Sunday, May 18, 2008

Auto Mechanics- Why I Love to Hate Them

I am not naturally endowed with a lot of patience- and I am too afraid to pray for it, lest the good Lord give me a little too much "practice". Either way, it seems that I am getting a lesson in patience, whether I prayed for it or not.

Our car, formally MY car, is the catalyst by which I am being taught.

Sure, you expect some routine maintenance and you know there will be things that you will have to eventually replace.

But, then there are those things that you try not to think about and hope they never happen to your car!

Unfortunately, over the past year, and especially these past five months, it's been one thing after another!

New tires, grinding brakes, the belts, a headlight, a drippy air conditioner, the air conditioner fan, the air conditioner switch, this needs flushing, that filter needs replaced, a week ago the new oxygen sensor, and now... the catalytic converter!

I tell you true, every time the check engine light ignites, I have a Pavlovian-like reaction and my stomach starts to turn, and an elephant makes itself comfortable on my chest.

These physical responses to the distress of car trouble are not only related to the expense that is sure to be incurred- but also to the complete lack of trust that I have for auto mechanics.

It all started in 2000. I was living with my parents in Newton, Kansas. I was driving my very first car- which was bought from my cousin, Becca. It was an old Dodge Spirit- I want to say a '92 or something like that- it wasn't new. The odometer had stopped at 116,000, and that was a year or two before it was mine; it had a lot of get up and go, until one day... it didn't. My dad took it to the mechanic for me. They said they could fix it. I had been working at a doctor's office as a receptionist and had been saving some money for the nursing program I was thinking about doing. I knew enough to know that car repairs could be I tried to prepare myself for the worst case scenario. It turned out that I had no idea how bad the scenario could get...

It was the universal joint-it was cracked, and I found out that it would cost $1200 to repair.

I was shocked, livid, and completely depressed! I was sure the car was not even worth that much money- and it was about all I had managed to save.

Gone. Just like that...

When it was time to go and pick up my car and pay the mechanic, I went in by myself. I stood at the desk and with my voice all shaky with emotion, I asked the man if what he had done was truly necessary...and I mentioned that $1200 was a lot of money to me... and I told him I hoped he was being honest...

The man seemed taken back a little, and he offered to show me the broken u-joint...I declined, saying I wouldn't even know what I was looking at anyway. I wrote the man the check and cried all the way home. I just knew that I had been duped!

Since that day, I have hated going to mechanics- even for an oil change.

You take your car to a "professional" and just expect them to be totally honest with you.

I suppose there are mechanics that are very trustworthy... I am not sure I have met one I would bet my life on.

As I see it those of us who know near nothing about cars have about three choices when dealing with mechanics:
1. We can TRUST them.

2. We can go and get a SECOND/THIRD/FOURTH OPINION and compare notes.

3. We can assume they are exaggerating to make a sale... ignore their "scare tactics"...and wait to see if our car blows up.

Anyone of the choices could potentially end up being a really, really dumb decision and/or a complete waste of time.

It's a very vulnerable position for one who knows very, very little about cars to be in.

It is an unsettling and insecure feeling to stand in front of a greasy mechanic and tell him, "I think I'll wait on that..." or, "I'd like to get a second opinion..."

However, I have done it a time or two...ok, just once.

Which leads us to my second traumatizing mechanic experience. This time the events take place here, in Florida...not too long ago...before Mr. M. and I were married.

I had taken my car in just to get the oil changed. The mechanic worked on it for about 15 minutes and then came back to the desk with a long list of things that my car ABSOLUTELY needed- in his expert opinion.

Well, I guess that was the last straw for me that day, because suddenly I began to weep uncontrollably. Not just tears, but that embarrassingly halting/heaving/snorting/sniffling type of weeping.

IT WAS MORTIFYING! The guy just stood there. I couldn't even look at him. Finally I managed to get out, "...hgg...I'm sorry...hgg...I don't...hgggk...know why I am crying!..hkuk..." and then I quickly ducked into the ladies restroom. After splashing my face with cold water and blowing my nose I sheepishly returned to the counter...the guy was still waiting. I do not know what his expression was- because I still could not bring myself to look at him, but he broke the awkward silence by asking a little impatiently,

" do you want to do about your car?"

So now, not only was I embarrassed, but I felt bullied. I DO NOT like feeling bullied... so I straightened myself up told him that I came for an oil change and an oil change was all I wanted!

He gave me a look of disdain and shook his head, and said something to the effect of "...well, I wouldn't wait too could end up doing some real damage to your engine...and if those tires get anymore worn, you could have a terrible accident...oh, and by the way, you need a new air filter and windshield wipers too..."

Though his "full court press" approach, including graphic descriptions of all the ills that could befall me and my car, was compelling- I stuck to my guns, handed the guy my coupon, and paid for my oil change.

...and then I called my brother to make sure I had done the right thing.

It ended up that I did need the belts changed- several months later. The tires, too- they were worn- but I was able to shop around get a good my convenience. I ended up replacing my own air filter- which was very simple- and the windshield wipers were a cinch too.

If you are like me, and you hate going to mechanics for fear of being taken advantage of, I have some advice. It's stuff I have learned along the way that may be beneficial to you...who knows?

1. Have an ally to go to with questions and for suggestions- whether it be a friend or relative that knows a little more about cars than you do- and most importantly, someone that has no ulterior motives. My brother, my dad, and my father-in-law are my allies.

2. Maintaining you car routinely will save you from major and costly repairs. Don't let your fear of mechanics defer you.

3. Trust your good sense...

4. In your spare time- EDUCATE yourself- use the Internet. If the mechanic tells you you need a new manifold and you don't have clue what a manifold is...look it up; research the normal cost, etc.

5. Check your warranty. Sometimes things are covered and can be fixed at no cost if you take the car to the certified dealer's service department.

(Note: a typical repair shop will not do this research for may be paying someone a lot of money to repair something that could be done for free!!)

6.If a repair is not covered by your warranty- make sure the mechanic you choose guarantees his work and the parts he uses...ask for a print out of their guarantee policy.

7. And finally, don't be afraid of looking stupid... who cares! Go ahead, ask questions- and expect answers. If a mechanic brushes you off- go someplace else. They provide a service- you can choose who gets your business.

The moral of the story is this: if you have a limited knowledge of the mechanics of your automobile, you have to exercise your trust-muscle a little... and have a lot of patience.


Travis said...

Jodi. I admit I took the liberty of cracking up at the mental image of you weeping at the Mechanics.

[and i feel free to say this, because i know you'll get a couple dozen women on here telling you they relate and understand].

must be a girl thing.


oh, and thanks for the tips on dealing with bullying mechanics.

Theresa said...

Oh Jodi... I about died laughing at the crying decriptions.( not that the situation was funny. It was a good thing I hadn't taken a bite of my sandwich. Good post.
Don't forget to take Jonathan with you Monday or Tues.

Tucker's Family said...

You hit a nerve with me!! I hate car repairs -- such a waste of good money. We buy a car expecting it to behave in a rational way....forever. I was cheering you on hoping that the story ended with the 'mean mechanic' coming to his senses and saying "you know, little missy, I am taking you to the cleaners and charging way more than my services are worth; i'll only charge you..."

I always envision the 'dishonest mechanics' loosening bolts, clogging filters, sand papering the tread off of tires, twisting fuel lines in knots (you get the picture) just so you have to come crawling back to them to acknowledge they were right when they said "and you also need to have these 20 things done" when all you needed was the oil change.

I showed Bill your blog...and he laughed at your auto picture ... and then went on to say "boy, Jodi can write well."

Praying for you and Kirk.

The Arender's said...

You crack me up. You poor thing, I can't believe you cried in front of a greasy mechanic. But I sure do know what you are talking about. I don't trust them either. I am very blessed to have a dad who can do those things for me or give me advice about it.
Sorry for your rotten luck with mechanics and your car...hope this comes to an end and soon :-)

Making Memories 1999 said...

Oh, Dear Cuz, I'm so sorry that ol' Spirit cost you so much!!! Hind sight is 20/20, right?!

What a descriptive and great post!! You have such a wonderful writing ability!! Although I am so sorry that you've had such bad experiences! Sounds like you have learned and maybe could write a book about it: "101 Things You Should Know about Cars and Mechanics" :-)

Have a great day!!

Nonentity said...

No really, I loved that old Spirit- I don't know what I would have done without it! It got me from A to B to C- and back again...
It just got old and tired. Mom says that the girl we sold it to in Hillsboro is STILL driving it around town!!!

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