Thursday, May 22, 2008


It's too bad that car insurance isn't like health insurance, where the insurance company will pay for preventive care visits. Because handing over that $1085 for my car's 60k mile maintenance really hurt.

But if this means another 6 or 7 years without any mechanical trouble, then I guess it's worth it. Especially given the state of that timing belt, I was probably looking at a major valve rebuild had it snapped anytime soon.

I signed the credit card receipt, got my car keys back, and walked towards my car out in the lot. I had found this mechanic after an exhaustive search of reviews and recommendations, and I was happy with them. Not because they were all that cheaper than the dealer, but because they had given me their honest opinion on the state of my brakes.

Finding a good, honest mechanic is more important to me than saving a few bucks from a shoddy one. I'd rather pay to get good quality work, than go to someone that will charge less, but trick me into paying for things I don't need.

So I always use my brakes to test whether a mechanic is honest or not. I'm no mechanic, but I do know a thing or two about cars, and I know how to judge when brake pads need to be changed.

Growing up poor meant our family couldn't afford any new cars. Or newer cars, for that matter. And since we couldn't afford what garages would charge, my dad did most of the work on our cars himself to keep them running. I remember many afternoons spent outside handing various tools to my dad who was either lying under the car or hunched over under the hood. This later evolved into me doing most of my own car repairs.

But some things are better left to be done by guys that do it for a living. So whenever I go to a new mechanic for the first time, I act like I don't know anything about cars and ask them if my brakes need to be changed, knowing full well that they don't. Most places charge $20 to look at the brakes and give me their opinion. If they're honest, I say thanks and ask them to fix what really needs work. If they tell me that my brakes need to be changed, I tell them I can't afford it right now, give them the $20, and then go find an honest mechanic.

So I was quite pleased to find that these new guys were honest. I made a mental note to come back to them if I ever need anything. I might even recommend them to friends.

I get in my car and it fires up beautifully. A quick drive around the block and everything feels smooth... except that my AC doesn't work.

I drive back to the garage, grab one of the mechanics, and they crawl all over my car trying to figure out why the AC stopped working. One of them eyes me suspiciously and asks if the AC was working prior to coming to them. "Yes, of course" I answer. But then I get what he's trying to get at.

He thinks I brought in a car with a broken AC. I get them to work on the engine a bit. And then try to blame them for my broken AC and get them to fix it for free.

Well that was insulting. After dropping over a thousand dollars at their store, you'd think I could at least get a little respect. But I guess when you run a business, you've got to be careful because everybody is looking for a way to scam you. My parents ran a dry-cleaners for a while. I remember how conniving some people can get trying to get the store to pay for things that we were not responsible for. So I just shrugged it off.

A few minutes later one of the mechanics discovered a broken wire. He figures it must have got torn off while he was changing out the timing belt, and took fault for it. I couldn't help but give a look to the other accusatory mechanic, but felt good that these guys were honest to admit their own mistakes. Come back in an hour, it'll be fixed.

So I leave happy and come back in a hour to pick up my car, except the clerk wants another $100.

Me: For what?

Clerk: Well, they fixed your AC.

Me: But it was your fault.

Clerk: Well, there's no proof that it was working before, so we have to assume it was broken when you brought it in.

I opened and closed my mouth a few times, flabbergasted and at a loss for words. My mood instantly went sour.

Unbelievable, isn't it? After much ranting, they dropped the charge by half. But it was apparent that they were not going to give me back my car keys unless they were paid. I couldn't believe that they had the nerve to charge me after all the money I just spent there. Especially for something that was their fault. This is the equivalent of me accidentally cutting off the wrong foot and then having the gall to charge them for that operation.

I guess being honest has nothing to do with running a business.

Disgusted, I paid the extra $50, got my keys, and stormed out.

Those myopic fools. Sure they got my $50 this time, but they lost any possible revenue from all my future business and future referrals...

So much for referring these guys to anybody else. And I thought I was so close to finding a good mechanic. Caveat emptor