It’s getting cold here in the Pacific Northwest, and that means my truck’s windows get foggy. Leaving work one evening this week, I sat in the cold cab of my pickup truck, listened to NPR, and waited ten minutes for the condensation on the windshield to dissipate enough for me to see the road. I love my truck, Helen, but she’s getting old, and she doesn’t de-fog a windshield like she used to.
I wrote about Helen – an ’88 Dodge Dakota – earlier this year when I recounted the tale of getting into a bumper bender on my way to work. She survived the collision without the need for any repairs, which is good since I don’t have collision insurance. Her face got pretty banged up, but she keeps on running, steady as a rock. Her problems are largely cosmetic: the front bumper is now more abstract art than functional device, the seat cover is worn out and requires me to put down a towel to avoid getting foam rubber cushion dust on my butt, and I had to remove the cab’s ceiling liner as the adhesive stopped adhering, causing the liner to sag and generate static electricity when it rubbed against my head. Also, the control knob for the heater fan fell off.
The first sign there was a problem with the knob was two years ago, when I grabbed it to turn up the fan and noticed it was hot – scalding, even – to the touch. I knew that wasn’t normal, but I chose to ignore it, which is how I approach most automotive problems. As long as I didn’t hold on to the knob, I could avoid getting singed. That worked fine until the knob snapped off a few months ago when I reached to adjust the fan. It made sense the plastic switch, having been heated up repeatedly over two years, had finally succumbed to thermal fatigue. I solved that problem by inserting the tip of a small screwdriver into the slit in the dashboard and moving the adjustment mechanism up and down. I didn’t leave the screwdriver inserted, as I learned my lesson and wanted to avoid the chance of burning myself on a hot screwdriver handle. I’m no dummy.
Last month, the fan stopped working altogether, so I was forced to take it to the automotive shop where I get oil changes. The worst part was recounting the history of this calamity, in which I was forced to confess I had largely ignored the problem for years and jury-rigged my way to avoid paying a repair bill that would now, of course, be higher due to my neglect. The repair guy didn’t flinch, or laugh, when I had finished telling my story. He must be inured to negligent vehicle owners weaving ridiculous tales, and I’m grateful he allowed me to maintain some small shred of undeserved dignity. He said they would take a look, and I got a ride to work. An hour later, he called to let me know they had replaced a resistor, or some such doohickey, and the fan was now working fine. Better yet, it was not a costly procedure, so I was pleased. They didn’t replace the knob, but I wasn’t expecting it. The screwdriver was still required.
The next day, the blower didn’t work when I started the truck, so I returned to the shop. He suspected there was a problem with the motor, which would be a much more significant repair. Again, I got a ride to work, and, again, they called an hour later, this time to say it was working for them and there was nothing to fix, so I should pick it up. I was relieved I didn’t have to pay another bill, but later that day it stopped working again. I knew the next repair was going to cost a lot, so I considered my options. After an extensive Internet search, I found an auxiliary heater with a 12-volt power cord, and my truck comes equipped with a cigarette lighter. While vehicles now come equipped with 12-volt outlets for smart phone charging cords and such, I can still light a cigarette in my truck. I wondered whether if I was a smoker, the heat of the cigarettes might help with the defogging, but other problems would undoubtedly arise from that course of action.
I have learned that 12 volts is not a lot of power. While it’s adequate to light a cigarette, substantially more volts are required to run a proper heater. The auxiliary fan I bought huffed and puffed a pathetic zephyr of tepid air onto the windshield, requiring constant readjustment to de-fog more than a small pinhole. As the weather got worse, I decided this was unworkable. Once the temperatures dropped below freezing, it would take a good 30 minutes to thaw out the windshield with my asthmatic auxiliary fan.
I returned to the shop and, $300 later, had the blower motor fixed. Or replaced. I don’t pay attention to details like that. I don’t know how to change the oil, so why would I concern myself with the specifics of my blower motor maintenance. If it blows, I’m happy. It takes ten minutes for the air to clear, but at least it does clear, and I have ten extra minutes to listen to “All Things Considered” on my way home from work. It could always be worse.
I named her Helen, after my grandmother, whose passing resulted in an inheritance that gave my parents the money to buy a truck. When my dad died, I inherited it from him eleven years ago. All these years later, in addition to the problems I mentioned earlier, the seat adjustment is broken, so I am the only licensed driver in the family tall enough to drive her. She’s all mine. She delivers me to and from work every day, has made countless runs to the dump, waited patiently outside venues while I moshed it up at metal shows, and hauled several tons of rocks and dirt, the raw material for several backyard projects. We’ve had good, occasionally exciting, times together. Once, my dad and I transported a refrigerator from Portland to Olympia, an adventure in which we learned the importance, and difficulty, of properly securing the load so that the refrigerator doesn’t fall into a prone position while driving on Interstate 5. Miraculously, no one got hurt, and the fridge worked fine when we arrived. I love Helen, and I hope we have more years together, but I know it can’t last forever, especially considering my lackadaisical attitude towards maintenance. Helen is going to turn 30 next year. Perhaps I’ll get a birthday cake and throw a little party in the cab. I can light the candles with the cigarette lighter, but I don’t think Helen will be able to blow out the candles without a little help.