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Opinion: Bill Walton, Seeing a Specialist

Don’t worry – it is just a blip
20220910 car walton

My vehicle is quite new so I was a little alarmed when the engine coughed, the transmission down-shifted by itself, an orange message briefly flashed on the console centre and then everything returned to normal operation. I pulled to the side of the road and let the machine idle for a moment. Everything looked A-OK.

Still, it being new and me being old, I called Tom the salesperson who sold me the SUV.

This vehicle has more electronic systems than I have. It checks stuff even before I open the doors, sensing my presence and preparing for a road trip.  It checks the petrol level, the oil in the sump, the transmission fluids, the tire pressures, the windshield washer (even looking for drops of rain to swipe from the windshield), adjusts the mirrors, checks all the lights even when the sun is shining, the airbags of which I have no idea of how many are in the car, and even slides the seat to my favourite driving position as I sit.

So when the engine coughed I wondered if some sensor had failed.

Tom, says I, the engine coughed. I corrected that to sound more mechanical – the engine mis-fired; the gear box, I mean transmission, downshifted and an orange message came on the monitor. What did the message say, says he. I don’t know – it was too quick for me to read. And it’s gone now. Is everything running okay now? Yeah, I think so. Don’t worry – it was likely just a blip. Call the shop specialist in the morning if it happens again.

I do not know what a blip means in mechanic speak and his recommendation sounded like take two aspirin and call me in the morning. I should have called a specialist but you have to jump through the hoops – go through the dealer – the car’s GP, as it were.

In the morning my vehicle had another blip. I called Parts and Service and Bert said to bring her in and I’ll take a look. Let me check our schedule. Tomorrow at 11:15 okay? Sure, keep driving – it’s likely just a blip. At least I now knew my vehicle was a ‘her’ not an ‘it’. And here I had been calling it “Santa’ – Mrs Santa from now on.

At 11:30 (I had to sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes) Bert took me to the examination stall. He raised the hood and had me start the engine. He listened with his electronic gadget (it did look like a stethoscope). Hmm, says he. I think we had better send you to Johnson’s Electronics and do an MRA. What’s that, says I. Magnetic Resonance Amplifier – sort of like an ECG for cars. Johnson’s has the best one in town. Lemme call for an appointment. Next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. okay for you? Bert asked.

Is it okay to drive her until then I asked? I almost said ‘it’. Sure, just don’t do any racing or stunt driving, he laughed, no doubt thinking what were the odds of an 80-year-old doing stunt driving in a 4-cylinder SUV?

The next week I was at the Johnson Clinic on time but had to wait for an hour. Alice, the technician said sorry we had an emergency MRA on a Police cruiser. Let’s take a look at her, she said pointing to my vehicle.  I think she just has a blip, says I. I got the look doctors give patients when they self-diagnose using the internet.

Alice hooked up a handful of leads to parts of the engine and started her up. Nope, not a blip, Alice said. Sounds like you have a blockage in the fuel injector. I can go in through the fuel tank with a catheter brush or we can just add some ethanol cleaner and let it run through. I’ve got some pills right here – we can try that. Pills sounded better than a catheter for Mrs Santa, so I nodded.

And, says Alice in the white coat, I’m going to order an exhaustoscopy to check her emissions. It could be an impingement in the catalytic converter. We should probably do a fluid analysis at Mrs Transmission, just to be safe. They will send you the appointment.

I had to ask: who is paying for all of these tests? The manufacturer has an insurance plan – it’s all part of the purchase price. Just like your own health care, Alice says. We have to keep her healthy until she is ready for the scrap yard. I must have looked shocked. Oh, don’t worry – she’s good for three or four hundred thousand klicks. Hell, I’ll be 95 by then, I thought.

A week later she blipped again. I called Bert and told him. Just a moment, says he, while I check on the diagnosis file from Alice. Yeah, I got the MRA results. Isn’t this client file-sharing great, he asked me. What have you been using since your appointment, Bert asked. Premium, just like Alice said, I replied. Okay, let me see how soon I can get you a new injector.

You’ll have to go on the waitlist, says Bert. Looks like six-weeks before we can get a new one and do the replacement operation. We could try for a used one – might be quicker. Are used ones any good, asks I. Sure, just like getting a heart transplant – they install used ones all the time. Ha ha, he laughed. It might not last as long but we’ll give you a warranty.

So next week Mrs Santa goes in for an injector system replacement. Bert says they’ll put some Kleen Flo in so we don’t have any rejection problems. But the blips should be gone.

Now I am wondering what will happen if I get a blip. Not Mrs Santa, but me, personally. How long will it take to get an appointment, get an MRA or whatever they use on humans, colonoscopy, urinalysis and get the injector cleaned or replaced? Ten will get you five the car will be quicker than the human. Just saying.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

retired from City of North Bay in 2000writer, poet, columnist
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