Sunday, November 27, 2016

Getting My Fix

Let's be clear from the outset: this is not a post about narcotics. Or pizza. (Pizza actually is a narcotic, but that will be our little secret. OK? No need to bring this DEA into this.) This is a post about the fast-disappearing notion of having things fixed. Or repaired. 

Or shall I say, attempting to have things fixed and repaired. Things like cars. Garage doors. And telephones. The theoretically simple act of getting things done before your to-do list stretches to the moon and back.

Let me start with my car. Like me, it's an older model with considerable mileage.

I can't afford a new car, and the used ones which fit my slender budget are older models with considerable mileage—and like I said, I already have one of those. So I keep it and fix things. It's a slow-motion restoration that neither my insurance company or Pebble Beach will ever recognize.

But over the past year, the fix part has become remarkably difficult. Routine things like repairing a parasitic amp draw, replacing a serpentine belt, a timing belt and redoing the brakes seemingly present local repair shops with the mechanical equivalent of solving the unrest in Syria. Or developing a plan for affordable health care.

It's like owing a Ferrari in Afghanistan. I imagine the mechanics whispering and pointing as they gather 'round to eyeball the wonder that is my made in Japan exotic (which is incidentally one of the best-selling cars in the United States and has been for decades).

Last winter, a parasitic amp draw cost me a job interview, two unscheduled days off and the howling derision of my employer. The shop I brought it to failed to diagnose the problem not once, but twice. I suppose you could say what they lacked in ability they made up for in consistency.

As a bonus, I not only received two repair bills (which doubtlessly covered the two “free” tows), a door panel the mechanic had confused with a boot wipe but an unrepaired car which continued to threaten not to start at the most inopportune times.

Thankfully, the remainder of the winter was as mild as Minnesota salsa.

Like thousands of Americans, I celebrate the arrival of spring by replacing my serpentine belt. After settling the bill and bringing the car home, I noticed a strange clicking sound. I called the shop and was advised it would disappear as the belt “loosened up”.

A day later, they were proven correct.

The clicking noise disappeared as the belt loosened up sufficiently to remove itself from the network of wheels and pulleys on which it was deigned to travel. The shop paid for the subsequent tow and belt replacement, so it wasn't the exercise in abject hopelessness the twin visits to the previous garage had been.

Weeks later, I became aware that whenever I had to brake my car was bathed in the grinding, metallic music that is worn brake pads. Armed with a coupon, I brought my car to a third facility for still-more maintenance. All four brakes required attention, but many hundreds of dollars later the car at least stopped quietly and with certainty.

I especially liked the quiet part.

After several unsatisfying, late-summer flirtations with several used cars in the area, I decided to renew my vows with my long-term vehicular spouse. As a renew-your-wedding-vows gift, I decided to have my beloved's timing belt replaced.

As it happened, the shop that had erred with the serpentine belt was offering a special, and since a passenger-side power window regulator, struts and the second serpentine belt had been installed to perfection, I decided to forgive and forget.

Which is the biggest reason I'm currently stockpiling Aricept.

After paying yet-another robust bill and bringing my four-wheeled wife home, I was crestfallen when the now-familiar sounds of mechanical angst hit my ears. Too fearful of incurring a murder one charge to return to the shop, I instead visited the local dealership.

They confirmed my suspicions that the belt was too tight, and for one-hundred-twenty dollars and change corrected the error. (And if you're wondering—no, I'm not buying the guilty garage a box of belt-tension gauges for Christmas.)

I admit to not calling the Illinois Attorney General's office or scouring the walls of these facilities for ASE certification prior to my visits. But all are established shops with good reputations.

In all fairness, I can imagine what it's like working on older cars. The maddening array of connectors and fasteners, brittle plastic and rusted-on bolts alone would be enough to make me certifiable. Not to mention the ocean of proprietary designs and procedures each manufacturer unwittingly builds into their cars. 

I'm sure it is tougher than a two-dollar steak. 

But since these businesses advertise and market themselves as repair shops, is it not entirely reasonable of me to expect a repair in exchange for my hard-earned dollars?

Of course it is.

Alas, in a town like mine there a finite number of garages. And screaming at the mechanic reminds me of the guy who complained to the chef about his last meal. Unless you're in the kitchen supervising the preparation, there are just too many avenues for retaliation.

It's best to just blog about it. That and save for a new car as you beseech an uncaring god that the intermittent noise from the driver's side front wheel exists only in your imagination.

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