was GREAT.

There's tons of research out there (you know there, in the world of research and the internets) that talks about how weight-lifting is great, and aerobic exercise is great, and both are important for an elevated level of fitness, BUT if your main goal is a high quality of living (mental health, emotional health, physical well-being, etc), the very best thing you can do is walk. Walk a lot, regularly. As fast as you want (briskly is good, but power-walking isn't necessary). And it's totally true. I felt great breathing in late summer and early fall air. And I should continue to do it even though I'm back behind the wheel.

Ugh. I just counted the days between car disaster day one and final car return last week (Summer and Fall) and I feel mad and embarrassed and disgusted all over again. Maybe I should go on a walk.


Timothy Odeen said...

Cars can go 5,000 miles between oil changes (if it's a newer car....my car fewer miles because I am about to hit 200k). The average driver uses their car 12,000 miles in a year. If nothing else (i.e., you can't change your ways), change your oil when you change your tires. You're not the only person in the world who completely forgets about their oil....I don't think my wife ever remembers to do it until I ask about it. Or, if you actually use a daily planner, remember it as 3,000 miles or every three months (or 4, whatever). In your planner just space out the 3 or 4 months between changes and then you will never forget about it again. It may be less than 3,000 miles but that never hurt a car...just your pocket book...but $30 is less than what you paid for a new engine.

Randee Colton said...

All the points you listed here are excellent. Unfortunately, you learned all these the hard way. For example, oil change is something a lot of car owners take for granted. However, taking your car to a professional repair shop not only ensures that your engine would run well, it also allows the mechanic to spot some hidden troubles. At least you got some exercise while your car was being repaired. :)

Randee Colton @ CapitolHillExxon.com