Rant n Rave: Clown Cars and Responsibilities


To borrow the term from Mr. Money Mustache, I've had some very minor things happen with my clown car. I drive a denim blue 2005 Pontiac Vibe named Levi. He and I have been through a lot together! Countless roadtrips, scary weather, and tons of fun! However...... Levi is now 11 years old and starting to show his age. So far (knock on wood) nothing major has gone wrong. Last year I talked about some repairs I made in Why I Don't Want a New Car. Those have held up swimmingly! Apparently, I do good work on my car.

A few months ago, I noticed a mysterious thump............thump...thump.......thump........thump noise coming from my car. I could NOT figure out what was going on! Repeated poundings on my dashboard did nothing but leave fist prints in the dusty dash. It wouldn't have been a huge issue, but it wasn't a regular thumping noise. It came about at extremely weird intervals and just about drove me crazy! (haha get it? drove me crazy? I was driving the car? ok i'll stop). I tried a variety of ways to get it to stop but only one thing made it significantly muted: leaving the air on recirculate only.

This was ok as a short-term fix, but I can't just leave my air on recirculate forever. For one thing, sometimes it gets steamy in my car out of the blue and I have to defog the windshield. Or, it's frosty outside and I need to warm up the windshield to help remove Jack Frost. Obviously, that's not a huge issue now that it's almost July and 95 degrees outside but it was when this whole thing started.

One day I finally got fed up and went to my trusty friend Mr. Google to figure out what was going on. One "weird thump dash noise Pontiac vibe" search later and I had my answer. My HVAC actuator was on its last legs. Now, if you're like me, you have no idea what an HVAC actuator is. The HVAC actuator controls the flap that determines whether the air comes from outside or recirculates. The gear in my actuator had broken a few plastic teeth and wasn't catching properly anymore. Who makes a gear out of plastic? Honestly!

My other friend Mr. Amazon delivered the part to my door a few days later, where I promptly set it to the side and proceeded to ignore it while being driven nuts by the thumping noise. I had a few of the tools I needed but not all of them. My coworker very graciously let me borrow them over the weekend, so I got to work. And work it was, let me tell you.

Behold! my HVAC Actuators!

This being the Midwest, I chose a day that was 95 degrees and just about that much humidity to work on Levi because, well there wasn't any other kind of day around here. I got a tad bit sweaty as I sat in the car with the AC off (because I was working on it. duh). The HVAC actuator is nestled almost directly under the dashboard, which I did NOT feel comfortable taking off. Thus, my only option was to sit on the seat, face wedged tightly against the dashboard, and my arms contorted in weird angles as I struggled to remove TWO screws. It took me almost 90 minutes to remove them, but the feeling of pride that washed over me as I beheld the small piece of plastic in my hand made me feel really great!

Then I remembered that I had to put things back the way they were and my happy feeling disappeared faster than a treat given to my cat. I spent more time than I care to admit just trying to find the right place for it to go. Keep in mind, it was like doing the work in the dark. With a blindfold. Aka not easy at all!

The top screw isn't on there completely tight, but it is in there enough to hold it in place and that's good enough. The screw on the bottom was much easier to get to, so it's screwed in as tightly as possible.

I didn't call any shop for an estimate, but I'd estimate I saved a pretty penny by doing the work myself. The part cost me $55 and the tools were free since I borrowed them from my super nice coworker. I'm one happy customer right now! (plus, I get a lot of props and street cred from my mostly male coworkers for replacing it myself 😀 )

The little blue tab is attached to the actuator!
The little blue tab is attached to the actuator!


This is allllll about work, so if you don't want to read me complaining about my job, feel free to skip to the end and leave me a compliment on my DIY car fixing skills.

As I've mentioned before, I work for a MegaCorp in what's known as our Early Development Program. I'm in IT, so my program consists of 2 18-month rotations within various aspects of the company. My first rotation I worked at our computer center as a Linux Server Admin. It wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible either.

A year ago, I moved into my current position as a DB2/Netezza database tester. I knew after the first day this was not a job I wanted to do for the rest of my life. This position is VERY technical, requires logical thinking, and incredibly exacting.

I subscribe to the "good enough" principle of life. If it's close, I'm not going to fuss over much about getting the last few details just so. Unfortunately, my job requires that everything be 100% perfect. If it's not, someone might pay the wrong amount on their balance owed or get charged too much interest and that's bad. Like, get-fined-by-the-Feds bad. I don't want that. But, I also find it incredibly frustrating to have to chase down that one line that's wrong, or change the name of one column in one table.

I'm a people person. I thrive off of interacting with other people and helping them solve their problems. I sit for 8 hours in my cubicle on my laptop working on test cases mostly by myself. It kills me.

Then there's the work. They don't really have enough work for me to do most of the time, so I sit around and do other things like, say, write blog posts. When they do have something for me to do, it is a LOT and has to be done ASAP. So, I waffle between boredom and crazy stressed out. Unfortunately, there's no way to smooth out the workload either. I also don't have the correct kind of brain to do all this logical thinking. I cannot logic my way out of a box. If you tell me something needs to be not null but also null in this specific situation, I'm going to have a hard time figuring it out.

My team has been great about holding my hand and helping me with the work, but it's frustrating that I can't even do my own work without help. In that case, it's been a great learning experience as I learn about swallowing my pride and asking for the help I need.

Everyone on my team knows this isn't a great fit. A position popped up 6 weeks ago that would've been perfect for me. I could've leveraged my people and troubleshooting skills. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. HR said no, despite the hiring manager asking for an early release, and both my managers giving the ok for me to leave.

So, here I sit. Getting paid a lot of money to do effectively nothing for the next 4 months until I'm allowed to apply for a new job. Yay me.

Have you DIY'd anything recently? Do you have any advice for making the best of things at my job?

5 thoughts on “Rant n Rave: Clown Cars and Responsibilities

  1. Good job DIYing! My girlfriend’s car has a rattle coming from the exhaust. I think it’s the heat shield, but I’ll find out when I crawl under it tonight or tomorrow. Sounds like the workings of a big bureaucratic company. Good pay and good benefits, but takes an army to change things. Good luck.

  2. Awesome! Hope my daughters’ early DIYs give them as much satisfaction.

    I missed the most important punchline on the rave, though: did the replacement unthump Levi, as intended? I guess so since nothing automotive is in the Rant section. 🙂

    • If I were any good at this, I could develop some scripts to help automate the testing. Buttttttttt that’s not something in my skill set.

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