Monday, June 20, 2011
Over the years, I've compiled a lengthy list of occupations that you couldn't pay me enough to do. After this past week, there's a new career atop that list: Auto Mechanic.
For starters, I know absolutely nothing about the inner workings of cars. I know where the gas goes. I'm pretty sure I know where the oil goes. I know that Brian Vickers is my favorite NASCAR driver and he's way overdue for another win. Beyond that, cars move by magic as far as I'm concerned.
Yes, yes, I know: the ignition ignites and causes the rotors to rotate and the pistons to, umm, pistate. But then the radio comes on and I forget about caring how the car works because I'm too busy singing along to "Baby Got Back." From there, it's all in the hands of the magical pixies that presumably live under the hood and make the car move until a little light comes on my dashboard telling me to "check engine" -- or rather telling me to tell my mechanic to "check engine" because MY version of checking the engine would be to open the hood and go, "Yep, that's an engine, alrighty."
I'm kind of okay with being clueless about cars. I mean, to each their own, right? I'm sure some of you can't beat match dance music or write a newspaper column (or, in one of my better moments, do both at the same time.) But in being an eternal noob at all things mechanical, it's pretty easy for me to get snowed over by mechanics.
I'll guarantee it's happened before. When I was in college, I had a beater car (it might rhyme with "Tord Fescort") that was in the garage more than it wasn't. And every time the car would demand service, I'd hear something like, "Well, you brought the car in for a blown headlight. Well, we replaced the headlight, but while we were down there, we just happened to notice that your flux capacitor's leakin' accelerator fluid all over the cam drive piston defibrillator. See the wear on this carburetor belt here? That means your timing chain's faulty and as a result, you're gonna need a whole new gasket bearing shaft. We can get you back up and running for, oh, $850 or so."
And invariably, I'd have to get my dad on the phone and listen to the two of them talk Martian for a while before settling on some weird automotive compromise wherein they replace only HALF the faulty stuff that they've probably just made up, and then the car would run fine until the OTHER headlight would blow out a month later and they'd find another $850 of imaginary problems.
Finally, though, I found a mechanic that, freakishly, I trust. It takes a lot of patience to work on a Beetle given that the entire engine's crammed under the dashboard, but my current mechanic's never complained once. In the five years that I've been going to him regularly, I've gotten nothing but great service, fair prices, and the patience required to deal with an automoron like myself. If I go there with a problem and he thinks I can get a better rate elsewhere, he refers me. If he thinks I can get a cheaper part on my own, he tells me how to order it. It's the kind of service that almost mandates I tell all my friends and refer anyone and everyone I can.
This brings me to last week. I thought I'd swing by the garage for a quick oil change. In addition, I'd just blown the fuse to my accessory plugs, and a roadtrip sans iPod is a roadtrip sans Shane. So there I was, waiting in the lobby, when in walked, shall we say, a less-than-pleased customer.
I'm not normally an eavesdropper -- oh, who am I kidding? Yes I am. But this guy was almost yelling, so it wasn't really a chore to get roped in. Here's what I quickly gathered:
This guy was the ex-husband. He and the ex-wife had recently bought a car from an out-of-towner for their daughter. The car had some problems right away, so they spent $250 at an out-of-town garage that was unable to diagnose the problem. Ex-hubby had to leave town for work, so the ex-wife brings the car back to the QC and to my local garage. They find the problem easily and give her the estimate. But they ALSO find an internal oil leak that was rapidly destroying other parts of the engine. They explained to the wife that the other problems wouldn't stop the car from running, but if they weren't addressed, all sorts of higgeldy-piggeldy would be on the horizon. The ex-wife gave permission to do the whole fix for a four-digit figure of some kind, and now ex-hubby was marching in livid to accuse them of doing the same kind of snow job on the wife that I'm pretty sure other garages had pulled on me in the past.
So while my mechanic was trying to talk this guy down from the ceiling, it made me think a lot about trust, and what a precious commodity it really is these days. Should I NOT be trusting my mechanic after all? If I was in this guy's situation, would I be just as livid? Should I go through life with an eyebrow raised at everyone and their motives?
After sitting there for a bit, I decided my answer would be a resounding NO. A world where you can't trust your fellow man is a world worth avoiding. Sure, you may end up getting burned once or twice by a scumbag or two, but I'd like to think that human nature isn't consistently evil, shallow, and self-serving. All I know is that in five years, I've never gotten service from this garage that was remotely suspect.
After a few minutes of almost-yelling, the guy had to pause while my mechanic took a call. That's when he spun on ME.
"I hope to hell you're not letting them work on YOUR car, buddy!" the guy said.
"Actually," I replied, "I let them work on my car anytime it breaks down. This is the first garage I've ever been to in town that treats me and my car with respect. I trust them, plain and simple. They're good guys and they do a good job."
The guy shut up (a small miracle in and of itself.) And after giving my mechanic a little more static, he left. Afterwards, I found out that the rest of the family had been in earlier and had to be forcibly removed from the premises. We both agreed that if they had to be hot, why not be hot at the out-of-town garage that charged $250 to find nothing? At least their hefty repair bill fixed the problem.
As for MY oil change and fuse replacement? My total bill was a whopping $18 -- yet more evidence that I've picked a great garage. Sometimes it just feels good to trust someone else. Here's where I'd make a passioned plea for everyone to put a little more trust in your fellow man -- but I keep losing my train of thought. I'm too busy singing along to "Baby Got Back."