Spokane: Stuck in Spokane!

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I have extensive experience in dealing with the foibles of owning old, used cars. I’ve only owned two new cars in my whole life!

That said, you know that I am not going to be surprised by repairs needed while on the road.

But, all at once?

It’s just that I don’t take kindly to multiple problems from unconnected sources all going wrong at the same time.

When I awakened a couple days ago to a back door that would not open (no coffee!), I was ready to deal with it.

But, in the quest for a hot cup of coffee at a nearby Chevron station, I discovered my two rear tires are self-imploding, one of them completely gone and flat as a pancake. That meant a new tire—because my brand new spare is locked away behind a door that won’t open!

This one too!

The mechanics at the tire store in Spokane pointed out the steel belt coming through the tread of the remaining tire, and warning that I don’t have much time before that one does the same catastrophic fail as the one being replaced.


These things are to be expected in used car. And although I really can’t afford to replace my minivan one part at a time, the investment into two brand new tires seems to be a good one.

But, this morning…

This morning, new tire and all, the Sienna wouldn’t start! I’m not talking about a bad starter motor or battery or something common like that.

No, this was the ignition switch! The key simply wouldn’t turn!

The good thing.

The really good thing about old cars and having the internet is, no matter what problems you may have with your old, used car, there is a website out there addressing the problems that other owners have, or have had, with the various components of their old cars.

“Sienna ignition won’t turn.”

There were thousands of returns from Google and at least six different methods of dealing with this problem—a good reference, for sure!

Now, the problem I have, I found out, is pretty widespread, especially for my Sienna’s year and several years around it: the switch goes bad after about 60 thousand miles (bad news for those of us who have over 120K miles!).

There were great prose online for dealing with the “transmission interlock” system, which is the thing that denies you from starting the engine with the gear shifter in any position other than Park or Neutral.

Wiggle it.

There were lots of people suggesting I wiggle the steering wheel and that I wiggle the gear shifter to see if that is the problem I have.

But, no.

My steering was free and my gear shifter wouldn’t even move – because the key has to be inserted and turned for this method to work.

I finally came across a Sienna online forum where I found a string of discussion about the exact issue I was experiencing.

Jury rigged.

“Put in the key and pull it back about a sixteenth of an inch,” one fellow owner wrote, explaining that the “stops” inside the lock wear out and must be adjusted for by pulling the key back a short way.

No way!

Yes, way. The key turns fine and she started right away! I think I will use this little trick for the time being and just make a mental note that—in the future—I will be replacing my ignition switch.

Craaazy good!

I bought that new tire and I plan on replacing the other tire that has not yet failed entirely but, those are two unexpected costs I wasn’t really ready for. After all, I bought a brand new spare tire before I had left San Diego.

We’ll see if I can solve the back door problem without spending what will be left of tomorrow’s SS check.

I would really like access to coffee, car fluids and the spare tire wherever I am—even in the middle of nowhere, where I am known to regularly travel.

Then, I can leave Washington confident of my tires (all of them, including the spare) and head across the wilds of Idaho and Montana, on my way to Yellowstone to see this geyser everyone’s talking about!

Happy trails my friends!

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