Full Speed Ahead: The Premier Car Column

By Charlie Ascher

Imagine you’re driving through the quaint little town of East Middlebury, fairly lost, but telling yourself that you’re totally going the right way. It doesn’t matter though, because you’re the only person in the car, “Beverly Hills” is on the radio, you’re singing along and are crushing it. “Damn, I should sing a cappella,” you think, before realizing that you were one of only two kids to be given a non-singing role in your middle school operetta. Also, your car happens to break down just as you pass East Middlebury’s own Pub Safe officer (apparently in the real world they call them police officers).

All right, clearly that whole scenario is probably too weird for it to involve you. I’m the weirdo who had this exact experience happen to me and I guess I should probably give a brief introduction to my column. Basically, I really like cars. I have a passion for all things four-wheeled and have been known to actually enjoy reading about, writing on, and lusting over resource-wasting, non-sustainable, liquid dinosaur burning devil machines (or whatever environmentalists are calling cars these days – I swear I actually care about the environment, too).  Despite our decidedly eco image, a lot of students own cars. Cars matter on campus, so I figured I would use this column to discuss cars as they relate to Middlebury.

Back to East Middlebury and some further context: This drive just happens to be my first time driving my car in Vermont. The car is a navy blue 1999 Volvo V70. The Volvo is a performance beast that comes complete with such speed necessities as an engine, four wheels, and a steering wheel. The Swagon (short for Swagger Wagon) has even been proven through extensive and rigorous testing to be able to win a one-mile race against a Porsche going 50 miles an hour by going 60 miles per hour nine times out of 10 (how it lost the tenth race I don’t even know). The Volvo was my grandparent’s old ride and I had just finished making it into a pure, unfiltered chick magnet complete with a sparkling wax and shine. I even had it checked over at a local service station to guarantee that it was at least not going to combust at any point in time. Unfortunately — despite my extensive preparations that went so far as sprinkling the five-year-old contents of the bottle of holy water from the back of the glove compartment onto the hood of the car, making my Volvo a blessed transport of college students to McDonald’s at one in the morning — the car still broke down. Crap.

The whole car just shut down. No engine response, no power steering, no electricity, nothing. This is something all drivers should be prepared for. Cars aren’t perfect and there’s a good chance that, at some point in your life, you’re going to have a car break down on you. When you do break down, do whatever you can to get over to the side of the road while your car is still rolling. Don’t be that driver that panics and then ends up blocking the entire lane and don’t panic (unless of course there’s a massive fire coming from your engine compartment, in which case, yes, panic and get the hell out of your car). Once you’ve pulled over, put your hazards on and try to start your car again. If it doesn’t start right away, try turning the engine over a bit longer than you would normally, even feathering the gas a little bit. If you’re still not getting it started, pop the hood and make sure everything major is connected (the belts and the battery connections, first and foremost). If nothing seems to be working, call for help. If you’re somewhere in the Middlebury area, there’s a relatively good chance that there will be someone around willing to help (thanks Greg and Fran!) If worst comes to worst, you’ll have to arrange for a tow and have it sent to a garage that comes recommended. It sucks, I know, but just do it.

My car turned out to have a failed fuel pump, which is actually pretty tricky to replace on my particular Volvo. I got it towed by Mike’s Auto Towing and repaired by Randy’s Service Center, who were both reasonable and knowledgeable. The Swagger Wagon is good to go now. Realize, however, that the possibility of a breakdown is part of the cost of taking your car to college. Try to keep your car in as good a condition as you can and make sure you have a game plan in case it does die on you. You’ve got this.