Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

It Takes a Village Idiot

The Sunday morning after our return from Thanksgiving weekend, we loaded up Ben and Cassie, the black cocker bitch we had met and adopted one hour prior, into Homer, our Honda Odyssey minivan. We were going to the park, PetSmart, and who knows where else.

“I’m going to check the oil,” I said. I had noticed the engine running a little rough when we idled in a convenience store parking lot during the 360-mile trip home.

I grabbed some paper towels from the kitchen and propped open the hood. The dipstick offered little resistance as I withdrew it from its sheath. I held the end close to my face and turned it to reflect enough light to read it. There was no oil at the maximum fill line, and none at the minimum fill line. Below that, there was more of the same. Nothing.

When I wiped off the end, I felt only the dry rub of metal on paper towel.

I told Shannon we might have trouble, and helped her move everybody and everything to the Sebring. “We’ll buy some oil while we’re out.” The weather was about 72 degrees with a light breeze, and with winter fast approaching, we weren’t going to waste such a day.

When we returned from a great time, I moved the Odyssey from our slightly sloped driveway to level ground. It knocked and pinged loudly as I backed it down the driveway and parallel parked at the curb. I again checked the oil.


I looked at the driveway, where we always park Homer, for signs of an oil leak.


We had driven Homer at least 360 miles, and possibly twice that, without any oil.

The first mechanic looked at me after he heard it and said, “Oh, Mark, I’m real sorry. Your engine’s a goner.”

“Well, what can we do?” I asked.

“I don’t think you’ll have much luck trading the van in, once they hear this.”

Trading it in? I knew it was serious, and he confirmed it after patiently explaining how an engine’s rods prefer at least a little bit of oil pressure to operate. When they have none, they start making the sounds we were hearing.

Long story short, we got two local opinions, a sprinkling from an online Odyssey forum, and a confirmation from a mechanic in the family. The engine has been replaced and the mechanic just wants to drive its new home around a little Monday morning before turning it over to us.

The Odyssey forum folks were mercifully easy on me. One helpful soul typed, “I wish people would record the sound and post it here, but they never do.”

I laughed. He obviously doesn’t know who I am. Anybody who does knows that I don’t need an excuse to use my digital recorder, but given one, I’m all over it.

I took my recorder to work the next day and used part of my lunch break to capture the horrible knocking. Click the play button below to listen. You may have to click it twice.

Posting it was a breeze. This response stood out in my mind:

“Hey, that sounds like an engine that has been run without any oil! Oh, that’s right it is an engine that was run without any oil. As I think I said before in this thread, almost any other engine would have seized and left you stranded.”

Two things caused this misfortune. Here they are, in order of culpability:

  • I didn’t check the oil before or during the trip.
  • The oil lamp never came on.

Not that we live by the oil lamp. We’ve made our previous cars last well after they were paid for, and I don’t remember ever seeing it.

We had the oil changed about six months ago. Admittedly, that’s not quite as often as recommended, but it shouldn’t be time enough to burn through 4.5 quarts of oil unless there’s a major problem.

The engine we killed had about 120,000 miles on it. The replacement has about 60,000, and carries a 6-month, 60,000 (additional) mile warranty.

Did I say, “long story short?” Ha. That’s a good one.

Click thumbnails below to enlarge. Use your browser’s back button to return here.

Something is Missing Reassemble Puttin Back In

Left to Right: The hole left after removing the dead engine; the guys working to put the front axle, etc. on the replacement engine; preparing to place the replacement. Photos by Bob the mechanic.

19 Responses to It Takes a Village Idiot

  1. It wasn’t a 20-year journey or anything, but thank goodness your Homer got you back without the lube. Kinda like how my truck’s transmission crapped out in the parking lot at work a couple weeks ago. Bloody hell.

  2. Part of the reason why I don’t trust idiot lights (there’s a reason they’re called that), but that i want gauges in my cars.

    Thank goodness you weren’t stranded anywhere.

  3. Simon – So, we’ve both had recent bad experiences with a tranny (no, not that kind of tranny). Bloody hell, indeed. Then, I tore up my Honda. Bloody poor performance.

    Dave – Thanks, Dave. Let’s have a contest. I’ll bet your Corvette can’t run as far without oil as my Odyssey did.

    I can picture it clearly. The engine goes out somewhere between here and central Arkansas. *cue Deliverance banjo music* Locals find us and make us their play things until family and friends realize we’re missing. One by one they come to find us, only to fall victim to our captors. In a feat of strength that proves he’s truly Superman’s son, Ben thrusts a porch sofa at one of the evil bumpkins and they all scatter in fear. We’re saved!

  4. Dude, you should totally sell the movie rights to Hollywood for that idea. They eat up anything these days. (And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Ben REALLY IS a super-boy. Stranger things have happened.)

  5. My sincerest sympathies to your checkbook, Mark. I’m happy to hear that everything is getting put back together well and I’m impressed with Homer’s tanacity in returning you and your family safely despite the lack of oil.

    Reminds me of my Mom’s old Escort. On two occasions she ran that thing down to no oil. The machanic had her sign wavers both times claiming that she knew she had brought in in in an oil-less condition. I was impressed by that little tank that kept running despite the abuse. She, on the other hand, will still complain about that “lemon” and will never buy another Ford because she had some problems with the seat. Go figure.

  6. I can tell you were tired when you were writing this one – caught a couple of typos:

    From the second paragraph: “we idled in a convenience story parking lot.”

    From almost halfway through: “You’re engine’s a goner.”

    Stop blaming yourself, babe (for the engine, not the typos – those were definitely your fault). I don’t blame you.

  7. A wife who places semantic culpability higher than lubrication short-sightedness. Truly, Mark, Shannon is a gem.

    But maybe you meant to write ‘convenience story’. That would describe Robert Jordan’s last 9 novels. (Sorry, personal peeve there.)

  8. DJ Moksha G – My pocketbook thanks you. That’s too funny about your mom’s Escort. Reminds me of Alvis’ Horizon.

    Wife – Thanks dear. I fixed it.

    Simon – Yeah, she’s a keeper. And perfect proof why, in a court of law, a spouses’ word doesn’t hold as much weight as that of a perfect stranger (if any).

    Our van problems made for more of an inconvenience story.

  9. You have a Sebring?

  10. You have a Sebring???

  11. Sorry, couldn’t resist that. But I only intended to post that once. My computer burped or something right then. Sorry ’bout Homer. That sucks.
    You and Simon are writing really good, I mean well, today.
    Going to go check out MG and see how good, I mean well, he’s writing today. With any luck maybe I’ll post something more good than usual. ;-)
    (Thought I’d give Shan something to edit. Hi Shan ;-))

  12. As a perfect stranger, I agree with Shan. There was clearly a malfunction with Homer’s oil light. I take pretty good care of my cars…and I can easily see myself missing this one.

    Linda’s gonna be pretty disappointed in me when she gets to my blog :(

  13. Linda, I think you meant to say “more gooder.” ;-)

  14. And yes, my hubby has an old ladies’ car (hee-hee) – check out the post about it here:

  15. Linda – Yes, we do.

    Yes, we do.

    I’m not crazy about the images my new blog theme automatically displays for emoticons. I might have to work on finding some acceptable substitutes.

    Moksha – Yeah, everybody’s been pretty cool about it. There was absolutely no sign of leaking after I added oil and it sat in the driveway all night, so I don’t think all that oil had leaked out. Oh well. I’ll never know now exactly what happened.

    So you didn’t post anything today. Linda will put on some Lou Rawls Reed and get over it.

    Wife – Thanks for finding that link. It tells the whole story.

  16. When Hyundai first hit our shores in 1988, I bought the loving wife an Excel. It had four doors and A.C. which was all we required with the arrival of our first born. (It was also all we could afford).

    When I bought the car the first thing I did was drain the oil and put in synthetic. We used Mobil One on the sub and it proved its worth many times over.

    After moving to Virginia, Laura decided to drive home to the Cleveland area while I was out at sea for a month. I checked the oil before we left, then she dropped me at the pier and headed for Ohio. She arrived safely and asked my best friend if he could look at the car because she smelled something burning the whole trip home.

    When he opened the hood he found the the whole engine compartment covered with cooked on oil and not a drop in the engine. I had left the fill cap off and the pull rods had pumped it dry. He refilled it, she drove back to Virginia and the Excel lasted another 120,000 miles. I’ve run synthetic in every car we own since.

  17. BK – That’s a great story, with an ending I wish my wife’s Hyundai (1991? sCoupe) shared. The (automatic) transmission on it was so terrible that we had to give up the car at least two years before we hoped. She bought it with cash before I met her, instead of a Mitsubishi Eclipse. Ouch.

  18. This post is old by now and I’m always behind, don’t know if this will get read or not… Anyway, I think Sebrings (not sure which year) are sexy as heck, and a convertible to boot? I played pass me-pass you on the interstate awhile back with a really cute guy in a taupe-colored Sebring for a couple hours… and while it was a little less dangerous than star-gazing, it got the old adrenaline pumping. Course that’s not hard to do for someone my age. Hence the excitement when I read you had a Sebring. Ah, the memory… ;-) Thanks for the link, Shannon :-)
    And Mark- up there, talking to MG – you know me so well…

  19. Linda – It’s a pretty nice-looking car. I guess that’s why they haven’t changed the design at all over all these years.

    I guess the top will have to stay up a while now, though. ;-(


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