In auto racing, flags rule everything. A green flag signals to drivers to go. A black and white checkered flag ends the race. And a vehicle that breaks a rule or that presents a physical threat to itself or other drivers is shown the black flag. This signals that the driver is to get off the track and take their car to the garage or pit.
A number of things can cause a black flag: something has come off the car, like a spoiler or a tire; the car is incapable of maintaining the track minimum speed, resulting in the car becoming a hazard on the track. If it’s just a physical problem and not a huge rule violation, the driver is usually allowed back on track once the offending issue has been corrected. If your car isn’t running correctly, or you’re not running it safely, you can get black flagged.
This Old Car
I have this old car. It’s a one-of-a-kind 1985 model that has aged remarkably well, but it doesn’t run like it used to. It needs a little body work, and a ton of help under the hood. It could definitely be something really powerful when I put some time and effort into it.
The damn thing it idles way too fast. It’s especially bad in the mornings. Even sitting in neutral, it idles at almost twice as many RPMs as it should and the whole body shakes. Not only does the shaking look bad, but I worry that it puts stress on other parts and that it could rattle something else loose. Or break a seal and spill something gnarly.
It has trouble shifting too, especially on cold mornings. You have to fight to get it out of neutral and into first gear, and you have to push it into second. Good luck getting it to go any higher. It’s slow to accelerate in any gear, and it stalls out if it drives too fast for too long. How long is too long? It varies each time. So does the gear in which it stalls. It’s incredibly unpredictable, so you’re better off just leaving it in the garage all day.
Fuel consumption is irregular, too. I think there is problem with the fuel pump. Sometimes it feels like it can go forever on a single tank, and sometimes it needs lots of little refills. It also runs out of fuel all the time, sputtering and lurching to an embarrassing, ungraceful stop.
It could use a little chemical help too, maybe a fuel additive of some sort to clean out the gunk in the engine and help it run cleaner. I’d like to stay away from these kind of things, but they can help. You just have to be really careful with them.
This car should be taken to a mechanic, or it’s gonna be shown the black flag. As much as I’d like to think I can do all this work on my own—I am certainly stubborn enough—I need to acknowledge that this is a large, long-term project. I can’t do all that work on my own, no matter how much I convince myself I can. It’s important to me that I feel like I am in control of things like this.
You know what really complicates maintaining this car?
I am the car.