ShaneHalbach.com

This is why I hate car repair shops

Oh the time I have had, my friends. I apologize in advance; this is going to be a long one.

On the evening of Labor Day, my car died in the middle lane of traffic on a busy street. I put on my 4-ways, but I was causing  a pretty major traffic disturbance. People were honking and driving around me. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to leave my car there for very long, but I also had Evie in the car, and I didn’t feel like it was a particularly safe situation. I wasn’t sure if I could push the car by myself, but I didn’t really see any other choice, so one way or the other I was moving that car.

I braced my shoulder in the open door so I could reach in to steer and started pushing. Oh-so-slowly I got it going, and I crossed over a few lanes of traffic. I needed to make it around the corner to pull it safely out of the way, but the light wasn’t with me so I had to stop and wait. There must have been a little depression in the road there, because when the light changed I couldn’t get it going again. I started rocking it back and forth and eventually got it up and over the dip and back on track.

No one bothered to jump out of their car and help push (thanks citizens of Chicago!), but I did get it over to the side and out of harm’s way, even if it wasn’t in a legal spot.

Of course, then Evie and I had to wait for a tow truck to show up, and since it was Labor Day I had to wait quite awhile just to get a hold of someone. After finally getting off the phone with insurance, the tow truck dispatch said it would over an hour before they could get here. Luckily, when I said I had a kid with me, they ended up getting there in 30 minutes instead.

I had the car towed to a shop in my neighborhood that was only a few blocks away. Normally I have my car stuff done out by work, but that was very far away, so it really didn’t make sense to have it towed all the way out there. I had gone to this little repair shop attached to the Mobile gas station a few times before for very minor things and hadn’t had any trouble.

This time I had trouble. Lots of it.

But first things first, we had a funeral to attend in Michigan the next day. So we had to get a rental car, and I told the car people we’d be out of town for two days, but I could pick the car up on Thursday. The rental car and funeral part went very smoothly, so I felt like this whole ordeal was actually going to be relatively painless.

Unfortunately, when I called the shop up on Thursday they hadn’t started working on it yet. This meant I had to stay home from work that day, after missing two days for the funeral. It quickly became apparent that unless I was physically on the phone with them, they weren’t working on it. This caused me to call them every couple of hours to get an “update” on how it was coming.

Finally, I called them at about 7 p.m. and the car was ready. However, this conversation took place:

Guy: “My friend, how much did I tell you this was going to cost?”
Me: “Uh…you said $575.”
Guy: “Oh yeah. Okay, mi amigo, do you have any cash?”
Me: “Some, I guess.”
Guy: “If you bring $40 in cash, I’ll take $35 off, give it to you for $540.”

Now this was obviously some shady dealings, but then I decided I didn’t care. If that’s the way the guy wants to run his business, I guess that’s alright with me. There might be some risk for me on that $40, but mostly it’s risky for him to have shady deals going on with his business. Anyway, luckily this didn’t come back to haunt me, but I include it just as an example of how shady this place is.

Alright, so I show up to pick up my car, pay, and start to drive away. Immediately I notice that my check engine light is on, so I pull back into the shop.

Me: “The check engine light is still on. I guess the code needs to be cleared?”
Guy: “No, the guy with the computer isn’t here. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
Me: “Well, I can’t take the car while the check engine light is on.”
Guy: “No, no, no, don’t worry my friend. I checked everything out, everything is fine. I checked the oil. Just come back tomorrow, 10:00. The guy will be here, he’ll clear the code.”

I wasn’t too thrilled with that, but what was I going to do? So I took the car. The next day was Friday, so I put the kids in the car and we took it over there at 10.

Me: “Hi, I’m here to get my code cleared on my car?”
Guy: “Yeah, okay. The guy’s not here.”
Me, starting to get upset: “You told me to be here at 10. I’m here at 10.”
Guy: “Yeah, you’ll have to leave your car here.”
Me, gesturing to the kids: “I can’t leave the car here, I have my kids with me. This is my only car.”

Eventually the guy made a phone call and told me to wait for 30 minutes. I was feeling distinctly jerked around at this point, so we left and played at a nearby park, before coming back. The guy was there and he read the code before clearing it. The code said that the evaporation sensor was bad, but I’ve seen that code before: that’s the code you get if you leave your gas cap a little loose. So it made sense to me, because I knew they had to drop the gas tank to put in the new fuel pump. So if leaving the gas cap open and letting air in could trip that sensor, then it seemed reasonable that actually removing the gas tank would let air in and trip that sensor. I figured it was probably normal and they just forgot to reset it after they were done working on it. I thought that was the end of it.

That Saturday we were actually driving up to Wisconsin, and right away I noticed that the check engine light was back on again. However, the car was driving without any noticeable problems, so we went ahead and went anyway. After the various experiences I had had thus far, I really didn’t want to go back to the same place again, so on Monday I first called my usual repair place. They agreed with my self-diagnosis that something was probably not sealed or connected properly, but said they’d have to charge $115 to figure out what, so I should probably take it back to the original place and force them to do the job properly. So I called the Mobile back and the guy told me the soonest he could take a look at it was Thursday at 10 a.m. So I continued to drive all week with the light on.

On Thursday I was prepared to do whatever it took to get this resolved. I had to stay home from work for yet another day (it would have been 3 at this point, except I was already home on that Friday), so I really wanted to get this resolved. I decided that I would just wait there while they repaired my car, no matter how long it took. There were two reasons for this, 1) they seemed to work better when they had a reminder, and 2) I knew there would be an argument, and I didn’t want them to do something to my car afterwards.

Unfortunately, it went exactly as I expected it to.

In retrospect, the initial posturing was kind of funny, how we were both doing that thing where we’re smiling at each other but carefully choosing our words to make our position clear, like

Guy: “Okay, mi amigo, you want me to look at the new problem with the engine light?”

or

Me: “It says here on my receipt that all parts and labor are guaranteed.”
Guy: “Oh, are you having a problem with your fuel pump?”
Me: “Yes, according to the light on my dashboard.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, and we quickly escalated into shouting. His basic position was that he couldn’t possibly have affected the evaporation sensor by replacing the fuel pump, and my basic position was that it would be awfully coincidental that this totally unrelated problem happened while it was at their shop. In addition, there was a bit of a disagreement about when the work should be done, his basic position being never, and my basic position being right now.

Even though I knew 100% that they had caused this problem, I had no way to prove it (something that he pointed out many times). This is what makes the whole thing so frustrating; you’re being done an injustice, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it. And they weren’t even entertaining the possibility that they could have done it. How nice it must be to be so confident that you couldn’t possibly have made a mistake.

I had arrived precisely at the agreed upon time of 10:00, but the guy there claimed I must have set that up with someone else, because he couldn’t possibly do it at 10. I had never seen anybody else at the shop, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately for him, I didn’t really care who I had set up the appointment with: I was there now for the third time, a week and a half after I had originally dropped my car off, and I wasn’t leaving until it was resolved. I also graciously offered to talk to this other guy, his boss, or anybody else I needed to talk to in order to get this resolved. I also super-graciously offered to take my money back if he wasn’t able to fix my problem.

I parked myself in the corner, which made him very upset, but what was he going to do? I think maybe he intended to make me wait as long as possible, but then I unnerved him by knitting, so he broke down and put the car up on the lift. He explained to me how the sensor giving the error and the fuel tank weren’t even remotely connected, despite the hose I could see running from one to the next (and which, by the way, I knew to be false anyway or else how could leaving your gas cap open trip that sensor unless there was some connection?)

Finally, after an hour or so, he said the boss had to order a part, and I would have to leave and come back when they had the part.

Me: “And you’ll fix it at no extra cost?”
::Guy, giving me a hard stare for probably 30 seconds::
Guy, sighing: “At no extra cost.”

It somewhat seemed like a victory, but I was also disappointed that even after all that, I wasn’t able to get everything wrapped up. Now I had to come back yet another day, and every time I even thought about the car or the repair shop, I felt sick to my stomach. Although I can be a real pain in the ass when I have to be, I absolutely hate doing it. I hate it. I mean, I’m sure nobody likes it (or at least most of us don’t, I’ve seen some people who I’m pretty sure actually enjoy it), but it was just the last thing on earth I wanted to do. I almost just wanted to say forget the whole thing and just go pay to take it somewhere else, but it was the principle of the whole thing. On the other hand, were principles really worth losing 2 years off the end of my life from worry?

I called later in the day, and they said to bring it in on Tuesday at 8, because they wouldn’t have the part until Monday. They also made it a condition that I couldn’t sit and wait for it, I’d have to leave it. As I said, they were pretty uncomfortable with me sitting there (or maybe they were afraid I was going to knit again). I was a little nervous about this, but I got a sense that I was pushing them pretty far, and they needed at least a little victory. So I let that one go.

I stayed home from work yet another day, and dropped the car off at 9 (because when I called on Monday to make sure they had the part, they said they weren’t going to be getting it until Tuesday at 8). I had been hoping maybe they could get it taken care of right away and I could still make it to work, but then they told me “afternoon”. When I pressed for what time in the afternoon I should be there to pick it up, they said, “5 or 6″. You know, 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Well, I needed to pick Evie up from school, so I told them I had to be there at 5 (which meant paying for aftercare, but I didn’t get into that…I just wanted my stinkin’ car fixed!) and they said, “I’ll try to have it done by then.”

I did not have very high hopes. Excuse me for doubting.

Finally, I called at 3:30 and they said it was fixed. I walked back to the shop, psyching myself up the whole way for another round of arguing about whether or not I would have to pay. Truth be told, I brought some cash with me, since I knew that had special allure for them. I figured that I had saved $35 originally, so I would pay up to $40 in cash if it meant that I could just end all of this.

It didn’t come to that.

The boss was there and he gave me a little talk, but they gave me the keys and didn’t mention payment. I think the boss was trying to intimidate me, but there was a bit of a language barrier, so it didn’t come off as very intimidating since I had to keep saying, “What? I’m sorry, what?” We finally left it as the evap sensor must have ruined itself, but they did me such a nice favor by fixing it for me, and I shouldn’t really bother coming back there again. As far as I was concerned, if the problem was fixed they could say whatever they want, and they didn’t need to worry about me coming back anyway.

In any case, I took my car, with no check engine light, and went home.

Sooooo, anybody have a good repair shop in the neighborhood? You might say I could use a new place.

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One response

  1. I think I’m one of those people who enjoy being a pain in the ass when it’s warranted. But maybe I could save a few years on my life if I find an externally unnerving hobby like knitting.

    September 25, 2012 at 9:37 pm

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