Hell on wheels


My daily car commute is now made with perspiration dripping down my back and the latest addition - an N95 mask plastered to my face.

The air-conditioner in my 9½-year-old car quit on me about two months ago.

First, the knob that regulates air flow stopped working properly.

Then, to my horror, the cold air gradually turned warm.

That left me with two options: Either navigate the roads with hot air blowing in my face at the speed of a hair-dryer on high or wind down the windows.

I've been making do with the latter, perspiring like a pig in the process and to battle the current haze, masked.

On sunny days, that is.


It is quite a different story during a thunderstorm when my options are: Keep windows down and get puddles in car, or wind windows up and grapple with fogged-up windscreen.

The latter works better, I've found, with a damp cloth handy to wipe out a visibility hole on the windscreen every 10 minutes.

So why don't I get to the root of my anguish and fix the faulty thing?

Honestly, I had planned to, until the technician said it would cost me $900 and take a couple of days.

I baulked at the price.

My car was to be scrapped in seven months and I had just spent over $1,500 to change its brake pads and a couple of engine belts and ball-bearing things.

I could take it, I thought. What's a little discomfort?

After one particularly gruelling episode last month, I found myself on the phone with the technician again, begging the miserly man for a discount. He said no-go.

That leaves me with a remaining five uncomfortable months.

My colleagues have told me I am acting ridiculously. Just spend the money, they beseech me, reminding me that I am five months pregnant.

Two sweet friends of mine even offered to install a new air-conditioner for my birthday next month. I am not allowing them to do so.

Another worked out the sums for me - the cost for a cool ride was a mere $6 a day for the next five months. It was worth it, wasn't it she asked.

I want to be convinced, but somehow, I just haven't been able to open my wallet.

The funny thing is that I don't consider myself to be a frugal person. I often forget to look at the price of groceries when I buy them, going out to eat at restaurants is a common occurrence in our family, and I once spent $2,000 on a sofa I wanted.

Last week, I had no qualms forking out $900 for Chinese playgroup sessions for my daughter.

So why in the world am I so averse to spending the same amount to ventilate my old rickety car?

Consumer behaviour research seems to suggest that it is because I don't think that having air-conditioning in my car is a necessity. (When something is not a necessity, according to the economic theory of demand and supply, consumers are unwilling to pay a high price for it.)

I suppose that's true.

I would be a luxury car salesman's toughest customer: A car, in my mind, has one job only - to move me from point A to point B.

My car performs its primary function perfectly well sans air-conditioning.

A new air-conditioner would also hardly be viewed as what economists call an ostentatious good or one that I can flaunt at others once acquired - another incentive for consumers to part with their cash, according to research. A banged-up car is a banged-up car, with or without air-conditioner. A little extra aeration won't lift its rock bottom status, or mine.

The conditions are also not set up for an impulse buy.

To get the blasted air-conditioner fixed, I would have to find a car workshop that offers such a service, give them time to order the parts, drive the car down and go vehicle-less for a few days so they can tinker with my automobile.

I dare say I would part with the $900 if the process were simpler - like if a mechanic offered to take my car, fix the thing and return it within the day (hint, hint).

Then there are other factors, such as the approaching scrap date - ever more looming with each passing day - which makes me feel like I would be throwing good money after bad.

And like a victim of trauma suppressing an unwanted memory, I quickly forget the hellish drive to work once I am basking in the cool comfort of my air-conditioned office. The ride isn't always cheerless either.

On haze-less days, I actually enjoy having the windows down, the music blasting and the wind blowing  through my hair.

It really isn't quite the life-and- death situation that several of my loved ones seem to think it is.

Friend, I assure you that the heat isn't extreme enough to make me faint at the wheel .

No mother, it is not dangerous for the unborn baby, says my gynaecologist, who explained that the amniotic fluid would keep the baby well-protected.

A little discomfort is really no biggie and as the stock Aesop phrase goes: Misery builds character.

Yes, it looks like I will be sticking to my decision to "tahan".

So someone please tell me where to buy one of those small fans that taxi uncles have on their dashboards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'Hell on wheels'. Print Edition | Subscribe