the case of the misfiring cylinder vs. misfiring check engine light

Twas the morning of Christmas Eve’s eve in the Bacon Payoff household (an efficient and frugal one-car household) when I got an early call from Mr. Bacon as he was on his way to work. The car was stalling at stoplights and the check engine light had come back on. NOOOOO! He had me quickly look up train tickets to his hometown for later that night, since we were heading up for Christmas with his family. Luckily unlike plane tickets, we were able to secure train tickets for the “day of” super duper cheap–$43 to $48 each way.

Now about a month ago, I had finally taken our car into the dealership to figure out what the “check engine” light was telling us. It comes on and off periodically, but was hardly ever persistent, and seemed to come on when the weather was cold. Sometimes. (There wasn’t really a pattern.) I should know better about taking better care of my car, but growing up in San Francisco, my uncles owned an auto repair shop in the city and they always took care of anything to do with car troubles. Obviously I was spoiled. 😦

So that month ago appointment told us that there was a “misfiring cylinder” and the first step was to “adjust the valves”, which would cost $511 and wasn’t guaranteed to fix the problem. Once we dropped off the car for a day to get this done, we would have to “wait and see” if the check engine light came back on. If it didn’t, then everything was hunky dory. If it came back on, obviously the problem wasn’t fixed with the $511.

Now even though I had some money socked away in the emergency fund for “car issues”, I still balked at paying $511 for a service that wasn’t guaranteed. Besides, it was hard to find a day when either of us didn’t need the car…

Typical car-sharing use of the one-car household during winter (too cold and wet for bike commuting):

  • Mondays are Mr. Bacon’s turn to drive, I carpool with a coworker as I live on her route to work.
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays I drop him off and pick him up if he has a 12-hour shift (unless he’s got the day off, then it’s mine).
  • Wednesdays and Fridays, I walk the 30mins to work and Mr. Bacon drives.
    (I work about 5 miles from the office location I’m at Mon-Tues-Thurs, and only 1.5 miles from the other location Wed-Fri.)

Soon after the diagnosis of a potential “misfiring cylinder”, the check engine light stopped coming on. So…I would often chuckle at myself that this seemed more like a “misfiring check engine light”. Oh, so clever. NOT! Since the light didn’t come back on for weeks upon weeks, I chose to be blissfully ignorant. Until that fateful morning of Christmas Eve’s eve. 😦

Anyway. We are both out of town for a week and in the meantime left the car at the dealership (which is conveniently located a block down our street, don’t even get me started on how to pick a good auto repair place). I got a phone call from them Tuesday, saying the error code was still the “misfiring cylinder”, so we would have to proceed with the $511 valve adjustment we had discussed last month. Grrrrg.

SO. This tale of the one-car household is to be continued, as are the tales of living on the financial edge. We did not get a Christmas bonus at work before Christmas, unfortunately, but word is that we most always get one, sometimes before Christmas, sometimes not til the end of January, sometimes via direct deposit, and sometimes a big paper check. I remain hopeful and grateful that I stashed some of my last bonus into the emergency fund!

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!

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