Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Fear and Loathing in the Garage

Why I'm this close to selling my car and walking everywhere.

By Eileen Loh-Harrist

JULY 5, 1999:  Therapists say it's much better to release your anger in a constructive way, which is why I've chosen to write this column instead of storming down to a certain automotive service center and throwing an old-fashioned, screaming, cussing, object-flinging red-headed tantrum inside some dirty garage. Now there -- I've just given away the source of my hostility, and we're not even at the second paragraph yet. I must be pissed.

How did our society come to evolve to a point where auto mechanics can wield absolute power over a person's life? We all know a little about our cars, some more than others, yet most of us need to have them serviced every once in a while. And that's when the ugly dance begins.

We know they're screwing us. They know that we know they're screwing us, and they don't care. It's not unlike visiting your doctor -- you don't know exactly what's wrong or what to do, but in that case you get a second opinion, maybe a third.

Not so with motor vehicles. One reason is that doctors don't usually say you're going to drop dead within hours, or that major organs will also malfunction and cost you an arm and a leg, if you don't let that doctor perform this procedure RIGHT NOW. Mechanics, utter capitalists they, shamelessly play on our lack of knowledge and our fear.

"You know about this flarch timer, right? It's hanging together by a thread. You need a new one."

"But I just came in to get an oil change."

"Ma'am, if you don't get a new flarch timer right now, all your jimpsen components will blow out. Then your transfluger will seize, and that will really cost you some big bucks."

"My what?"

"Your transfluger. It's a part of your decompamulator. Right down here next to the rorden gauge. By the way, your rorden gauge is lookin' pretty dense. When's the last time you had that thing floxed out?"

"Um, I don't --"

"You didn't write down the date and time of the last floxing? That's bad."

"Look, it says 'Ten Minute Oil Change' right there. That's all I -- "

"Just give us half an hour or so. We'll get ya safe again. Don't want you breaking down on the interstate. Hear about that woman last week? Her transfluger seized up and someone stopped to help her and sold her into slavery in Pakistan."

"All I want is an oil change. I'm on my lunch hour. I don't have time to get all that stuff done."

"Okay. Leave your car with us tomorrow morning. We'll get you fixed up by noon, 1 o'clock, tops."

So you bring the car back, and give them the keys, and leave there mentally evaluating your finances since you know you'll now have to spend the next three weeks living on noodles and tap water. You call them back at noon.

"When can I pick up my car?"

"Well, look, we opened her up and it's worse than we thought. Your whole halgunal system is shot. We have to flartneed the overhead and then flush out your blayson receptacle. Take another day or two."

"But I thought it was my flarch timer."

"Flarch timer is a part of the halgunal system. That's just a symptom of the whole problem. It's a good thing you got your car to us when you did. Otherwise you'd be out some really big bucks."

"When will my car be ready?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

You call them back tomorrow afternoon.

"When can I pick up my car?"

"Well, we thought it'd be ready by today, but we ordered you a new flarch timer and they sent the wrong one. They'll get us a new one by tomorrow, and then we can get your car all fixed up and safe."

"I really need my car. Can't you order the parts and I'll bring it back?"

"Ma'am, I don't want to put you back in a car that's dangerous as this. You'd never make it home. Hear about that lady last night on the news? Her flarch timer blew out on the freeway. They still haven't found her body. Found her head, though."

"So when will it be ready?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

You call them back tomorrow afternoon.

"When can I pick up my car?"

"Well, they sent the wrong flarch timer -- again. There's 12 different flarch timers available for your make and model car. We had to special-order a new one for ya."

"Look. I really need my car. I'll come in today and get it, and you can just call me back when the parts --"

"Can't do that. We had to take out your weeber valve to get to your transfluger, and we needed to send them the weeber valve so they could match it up to another. Car won't run without the weeber valve."

"So when will my car be ready?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

And two weeks later, they still haven't fixed your car and by now you're really mad. You storm down and open a big can of whoop-ass on the mechanic, telling him exactly what you think of him and his work and his questionable parentage, and you call a tow truck and pay $55 to have your car taken to another garage. Then you're dealing with another total stranger who is really, really concerned about your individual needs as a consumer.

By this time, though, you've picked up some automotive lingo, and you're hoping they think you know what you're talking about and won't be tempted to screw you.

"I need a new flarch timer."

"Who told you that?"

"Well, look at it! It's ready to blow out. You need to look at my whole halgunal system, actually."

"Halgunal system looks fine, ma'am. It's your Lorman shaft that's the problem. Is this the original Lorman shaft or is it a repeat?"

"Um -- "

"Look, just leave it here with us. We'll pump out your amorger and get you a brand-new Lorman shaft in there, and have it ready for you by this afternoon."

You call back that afternoon.

"Ma'am, we were pumping out the amorger when we noticed your quimber is off-kilter. That threw your jerp out of alignment and now your whole gurge port needs to be replaced. Good thing we caught it in time or else it would have backed up your trammel socket. That happens, you couldn't even sell the car for parts. But we'll order the components for ya, have it ready by tomorrow afternoon."

"But I need my car today."

"You can't go anywhere with your gurge port like this. You'll be calling for a tow truck in five minutes. You read the newspaper this morning, about the lady whose gurge port exploded? Sent the whole car slammin' into five lanes of oncoming traffic. Now she's disfigured for life, can't recognize her family."

And so it goes. Maybe you get your car back repaired. Maybe they've just held it hostage for six weeks and returned it to you exactly as they found it. You never know. If I had a solution, I would offer it to you, but I have to call my mechanic. My car is supposed to be ready this afternoon.

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