’93 Buick Century: The Car That Never says “Die”

By: Tuesday, June 26th, 2007 10:26 pm GMT -5 82,083 views 20 Comments

After over two months, $320, and countless failures, stalls, bummed rides, and weekends spent at home, my car is finally fixed. I salute you Buick Century, you glorious bastard, this is the second major breakdown you’ve survived. Let the record show I never gave up on you, even though all logic pointed in that direction.

It all started April 15th. Not being able to find a ride to the airport I decided to leave my car in long term parking. It was going to cost me about $15 bucks. Call a cab? Don’t even talk about cabs. $22 from the airport to my door. Gas doesn’t cost that much, assholes. I get back and it’s pouring rain. No big deal, there’s a shuttle out to the lot. I get in the car, slightly damp and ready to go to work (it was Monday morning). Turn the key. Nothing.

Two days later I get my car back from the garage where it had been towed. Thank god for AAA. The battery van guy actually brought me to an ATM to get cash to cover the fee when he got back with the truck (it was in metered parking). Then he brought me home and was nice enough to tell me his entire life story, show me cell phone pics of his new tool box, and explain how he started his own DJ business: the lusty leopard or screaming seagull or giggling cheetah or something then charge me $80 to tell me he didn’t find anything. In fact, as soon as he had it towed in, it started up fine. Even so, he felt the need to spend five minutes turning it on and off every twenty minutes for an hour. Assholes.

Then it was April 21st and time to go to Toronto for Flash in the Can. Why did I offer to drive? Go ask the owl. It drove up fine, and even drove home well enough. Then the problems started. Randomly not starting, randomly stalling at a light or when idling, transmission problems, the outlook was bleak. I took it to the wonderfully whimsical Dial-A-Tire who surmised they could find nothing wrong and maybe it was the transmission. Wade (the owner) became my instant mechanic-for-life when he didn’t charge me for the labor since they couldn’t find anything.

For those of you who haven’t owned a car more than ten years old, believe you me that the words “it’s the transmission” is pretty much a death sentence. It’s hard to pay for a repair that costs more than the car’s worth (that’s called ‘totaled’ kids). Much like Napoleon at the height of power, my strategy was to wait and see.

Through an evolution Darwin would’ve been proud of, the problems got more varied, idiosyncratic, strange, inconsistent, and mind-boggling. By getting to know my co-workers better through begged rides to and from work (thanks again Emily, Jill, and Pete), I made it through a few weeks. Oh, speaking of Pete, he gave me the only small victory in this battle by changing all my plugs and wires while I was away one weekend. Not like “surprise, new plugs”, I dropped it off at his house before I left. That seemed to solve problem #9 – randomly not starting. ‘Randomly’ isn’t the right word, it was sort of predictable. As the importance of my arriving on time at my destination went up, the chances the car would start went down – a direct inverse proportion.

I adapted to a schedule that allowed me to drive to work, and drive home, with no stops along the way and no going out once I was back for the night. I couldn’t drive anywhere else (in case it didn’t start) or drive anywhere that would require me to sit idling (since it would stall). That included days in which traffic was heavy on the way to work. Those days included Friday, June 15th when my car stalled in the middle of a two lane road and had to be pushed, in reverse, over an incline into a bank parking lot. That’s even less fun than it sounds.

This was getting ridiculous. Summer means road trips and I needed a car that wouldn’t leave me stranded on Rt. 17. For those of you who don’t live upstate, as you drive down Rt. 17, you have to turn up your stereo to drown out the banjo music rolling forth from the porches peppered along this rustic almost-highway. Horseheads NY? Assholes.

One more chance. the Hail Mary pass, I decided to give Dial-A-Tire another shot. The problems had gotten consistent enough to diagnose. I dropped it off yesterday morning. Wade called me that afternoon. It lives!

Turns out the internal computer had gone all wonky. Who knew ’93 Buicks even had a computer? I always assumed my car ran on wishes and magic. Apparently I wasn’t far off since the computer was controlling the engine as if I was teleporting back and forth between the south pole and the equator. Do you know what happens when the engine suddenly thinks it’s -40 degrees? It floods with gas and everything stalls. Oh, and the idle goes nuts.

What’s the best thing about big, common American cars? Every garage has the necessary parts laying around and a new computer only costs $240. The radiator fan wasn’t working but rather than charge me for anymore parts or labor, good old Wade just whacked it with a wrench and it started up again. Reminds me of my mechanic back home who would stick a jack-knife into battery connections to check for live voltage.

I can’t express how good it feels to have a car again. I don’t have to hold my breath at every stoplight. I can go out at night for dinner, or groceries, or the gym, all without begging my neighbor. I can eat lunch at work, even if no one else is going out. If I forget my sunglasses at the cigar bar I don’t have to wait for two weeks until I’m in the neighborhood on my way to the liquor store with Rex. I honestly didn’t realize how stressed out I was about not having it. I guess you don’t know what you got till it’s gone it comes back.

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  • Dan Nocket said:

    Seriously, get a new (or new-to-you) car. That’s what a man would do.

    • Dana said:

      Hilarious! Especially since my white 1993 Buick Century just retired its own air conditioning. The engine is making a new sound like a chainsaw. Hubby says it may be a belt.

      • Wendy said:

        Oh my god! This is too funny. You could have a second career as a writer for a stand up comic.

        • Cindy said:

          Justin-You are preaching to my choir. I have a 2001 Buick(really a ’93. We had a hail storm in ’01 that totaled it -159 dings-I counted). I bought it back for savlage($770.00). I took the remaining funds and replaced the windows in my house that were covered by insurance. I had the ” harmonic balancer ” go out in mine! Who knew it neede to be in harmony? I found this while trying to find out how to put in a new headlight. Just like a kid-always something. Dan- you are wrong.

          • mina said:

            i checked the alternator its ok then the battery its ok (put one on from good running car) problem is it wont start after i turn it off after a jump could it be a fuse out the fan isn’t working found out fuse out it says fan/alternator what could possibly be the problem?