Renewed Love For My Little Car

Toyota Matrix

My little tank, my Matrix!

This past Monday I took my 2006 Toyota Matrix to a transmission clinic for transmission work. I’d known the transmission was having issues since late last summer when the much louder aspect of driving it was narrowed down to “something inside the transmission” by my local garage. I hadn’t really noticed the noise getting louder, but it was loud enough where I had to turn my radio up to drive in relative peace and I knew transmission noise couldn’t be a good thing.

So having booked a rental car for the week, I dropped my car off at the transmission clinic pickup location and my mom was nice enough to drive me to the rental place. I’d reserved an economy car for the week, but they were all out of them, so I was given a Nissan Murano. Compared to my little Matrix, the Murano seemed huge! It was a very nice looking car in a deep red color with beige upholstery inside. It was a 2017 model so had all the bells and whistles including a huge front display that had a navigation map and displayed the backup camera. It was a free upgrade from economy to what I consider luxury and I felt I’d be content with it for the week.

Nissan Murano

My rental car, a Nissan Murano

Nissan Murano

Interior of the Murano. Very fancy!

Like most of the cars I’ve owned, my Matrix is a stick shift. Stick shifts are a dying breed these days, which is sad because I find driving standard so much more fun! The Murano of course was an automatic transmission and it rode nice enough, but I missed my clutch and the ability to shift as needed. Plus, the Murano felt so much larger and higher up than my little car that I was afraid I was going to run into things. My little Matrix is small, low, and maneuverable and the Murano seemed like a tank in comparison.

While driving the Murano was an interesting change at first, I quickly began missing my Matrix. I didn’t feel at home in a rental car because it’s not mine so I had to be careful to keep it clean and I was worried about people banging doors into it. My Matrix is scratched, dinged, a little rusty, and has a “lived in” interior. My little car has gotten me through a lot, including some rather scary and unpleasant winter driving. Despite it all, my car kept chugging along, but I knew the transmission had given me all it could and it was only a matter of time before it gave up on me.

I don’t consider myself a materialistic person, but wow did I miss my car this week! Although I had the rental to drive, it just wasn’t the same and I didn’t feel at home in it. I was hoping my car would be done earlier than later, but it took until Friday afternoon for it to be totally fixed. The rental car sat in my driveway without going anywhere for two days and whenever I’d look out the window, I’d be taken aback by the red instead of white.

Another thing I learned during all this aside from how much I miss my car when it’s gone, is how anxious I get when my fate is in someone else’s hands. Having to wait for the garage to fix my car so I could resume my usual routine was very uncomfortable to me. I may not have the most exciting life, but I like being able to hop in my little car and go wherever, whenever. I didn’t feel the need or desire to do that with the rental. Especially since I couldn’t have animals in it, so that meant no little trips with Jazzmin into town. By Thursday I was chomping at the bit to get my car back and when they called me Friday to say it was done, I nearly whooped with joy! My mom was once again nice enough to get me from one place to the next and I owe her for being my chauffeur this week.

I love my Toyota Matrix and I tell it that pretty much every time I get in it. It’s been the most reliable car I’ve ever owned and until this transmission issue, had needed only usual maintenance like oil changes, brakes, and some exhaust work. I call it my little tank for good reason and I foresee it getting myself and/or my daughters through many more years of driving. While I already appreciated my Matrix immensely, I love and appreciate it even more now. With the new transmission, it’s so quiet and shifts so nice and it’s like having a brand new, broken in, and well-loved tiny tank!

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Deer Don’t Stop!

Buck running full tilt across the road.

If you’ve never hit a deer with your car, I sincerely hope you never do because it’s not fun. Deer cross the road wherever they like, not just where there are warning signs.

I hit my first deer on my 22nd birthday. I was driving home from a birthday shopping spree on a warm, sunny afternoon in my 1989 Ford Probe when a deer ran out of the bushes next to the road. One second it wasn’t there and the next it was and I had no time to stop so I hit it at around 50 miles per hour. The Probe was a sporty, low to the ground car and I figured if I ever hit a deer with it, it’d come through the windshield. That didn’t happen though as when I hit the deer it was sent flying off into the field across the road.

I was shaken up but fine after hitting the deer, but my car was far from fine. The hood and front bumper were badly damaged and I could smell a mixture of antifreeze and hot deer fur. I was able to drive the car home to the apartment I lived in with my then husband and he managed to pull the bumper back out enough (by tying it to a tree and putting the car in reverse) to be able to close the hood. He didn’t have collision insurance on the car and it wasn’t until that event that I realized how important it is to have collision on a vehicle when it’s the only vehicle you have to drive.

The next deer I hit was a little fawn that went running out in the shadows on the road on a sunny day and I was very upset when I hit that baby. I don’t like harming any animals and I felt terrible for a very long time after hitting the fawn. As it was a small deer, it only bent my front license plate a little so my car didn’t require repair, but it took a while for my spirit to heal.

I live in deer country, although nowadays as the deer population continues to grow and humans continue to develop the land, everywhere is becoming deer country. It’s a very rural area where I live and I’ve learned where a lot of deer cross and know to look out for them. I look out for them no matter where I’m driving because deer don’t stop before crossing, they’ll run across at full speed regardless of what’s coming down the road. Unfortunately, because of their full tilt running, even I don’t see them in time sometimes. Such was the case on the 28th of last month when I was driving home from the grocery store barely five miles from my house.

I’d gone out to get a few things for dinner and had recently crossed into the 55mph area on the road when I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. I was going about 50mph at the time I believe. The thing I saw was a deer charging down the steep slope right next to the road and I slammed on the brakes in an effort to stop but didn’t quite make it. My tires slid as my brakes locked up and I don’t know how fast I was going when I hit the deer with the front right side of my car but it was enough to stun her for a while as she lay in the opposite shoulder of the road.

Thankfully, I was fine and as I got out of my car, the doe was looking at me with huge, scared eyes as she lay in the shoulder trying to get her bearings. Someone stopped to ask if I was okay and by the time they left, the deer was gone. I don’t know if I injured her or just stunned her, but she was able to leave the scene. I walked around to the front of my car to survey the damage and saw that my hood was bent up and my headlight was broken off its mount. The way my hood was buckling and not making a good seal, I knew I’d have to get it repaired. Fortunately, I have collision on my Toyota Matrix and good coverage so I knew I’d be okay.

Damage to my car

Damage to my car

car damage 2

car damage 3

I’d never had to go through insurance to pay for car repairs before so that was an interesting process. I got an estimate for repairs and it topped $2000, which was way more than my $500 deductible. Fortunately, I also have coverage for a car rental while my car gets repaired and for anyone who has only one vehicle to drive and doesn’t necessarily have the cash always on hand to repair it, I highly suggest having collision insurance with rental coverage. After the deer hit I lowered my deductible to $250 for any future incidents (which I sincerely hope don’t happen) because I never really thought about having to shell out $500 at once until it came time to do it.

I finally had everything coordinated and dropped my Matrix off for repairs this morning. My mom was nice enough to pick me up from the garage and take me to the rental place and they set me up with a 2016 Ford Escape. My mom had a Ford Escape several years ago and it was a nice little SUV, but when I saw the new Escape, it didn’t look anything like an SUV. It didn’t look that much bigger than my little Matrix! Odd what people consider SUVs these days.

I found it somewhat amusing that my rental is a Ford when I’ve had a less than wonderful history with Ford vehicles. Fords are all my ex-husband owns and drives, but I’ve been much happier (and had way less issues) since I bought my Toyota. My Matrix is a stick shift because I love stick, but manuals are hard to find these days so driving the automatic Escape feels weird. I miss my clutch! I’m grateful I have something to drive while my car gets repaired, but I’ll be happier to get my Matrix back. The bells and whistles on the Escape are fun to play with, but way more than I need. I do rather love the blue color of it though…

My rental, a 2016 Ford Escape

My rental, a 2016 Ford Escape

The moral of my story is that you can’t count on deer to stop for cars and you can’t always stop for them, even when you’re cautious. They travel in groups too so if you see one crossing the road, slow down because there are probably more where that one came from. Regardless of where you live, it’s always good to keep your eyes open for deer because they’re out all sorts of places at all times of day and are about as predictable as squirrels but immensely bigger!

Bees and Bends in the Road

I had the windows of my car partially down as I drove to my mother’s house for dinner on Memorial Day. It was a beautiful day with a slight breeze and I was going along at 55 mph minding my business when “ping!” I heard a bug hit my side mirror. It then bounced into my car and landed on my right bicep. I brushed the bug quickly off without even thinking, for fear it might be something that would sting me. As I thought about being stung I realized I should probably figure out where the flicked bug had landed. The last thing I needed was the thing flying up in my face startling me so badly I swerved off the road.

For the sake of safety, I found a wide shoulder to pull over onto and turned off my car. When no traffic was coming down the road, I opened my door and stepped outside to then lean over into my car and thoroughly examine the driver’s seat. No bug. I looked under the driver’s seat. No bug. I looked in the back seats and again no bug. I finally went around to the other side of the car and opened the front passenger side door. I looked on the floor mat first and sure enough, there was the bug! It was a rather small bee and while it was stunned, it was still very much alive. I found an old receipt and carefully scooped the bewildered buzzing bee to place him on the grass by the shoulder.

That crisis averted, I waited for traffic to pass so I could get back in my car. The next truck coming up the road happened to be my ex-husband taking our daughters to his family’s picnic. As I was reasonably certain he wouldn’t run me over, I quickly got back into my car and waved out the window as they drove by. There were no cars behind his truck so I pulled back onto the road and continued on my way to my mother’s house.

As I drove along the whole incident reminded me of the days when I used to ride motorcycles. Hitting bugs on a motorcycle was unavoidable and they’d get up sleeves and down collars periodically. I’d then be riding around wondering what the heck was in my jacket, if it was still alive and when it would sting me if so. Definitely a unique experience!

I started out as a passenger on my ex-husband’s motorcycle and eventually felt the desire to be the one holding the handlebars. My ex started teaching me on an old Honda TL that didn’t go much over 10 mph and on that bike I learned how to roll the gas and ease off the clutch to keep from stalling. My ex eventually bought me a Suzuki DR 250 and I got a decent amount of road riding experience on that glorified hairdryer of a bike. I upgraded to a DR650 because I liked the seating position and partially knobby tires of the dual purpose bikes.

I wanted my motorcycle license but I was still rather nervous on the road, especially around sweeping turns, bends in the road, sharp corners or when starting from a stop going up a hill. Wanting to do things right, I took the motorcycle safety course which included 5 hours of classroom lessons and 10 hours of hands-on training riding motorcycles. The instructors were impressed with my abilities on the Honda Nighthawks the class provided. As the bikes had obviously already been dropped more than once I wasn’t as fearful of dropping them as I was my own shiny new bike. I passed the class with flying colors and will forever be proud that on my written evaluation the instructors said I “smoked the turn” coming out of the figure 8.

Unfortunately, even with my motorcycle license I didn’t get much riding in after that. I had my daughters to take care of and I couldn’t go riding without a babysitter. Once in a blue moon my ex and I would get a ride in but as the jaunts became less frequent, I felt less confident in my abilities. I dropped my bike a couple times just trying to slow to park it and I lost a large amount of belief in myself.

I let my ex buy me out of that DR 650 in the divorce and he’s since sold it, but I still miss riding now and then. It would take me quite a bit of time to build up my confidence again. Even if I had a bike I wouldn’t want to go riding alone. I’m not sure when I’ll again feel like I earned that “Class DM” on my driver’s license but I’m hopeful it will happen someday. Whomever helps me with that will have to be the most patient person in the world because I can get a smidge flustered when I know I can do something but I can’t do it as well as I used to. All in due time I suppose.

There are times when I’m driving my car, going around a tight bend or curvy section and  I think how much fun it would be on a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle on the open road creates a distinct thrill and sense of freedom far removed from the confines of a car. There are also inherent risks on a bike because car drivers rarely look for motorcycles. All intelligent bike riders know to look out for themselves and never quite trust that other drivers see them.

There is a camaraderie among motorcycle riders; they wave or nod as they pass each other on the road and they huddle under bridges when it’s raining, no matter what type of bike they’re on. They’re also all familiar with the hazards of bugs and the gasp of panic when the thing that just pinged off their helmet starts buzzing audibly from their jacket. It’s all part of the bends in the road as we throttle along the road of destiny and it’s best to enjoy the ride.