Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moving forward. Sometimes uncontrollably.

Coming back to our Toyota Matrix after getting pizza recently, I grabbed the door handle, expecting foolishly to be granted entrance into the car.

“What’s up?” my wife Kara asked as I rested my forehead above the window, groaning.

“I think this pizza just cost us $1,000,” I replied, referring to the going rate for fixing a power door lock, a number with which I’d become unfortunately familiar only months before. At the very least, a $1,000 pizza should come sprinkled with gold flakes, like fancy chocolates and cheap liquors sometimes do, even though I’m pretty sure gold isn’t valuable because of its awesome flavor. It doesn’t have nearly the same zing as lead paint chips.

The driver-side door was exhibiting the same primary symptom (namely the lack of functioning as a portal between the inside of the car and the rest of the world) that the passenger door had shown just before its death knell, which is definitely my least favorite kind of knell.

Back then, I’d expected the passenger door lock to cost a few hundred bucks to fix. At the end of the appointment to get an estimate, the receptionist flipped through the paperwork she’d just been handed from the shop and bit her lip, looking up at me with sympathy. My hand tightened around my wallet.

“It looks like you need a new master bezel and door actuator. And the quantum decoder ring needs to be re-amplified. And of course your undercarriage is going to require a five-point how’s-your-father,” she said.

As my credit card passed across the desk, I looked at it longingly, like a parent watching his child get on the school bus for the first time. She swiped the card and the bus doors closed, taking my money to a place where it would make new friends, and it wouldn’t need me so much anymore.

In defense of my car, it is a 2003 model with over 100,000 miles on it, and except for the occasional hiccup, it’s been dependable. I’d never considered it to be an old car before, but I just looked at the Blue Book value of an ’03 Matrix in fair condition, and it is worth somewhere between three and four thousand dollars, which would be a king’s ransom, if everybody really hated the king. 2003 sure seems like it just happened, but apparently it was more than $10,000 ago.

Now that the virus infecting the door locks appears to be spreading, Kara wants to get rid of the Matrix before it becomes any more of a mobile money pit. But besides the emotional attachment to a car I’ve been driving for several years, with all the excitement surrounding Toyota these days, just driving to work makes me feel like a daredevil.

Even though our model year hasn’t shown up on any recall lists yet, it’s still kind of exciting to drive a car that just might decide to start driving on its own, like KITT’s evil twin from Knight Rider, accelerating uncontrollably (Toyota: Moving forward. Sometimes uncontrollably.) or perhaps not engaging the brakes or the steering wheel at all. There’s nothing to make you feel young again like doing something that could very well kill you. I have found the elixir of youth, and it is malfunctioning floor mats. Or sticky accelerator pedals. Or maybe bad software.

For now, while we decide whether to keep the Matrix for a few more years or venture back into the terrifying world of car buying, we’re enjoying the old-fashioned charm of using a key to open the driver’s door. Sometimes, Kara even leans over and unlocks my door from the inside. I like to think that she does that because she likes me, and not just because I buy her $1,000 pizzas.

You can recall Mike Todd at


  1. Eghh, the pains of owning stuff... I feel your pain.

  2. I can totally relate to you reluctance to sell your car. I kept my Honda Civic for ten years before my husband finally convinced me that it was time to sell. Even though I love the new car, I still find myself longing for the Honda (or as I liked to call him, Henry) now and then.

  3. Toyota should have came forward with a full disclosure. Instead of waiting for a huge media blitz and tons of public pressure. I never seen so many car companies having recalls all at the same time. I had no idea my car was affected until I searched on and found I had a bad Anti Lock control unit on my 2008 Pontiac G8 , So be careful

  4. Hey, my power lock on the driver side hasn't been working for awhile so I feel your pain in having to use the key for it. I remember when you first got the Matrix and we decided to test the suspension with a ton, literally, of gravel. :)

  5. Okay man, I found your next blog topic - Doppelgängers. I was fast forwarding through 80% of the DVR'd Saturday Night Live when I happened upon your Doppelgänger. Vampire Weekend was the musical guest and one of the members looked a lot like you, except with a slightly more full head of hair and a more rested look. The guy's name is: Rostam Batmanglij. So yes, I guess this Indian guy looks like you. I took some screenshots from their performance:

    Yeah, he's not your twin but looks like you.

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