With the sun shining high in the afternoon sky, my wife and I headed out on a weekend trip to the Texas Hill Country, looking to spend a relaxing weekend touring small town Texas; specifically Georgetown and Round Rock. We do this as a way of indulging our past times of antiquing and exploring the nearby countryside. We used to do day trips in the immediate area, but now we have to plan longer trips as we travel further from home.
We have two vehicles, both SUVs: a 2003 Ford Explorer Sport and a 2009 Ford Escape. They are like siblings sometimes, in that they get sick at the same time. When I was a child, my two sisters and I passed the chicken pox back and forth three times, so that my parents had to constantly deal with at least one sick child for several months. My cars are like that. Earlier this year, both of their batteries had to be replaced within a week of each other.
Anyway, the highway was fairly populated, but traffic was moving at a relatively brisk pace. We stopped at an absolutely horrific Denny’s for a protracted, mediocre dinner before continuing on to Austin, where we planned to turn north into Round Rock. As we cruised west on highway 290, I felt a “thunk” in the car, almost like I drove over something that flipped up and hit the undercarriage. Suddenly, the car lost power and began to slow, despite my continued pressure on the accelerator. Something was wrong.
I drifted over to the shoulder and rolled to a stop. With the blinkers on, I waited for a break in the oncoming traffic before opening my door. You’d think that at some point, the road would be empty, even if only for a moment, but there was a steady stream of cars barreling down on us as I sat there with the door cracked open. Finally, I spotted my opening. I figured after the panel van went by, I would be able to hop out, close the door and scamper around to the front of the car before the red Kia knocked me over. I counted to three, hopped, slammed and scooted just in the nick of time. I opened the hood and peered inside, as if by doing so, the gremlin that was plaguing my car would jump up, throw his hands in the air and surrender, never to bother us again. Alas, I saw nothing amiss under the hood. Everything looked as it should. No hoses were loose, no belts screamed, no fittings spewed. With these new computer controlled cars, there isn’t even a throttle linkage to manipulate.
The engine was idling as it should, but it wouldn’t respond to the accelerator. My wife, Michelle and I feared we would be stranded and have to call someone to come get us. It was at this time that it occurred to me that this is a computer controlled vehicle, and what does one do when a computer malfunctions? One reboots. So I turned the car off, waited a few seconds and turned it back on. Bingo! The accelerator once again controlled the car. The vehicle managed to run just fine for the rest of the weekend and even into the next week.
My Sport was having mechanical problems of its own, having a rubbing sound and burning smell after driving for a while. I knew I needed to get that fixed before something ignited or a wheel flew off and rolled ahead of me down the road. For that car, it turned out the right rear brake caliper was jammed and after a boatload of money, it was fine. But the very same day I got the Sport fixed, the Escape’s gremlin returned. Michelle called me to let me know the car stopped accelerating on her way to work. She followed my example of pulling over, turning the car off and on again to reboot the computer and it worked, but that meant we had to get it fixed ASAP. It would not do for her to be stranded on the way to work in rush hour traffic if the gremlin decided a reboot wouldn’t suffice anymore.
I was worried, as the Sport’s repair bill was impressive and we had not budgeted for yet another repair bill. The Escape had more than 108,000 miles on it, so its factory warrantee was long expired. Fortunately, after some internet research, I found out that the issue is related to a known factory recall for the throttle body assembly, and that Ford was effecting repairs for affected vehicles at no cost. Yea!
So, once again, my two cars got sick at the same time, but fortunately, I only had to pay for one! Hopefully, they are both done getting sick for a while. But we know these things come in threes, so I’m knocking on wood as I type this.