A Tribute to My Luck [Updated]

Melissa and I have been keeping our eye open for a smallish SUV over the last few weeks to replace our aging Chrysler Cirrus sedan. The SUV would be our secondary vehicle, primarily getting used when we need to haul things (surprisingly often, lately) or in adverse weather conditions where our 2006 Honda Civic, an otherwise excellent car, doesn’t cut it. Over the weekend, while we were in Bedford for Chinese New Year, we were emailing with a dealer in Woodbridge who had a black 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander on the lot for a good price.

So we set up an appointment to do a test drive at 4pm Monday when we got back into town. After arriving in Fairfax we dug the Chrysler out of last week’s snow and ice (fun!), got our stuff out of the car, got our finances and everything in order, then only 10 minutes before we were going to leave my phone beeps. It was an email from the dealer. The car had been sold.

So I got back online and started looking at other vehicles for sale in the area, eventually stumbling across a silver 2002 Mazda Tribute for sale at the Honda dealership where we service our Civic for a price only slightly higher than the Outlander. We checked the materials online to find that Tributes have a pretty high reliability rating (our #1 concern) and decent crash test ratings (our #2 concern, especially in the DC area). I printed out lots of info on the Tribute and our Chrysler and we left around 5pm to do the test drive.

The test drive went very well and no problems presented themselves. The Tribute was easy to drive, and the features were pretty good for the price range. The rear seats fold completely flat leaving plenty of hauling space, and it has all-wheel-drive for the bad weather. The dealership offered a 2-month/2,000-mile warranty. Fairly quickly, we were ready to make a deal.

Melissa’s Chinese-haggle-genes came into play and we were able to get them to knock the price down quite a bit (and give us a pretty good trade-in deal for the Chrysler). We signed lots of paperwork, wrote them a check, and they handed us the keys.

So, around 9:30 p.m., we got into our new 2002 Mazda Tribute, turned the key, and started to drive away . . . but then I noticed that one of the warning lights on the dash (which had not been on during the test drive) was stubbornly staying lit. Melissa’s quick glance at the manual revealed that the light meant something was wrong with the emissions system, so we drove right back to the dealer who told us (after driving around for a minute) that there was no driveability problem, and we should take it back in the next day when the service department was open to have it checked out.


So I drove it to work and a few times on the way in the same warning light blinked for 20 or 30 seconds at a time (which, says the manual, means the engine is misfiring) and it drove a little funny at points. I left work early to take it back to the dealer (got there around 2pm) and by the time the service department closed at 7pm they still had not successfully diagnosed the problem.

Today, I called to check in and apparently the problem is diagnosed (though I don’t know what it is yet) and supposedly the car will be in pristine, working condition either tonight or early tomorrow. Hey, I figure that they have two months to get that car perfect—even if they have to replace the entire engine in the mean time.

But, seriously . . . that’s the kind of luck I’m having this week. So far, aside from all this car stuff, I’ve gone to the wrong office for a meeting (went to the client site when the meeting was at the company office I had just left), mis-typed a credit card number on a charitable donation which I had to straighten out over the phone, and set up a lunch trip to a Thai restaurant with two coworkers only to find the Thai place closed for the day due to an alarm problem.

Is it Friday yet? ;-)

Update 2/22: So, it turns out something was amiss with one or more of the Mazda’s ignition coils, causing the misfires and oddness. The part(s) are being replaced, and we’ll be picking up the SUV in [theoretically] perfect mechanical condition this afternoon with no charge to us. I figure that if nothing else odd happens over the next few weeks, I’ll just chalk this one up to a normal failure for a vehicle of this age/mileage that occured at a coincidencidentally inopportune time. It just had better not become a pattern!

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.