As is the norm in our morning routine, I take the kids to their daycare on my way to work. Today was no exception. We pull out of the driveway and are off. A squeaky belt under the hood reminds me that the car is wanting a bit of attention. About a mile from the house at a traffic light, the belt gets much more persistent. I rev the motor a couple times as this usually placates the beast. The noise stops. A bunch of dummy lights in the instrument cluster light up and when the light turns green I notice the need for much more effort to make my right turn. That belt drove the alternator and the power steering pump. With nothing really to be done about it at that point, I press on and drops the kids off at daycare.
Pulling out of the parking lot it's about 7:30. I assume that the parts stores aren't open yet, and point the Subaru towards work. Whip out the cell phone and find Goog411 in my contacts list, place the call. AutoZone near my work is open and has my belt in stock. They're still 18 miles away, in morning rush hour this seems pretty far to go with no alternator. He advises me to pull into the nearest AutoZone or even his competitor Advance Auto Parts if I must and replace the belt. Atypically of me, I actually hear and heed the voice of reason.
Continuing down the road I double check that I'm not running any unnecessary electrical components, radio off,fan off, headlights off, dome light switch in off position just in case. Back to the cell phone, this time it's Google Maps. Where is the nearest AutoZone? Behind me. So much for the voice of reason. Where is the nearest Advance Auto Parts? Looks to be about 10 miles up the road. I'm getting paranoid about the battery and take a chance, I pull into a garage. They don't have my belt in stock. Battery has enough juice to restart the car so I motor on. I sweet talk the car another 4 miles down the road and I see the AutoZone sign. I literally start singing AutoZone commercial songs to the car.
I go in, buy the belt and some disposable gloves, borrow a 12mm socket and ratchet. The socket cracks trying to loosen the belt tensioner. (Their loaner tools remind me of some of the first tools I bought as a teenager, junk.) I go back in, dig through their toolbox, find a 12mm combination wrench and head back out to the car. I can't get to the bolt heads and actually turn them with the wrench. I go back inside pull a 12mm socket off the wall and walk to the counter. I show the guy his busted POS 12mm socket and ask him to ring me up for the one I just pulled off the wall so I can finish up and go to work. Instead, he roots around in the toolbox for five minutes or so to prove to himself that there really isn't another 12mm socket in there. I finally buy the socket fix the belt and have an otherwise uneventful drive to work.
Not having a car payment is nice but I think that if I'm going to drive older cars I need to be more prepared for things like this. I'll buy another belt and toss it in the back with the spare tire. I might put together a crude toolkit of my own too.