How Getting Accused Of A Felony Motivated Me To Fix A Broken Car

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A few weeks ago I found myself watching a sunset from the interior of a 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan. As the van raced towards central Tennessee my tranquility was broken by a phone call. I wondered who would be calling me so late in the day; it turned out to be a police officer. Uh oh.

The officer on the other line asked me if I’m a person named Mercedes Streeter. After confirming that I am, the officer asks me if I own the two yellow Smart Fortwos parked in my apartment’s parking lot. After a brief pause to wonder how they got yellow from two very blue cars I answer that both cars are blue and yes, they are mine. But the police already know that, as they pulled my plates and found that both vehicles are registered to me.

Confused as to why this even needed to be a call, I ask what was going on. The officer on the other end of the line says that a neighbor anonymously called in to say that my Smarts had been abandoned for several months. They didn’t elaborate further, but my fiancée and I got spooked enough to cancel our road trip and head home.

[Editor’s Note: Why are people so weird about long-sitting cars? -DT]

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Why would such a call spook us? Back in late 2020, a neighbor took offense to a rusty van that I’d parked at home, and they decided to make up reasons to have them removed. The company in charge of managing the apartment complex properly obliged, with an employee writing up absurd (yet still not breaking the bylaws) reasons for the tows. I later sued and won, but not before that very van got stolen alog with all of my tools; someone also later tried and failed to steal my Audi TT, and there were all kinds of threats and vandalism.

The neighbor, as I’ve sadly experienced, has openly voiced their displeasure with the color of my skin and the relationship that I’m in. That would be bad enough, but they’ve also reported me to police for crimes that I didn’t commit. Understandably, we thought that 2020 was back. Thankfully, I got home to my Smarts being intact and untouched. But, I felt that keeping them around is a bad idea. Either the neighbor shenanigans are back, or someone is snooping around.

The confusion was only amplified when another officer contradicted the one who’d called me, saying that the cops were actually called to investigate stolen vehicles. Apparently, that anonymous caller had accused me of stealing my own Smarts. Sure, OK. Either way, things just didn’t feel right.

Making Moves

Moving the first Smart was easy. It’s my 2008 Smart Fortwo, a car that runs and drives great. In fact, I’d driven it just a couple of days before. Getting it to safety took no time at all. But the second was a little harder.

My 2012 Fortwo was in a weird spot. It hadn’t driven in over two years because of a cascading set of failures. First, it got sidelined by a seized alternator that was caked with mud from off-roading.

Replacing an alternator in a Smart usually requires lowering the rear subframe, a job that was beyond my wrenching comfort zone at the time. I initially hired a mobile mechanic, but rusty bolts got the best of them and they gave up. Undeterred, I tried myself and found many of the bolts to be formidable opponents. I resigned myself to getting the job done or finding a mechanic eventually. But as sometimes happens, days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months ballooned into over a year. Through that time, I moved the car around, albeit not under its own power.

Things finally changed in March of this year. As the calendar date grew closer to my 10-year anniversary with the car I decided to do the right thing and revive it. I love this car; the Mercedes that you know and love today was effectively born in this car. In fact, I chose the name Mercedes while driving it. The Smart has always served me well, even if I didn’t reciprocate. I had to change that. Thankfully, this time I was better equipped as I not only had the knowhow to fix it, but I knew of a mobile mechanic who loved the challenge of working on new things. I called up JET Mobile Auto Service and scheduled a repair.

My mechanic did a wonderful job, blazing through what the previous mechanic and myself couldn’t do, and doing it in just a few hours. He replaced the alternator, engine mounts, starter, belt tensioner, and belts like they were nothing.

In a move that astonished us both, the car still didn’t start. We found out that the engine was stuck, and it took over an hour to free it up. Then we found the axles to be stiff, and were able to loosen them up. And while the new starter bench tested fine, all it did was click when I turned the key.

Check out this torn engine mount:

And this very crusty alternator!

This is where the mechanic and I parted ways, thinking we’d finish on a different day. But I found myself sleepless, thinking about what the issue could be. In a desperate attempt to find answers, I began tracing the car’s wiring. Maybe there was a bad connection somewhere? I found the grounds attached and clean. And the fuses looked great. But there was one that had me curious.

Smarts have a 200A fuse wired in-line with the starter. I initially ignored it because it looked fine. But I tested it, anyway, by clamping the negative ends of a jumper cable to the fuse’s posts.

And like that, it ran for the first time in over two years! The engine didn’t sound happy at all and there were all kinds of warning lights, but the sound of that inline three was music to my ears.

Why I Use A Crowbar To Get The Car Into Gear

And given the sketchy situation, I worked to get it driving, too. Doing that involved another interesting problem-solving session. The car ran and would even indicate that it was in a gear, but the rear wheels wouldn’t move at all. That was because the transmission was stuck in Park, no matter what the computers tried to do.

Smarts are mostly shift-by-wire. The shift knob just tells the computer what to do with the car’s automated-manual transmission. If the computer says Neutral then it should be in Neutral.  But I found the one situation where that wouldn’t be true.

There is a transmission design change specific to North American second-generation Fortwos: Where Europeans park their Fortwos in Reverse or Neutral then pull a parking brake, North American Smarts try to mimic traditional automatics using a physical park pawl.

And this device is actuated with a cable coming out of the shift knob to the transmission. I had accidentally broken this connection when I found the gear knob stuck one day. The computer assumes that if the knob isn’t in the Park position then the car is free. It has no way of knowing if the park pawl is actually disengaged.

My fix? I stuck a crowbar into the engine bay then disengaged the park pawl by levering the crowbar against the pawl’s lever.

Next, I wanted to make sure that the transmission was going to be able to row through its gears.

The folks of Autel sent me a MaxiPRO MP808BT diagnostic tool, and it came in handy. The little Smart had racked up a ton of errors from sitting, ranging from a misfire detected on all three cylinders to communications lost from the shift knob and an airbag light triggered by the driver seat sensor losing connection. I used the Autel to have the transmission run itself through its shifting procedures. Thankfully, it was a success. And while you would normally have to go to the Mercedes dealer to extinguish an airbag light, this tool did it in a jiff.

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Now with the engine running and the transmission ready there was just one thing left to do, pimp my ride by way of some shiny wheels. I removed the Genius Darwins (TSWs) that were already on the car and fitted some sweet Lorinsers that I got with one of my other Smarts.

Then I took the car for its first drive in over two years.

 

It didn’t drive well, at first. The engine stumbled on two-year-old fuel and sounded a little bottom end knock-y. I gave it an oil change before sending the tach to the red a few times. Now, the noise is gone and drives just as I remember. Even my two-year-old new brakes cleaned up perfectly. And the car itself is now somewhere safe after getting its first car wash in at least three years.

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I did pull a FOIA request on my city to see what was going on. I was able to confirm that someone was trying to get me charged with something, but the city refused to say who. And it’s funny to think that the catalyst to finally finishing this project was someone allegedly accusing me of a couple of felonies.

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88 Responses

  1. Typically, filing a false police report and wasting police time are also crimes. If it’s a pattern of behavior from an individual, that’d qualify as harassment. I know, it’s hard to prove someone is doing those things (and may be even harder to get the authorities interested in actually following up), but at least you’re proving to the system that you’re interested in protecting yourself with that FOIA. I hope you can get this stuff sorted for the better!

    1. The good thing in all of this is that sleeping with my lawyer is really paying off! Without getting too deep into the situation, let’s just say that the property management company bought me a Touareg V10 TDI, an RTS bus and a lot of fun road trips. And they’ve agreed to leave me alone.

      The FOIA request did reveal some interesting stuff unrelated to this event, like how my now former neighbor tried to tell the cops that I gave them the van that they stole from me.

      1. “The good thing in all of this is that sleeping with my lawyer is really paying off!”

        Literal LOL. I don’t think I knew Sheryl is a lawyer (err, you are talking about Sheryl, right? ;-).

  2. I mean, I know you can’t say it because you don’t have hard proof and all, but, informally, I think we all know that same neighbor lady called the cops again. And she probably didn’t even really look at or notice your cars to remember what the colors were, just knew you had those little Smart things

  3. When I was active duty military, I almost got an Article 15 because some assclown in charge of my barracks was going to try and get my ’67 Mustang towed and then claim it after a waiting period.

    Similarly to your situation, not a lot can be done to get back at the jackass playing games. I moved off base soon after and didn’t have to worry about it again.

  4. God damn, people suck. I’m sorry you’ve got to put up with crap like this. Like someone else noted, it will probably be difficult or even impossible to prove harassment from them, if you can even get the police to care enough to check into it.

    But congrats in getting it running! I’m sure that feels like a win, though I don’t know how you try to balance and decide which of your many vehicles to drive.

      1. First, glad to see you here!!!!!!

        Buy a warehouse with a fenced yard – already zoned commercial, just verify vehicle storage is in the zoning code for this property. Circumvent residential zoning with the “Night watchman’s apartment” exemption.

        Funny story: Back when my son was managing pizza franchise stores – He just moved into a new apartment. Got a call from the landlord about loud noises. He told the landlord that the room mate was at work for the whole day and my son was at work for 3 hours. The landlord sighed and said “Never mind, this is not the first complaint from her”. A month later, she was in assisted living and the family was cleaning out her apartment.

        Russ

    1. Fellow 815 resident. Fairly familiar with the Rockford area state of mind. I guess, I dunno, I can’t really recommend any area municipality as being particularly progressive. It’s a shame, I’d suggest renting something out in the sticks but even though it’s illegal, most of the landlords will probably invent some reason why they can’t rent to you.

    1. The Roadster is known for having many problems, most notably water leaks (one of which can occur directly above an important computer module) and drivetrain problems ranging from dying turbos to engines needing rebuilds.

      Despite all of that, I would buy one in a heartbeat!

        1. I lived in the UK for a bit and saw a number of them, back in 07-09, and might be heading back over there and that’s on an ever growing list of cars I want to consider. I think the transmission might be enough to dissuade me though even without the above comments from Mercedes.

          1. Dude I ain’t complaining. Believe me, I know ALL about the difficulties of web development without sufficient resources, things take time. I’m just here enjoying some content written my favorite editors from over at “that other site” while patiently waiting for the features to get added.

            Chill, we’re all friends here.

      1. I lived in the UK for a bit and saw a number of them, back in 07-09, and might be heading back over there and that’s on an ever growing list of cars I want to consider. I think the transmission might be enough to dissuade me though even without the above comments from Mercedes.

    2. I very nearly bought one about 3 years ago (2019), did a lot of research, road-tested one – but the seller was a **** and would only accept cash, despite me giving him a £100 deposit to hold it until I could drive it. When I offered his full value but as a bank transfer he flatly refused. Some people….

      Anyway – the car was obviously fun to drive and TINY. 😀 But yes – it leaked – they all do.

  5. Years ago I had a letter from the county saying I was storing junk.cars on my property. Well I’m in a small rural county in south Georgia… So I call my local county agent and talk to him… He gives a big sigh I’ll bring the guy out. So a out an hour later he pulls in with the zoning director, the one who issued the letter. My county agent told him to point out one single vehicle that looks like junk ( all vehicles are custom painted and ranged In years from the 50s to 90s and all ran) so he did… A white extended cab Z71, that had primet spots all over it, he goes ok let me call that owner and have you explain to him why you think his truck is junk.. fast forward about 15 minutes and another less beaty uppy truck pulls in. The owner hops out and the zoning director face turns white as a ghost, he son the owner says remember me telling you I was having my truck painted, yes sir the director says back….well that there is MY truck. And that truck right there, the owner points too is the sherrifs truck, you going to tell him his truck is junk?..no Sir!. The owner in question over the junk truck was in fact the whole district head JUDGE.. The county agent then reminded the zoning director that he’d better have more discretion before he sends out letters in the future.

    Extra tid bit… Years later I had to go into judges chambers for my divorce, and luckily he was still there. He threw out all my wife’s crazy things she wanted me to give her and abide by and I was free and clear. My lawyer was amazed ????

    Keep up the good fight just because we like cars doesn’t meen they are junk!

      1. Eh, I’m pretty sure I understand it well enough. I’ve never taken a class in the south Georgia dialect but I’ve read enough books and watched enough movies based in the general vicinity to get the gist of it.
        Try “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” the movie for an intro.

        1. Let me catch a break guys… I was eating lunch, typing with one hand holding my phone the other had chicken in it. Plus my spell check is set on low so who knows what spills out…plus I can’t edit here so there’s that lol

          1. I just read things out loud when I don’t comprehend them at a first read.
            And then I remind myself of what my own emails look like before I have read them over and edited them. And I remind myself that no one likes the proofreader.

  6. Holy shit, I’m glad it worked out well! It’s amazing how people seem to make it their business who you’re dating, what you’re doing, what you drive and how many vehicles you have. That bitch waited until you left town and probably told them all kinds of bullshit to get them to go as far as they did. People are sick.

    Stories like this make me appreciate where I live, although I could certainly use more room. It’s a respectable, clean place…it just tends to look like a car lot sometimes, lol.

    Today there’s a record-low two cars here, made it much easier to mow because they both fit on the driveway.

    People like you and I need a farm somewhere with lots of space for parking, driving, wrenching, etc. And no neighbors within eyesight.

  7. Also we need an edit button. Luckily my landlord went to bat for me, hes on the HOA board. Told me just make sure you keep the tag current, they cant say its junk/abanodoned/inop that way

  8. There’s a lot I appreciate about you and your writing, and I’m glad that you’re able to share these stories and passions with us.

    Just also…with the world heading where it is right now, from one trans person to another, stay safe, okay? There’s not that many of us in the car world–you matter a lot, more than any vehicle you own or write about. I know you’re not the kind to let dipshits like your neighbor stop you, and nor should you, but if push comes to shove, make sure you’ve got people and places. Those cops know what they’re doing.

    Solidarity and appreciation for who you are and what you do.

  9. I’m so glad to see many of my favorite writers from that one other place coming over here. I usually lurk; I haven’t posted over *there* since the Lovely Murlee Martin was doing Project Car Hell – but my thorough appreciation for just how nice this site has become has become too much to bear. Bare? One of those.

    With every writer leaving the other site it continues to fester and toxify; not the fault of the remaining writers so much as the comments section seemingly filled with the Usual Internet People eager to spread negativity first and attempt comprehension second.

    The tone of Autopian has been positive, intelligent and engaged – and I think there’s a strong effort from the writers to keep it that way. Other articles have had heavy [editor’s notes] that seem designed to defuse sourness and Mercedes’ addition to the Autoptian, uh – staff seems like the wrong word. The Autopian Authorial Menagerie is definitely going to bring up the level of positive enthusiast energy of the site.

  10. It’s so nice to see you here! Please indulge me while I ask one socially relevant question. Any chance of seeing a ChangLi-SmartCar death match? A friend owned a SmartCar. She was able to get a SMART vanity plate. I begged her to get a license plate frame that said E PANTS. We’re still friends!

  11. Glad to see Mercedes writing here!!!

    Thing is if the cars have current tags and she isnt using more spaces than she is allotted, the person raising hell can go take a long walk off a short pier. They have nothing to stand on.

    I had a similar issue, live in a condo complex but we all have our own private driveways.

    Had my landlord tell me somebody complained about my junky 1993 Toyota truck. Granted it was VERY UGLY but ran great and had current tags. Told him it has a current tag and I do drive it a few thousand miles a year(or let friends borrow it) It might not move for a few weeks at a time in the summer because its black, broken a/c made it a miserable oven.

  12. Welcome to The Autopian Mercedes! I’m truly sorry that you’ve been harassed by feeble minded racists and have to deal with those headaches. I have to say that seeing everything you do with your Smart cars really makes me want to get one and lift it for a fun runabout. I already have a rusty 93 Del Sol (for autocross) 1though, and my wife would not be happy to have another “toy” car. Perhaps a Smart for my son who is turning 16 soon…

  13. I too have been accused of a felony based solely on my car. A friend of a friend’s daughter got approached and nearly kidnapped by someone who was driving a red 90’s hatchback-ish car. At the time I drove a red 98 VW GTI. I live in a small town, so naturally I got a visit from the local and county PD. Thankfully, I was able to convince them of my innocence, but still a scary ordeal……and there is nothing worse than getting accused of being a pedophile. Also, if you have the means, you may want to move to an area where having numerous cars in various states of operation is more friendly (i.e. not an apartment complex).

  14. Jeeees! What idiot neighbors…… Great to hear that a car you love, has a beating heart again! Now I have a
    question for you. With your love of smart cars being the impetus for the question. How can I get one of these smarts in the US? Or am I forever to admire them from across an ocean?

    /Users/gregorypizzini/Desktop/Smart Nice FR.JPG

  15. Mercedes… you should setup a gofundme to collect the funds to hire a private investigator to do the legwork to find the AssChasmFillDirt (ACFD for short) that is doing this to you. Once you have that information, there are approximately 37.4 million ways to make their life a living hell without them ever catching wind of your antics to force karma to do its thing to said ACFD. No, you won’t break any laws, and no you won’t need to go to the police for this (said high IQ filter feeder might attempt to FOIA your calls to the po-po). The fact that you are the object of some rando’s scorn just serves to show that society is fucked and people are evil. Who cares what color your skin is, what you believe, who you love or how you love – all that doesn’t matter when one human refuses to treat another fellow human with a distinct lack of dignity. You might have only been an Autopian for a few days now, but the internet will not let OUR FAVORITE GEARHEAD MERCEDES (sorry DT and JT, we love you too, but this is a rallying cry for our good friend and ‘pian family member here) be subject to this crap. If you don’t make it painful (on a psychic level, not necessarily physcial – as we all abhor violence) for this person to continue, they will continue to keep doing what they are doing because they are insecure and these atrocities only serve to make them feel better. Do not let them win.
    ????️‍????

  16. Goddam nosy neighbors, I have to fly all the way to tx because one such nosy A$$, they called the city because I have a non running. car in my driveway, and it is now a public nuisance. I really want to know who reported it, I have some ideas, but nothing confirmed yet.
    Other than confronting you personally, how did you find out who was the snitch?

    Thank you

  17. We have permitted street parking- due to them replacing sidewalks and streets I have had to park in different areas, one street I have been ticketed repeatedly for an abandoned vehicle, it has to be there for 72 hours unmoved, one week I got tagged 4 times, I pointed out to the bylaw person that it was pretty much impossible for this to be true as the tickets had photos showing the car on subsequent days in different places. This is driven by complaints and I know where the complainer lives and wish I had something louder than a straight piped 850R to annoy him

  18. Yeah you got shit neighbors but let’s not throw the bigot card yet they might just be asshole.
    My experience was I bought a house in a gated community. I’m single white male so apparently I run the world. But 3 days after I closed I started moving in checked my mail, have a letter from the board 20 violations fix immediately or be fined. Most little crap like grass too high weeds in the sidewalk etc. But I have not even moved in. I calmly took care of the issues while talking to the management company, turns out board members complaining. So got the rules and addresses foe board members got about 2 dozen violations on them they got warned I never got another letter. Some people hate everything don’t think it’s just you.
    Oh and always get revenge. It feels so good.

    1. The neighbors sound shitty. Owning Somewhere Between 17 And 19 Vehicles (Including A Bus) and parking them at your apartment complex parking lot is also shitty. I’d be happy to take a ForTwo (or two) off your hands, Mercedes.

      1. If they were all in the condo lot? Shitty indeed. But, from Mercedes’ inaugural post, it sounds like she has used only her allotted parking spaces. The rest are in offsite storage.

        I’ll take a fourtwo too, though, or that spare VW. For purely selfless reasons ofc. 😉

    2. Work on your reading comprehension.

      “The neighbor, as I’ve sadly experienced, has openly voiced their displeasure with the color of my skin and the relationship that I’m in. That would be bad enough, but they’ve also reported me to police for crimes that I didn’t commit.”

  19. Wow, your neighbors are truly awful. I recall one of my neighbors getting the cops called on him about an “abandoned” Geo Metro he had stored behind his house, which was adjacent to the railroad tracks. In other words, no one could even see that car besides my neighbor and myself, but the town does have an inflated-and-plated ordinance for the cops to enforce that’s only initiated by outside complaint. We wondered who was doing the complaining until an asshat from a nearby trailer court showed up a couple days later, offering to give my neighbor the princely sum of $50 for the car he somehow knew was out back. I ended up helping him get it running and he got the plates renewed, so when the cop showed up at the end of the two week notice, all was well. It is cool you got that little blue beast going again though!

  20. Mercedes! So glad you’re here now. I have a mutual love of Smart cars and little sport cars and am envious of all the wonderful vehicles in your care. I enjoy reading about your escapades and your new yellow convertible is so cute.

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with the BS from neighbors – why can’t people just be nice….oh right, because people.

  21. This is bad that you have one of those neighbors. If the vehicles are running and inspected, it is generally not an issue. Unless there is some HOA law about all vehicles must be in a garage.

    In my state you can have one uninspected vehicle on your property. Beyond that it can get in hoarder/junkyard.

    As for David’s comment about why are people weirded out. That is situational. I have known people with a fleet of non-runners or could be with some tinkering.

    In one case it was huge property and he kept then in the back field behind a berm so no one saw them.

    When that are visible, then you can get in grey areas. Lined up someone neatly and being worked on/covers with no rodents, no issue.

    Strewn about the lawn with overgrown grass, leaking what is left of the fluids on the ground, sunk up to it’s hubs in the dirt, some people could get into clean that up mode.

    Myself, as long as there is not a huge mess, I don’t care. Keep the area clean and some what organized, no bother.

  22. So glad to see Mercedes on this site, meaning more and more good stuff coming.

    I feel your pain with neighbors. I live in a small gated community, and travel quite a lot for business (pre-covid). While I was out for an really extended trip, my HOA decided my Saab 93 convertible that was in my driveway had sat there too long without moving (which tells me someone goes around and records this stuff), sent a notice I had a week to move it or it would be towed. The Saab’s front bumper cap had been pulled partially off by a parking block that was too high for the car and when I backed up it popped off one corner. It needed a lot of other work too so I was just waiting for a time of being home long enough to get it all done at once.

    Got back home a couple of weeks later to find skid marks all the way down my driveway where they had dragged it out into the street and loaded it. Between what the HOA was fining me and now the storage cost at the yard, I supposedly owed over twice what the car was worth. I let them keep it and all their fees and fines. Oh and I’m suing the HOA. Hoping to move out in the next year.

    Some people suck, there just is no getting around it. Obviously it’s frustrating but I just love that you got out there and resolved the issue, and got a loved one going again! Good for you!

  23. Very happy to see you here Mercedes. I had to stop reading your posts on the ol’ site because I couldn’t support it anymore, and I’m happy to see you and here and beyond happy to read your content!

    Cheers, and congrats!

  24. I have a neighbor with a broken box truck in their driveway, a rusty van in the street and no grass on their front lawn from parking on it to deflect attention. Nobody blinked when I had my truck on jack stands for a month plus no HOA. After all the stories, I never want an HOA and I really want at least 10 acres and a large shop or barn.

    1. I was wondering how long it would take for me to notice a V10omous comment on this side of the fence, haha! Figured you’d have an account over here too, but I’m pretty sure this is the first post of yours I’ve seen.

      1. I’ve been around since the beginning but lately I find myself at the old place less and less, and here more and more, which I expect to continue. This site has way more honest passion and enthusiasm in its writing, and less negativity, snark, hot takes and off-topic “stuff”, which I appreciate greatly. Just wish they would add comment notifications for replies and likes.

        Since I missed the post yesterday and didn’t say so explicitly, I’ll just add that Mercedes was the best hire they could have made and I’m very excited to read about her continuing adventures here!

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