My van is happily back from a two-day stay at the auto mechanic.
This is what was not wrong with it:
We took it in to the garage hoping to get rid of a squeal that’s been getting progressively louder and more insistent. My husband, who is usually quite right about mechanical things, stuck his head under the hood and listened to said squeal for several moments, before deciding that it was probably the power steering pump. So he went and bought a replacement pump (see photo above), and we took the new pump and squealy van over to the mechanic so he could work his magic.
Too bad that wasn’t what was causing the squeal. While the power steering pump would have cost us dinner out at a nice restaurant:
the actual problem was, of course, a bit more expensive:
That’s like dinner out for a week. Plus ice cream.
The good news, though, is that the van is no longer squealy, thanks to its new idler pulley (a.k.a. “belt tensioner”). Apparently, it is not a good thing when these break. Unlike the power steering pump, which simply aids in steering and could, theoretically, be compensated for in its absence, the idler pulley/belt tensioner is one of those vital parts, without which one’s motor pretty much does not run. According to WiseGeek:
A driver will know if [the belt tensioner] has failed, because the belt will be impaired or even snap off of the vehicle, and it will not be drivable without a working pulley and belt system.
So I am extremely happy to have a working one. Well, technically, my last one was still operational, but the alarming noise coming from under the hood leads me to believe it would not have been operational for long. I might have found out the hard way, as described above. So hooray for new belt tensioners! Hooray for new belts! Hooray!