On a recent trip to Utah to run across Zion National Park, I took my brand 'new' 2008 Prius that I'd bought a month prior, 'as is' from a great used car dealer my family trusts. I had to sell my old Highlander Hybrid, The Golden Nugget, because her battery was going dead. A cool side note: the guy who bought it off Craigslist is turning it into an electric car!
Anyways, I get this '08 Prius. I will sacrifice my comfortable car camping for better gas mileage, and Prius backseats fold flat without any modification, so it's not even that uncomfortable to sleep in. Some 'mountain people' may laugh at me for getting a 'highway vehicle,' but I don't kid or pretend to be some off-road driver. If a road is too rocky for my 2WD Prius (or old 2WD Highlander), I will walk. End of story. I just really cannot justify getting a huge fancy car that guzzles gas, since I take long road trips so often. If you have a wench on your Tacoma though, please feel free to email me your phone number in case of emergency.
So, I get the Prius, whom I've since named Sunny, get her checked out in Boulder, add snow tires, fenders - auto shop says it’s all good. The Inept Boulder crew piles in, with plenty of room, and we head to Cedar City, Utah.
Hours later, well past the Utah- Colorado border, the red triangle goes on while Brendan is driving. It turns off. We're out of gas, so we get gas. Red triangle light stays off for good now and I start driving. Twenty minutes pass. Red triangle goes on again. Just a flash. Another flash. Weird. Within three minutes, more flashes, then it stayed on. No other lights ever went on (ie check engine, low oil, etc). Car starts rattling. It decelerates as I’m pressing the gas. I quickly signal into the right hand lane and we roll to a stop on the shoulder. It's a three-lane section of I-15, going uphill. Thankfully the shoulder was huge and we could sit in itchy grass in the sun while waiting for AAA tow truck.
Tow man, nice guy from Beaver, UT, drives up and checks the engine. Tells us it’s toast. No oil. WHAT THE FUCK!? None of us really know what he means, but Kyle is like "Yeah, you definitely need oil or else your engine is blown." Tow man just shakes his head and starts lifting the car on the flatbed.
Was I supposed to know that I should check the oil every other time I get gas? Let it be known: I now check my oil regularly. And you should too.
Since the engine blew, I’ll never know what really happened. There didn’t appear to be an oil leak. So maybe the engine was burning oil? We won't know. We get towed all the way to Cedar City, to Hayden and Ashley Hawks' house and the car stays there, useless as a sack of bricks, and Hayden drives us around Zion for the next three days.
Fast forward a month
My car has been parked outside the Hawks’ house this whole time. After learning that the tow industry, like big-scale towing across state borders, is a cottage scam industry where third party services will call you nonstop, saying they have found a driver for super cheap, and they never actually do. Be warned.
So I decide to get a Cedar City Auto shop to put in a new engine. They do a great job. I catch a flight to Las Vegas and a Greyhound to Cedar City, pick up my new and improved Sunny. Things are looking great. I didn't have to buy a new car after all!
I drive into the night. It’s midnight on Vail Pass (elevation 10,660 ft) in the heart of Colorado, and I’m happily driving up the cold, dark pass, listening to the best podcast of the decade, Drilled. The heater stops working and I think, hmm, that’s werid. I can’t do anything until I get to the next town, which is Copper, on the bottom of the other side of the pass. Really, I just plan to get to Silverthorne and sleep there. 30-minutes more.
But, I get pretty cold pretty fast. It’s crazy how quickly your car will get cold when it’s zero degrees out. Then as I press the gas, the odometer starts to go down. The car is not running. Again. I immediately think that I will not make it to the top of Vail Pass. I’m all alone, getting colder, and about to lose my life’s worth of accumulated zen. Somehow, the engine kicked in on the slight downhill rollers of the pass. Then it would stop (or just run on the hybrid battery) on the uphills. I coasted into a rest area just shy of the pass. I immediately get out, check the oil. Perfect oil signs. I check the coolant. Empty. I pour more coolant in. Fuck. No coolant?! And trust me, I had no clue what coolant was prior to this month. But the guys in Cedar City said I should check that in addition to the oil, so I grabbed some coolant at an Auto Zone on my way out of Utah. I swear I thought I was prepared!
I call AAA, wait an hour in my sleeping bag. Think about what would happen to my running career if I lost a toe. An hour later, John from Dillon picked me up and we drove the two hours to Boulder.
Turns out, a coolant hose was installed incorrectly and it was an easy fix. I’m just super freaking lucky the car turned itself off before blowing another engine. The biggest takeaway from this: I didn’t get hurt. I would blown 10 engines and owe someone thousands of dollars in order to keep my health. Staying out of accidents should be our ultimate goal while driving. So turn your Instagram notifications off and pay gd attention!
Honestly, this stress was nothing compared to times of injury or worry about the health of loved ones. So, I'm extra thankful right now.
Now, go check your oil.
It should be coffee-colored brown and in between the two dots on your dip stick. Never check your coolant while the engine is hot. Only on a cool engine, or else the liquid will bubble into your face and burn you. Get snow tires. I've always had snow tires in the winter in Colorado, but as more and more transplants move to Colorado, accidents in the mountains in winter are more common and that can be prevented with good snow tires.
And, listen to Drilled! It will make you think twice every time you hear some nimwit say that the high-level executives at extraction and fossil fuel companies are moral humans.