I hate my car

I have a hate/hate relationship with my 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

It’s a former rental car, purchased for my wife in early 1998 from Hertz Car Sales with only 14,000 miles.

It became my “hand me down” in 2004 when we got my wife a 2002 Nissan Maxima after I wrecked my 1974 Chevrolet Nova.

This Monte Carlo has no character. I gives me no pride. It does little more than semi-reliably go to and from work.

Since 1998, this car has had all these problems:

  • Gasket failure on high side A/C service port
  • A/C compressor electrical feed failure
  • Oil leaks everywhere (oil regularly changed)
  • Noisy timing chain rattle when engine is cold
  • Major intake manifold gasket coolant leak (yes, the coolant was changed before the regular service interval due to the next problem…)
  • Water pump leak
  • Master cylinder leak ($550 dealer only job)
  • EGR failure (twice)
  • Two alternator failures
  • Heater core failure
  • Radiator failure
  • Heater bypass line failure (both lines)
  • Gas regulator leak
  • Flaky 4th gear torque converter clutch (trans fluid changed per manufacturer’s schedule)
  • Driver’s side power window that doesn’t go up correctly without assistance
  • Poorly fitting dash parts
  • Cheap interior parts that break when a heavy guy leans on them (car was not even 2 years old at the time)
  • Rearview mirror fell off
  • Disentigrated controls on passenger’s A/C vent
  • Handling worse than a Toyota Corolla
  • 3.1L that only has 160 HP (!) and doesn’t do better than 24 MPG at 70 MPH

Despite all this, in an objective comparison with my Nova, it would win hands down except in the horsepower department. But my Nova had character and history. It was part of my self-identity, and it was my automotive passion.

This Monte Carlo is mediocrity. It was mediocre in 1997. Today it’s less than mediocre. It’s a token child of GM’s multi-decade malaise.

With my Nova, I wanted to fix everything. I’m embarrassed at how much I spent on it.

With the Monte Carlo, I don’t care. As long as it’s comfortable and safe, I don’t care. I don’t care that the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light has been on for months (it’s the EGR). I don’t care that the suspension is getting bouncy. I probably need to rotate the tires, but I don’t care. I haven’t washed it in 2 years.

I just don’t care.

Here’s where I am conflicted. This car almost always completely satisfies my transportation needs. It gets me where I want to go. It’s holding up better than some of my coworkers’ similarly-aged SUVs with fewer miles. It’s saving me a ton of money, especially compared to new car depreciation.

Why do I dislike something that does exactly what I need?

I’ve thought about this, and I may still be struggling with how I relate to cars. I used to have a car that was like an extension of me, of my personality, something I could take pride in. It was involuntarily taken away from me, and now this mediocre substitute is all I have.

I’m lusting after the 2006 Pontiac GTO (has to be manual transmission) and 2007 Honda Civic Si 4 door. But I know I cannot buy a passion. All they would represent is a poor financial choice: appreciating assets (investments) turned into depreciating assets (cars).

Oh, well. At least I can have “pride” in one thing: I practice the fiscal conservatism I preach.


Radiator replacement post-event fun

Even after replacing my Monte Carlo’s radiator two Saturdays ago, my cooling system still gave me trouble!

On the following Tuesday, a small coolant bypass line, which provides hot water to the intake manifold, split open, creating a smoking engine compartment and a nauseating smell of scorched coolant. I managed an emergency bypass line replacement that evening despite rain and a Boy Scout Commissioner Staff meeting.

If that wasn’t enough, my upper radiator hose cracked open 9 days later. This hose was all of 3½ years old (replaced during intake manifold replacement gasket event)! Does that say something about parts store hoses?

Fortunately, replacement was simple, especially thanks to a coworker letting me borrow a socket wrench set. (Why did I not have one in the car with me?) After an emergency hose replacement in the SMU parking garage, I hope the car is finally sealed up!

Radiator replacement

I replaced my Monte Carlo’s radiator today. The job wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

This leak started a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Before realizing it was an unfixable leak where the plastic side tanks met the metal center part of the radiator, I ran a can of stop leak in the system in a futile effort to make it last longer. It didn’t work, and it lately got to the point where I was refilling the reservoir every other day.

I had to do this today (Saturday, Dec. 8) because the weather is turning cold and rainy tomorrow (Sunday, Dec. 9).

Here’s how I started out:

45 minutes later, it’s out. Here’s the condenser:

The old radiator and the new one on the box:

I had to take some clips and parts off the old one and put it in the new one. One of the parts was the coolant level sensor. It was full of “mud”:

This “mud” is apparently common in systems running GM’s orange Dexcool coolant. As an aside, this coolant is commonly blamed for many problems. My gut feeling is that Dexcool’s faults are badly overblown, and at worst, may be responsible for a small increase in problems only with certain vehicles–such as 3.1L engines eating intake manifold gaskets (part 1, part 2)!

The new radiator is installed, and all parts are back in place:

I saw this notch in the radiator:

It turns out it only dug into the fins, not the tubes, and the old radiator had it, too. I guess it allows the radiator to flex laterally? While aluminum allows for far more efficient radiator design, it is more rigid and less bend-tolerant than older brass radiators.

Refilling the radiator in these cars involves opening some bleeder screws in the engine. I think it is this way because, due to the aerodynamic shape of the front of the car, the top of the radiator is well below the intake manifold. Therefore, you have to open the bleeders while filling and again while the engine is running to let air bubbles escape. Otherwise, the thermostat may take a while to open.

The car is back together, and the leak is gone!