Spring is supposed to be a happy time. Not only does the snow melt – at least in my part of the world – but the warm temperatures and clear roads mean that enthusiasts start to bring their cars out of hibernation. One week ago I made a special trip to the top secret location where my Mazda Miata rode out the snowy months in blissful slumber, intent on breaking it out from under its car cover. I was understandably excited – after all, it had been three months since I had last driven the car. While I enjoy my BMW, I have become quite antsy with just a four-door sedan to drive, and I was definitely craving some nimble, top down action.
When I arrived at the storage facility, I was dismayed to see that the garage was not nearly as dry as I had been promised. In fact, the entire front slab of the garage was soaked through. Undaunted, I removed the car cover, installed the battery and began to remove the collection of mothballs that I had sprinkled throughout the trunk, passenger compartment and underhood area. I then put the key in the ignition and committed the act that has haunted me for the past 10 days – I put the clutch in, turned the ignition over, and then without thinking let the clutch out.
The car surged forward. For a second, I had no idea what to do. It was almost as though all of my driving experience left me for just that moment, sitting there in the cold, uncovered aluminum seat frame. I had no instinct to stab at the brake pedal, kick the clutch in or knock the car out of gear. Instead, I froze, and as a result the car lurched into some stationary object resting in front of it and stalled.
How could I have been so stupid? It turns out that habit is what did me in. I never leave my cars in gear – I always use the emergency brake when parking. However, leaving the e-brake engaged on my Miata for three months in an environment of questionable dampness would have possibly cause my rear brakes to seize up with corrosion. As a result, I instead left the car in gear. Since the shifter is so stubby, there was no glaring visual reminder that the vehicle in fact had first gear engaged, and I never bothered to check.
I quickly sprung up out of my seat and ran to the front of the car, somehow eager to inspect the damage I had undoubtedly done to the front clip. There, on the upper right lip was the unmistakable scrape mark of steel against paint – three solid scratches right through to the primer, and all around a steel wool finish. There would be no polishing this mistake into oblivion. I looked around for the culprit and found a metal stool sitting in front of the car, which had been jammed against the countertop at the front of the garage.
Needles to say, this ruined my entire day. To be truthful – and this is going to sound ridiculous to those who are perhaps not as infatuated with cars as I am – I still feel sick to my stomach whenever I think about what happened, or visualize the scratch in my mind. Even writing these words has been difficult. What makes it worse is that the entire thing was 100 percent my fault. All of the work I spent preparing my car for storage – cleaning, waxing, covering – was undone in a second’s carelessness by my hand. I know that this scratch will continue to dominate my Miata-related thoughts until the day I slug over to the local body shop and get a quote on a bumper repaint. Yes, that is just how obsessive I have become about this. I am not posting a photo of the damage because I hate immortalizing my automotive mistakes, and it will just give me something else to fixate on. At least I can only currently look at the scratch on the car when I am actually outside and near the Miata.
Lessons to be learned from all of this? When storing your car, leave a Post-It note on the steering wheel listing the important things that you will have forgotten about in your excitement to get your car back on the road. This can include things like the fact that
1 – the car is in gear, or
2 – that there is steel wool blocking the tail pipe.
In my case, the latter meant nothing more than a grey projectile erupting from my exhaust upon start-up, but the former has broken my heart.
Maybe I’ll leave the car in reverse next time.