Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Woman's View of Auto Repair

I don't drive a typical vehicle. I drive a Ford E-350 twelve passenger van. Oh yeah, did I mention--it's a diesel. We don't sneak up on anybody. I don't change my own oil, although I can manage to get it done. I check my tires occasionally and add air if needed, but I'm really not in tune with the ins and outs of the vehicle. I just don't see that as my duty. My husband basically agrees. In fact, one time I suggested he teach me how to change the oil in our vehicles. I made the suggestion because I wanted to help, but he made it clear that he considered maintenance of our automobiles to be his domain. Not long ago my husband drove the van for the first time in months. He was highly concerned by the "shimmy" he felt when we went above sixty. I got the usual grill--had I hit something, did I run over a curb, was there something wrong with the tire? I don't know why I should take the blame just because the vehicle I'm driving has a problem. So I told him "I don't feel a shimmy". He pointed to the shaking water bottle in the cup holder. I shook my head in confusion. He asked if I could see how his hand was vibrating on the wheel. He did not appreciate my suggestion that he simply wasn't used to driving such a big vehicle. Stab the poor guy's ego, why don't you. My evasions didn't change the fact that the front end was out of alignment and the tire rods needed replacing. At least, that's what the mechanic said that gave him the estimate. Of course, none of that was covered under the warranty. Finally my husband took the van to a dealership to get a second estimate. He called me a short time later.
"What did you hit?" Most of our vehicular conversations start this way.
"I didn't hit anything."
"The mechanic says the rim is bent. The rim."
"I honestly don't remember hitting anything." At least, nothing big enough to bend the rim.
"Did you run over a curb? How fast were you going?"
At that point I could see that the conversation wasn't going anywhere. I truly don't remember hitting anything hard enough to bend the rim. I also knew that discovering the cause wouldn't unbend the rim now. The conversation ended somewhere around there. When the mechanic called to say the vehicle was done, I went to go get it. I paid out over $200 and pulled onto the expressway to head home. BOY was there a shimmy! Oh yeah I could feel it! But wait, wasn't that supposed to have been fixed? I slowed down a little, hoping foolishly that somehow a slower speed would fix the shimmy. I dreaded going home.
"So how does it run?" First question out of my husband's mouth when I walked in the door. I decided to seize the bull by the horns.
"It's worse than ever. As soon as I got on the expressway that thing shook like it was having a seizure."
A cloud crossed my husband's face. "Did you take it back?"
I stared at him blankly. Now, in all honesty, it had occurred to me to turn around and go back. But this was his project, not mine. He was the one who had dealt with the mechanic in the first place. Plus, I'm not stupid. I know many in the the auto repair world try to take advantage of a female's limited knowledge of vehicles. I know my knowledge is limited enough to tempt any mechanic into that scenario. I also know that, even if a mechanic dealt honestly with me, my husband would be convinced that I could have gotten a better deal, better options, etc. So he got on the phone. The mechanic was gone for the day (what a shock!) but we could bring it back first thing in the morning.
Turns out the rim was bent, but also the belt in the tire was shredding. Wait a minute. Hadn't that happened just last fall with one of the other van tires? Wasn't I blamed then for driving over a curb? (As I mentioned, it IS a big vehicle. I do occasionally cut my corners a little short.) My stomach churned as I waited for the lecture. Instead my husband shrugged when he got the news. "The tires are old," he said. "I guess we had to expect this." Apparently the bent rim was enough of a lecture for now.
Some months later, my husband and I were both in the van. We turned the vehicle off so we could place an order at a drive through. (Diesel engine, remember?) Then it wouldn't turn back on. It was clicking and that was it. BTW, my husband was driving. It wasn't my fault this time! We're still waiting to hear the problem this time around. Hopefully our warranty covers this. Is it possible I ran over a curb big enough to keep it from starting?

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