I had to take my car in for some maintenance earlier this week. (Not the suburban kid hauler, I already took that one in a few months ago, this time it was the car that I usually drive to work, a 2005 Toyota Camry that we bought used about four years ago and which has been remarkably reliable since, despite the fact that I rear-ended it squarely with another car the very next morning after finally getting my driver's license.) I had a flat back tire after rolling over some kind of screw, and while one would think that changing out a flat tire and putting on a spare would be the end of it, apparently I still had to take the car in to get a real tire on (the spare is not a real tire? Why?), replacing the spare in my trunk, and getting the wheels realigned.
This is exactly what I told the car people to do, but for some reason they took the liberty of hooking my car up to the FREE 27 POINT DIAGNOSTIC ROBOT (note: I did not ask for the robot) and shortly thereafter came into the waiting room with the lugubrious mien of someone about to inform me that my car had rectal cancer. Because apparently my car also had a (something something) leak, which was important because the (something) fed water to cool the engine (something something), not to mention that the (something) was missing four (somethings) requiring the whole works to be replaced, not to mention that steering (something) was totally jacked up and in sum, my car was destined to explode into a thousand fiery pieces unless I shelled out $3,500 to get all that stuff fixed.
THREE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AMERICAN DOLLARS.
Leave aside the fact that I just came in to get my tire changed. Also leave aside the fact that we bought this car used (though in excellent shape), so the total of the repairs proposed was more than a third of the price we paid for the car itself. Finally, apologies for the totally hackneyed "girls don't know nothing about cars" routine that I am personifying here--lots of ladies know a lot of stuff about cars, including how to change their own flat tires, but please forgive my stereotypical hand-fluttering in the face of impending automotive maintenance because I really, really know nothing about cars, INCLUDING HOW TO DRIVE ONE until about four years ago.
The mechanic left me with the price quote in that I'll let you have a minute to compose yourself way, saying that if I wanted to get everything fixed I would probably need a loaner to drive home so he would go ahead and get that for me. (He then added, with a tone of infinite largesse, that the loaner would be provided to me free of charge.) After unfreezing myself, I went to chase after the guy, because given that I had detected absolutely no problems with the driving and reliability of the car aside from, you know, the flat tire for which I came in, so barring any immediate safety concerns I would at least like some time to look over the diagnostic report and get a quote from a second car repair company.
Ten minutes later, he returned with the loaner. I told him that I'd like to hold off on repairs until we could get a second opinion. He looked at me for a beat, then called to the back workshop, where I assume my car was being fed through an MRI. "Yeah, the customer wants to hold off on the repairs. Uh huh. Oh. Really? Wow. Did you already...oh. OK." He turned to me. "They already started working on it. They took the water pump off the (something something) already."
"Already? Can they...you know, put it back?" More phone conferrals. The mechanic then told me that they could indeed put it back, but that I was lucky because they hadn't taken the (something) off the (something) yet, because (something something) antifreeze everywhere!
"I would like my car back please."
Any hour later, it was returned to me, with the new tire, which was the only thing I wanted changed in the first place. The following morning, Joe took the car to a AAA down the street from us, where they hooked the car up to a FREE 36 POINT DIAGNOSTIC ROBOT--nine more points than the other robot!--and found very little wrong with the car at all. (Joe brought the service list and the quote from the first place so he would know what to ask them to check extra carefully.) They replaced some of the missing (something somethings--like some kind of a bolt) and swapped out another (something that was dirty), but in all the bill totalled $500, which, while still a lot for a car that I wasn't intending to have serviced at all, is a far cry from the $3,500 that I was originally quoted.
And now here's the question for you. How much of it was bad luck of the draw at that first car place, and how much of it do you think is the fact that I (know-nothing-about-cars lady) took the car in to the first place, and Joe (know-little-about-cars-but-looks-like-he-does man) took the car in to the second place? Unfortunate happenstance, opportunism, or a little of both?
(Aside re: the post title. I love NPR as much as the next PBS-pledge-drive-canvas-tote-lugging-to-the-farmer's-market liberal, but there are two shows that I could never, ever get behind despite the fact that everyone else loves them dearly. One is "Car Talk." Those braying Boston accents! Why not just sharpen a pencil in my ear? And the second is "A Prairie Home Companion." Not only is it aggressively folksy, but it actually isn't funny at all, and you get the sense that the people in the audience will just laugh at anything just to show each other how cultured and good-humored they are. Bah!)