93: Maximillion

93: Maximillion

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman


Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.

~Bernice Johnson Reagon

Volvos are known for being safe cars, so that’s what I looked for when I was buying a used car. What they forgot to tell me was that finding parts or mechanics for them isn’t always easy.

When my twenty-five-year-old Volvo started to cut out when I was driving, even without knowing anything about the car, I knew it was a pretty big problem. But it started up again right away, so I ignored it. In hindsight, I might not have made the best choice. And then one day, it just wouldn’t start.

I had it towed to a garage that specializes in Volvos, and they got it up and running — for a week or so. Still paying off the first bill, I thought I’d ask a neighbour who fixes cars out of his garage to give it a try. He’s a Chevy guy, but a car’s a car, right? I soon found out that, in fact, Volvos are Volvos and Chevys are Chevys — and never the twain shall meet!

Given that we lived on an island, I was completely stranded at home with two little kids. I didn’t have money to take taxis everywhere, and I certainly didn’t have the money to buy another car.

So I finally did what any other fiercely independent — or was it just desperate? — woman would do: I ordered a Haynes manual and started reading.

Just so we’re clear, it’s not as if my father fixed cars in his spare time when I was growing up or anything so I knew all this stuff. No, I knew nothing about cars. Heck, I am so un-mechanical that I don’t even know the difference between a Phillips-head and Robertson screwdriver unless described by shape. (And while I’m sure that I own both kinds, it’s rare that I can actually find them.)

After reading through the Haynes manual — okay, I flipped through and looked at the pictures, but it was a start, right? — I searched online. There are Volvo-fixing websites, Volvo boards, and Volvo groups. Who knew? I posted questions, always apologizing for my complete ignorance, and got answers, which usually just led to more questions.

But I made a little bit of progress by checking the fuses (hidden behind the ashtray), siphoning out the cheap gas and replacing it with premium. Then I checked the spark plugs and bought a new fuel-injection relay. The more I learned, the more confident I grew.

That was good because most of the easy things had been ruled out, and my car still wasn’t going anywhere. But I felt brave enough to check bigger things, like the fuel pump (another no). Every time I found a new possibility, I felt sure I was going to be able to get my car up and running.

I kept reading the forums and searching through my now well-worn Haynes manual looking for the elusive solution that two trained mechanics before me had missed. I didn’t think I knew more than they did, of course, but the difference between us was that I needed my car to work. I needed to go for groceries and get the kids to school if they missed the bus. I missed my freedom. And, I have to admit, I was starting to see my car as more than a car; we were starting to form a bond.

Shortly after realizing that I was not giving up on the car, no matter how frustrated I felt at times, I finally had the breakthrough. After fully understanding how all the parts of the engine work together, I traced the journey from ignition through spark plugs to carburetor (thankfully, that wasn’t the problem!) and ended up with distributor — and a new distributor was all it took.

The journey took me a full month and cost me a bit of money in parts that didn’t need replacing. But, in the end, it was much cheaper than another mechanic or another car would have been. And even better than getting the car up and running again — which was pretty sweet — was the sense that I really, truly can do anything that I set my mind to. I mean, I fixed a car. I’m still pretty proud.

To celebrate the car being up and running, my kids and I christened it Maximillion. It had already driven half a million kilometres, and we wanted to give it inspiration to get through the next half a million. We’ve got a long way to go yet, but as everyone knows, the journey is just as much fun as the destination.

~esme mills

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