About 3 weeks ago I faced a problem that had been slowly building up due to my own negligence. My car’s check engine light had come on a few months prior and I dismissed it. I’ve been stuck in a zone, so to speak, and have had little motivation or enthusiasm to do anything outside of my regular routine. Of course, my regular routine involves my daughter and we do as much as time and money permits us to do, and I do truly enjoy each moment with her. Outside of that is usually “me” time in which I’ve been wasting countless hours being unproductive. I was letting myself go, and with that, the proper care and maintenance of my car among other things. I’ve been feeling lost, and even after all these years, no closer to where it is that I want to be.
In a number of states in the U.S., a smog/emissions check is required and must be passed for a vehicle’s registration to be renewed. A check engine light usually results in a fail. With my registration date coming up and a smog test required, I should have addressed the problem much sooner than later, yet money was an issue which always seems to be. I don’t make much, and sometimes I can be on a tight budget. The car had just been serviced and I replaced some of the coolant hoses because of a leak, discovering the source in the process, but decided to address it later. With that stated, I planned ahead to make sure there was enough to pay the bills, and to ensure that my daughter would get a few gifts for Christmas. Though Christmas is not just about the gifts, almost any parent has a natural instinct to give their best to their children (spoiling aside that is) including presents for occasions like this. I prioritized the gifts, and pushed back the issue with the car.
Immediately after Christmas, it was back to work and the same went for the New Year, though I had my trouble codes pulled so I could see what needed to be fixed. Looking at the codes, I could see that 5 out of 7 had to do with the upstream oxygen sensor (O2 sensor). With a bit of research and how-to videos, I decided to replace it myself and save some money as I wouldn’t be able to afford a mechanic. I knew it would be difficult to break the torque on that sensor, but little did I know it would give me so much trouble. So the part was ordered along with a special socket to remove and replace the O2 sensor. All I had to do was wait a few more days. The other 2 codes had to do with the mass air flow sensor which was taken care of promptly, with a simple bit of cleaning. That same week of the new year, my car took a drastic turn for the worse when it would hesitate and not accelerate when my foot was on the pedal. It would lose all acceleration on the road, slowing down enough to the point where I would obstruct the flow of traffic. I had barely made it home on Friday night, and with the unreliability of my car, the danger of driving like that, and not to mention the damage it would do to the engine, my car was as good as dead. My job requires me to have a vehicle, so this put me in a dire situation. Luckily, the last of the parts I had ordered came in on Saturday afternoon. By then, it was too dark to begin. That night before getting started, I had soaked the area with a penetrating oil to help loosen the threads of the sensor that needed to be replaced.
On the first day, my brother came over to help, and we got to work. After about 30 minutes, it became apparent that this would be extremely challenging. Not only was the sensor seized up tighter than I thought, but the room to maneuver underneath the car was minimal, even with the car jacked up. The sensor was at an odd angle, and with the socket/ratchet/breaker bar in place, there was less than 10 inches of room to work with, and even less when the breaker bar was in place as it had no rotary motion. At last, it seemed like the torque was broken and the sensor would come out. To my dismay, we had only succeeded in rounding the nut (not too badly at first). After a few more unsuccessful attempts, we went to the store in his car to get a few tools in helping with the removal including a 22mm deep socket (which I probably should have gotten in the first place, as the car has foreign parts which use metric units as opposed to SAE units) and a curved jaw locking pliers with a torque lock. The O2 socket came in a “⅞ (22m)” size, and though it states 22mm, it is not a true metric size. The difference between ⅞ of an inch and 22mm is tiny (22.225mm vs 22.0mm), but large enough to cause rounding on a stuck bolt or nut. Having new tools in hand as well as food in our bellies, we got back to work in trying to remove that damned sensor. It soon got dark and we called it a day. The sensor was still seized in place, and no progress had been made aside from rounding the nut that holds the sensor in place. That night, after he left, I soaked the area once again with a good amount of penetrating oil in the hopes that tomorrow would yield a better result.
The second day came, but the morning brought rain which prevented me from getting started right away. There was no cover in the area where the car was parked, and nowhere else to move it where it could be lifted to perform the work on it. After the rain ceased and most of the surface water had seeped into the ground, I went back to work under the car. The O2 sensor would still not budge after various techniques and numerous attempts. Rather, it seemed to round out even more with every attempt. With the registration due date coming up in just a few days, the smog check requirement that’s required for it, not to mention the unreliability of my car (my job requires me to have a vehicle) on top of everything else that was on my mind, the stress was pushing me to a breaking point. I felt like giving up on my attempts and taking the car into an auto repair shop where someone else could handle “my problem.” For a mechanic at an auto shop, it’s likely that my problem was an easy fix. For me, this felt like defeat. Attempting to fix a problem and failing. Failing like I always seem to do. It’s become almost expected. I’ll reach for something and fall short. Every time. The years have come and gone, yet here I am. Still stuck in the same place having made no progress to get to where I want to be, and what I want for my daughter. Falling short enough times, I start to wonder why even bother trying. So, I sat on my toolbox and started calling a few shops in the area to ask for a quote on the service that was needed. I realized that if my car didn’t run, it would also need to be towed which would result in additional costs that I couldn’t afford. I felt defeated.
Having just about given up, I sat there on my toolbox feeling helpless and hopeless. Inside of me was brief raging storm of frustration, anger, sadness, and a number of other emotions which slowly faded into a cold aura of despair. Why bother? There was a bridge just down the road, and I could walk there easily. There would be no more car trouble, no more worrying about work, about money and bills, no more stress, no more loneliness. I would find peace of mind. Then I remembered my daughter’s doctor appointment approaching in almost an hour from that time. I had been selfish, thinking only of my own problems. This task needed to get done, not for myself, but for her. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed the locking pliers (even though I had tried them at one point) and slid back under my car. It took a few minutes to get the torque on the pliers right, where they could get a grip without sliding or messing up the nut even further, as well as having the correct position where they grabbed the nut evenly.
As I finally had it set right, the sound of light footsteps approached from behind. My daughter had come to pick up some medical records for her doctor’s appointment, as her mother waited in her car in the driveway. The sound of her voice was a gentle caress to my weary heart. Immediately, I was uplifted. Though the pliers had just been positioned, I couldn’t keep her waiting. I slid back out to see her and embrace her before getting what she needed, and seeing her off with her mother. There was still some time to spare before the appointment, so back under the car I went to give those pliers a push. The nut turned. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did that nut finally move? I had to release the pliers, reposition them, and squeeze down once again, as the room to move was very small. With another push, the nut turned once again. It had finally budged! A wave of relief washed over me as this troublesome piece was now unstuck. However, I needed to leave soon to get to my daughter’s appointment as there were some questions to ask and information to share with her doctor. Her well-being comes before anything else. Now that the sensor was unstuck, I could breathe easy. I set all the tools aside, so they wouldn’t be laying out in the open, and changed my wet t-shirt before heading out in a borrowed car. Less than 2 hours later, I was back underneath the car pulling out the old sensor, and screwing in the new one with a flashlight on hand as it had gotten dark. This is where the O2 socket came in handy, as I tightened the sensor in place. Once that was finished, I ran the wire along the previous path before connecting the harness. At last, it was done. After 2 days of trying to break the torque, and months of an illuminated check engine light, a new sensor was finally in place. Hopefully, this meant that my car would run, and the check engine light would be cleared so it could pass the smog test. Before taking it out for a test drive, I wanted to install the new spark plugs that I had purchased since it was about time anyway (and because it may have been a partial cause for the hesitation when accelerating), but it had gotten dark. I would get to it in the morning, and at that time I just wanted to shower and rest.
On the morning of the 3rd day, I woke early and after getting my daughter ready for school, proceeded to change the spark plugs. Though I was relieved at having a new O2 sensor in place, I was still apprehensive about my car being able to run. Doubt and fear kept gnawing at my mind. Once the last of the spark plugs were changed, I went to start the car. The moment of truth was here at last as I put my key in the ignition and turned it. Click click click click click. The car would not start. Had all my work been in vain? Trying to hide my frustration and fear, I told my daughter that it would be OK and that we would simply walk to her school which is not far. Luckily for her, she was offered a ride by my sister which got her there on time, something which she was concerned about. That left me to focus on the car. With a quick test using a multimeter, it was clear that the battery didn’t have enough charge to start the car. Having sat in the driveway for the past 3 and a half days, the battery had discharged enough that it would not turn over. I went back inside now wondering if it was more than just the battery, and whether or not something else like the starter or alternator needed to be fixed or replaced. Before long, sleep overcame me as I drifted off with uneasiness. The stress of the situation had infiltrated my dreams with doubt and fear now running rampant throughout my mind. I do not remember how long I slept, but that it was restless as I drifted in and out of consciousness between one bad dream to another. It took a few minutes to clear my head after waking up, before reaching out to some friends in the area asking for a jump. A response came back not long after from a friend who would be able to help me. A short time later, we pushed my car out of the driveway and into the street, parking it in front of his car. Once the jump cables were in place and his car had been running for a few minutes, the moment of truth was here yet again as I sat in my car ready to turn the key. The sound of my car’s engine turning over was the sound of accomplishment for me, as I listened closely to the purr of the engine. I thanked him as we disconnected the jump cables and closed our hoods, before he left. Though my car had started, I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
With a new problem (weak battery) on my hands, and possible other problems that may have contributed to that, it wasn’t time to celebrate just yet. The car still needed to pass the smog test, and I needed to see if my vehicle’s hesitation was gone. Having just been jumped, I drove down my street listening and feeling carefully for any signs of hesitation or unwelcome noises, before turning around and heading towards the battery center where the battery was purchased. On the freeway, I was careful not to push the car too hard as I didn’t want to run the risk of damaging the car even further if I had missed something, or if something else had gone wrong. As the car came to a stop at the off ramp, I saw white smoke coming out from under the hood. I drove one more block before pulling over as the smoke had started coming out heavily enough to block my view. With the risk of a fire heavily outweighing the risk of needing another jump, I pulled over onto a side street, turned off the car, and opened the hood to vent the smoke and see where it was coming from. In the location where the O2 sensor had been installed, right below the exhaust manifold, smoke was billowing out. Had I broken something? Was there a leak somewhere? Had I failed yet again? What more could go wrong, no, I dare not tempt and challenge fate with that question. With nothing to do but wait, I sat on the curb a few paces away from the car to avoid the toxic fumes. I searched for possible causes on my phone as I waited for the smoke to clear. Remembering that I had soaked the area numerous times with a penetrating oil, I searched for other cases similar to mine, and found that it was indeed the residual penetrating oil being burned off from the heat of the exhaust. The only thing to do now would be to run the car until it had all burned off and the smoke ceased. Once the smoke was down to a few wisps, I continued on toward the battery center. There, I found that my battery was still good to my relief, but discharged. They took my battery for a deep charge while I used a loaned battery that was provided for a couple of days. With the hour growing late, and the smoke from the residual penetrating oil starting to subside, I decided to put a few more miles on my car before taking it for the smog test the next day.
Day 4 had arrived and my car was running once again, seemingly with no more issues, but it was too soon to tell. It would still need to pass the smog test in order for my registration to be renewed. After taking my daughter to school, I took the car for another drive to reach at least 20 miles on the odometer since the loaned battery had been installed. If the check engine light did not come on by then, that would mean the O2 sensor replacement had been a success. When the odometer ticked past the 20 mile mark with no check engine light coming on, I felt another wave of relief, but there was still one more obstacle to overcome. By then, it was the middle of the week and I had not gone to work. It wasn’t because of my car, but because the workload for that week was so small that it would only take a day to complete. The extra time off had given me the opportunity to finally address the issues on my car, but also meant that I wasn’t getting paid. Another issue that adds to the burden of problems weighing me down. At the smog test center, I couldn’t help but think that somehow my car would fail. The doubt and fear in my mind were back at it again. Smog tests don’t take long, but this one seemed to drag on forever as I waited nervously with the fear of failure. At last, it was completed and my car had passed! Another weight had been lifted from my shoulders as the stress of the entire situation crumbled away. My car passed the smog test, its registration would be renewed, and it was running properly once again! This was a huge accomplishment for me, and a huge relief from the worry, doubt, fear, and stress that had taken hold of me in the past week. This challenge was finally over, but many more still lie ahead.
How could something so small give me so much trouble? One little sensor that made me want to give up completely, not just with the task on hand at the time, but on life itself. Then again, I do struggle with the latter more often than most realize. It was a small problem, a small challenge when looking at the big picture of things, but isn’t that what life is about? The small things. Yes, the big events in life play a large part in who we are, but it’s the small things that consistently shape us. The choices we make, and the challenges we face each day can range from trivial to significant depending on our state of mind, and the importance of the situation. Granted, the larger hurdles are more difficult to face. Loss of a job, divorce, death of a loved one to name a few, can be extremely hard to face, let alone overcome. But it can be done! With the small things it’s much easier to face and overcome at first, but when we become burdened with so many, it can weigh us down. Take a grain of rice for example. Alone, it weighs almost nothing. Fill a sack with the grains and there will be a noticeable difference. Multiply that, and eventually the combined weight will be too much for one person to bear. The small things add up, and life constantly throws more at us. Each day brings us new challenges of every shape and size that add to our existing burdens, from something that might seem as simple as getting up in the morning, to life altering events. When facing these challenges, it’s important to persevere. As difficult as they can be, and as long as they can last, one can only overcome if they don’t give up. Granted, the outcome may not be what we want, but that’s life. The important thing is that we face these challenges and keep moving forward, even if we are thrown off-balance, set back, or knocked down.
We can’t always do it alone though, as some challenges will prove too much for one person. That’s why we need support, whether it’s a close friend, family member, or even a higher power. I was lucky, or blessed in having my brother help, a car to borrow, and a friend to give me a jump, not to mention my daughter who gave me motivation when I was getting to my lowest point. Sadly, not everyone can say they have someone to call on. That doesn’t mean no one is there, because someone is always there. Though I struggle with my faith, and wouldn’t use a religious label on myself, I do believe in God, and I believe He is always there. Whether you believe or not is up to you, but when facing difficult times, it doesn’t hurt to call out. When I was under my car, I would pray, “Please God, let this work,” and had no luck for 2 days. Eventually, my perseverance paid off when the sensor came out. Whether it was the simple physics of enough force, penetrating oil, or a divine touch that finally allowed me to succeed, the fact remains that I did succeed by not giving up. What I went through probably seems trivial to some, as others have it far worse, but the underlying action of getting through and persevering in any case is what matters.
There are still many challenges and hurdles that lie before me. A week after I had succeeded in fixing the car, I received a phone call and learned that my direct manager had been let go due to the company restructuring some of its teams. Aside from the lousy hours I’ve started off with this year, my job is now at risk of being cut or eliminated altogether. This means I need to be prepared by searching for something else, and even if my job is secure, I still need something that can provide the financial means to get out of this rut that I’ve been stuck in. Something to get me back on my feet and provide certain necessities and financial security that to my shame, I have not been able to procure for my daughter. Among other challenges, my phone took a turn for the worse with horizontal translucent grey lines that run across the screen, which isn’t important at the moment, but it’s where I do most of my writing/typing. My car still needs a little work and maintenance, which will be taken care of as soon as time and money permit. I will continue to provide the best that I can for my daughter with what I have. The search for a new job will begin, but the DUI on record will limit my options. Readjusting to a new schedule will prove difficult, but can be done. To be honest, I’m scared of what the future holds and what lies ahead, but I know I’ll get through it because I’ll persevere. I look forward to the day where I can “go to bed” on an actual bed, and not worry about what the next day may bring, but rather be ready to take on the next day’s challenges.
“Persevere in the face of adversity, and you will emerge victorious” – Unknown*
This turned out to be longer than I anticipated, so I’ll cut to the chase here. Originally, I had a piece about the chains of doubt and all in the works for a January post, but life happened. For whatever reason, I decided to share my story and keep it raw and real as opposed to my regular writings. It took me longer than I would have thought to get this posted here, as my mind has been somewhat scattered lately while I try to figure out my next step. Please excuse any errors in my grammar, and thank you for taking the time to read this!
*As for the quote at the end, that particular phrase came to mind and when I searched for the name of whomever coined that phrase, I found nothing. Because there are many similar quotes about perseverance and adversity, I used unknown so as not to take credit if it is indeed another’s work.