got to be careful, can’t let the evil of the money trap you

0640: I drag myself out of bed and scrape together some work clothes. Today would be a good day to get some swimming in before work.

0705: Idling outside Porter Square, the temperature gauge on my car begins to rapidly climb to red again. Sighing, I review the service stations I know of near my office. I can’t think of a closer one than the Toyota dealership.

0730: I leave the car with service advisor Ashok, giving him my contact info and letting him know what happened (white smoke on Sunday, rapid overheating, added antifreeze but no good). He promises to call me. I walk the few blocks back to my office, noting VIP Auto, a service station even closer to where I work.

1020: My cell phone vibrates in my pocket during the weekly status call. I gently lay my hand over it to still the vibration; it gets a bit quieter. Nobody notices, or at least no one calls me on it.

1116: Man, that meeting went long. I give Ashok a call back. He wants to replace the radiator, the thermostat and the temperature switch, all for a mere four figures. Choking a little, I quiz him on the circumstances to make sure he’s not bullshitting me. “I only noticed this failure on Sunday,” I told him. “Is this the sort of thing that’d be likely to fail suddenly, or could it have taken a while?”

Keeping him talking, I quickly Google “toyota camry radiator” and find out what it costs wholesale.

1140: I get some lunch to help me think straight. Casa de Pedro caters a free lunch for the occupants of our building. I get some salty beef and grilled chicken and think awhile.

1225: I walk into the Toyota dealership and ask Ashok for a copy of the work order. I look at the tech’s hastily scribbled notes. “Can I get a copy of this?” I ask.

“We’ll spell it out before you sign the work order.”

“No, I mean, can I get a photocopy of this?”

“Sure, sure. I’ll have them list it all out for you.”

“No, I … never mind.” I pull a sheet of legal paper out of my bag and begin to jot things down. Chastised, Ashok vanishes and returns with a photocopy of the tech’s notes, which I pocket.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll just take the car with me now.”

1302: I roll into VIP Auto. It’s a slow day, so all the techs are hanging around the service counter. “Jim?” I ask. “Hi, it’s Professor Coldheart. We spoke on the phone.”

“Yeah, with the Camry?”

“Right. I got a quote from the dealership on replacing a radiator, which is why I’m here.”

Jim chuckled. “Let’s take a look.”

1550: Jim calls me. Final verdict: 50% of what the dealership asked, including a transmission flush.

# # #

I’ve probably read the words “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” a dozen times in my life, but I didn’t decide to start living them until very recently. And this is what comes of it. I know taking my car to a service station instead of a dealership is fairly picayune. But I used to be the kind of person who would easily get browbeaten into paying for the dealer’s extras – just because my car was there already – and then grumble about it later.

More on this later.

# # #

Update: I go to VIP to pick the car up this afternoon. “Can you get the tech who worked on it?” I ask as I’m paying. “I’d like to pop the hood and see what he did.” Sure enough, the tech comes out and points to the new radiator and new hoses.

I drive the car around a few blocks just to make sure the temp climbs to a reasonable level (it does). Then, gritting my teeth, I park it in the VIP lot again.

“The Check Engine light’s still on,” I tell them. The tech blinks once, then interrupts a conversation between two other employees to toss a reader at one of them. “Could you have them reset his Check Engine light?” he asks.

In a Season 2 episode of The Office, Pam orders two beers while at a bar with coworkers. She takes a sip of one as she turns away from the bar, frowns, and makes like she’s going to keep walking. Then she pauses, deliberately setting herself, and turns back.

“I’m sorry,” she tells the bartender. “I ordered a Sam Adams Light.”

For the first time in years, I’m conscious of how deeply I’ve ingrained the “don’t make a fuss / don’t start a scene / don’t be an asshole” mantra. It manifests from lingering issues with self-confidence, I suspect. And there’s no place I feel less confident than at a service garage. I know so little about cars and the stakes are so high – thousands of dollars, sometimes.

Hell with it. I’m tired of swallowing all that venom.

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2 Responses

  1. A radiator is fairly easy to change out yourself, if you ever find yourself in that position again, and if you’re so inclined to try it.

  2. Good to know! Wouldn’t have been an option this weekend, as I need the car for Saturday, but that’s good for future reference.

    I became interested in DIY car repairs after the dealer charged me $300 to replace a headlamp bulb.

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