When twilight arrives for a worn-out vehicle - Curt Yeomans

Have you ever had to watch a vehicle go through a long and drawn-out death?

I have.

In fact, I'm watching it right now.

My truck, the money-eating monster that it is, has been going through a long, and very drawn-out death since February of this year.

It all started with the clutch going out. I got a new one installed, but the mechanic broke the exhaust pipe in the process.

I got the pipe replaced, but the truck failed its emissions inspection. It was repaired at a high cost, and eventually passed inspection.

Then, the NEW clutch began getting stuck in various gears. Turns out, the mechanic who replaced the clutch, and broke the tail pipe, never bothered to do anything with the clutch's hydraulic system. The sticking clutch caused the engine to cut off whenever the truck had to idle. Air had gotten into the hydraulic system and was messing everything up.

I now have to pour brake fluid into the system to keep the truck operating.

But the latest chapter in this sad saga is that the engine won't even try to turn over, if the temperature is too low. You can eventually get it to start if you can get the truck to do a rolling start, which means putting the truck in neutral and letting it roll down a hill while trying to turn the engine on.

Some people are suggesting it's a problem with the alternator. This means I may have to spend more money, when I've already lost count of how much money has been invested in repairs in 2007.

My wallet is crying whenever the truck doesn't start. It's like watching the man on the side of the road as he sees someone littering - my wallet just cries.

So here it begins. When I say "it," I mean the search a for a new car. I've avoided it as long as I can. The truck has little life left in it. Everything I have to do to keep it running is like hooking the HOJ - Hunk of Junk - to a life support machine. You can keep it alive for awhile, but it's useless. Nothing can save it at this point.

It's dying, Jim.

I've already got a general set of criteria that my next vehicle must meet before I'll agree to buy it.

The criteria are:

· It has to be operational.

· It has to have four usable tires and a spare.

· It has to be a model released within the last two or three years.

· It has to be from a company known for making dependable cars.

· It has to have an automatic transmission. (If you've ever driven a stick, you know what I mean!)

· It has to have air conditioning. (The truck lost its air conditioning at the beginning of the summer, too. I never got it fixed.)

· It has to hold its value well.

As far as vehicle type and color are concerned, I don't have a preference. I'd be just as comfortable driving a blue Volkswagen Jetta, as I'd be if I were driving an orange Honda Element. I won't say "no" to a green Mini Cooper, or to a red Toyota Corolla.

My weekends will now be spent searching web sites and car lots for the perfect "next car." It's kind of like firing a football coach, who has been in charge of your team for 17 years. No matter what you pick, the replacement will always be known as "the next one."

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.