I have called her ‘Christine’

23 01 2020

Warning—long!

I bought my current car (2008 model) in 2012 from my parents when they upgraded to an SUV around the time my Dad had a hip replacement and needed a car that was easier to get into and out of. It’s served me well and has given me almost no bother (except a couple of small light globes going out) in the 9 years I’ve had it. Until now. Now I think she’s slightly possessed, so I’ve called her ‘Christine’.

It all started when I went on a quilting retreat at the beginning of this month. This retreat is some 3 hours’ drive from where I live. I parked my car in their car park and except for the first night when I drove it into town, didn’t go near the car the four days I was there. When I went to pack the car at 6am to leave later that morning, I couldn’t open the car with the key fob. Nothing. My first thought was the battery in the key fob was dead, or the car battery was dead. I remembered there was an emergency key in the fob, so pulled that out and opened the driver’s door. I put my fob in the ignition and turned it on. Nothing. Not even the ‘whrr’ sound of a dead battery.

At 7am I called the RAC (I’m a member, but as I found out, not a ‘high enough’ member, despite some <mumble> decades since I joined at age 17). They said someone from a nearby country town would be out in about 90 minutes. Two hours later and no-one had arrived, so I called them again. They told me the guy was sick and couldn’t come until at least the afternoon, but I could pay an extra $130 for someone to come from another town, and it would be another 2 hours at least before they got there (where I was staying is only an hour from Perth, so these times seemed a bit odd). I said I’d wait for the local guy, but in the meantime would call my dealership.

I described the symptoms to the service manager, and she said it may not be battery at all, but possibly the steering system, in which case a battery recharge from the RAC may not even work, and if it did, I’d have to drive straight to the dealership with NO stops along the way. So now the question was how to get the car to the dealership (remember, it’s 3 hours’ drive away) so they could assess it. Yes, there are some dealerships in Perth, but then I’d still have to get the car to Perth and then collect it from Perth at a later date. Having it local was really the only way to go.

Back on the phone to the RAC to change my request from roadside assistance (for a battery kickstart) to towing. The RAC person was most helpful and gave me quotes for getting the car to Perth (around $300) and to the dealership close to home ($800). And told me that my membership level meant I was only eligible for a free tow in the Perth metro area for up to 80 km round trip. (One reason I haven’t gone to a higher level is their restriction on towing to the metro area only—it’s useless if you’re outside Perth). My service manager said if I got the car to the dealership in Perth, then they could get it from there for $160 on a car carrier, for a total of around $460. But all this was a lot of running around and having to be picked up by my other half (OH), who already had a 6-hour round trip in front of him to collect me from the retreat location. Extra trips back and forth to Perth weren’t really practical.

Did I mention that phone reception at the retreat is poor, which meant going outside to make/take calls, and it was 42C that day, and I was in semi-panic mode?

I bit the bullet and decided to go with the tow direct to my local dealership. The towing guy from the nearby town called me shortly after and we got that all sorted—he would pick up the car the next morning (it was already 1:30pm by now and too late for him to get it to the dealership before they closed). I waited for my OH to get to me (that was an exercise in itself, as he’d never been there before), and we drove back home.

Next day, my car got delivered to the dealership by noon, and the service manager called me later that afternoon to say it was ready to pick up the next day. The steering system wasn’t at fault (thank goodness as that would’ve cost an arm and a leg), but the battery was severely compromised and they had to put their super-duper charger on it to get any response. They were all gobsmacked that the battery was dated 2008, and was the original one! It lasted 12 years, which was amazing. They replaced the old battery with a new one, and I drove the car home.

The service manager also told me that someone had very slightly touched my car’s front bumper with theirs and that the dealership would pay for it to be repainted. She showed me the damage, and it was a minor paint scrape at worst. But she insisted that they would get it fixed for me and we arranged for me to bring the car in the following Wednesday afternoon. I went about my normal business, going to the shops on Friday and again on Monday, with nothing untoward.

Late Tuesday afternoon, my OH went into the garage to get some drinks from the fridge and didn’t turn on the light. This was a blessing in hindsight, as he noticed that my car’s right rear tail light was reflecting back from the closed garage door. He called me and we noticed that the front right parking light was also on. I locked the car, unlocked it, relocked it, but no matter what I did those lights would come back on and start flashing intermittently. The service department at the dealership was about to close for the day, so I called the service manager right away. She got me to try some stuff with the headlamp switch but that made no difference, so she said to bring the car in straight away and hand it off to one of the other staff. Fortunately, she had a loan car available for me, so I was able to get home. Remember, I’d already booked the car in to go to the panel shop late Wednesday.

On Wednesday she called and said they were able to get the car into the panel shop right then, and had figured out that the light controller was faulting, causing the brand new battery to drain. After it had been to the panel shop, they got it back to the dealership, and had to wait on a replacement light controller part to arrive from Melbourne (by air to Perth, then road to the dealership some 2 hours’ south of Perth). Once they got that all installed and recharged the battery, I went back in to pay yet another bill (ugh!) and pick up my car on the Thursday.

You’d think that would be the end of it, but not quite yet…

Either later that day or the next day, I decided to put all my stuff back into the car that I’d taken out when it went in to the dealership for the panel work etc. (maps, phone chargers etc.). One of the things I do is keep a mini pack of tissues under a flap in the dashboard where there’s a screen for the audio system etc. I rarely open this flap, and have only done so when I’ve been driving. This is significant. I repack my car with the bits and bobs, including the tissues, then close the car and lock it. The keys are in my hand, and this is a 2008 car, so there’s no ‘talking’ between the fob and the car as there is on more recent vehicles. I turn to go back into the house when I hear music. And it’s coming from inside the car! The CD (yes, this is an older car) that was playing when I last drove it, is now playing again. OK, so that’s weird. And creepy! I call my OH, and we try various things—start the car and move it out of the garage then back in again to see what happens, then turn it off. All is OK. Then I explain to him what I did when I repacked the car, moving the flap open as I do so (the car is off at this point). I lock the car and turn away and the CD starts playing again! At this point, the car becomes ‘Christine’!!!

I call the dealership in a panic fearing that the entire electrical system is out to get me. The assistant service manager answers (my main person is out). She has no idea what’s happening either, so I tell her I’m bringing it in to be checked. Off we go, me in my ‘Christine’ and my OH in his car. I get to the dealership and the service manager is back—she knows exactly what it is, as it happened to her in a similar model car just the day before. It seems if you open the screen flap when the car is off, the auxiliary entertainment system comes on—this allows a passenger waiting in the car to listen to music etc. when the driver is away and has the key fob. And it’s ‘by design’. Who knew?? Certainly not me, even after 9 years owning the car, and when I asked my Dad about it, he said he never knew either. So that was a wasted hour-long round trip for the two of us, but at least we knew the car wasn’t possessed!

While I write this, she’s being a good girl in the garage—no disco lights and music. I’m still calling her ‘Christine’ though.


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