RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Grand Am

My Pseudo Dad

Posted on

As I have mentioned here before, my dad died before I was born. I grew up watching sitcom fathers on television. I went to my best friend’s house and watched her father (I can only think of one friend whose house I regularly visited in my my teenage years who had a father in their daily life).

What did I learn from all this observation?

I learned that a dad’s job is to make sure your car gets fixed properly.

I bought my first car in 1997. Since that time I have thought of the Service Manager at my local GM dealership as my Pseudo Dad.

1. not actually but having the appearance of; pretended; false or spurious; sham.
2. almost, approaching, or trying to be.

He is old enough to be my Dad, but he is maybe 5 years younger than my mother. That would make him about 20 years younger than my actual dead dad.

You can’t argue with my logic. He always makes sure my car gets fixed.

Me in my first car. 1989 Pontiac Grand Am

Me in my first car. 1989 Pontiac Grand Am

I present to you some semi-boring examples of car repair below.

My first car, a 1989 Pontiac Grand Am, started making very bad banging sounds when I went over bumps. I thought it might be a problem with the shock. I was partially correct. The problem was a hole had rusted right through the trunk, and now my shock was actually in my trunk. I made arrangements to get it fixed the same afternoon. My pseudo dad called me that evening to tell me about a friend of his who could fix it at a discount for me. As I had already dropped my car off somewhere else, I didn’t take him up on it. In retrospect, I probably could have saved some money if I had taken his recommendation.

On one occasion, I took in my second car, a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am, to get the oil changed. It had been making a bad sound when I drove, but as I had no money to get it fixed, I was ignoring it. Well, it turned out it was a bad wheel hub or bearing or one of those things in your wheel that is expensive and goes bad regularly on all the Pontiacs I have ever owned. My Psuedo Dad wanted to fix it right then, but he could tell from my questions that that wasn’t my plan. He asked why, so I told him. I didn’t have any money until I got my paycheck, which would be a week away. He had the mechanic do the repair on my car. All I paid for that day was the oil change. They trusted me to come back in a week and actually pay them several hundred dollars, which I did. My husband would say that it was probably some sort of critical repair that they weren’t allowed by law to let me leave without repairing it. But no one told me that at the time. So I choose to believe that my Pseudo Dad was just trying to help me out.

On another visit to the dealership (Probably for an oil change. I am pretty diligent about those. 203,000 miles on my current car proves that it is a smart strategy.) with the same 1994 Grand Am, my Pseudo Dad noticed that I had a sock tied to my drivers side mirror. Now, there was a logical reason for this. A semi had ripped my side mirror loose in a freak freeway entrance ramp merge gone bad. It was only hanging from the cords that connected it to the handle inside the car for adjustment. I tied the sock to the mirror so that it would prevent/reduce the mirror from scratching up the paint on the side of my car as it bounced around. My Pseudo Dad asked me if that is how I was drying my laundry. He found it very amusing. I did eventually get the mirror replaced, but I never got it painted. So the replaced mirror was flat black and the original one was glossy black.

A few months back, I thought my 2004 Pontiac Aztek was dead for good. I went to run an errand. I shut my car off and ran inside. When I returned to my car, it would not start at all. I had had no problem starting it 5 minutes before when I was at home. And it started to do this weird buzzing thing, where the needles on all my gauges would bounce up and down in sync with the buzzing. I left the car and walked home. I was afraid it would blow up.  (That would have been REALLY bad.  I left it in the parking lot of my insurance agent.  If my car burns down their building, do they still have to pay out the insurance for my car?) The next day we made a plan to take it up to the dealership to pronounce it dead. My husband ended up letting the tow truck company take it back to their garage, because he thought maybe it was just the battery. (Just a battery? But the thing WAS TICKING LIKE A TIME BOMB!) When I called to cancel the appointment with my Pseudo Dad, he talked to me for about 10 minutes, explaining how to check the voltage to see if it was a bad battery vs. a bad alternator. And he explained how a low battery can set off the anti-theft device. (I was not even aware that my car HAD an anti-theft device!)

When it comes to car repair, Pseudo Dads and GM Service Managers know what they are talking about. I don’t think my Pseudo Dad is still the manager. I think he has stepped back and is helping to train the new manager. Which is fine, as long as he is still there. Hopefully his retirement and my purchase of my dream car, a Jeep Wrangler, will coincide with each other.

My Pseudo Dad does not have the conventional looks of a sitcom dad. But, I am proud to call him my fake dad. Except that I don’t tell him I think of him that way. Because, you know, that would be weird…

A Long Line of Blue Pontiacs

My car did it!  My 2004 Pontiac Aztek made it to 200,000 miles!

My odometer hitting 200,000 miles at 10:51AM EST on 11/19/2012!

When I was driving 25,000 miles annually, I calculated that this event would happen a lot sooner, such as in September of 2011.  But since I lost my job with the long commute, that postponed this milestone a little.  I also fantasized that I would have been able to trade in my Aztek for a Jeep Wrangler (my dream car) by now.  No such luck.

I bought my 2004 Pontiac Aztek brand new, so all those miles are from my household.  Every car I have ever owned myself was blue and a Pontiac.  In doing a quick calculation, I would say I have racked up 303,000 miles in blue Pontiacs since the summer of 1997. That works out to a 15 year average of 20,200 miles a year.

Man, I am a girl on the go.

Let’s start at the beginning.

I was a college commuter with no car.  The worst species on the planet to be.

Then my best friend helped me get a job at the gas station where she worked.  I worried how I would be able to travel the 20 minutes/14 miles between college and the village where my home and job were.  But my friend said she would give me a ride and that worked out well for that spring of 1997.

When summer came, we got into some sort of fight.  As much as I love her, she was a person who loved to be surrounded by drama, and sometimes instigated it from me as well.  Long story short, I told my mom my best friend was giving me rides home from work at 12:30AM, when in reality I was walking the 20 minutes/1.3 miles across town.  Luckily the town I lived in was so small that the only person who ever harassed me that whole summer while walking was the Chief of Police.

I loved my low paying retail job, but I knew I needed a car if I wanted to keep it once college classes started again.  All summer as I worked, I studied the Auto Trader to figure out what I could expect for my limited funds.

Oh no. I am wearing my unlucky shirt in that picture. It is unlucky because I was wearing it when that car died.

1989 Pontiac Grand Am LE

(racked up 23,000 miles)

I purchased this car with almost 143,000 miles on it from the side of the road for $2,000.  And I loved it.  I still do.

I bought it from a chick that had used it as her college car.  Now she had moved out of her parent’s house and was about to get married and had a new car.  I was too chicken to call about it, so I made my boyfriend-now-husband call.  Who then spoke with the chick’s little brother.  So, two parties who were not involved at all were discussing this potential future huge transaction in my life.  When I bought it, the chick said,” I am so glad that you are the one who bought it.”

Ya, I’m pretty sure that kind of car sale only happens between two chicks.

The chick had stuffed the center console with perfectly flattened candy bar wrappers.  They would not be the last candy wrappers to populate that vehicle.

I bought it while my boyfriend-now-husband was out of town at Disney World.  He came back and didn’t seem to think a thing that I had bought a car in his absence.  He had seen it parked in front of my friend’s house, and just figured I must have bought it.  Looking back, I can’t believe I made such a big purchase without his support.

So then it became my run-around get-to-college-car.  It had a luggage rack on the trunk.  As I was into NASCAR racing at the time, I referred to it as my spoiler.

I had a guy come into the gas station where I worked.  He told me he had had two Grand Ams, and that they were only good until 167,000 miles and then they always died on him (more on that later).

It was an uber rust-bucket, but I loved it.  In the two years I had the car, I put 4 new tires on it, some sort of wheel joint thing, the trunk rusted out and the shocks went into the trunk—that required some body work to fix it, a new muffler, a heater core (more on that later).

I had that car when I graduated college and when I got my first real job.  I totally would still have that car and be using it as a flower planter in my yard (Ya, I am sure the city would LOVE that!) if it hadn’t have died up in Sterling Heights while I was visiting my best friend.  On the way home, it died on the side of the road.  The garage it was towed to said it had a blown head gasket and possible cracked head.  My mom had to drive all the way up to get me while she was fighting off a nasty bought of diarrhea.  I left my car at my friend’s apartment where it was eventually towed as an abandoned vehicle.  Such a sad ending for my favorite car:(

The mileage when it died?  167,000-something.

The kid at the gas station spoke the truth!

My second Grand Am

1994 Pontiac Grand AM

(racked up 80,000 miles)

After my 1989 Grand Am died, I test drove cars that I could afford to buy with the cash I had saved up.  I quickly learned I had more expensive tastes.

The 1994 Pontiac Grand Am was the first car I ever bought from a car dealership and the first I ever had a car loan on.  I bought it used, with 81,488 miles on it.  It was teal, and had a red stripe down the side for style (if style was achieved by the stripe is questionable).  It had an actual spoiler.  To open the gas tank, you had to push a button inside.

I felt like I had arrived.

While this car had way more style than my last car and was in way better shape, it still always felt like what my mom would refer to as “My Temporary Car.”  She once bought a Ford Escort after an accident, when she needed transportation ASAP and just bought what would do right then.  And that is how my 1994 Grand Am always felt to me.

I got sick of it quickly, and yearned for a new car.  I made a few repairs on it as well, such as wheel joint things, EGR valve, etc.  But mostly I remember when the heater core went.  We were on our way home from Toledo when I smelled tell-tale aroma of antifreeze. A lot of it.  Leaking from my car as I drove. Hitting other hot parts and turning to stinky steam.  My husband thought I was crazy.

When we got to the gas station where I had previously worked, I stopped to check. Sure enough.  I bought some anti-freeze and stopped every so often to fill my quickly leaking reservoir as my mom followed me up to the dealership where I always got my work done.  Sure enough, heater core.

With a heater core replaced and 167,000 miles quickly approaching, I was itching for a new car.  I wanted either a Pontiac Aztek (which I thought looked totally awesome and no one else thought so) or a Jeep Wrangler.  As I was soon to be married and my husband could get me a discount on an Aztek, that is what I bought.

I traded in my 1989 Pontiac Grand Am at 161,036 miles. I had avoided the 167,000 mile Grand Am curse.

The Aztek when it was brand new…and a lil’ dirty.

2004 Pontiac Aztek

(racked up 200,000 miles)

On our honeymoon, we ran into people staying at the same bed & breakfast we were (Big Bay Lighthouse—eat that, suckers!) who had a blue Aztek. They loved it.  I think they even had leased one previously before buying the one they currently were driving.  That was the beginning of us realizing that while the world didn’t have enough bad things to say about the Aztek (including Pontiac itself); those who owned them loved them.

My husband knew I had my eye on the blue Aztek at the local dealership.  While we were waiting for his supplier discount from work to come though, he snuck down there and test drove it without me.  He fell in love with it.  So, I guess it is good he did, although I would have liked to have driven it first.

The Aztek was my first brand new car I ever owned.  I do not have enough nice things to say about my Aztek!  It has tons of interior room!  I once hauled all my belonging from the first 25 years of my life to a garage sale at my sister-in-law’s.  I removed the rear seats and filled that sucker from floor to ceiling, but it all fit.

It has ACTUAL floor space in the back seat!  On one occasion, we got 4 adults, one large canine, and a wheelchair all into the Aztek semi-comfortably.  My in-laws were not able to claim the same with their Trailblazer—the height of the wheelchair required them to fold down a seat to get it to fit.  Now we occasionally fit 2 adults, a toddler in a car seat, 2 large dogs, and a stroller in the Aztek with room leftover.

My husband and I took it on a trip out to Mt. Rushmore and camped in it every other night with the optional tent package (sans rear seats).  We really haven’t used the tent that much other than that one trip, but it was still awesome to tent camp without having to sleep on the ground.

It does wonderful in a crash!  I had only had it for just over a year, when I turned left in front of someone and caused $8000 worth of damage to the passenger side.  I wasn’t even sore.

The Aztek had among the highest CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) scores in its class, and won the appellation of “Most Appealing Entry Sport Utility Vehicle” in 2001 from J.D. Power and Associates, an independent consumer survey organization who noted: “The Aztek scores highest or second highest in every APEAL component measure except exterior styling.”


The only time my Aztek has left me stranded where the 2 times my battery died—once in my own driveway, once within a 10 minute walk from my home.  I have had various wheel hub joint things replaced (as I have done on all my Pontiacs), 2 new sets of tires (I am in dire need of another set), brakes, wires in the gear shifter, and there was a recall on the ignition system.

I have a theory that Pontiac only engineered the parts to last for 8 years, because once we hit the 8 year mark, things like the seat adjustment, dashboard lights, automatic windows, started to give out.  But it is a car we have used to DEATH for 8 years.

Some negatives are that the rear hatch doesn’t unlatch properly in cold Michigan weather.

After riding in my in-law’s quiet Trailblazer, I realized that the Aztek lets in lots of road noise.  Pontiac obviously knew this, which is why they equipped it with the radio that gets louder the faster that you drive.

If you set up the Aztek with the tent, you can’t really run out and buy a pizza and/or beer after that.  You have to be settled for the night, or have access to an additional vehicle.

The worst thing about the Aztek is what also makes it so stylish (shut up!)—the rear window.  Originally, they were made with rounded glass, which distorted everything.  Then there was just a black strip where the two windows joined.  Then to add style, they added the spoiler.  The spoiler looks wonderful from the outside, but is miserable to try and look out of, especially when changing lanes on an expressway.

My husband used to work on encapsulation for the rear window of the Aztek.   On two occasions, he even got to travel to the assembly plant in Mexico for work.

My husband complains about the Aztek needing lots of repairs, but I think his Ford Ranger is made much crappier.  He hasn’t had air conditioning since the truck was like 2 years old, and he had to get the throttle body fixed, the differential, other stuff I don’t remember, etc.

The Aztek was rarely ever featured on TV shows, the rare exception being Dark Angel starring Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherly.  As the show took place in the future, someone must have thought the Aztek looked like a futuristic car.  I also spotted one parked on the street in the background on Hart of Dixie.

I read on Wikipedia that the Aztek was marketed to Gen Xer’s with active lifestyles, such as camping, snowboarding, biking, etc.  I guess my husband and I fell for that, because we would have been the target audience at that time.  But I have to tell you, it also works well for hauling dogs.  Or for a child’s car seat.  And I know three older women with knee/hip/mobility issues who find the Aztek a very good height to get in and out of.  The Aztek doesn’t make you feel like you are in a hole you have to climb out of like a car, and you don’t need a step stool to get up into it.

Matthew DeBord of The Big Money argued that despite its poor reviews and sales, the Aztek was the car that, in the long run, could save GM. He praised GM for being daring and trying to create an entirely new market in vehicles, rather than simply copying successful formulas. He argued that the Aztek’s failure is similar to the failure of the Apple’s Newton and Mac Portable – two failed products that revolutionized the computer industry and became the basis for later successful products made by Apple.


The Aztek, she is my baby.  She still goes, even with duct tape on the passenger window, massive hail (& fist) damage to the sheet metal, a mark from a construction barrel that jumped out in front of me, a driver’s seat that no longer can be adjusted vertically.  She has never had a tune-up (hmmm, I wonder if my GM dealership will recommend one when they hear the mileage!).  AND THE AIR CONDITIONING STILL WORKS, WITH ZERO MAINTENANCE!

I am so glad I bought my Pontiac Aztek when I did.  I believe 2005 was the last year the Aztek was available.  And now, well, now even the Pontiac nameplate is R.I.P.

Maybe next I will go for cheapness and buy me a Kia.  (Sister-in-Law, don’t tell your husband that.)

Even my lil’ boy knows blue cars are best.

%d bloggers like this: