Friday, April 19, 2019

Land Dink

For most people living and traveling on a boat requires some way to get back and forth to land without having to wrestle said boat onto and off of a dock. We had the Dink. It was bought used, dull gray, and powered by a tiny little outboard barely capable of pushing the thing across the water. I was never a big fan of the Dink, particularly when using it at night. But as the years rolled by I became a bit more comfortable in the thing.

Moving back to land meant finding a wheeled version of the Dink; some way to get back and forth to various places miles and miles apart. Since the primary reason for our sojourn back to the hard was to shore up a badly depleted cruising kitty, spending a ton of cash on a new Land Dink seemed counter productive. Instead we found a used one at a dealer of good repute. It had low milage for its years and was a “fully inspected pre-owned vehicle”. There was enough money left in the bank account for us to pay cash.

The radio, heat and air con worked. It kept me dry even when it rained. It had a cruise control, which was nice. And it had a remote starter, which became my new favorite toy. Aim the fob at it from the second story window of the shop’s Instructor hang-out, push a button, and it would start right up. By the time I got in, heat was pouring out of the vents and the ice was melting off the windows. Pretty cool. We were pleased to meet the transportation needs of our land sojourn at an acceptable cost.

A month or so after purchase, the new-to-us Land Dink began to shudder once in a while when pulling away from a light, particularly if it was going uphill. It felt very much like I had forgotten how to drive a clutch. Possible, I guess, but this was an automatic. Some days it would be better, other days worse. But the overall trend wasn’t positive. Having long ago learned to be pro-active when it comes to mechanical things going wrong with a Dink, we drove it the hour plus back to the Dealer Of Repute and dropped it off for repair. Two days later they called. There wasn’t anything wrong, or so they claimed. Test drives along with computer and visual checks were clean. 

Come again? I may not be a car guy, but I am pretty good at telling when something isn’t working. And it seemed highly unlikely that the seat of my pants were more sensitive than the various sensors built into a modern car. But what are you going to do? It is really hard to fix that which isn’t obviously broken. At least they didn’t charge us for not finding anything wrong, the rental dink being the only blow to the bank account.

A few weeks after the shop insisted that all was well, the shudder was joined by Traction Control warning light in the dash, and with that the cruise control went away. At first it seemed like a good sign. A traction control problem could, possibly, lead to such a shudder. Maybe a bad but hitherto intermittent sensor lay at the root of the problem? Though not likely, at least it seemed possible this would be a relatively painless fix. We made an appointment with a nearby dealer to look at the car. Before the appointment date arrived an engine warning light appeared as well. The traction control fault had shut down the cruise control. The engine fault shut down the remote start. The Land Dink was getting to be just as annoying as our water Dink had once been. But with lights glowing, there were clearly things broken that could be found and fixed.

The first thing the new shop did was download the fault history from the car’s memory file. There was a lot to read. Multiple failure codes associated with the Traction Control, piled on top of those that came from the engine’s oil pressure system. Add the whining noise that turned out to be a failing fuel pump, and front brake disks that were warped just enough to heat up and cause the steering wheel to shudder. Repair costs quickly added up to more than the car had cost in the first place, though the shop suggested it would probably run for a few weeks, maybe even months, as it was. We paid a modest troubleshooting fee and limped home.

The Land Dink was a dud. 

Several days of debate ensued. Go cheap again and hope lemons don’t fall in pairs? Buy more expensive but still used and get some lemon warranty as well as some modest retail value in a few years? Reliability was an issue that came to the fore as I limped back and forth to work. The schedule can cover odd hours of coming and going in the wee hours of the morning or deep into the night. The trek from home to shop traverses some parts of St. Louis that are places that one does not want to be stranded in the wee hours of the morning or deep into the night. Hem and haw, consider and debate, decide, un-decide, and decide something else.

The dull gray Land Dink went away. In its place is a brand new, shiny white Land Dink of good repute, complete with a bow to stern warranty. All decisions eventually get judged somewhere off in the future, where things not yet known are old hat. If a dull gray dud of a Land Dink is the worst decision I make while back here on land, I’ll think we did pretty well.


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I've never owned a new car, but on the whole I've had better luck with my used vehicles, variously bought from private sellers, curb-stoners, and real dealerships. Pity your seller couldn't be made to pay the repairs: a couple months isn't an unreasonable warranty period. Here in MA we have a lemon law, but maybe not where you are.

TJ said...

Jeff, this is only the second new car we have ever had. The first was a Saturn that was remarkable only for its drabness, and the fact that it was likely the most reliable piece of machinery I've ever owned. The MO "Lemon Law" doesn't apply to used cars, making it kind of useless. I'm not pleased at what happened, but it was a risk we knew were were taking when we bought the thing. And, truth to tell, I can't say for sure that the dealer knew they were dumping a stinker on us. It was a $$ hit we could have done without, and will likely add a bit of time to our "shore leave" to make up for it. But it that's the worst thing that happens to us while we are on the hard I'll be pretty pleased.