This morning, as Felicia and her mother and Emma prepared to leave the house for a day of errands, I slipped out to do some writing at the coffee shop. Except when I started my Jeep, it notified me that one of my tires was a bit low. So I pulled out my portable air pump (this happens a lot), and as I filled the tire, the Jeep notified me that some indeterminate other thing was wrong. The engine light on my dashboard lit up.
Last winter, I opened the Jeep one morning to find the passenger floorboard full of water. An inch, possibly two. I drained it, dried the carpets; the next morning it happened again. I made an appointment with my Jeep's service center, and took the Jeep in the next day. "Oh, your appointment isn't for today Tuesday," the service tech said. "It's for the Tuesday three weeks from now." Then he showed me their scheduled service appointments for customers with water leaks. Sure enough, daily water leak appointments until the Tuesday he tapped with an unconcerned finger. I asked what I should do in the meantime. He shrugged. "Some people just put a towel down."
I brought the Jeep back three weeks later. "Just a warning," the tech told me this time. "This is going to be pricey, even if we can't repair it. Even the diagnosis is expensive." They needed the Jeep for three days, so I had to rent a car. The only car available was a low-slung Dodge Charger, not exactly the right vehicle for handling Hill House's steep, icy access road. Three days later, the service tech called. It was the day after Christmas. "Bad news," he said. "It'll cost four thousand dollars to fix. We'll replace the top roof panels and re-seal the whole thing." When I asked if that would solve the problem he shrugged over the phone: "Might. Might not. It's hard to tell with these things. Jeeps have a water problem."
An hour later I was at the dealership to pick up my unrepaired Jeep. "Let me get this straight," i said, when I met the tech. "You're going to charge me four hundred dollars for diagnosing my Jeep with a problem you knew from the start you couldn't isolate, or fix?" The tech sighed, and said, "I know, right? Look at this." He showed me a work order sheet for similar repairs they were making to Jeeps. On the first page of the list were a dozen Jeeps; there were multiple pages. He tapped a few of them. "These are 2018 models. Fresh from the factory. Already leaking like a sieve." He erased the four hundred dollar service charge, but I was still stuck paying for the Charger.
A few weeks ago, the Jeep's engine light came on, and it started running rough. Thirteen hundred dollars later, it had a hundred-thousand mile tuneup, a new starter, one of the cylinders had been repaired, et cetera, et cetera. The engine light stayed off; the Jeep ran smoothly. I still put a tarp over the roof each night that the weather app forecasts rain, however.
And then this morning: the check engine light.
It is absolutely time to swap this Jeep for something reliable, and with a roof that isn't apparently made of tissue paper. This was the first brand new vehicle I've ever purchased, and I've had it for nearly six years now. Cars shouldn't be this temperamental at six years. Perhaps it's planned obsolescence; it's paid off, after all, and the world wants me to spend more money. Well, world, when I replace this thing, maybe I'll pick up something old and safe and reliable. New cars maybe aren't worth it.
My daughter is disturbed by the notion of giving up the Jeep. She's bonded with it. She helps me to put the top back on after a sunny drive; she believes the Jeep can talk to her through the dome light, which I toggle now and then, and she translates for me. "Jeep says he likes my shoes today," she'll announce. "Thanks, Jeep. You don't have shoes, huh." She'd like me to hang onto the Jeep for the inevitable day she scores her driver's license. That's a day Felicia dreads, but one I'm not convinced will actually arrive. Autonomous future, hurry yourself up. Show us what you've got.
"You really think we're going to change the whole country's road system and laws to force people to own self-driving cars?" Felicia asked me once. I'm optimistic, and more than ready for us to take these murder machines out of the hands of people. "Sure," I answered. "I think it'll happen faster than you think." She pointed out that we can't even manage human rights for all; how do I think we're going to overhaul the entire transit system? I said I thought we'd all be stunned how quickly we made autonomous cars happen. After all, tech is the thing use to distract ourselves from the real problems she pointed out. Tech will keep marching forward, even while we humans ourselves are left behind in the worst kind of ways.
If anyone's interested in buying a leaky Jeep in the meantime...