What is it about automotive repair? Why is it that the profession attracts the greasiest fuckballs to ever drag their knuckles on the pavement? I'm sure that there are a few honest and earnest mechanics out there, but in my experience they are as scarce as Chandra Levy. California forces your exposure to auto mechanics at least once every two years in order to get a smog check. In order to keep the state beautiful, we are delivered into the jaws of sharks. Sure the test may be only $17.95, but it's only an excuse to get your car in their lair. When you fail the test, there's good chance you'll need a tune-up ($150) and a new left-handed gizwatch ($300). Big surprise.
Case#1: I take my 1972 Chevy Blazer in for a smog check at the Shell station down the road from my house. My dad has some positive experience with this station so I have my guard down. I'm a little shocked when I'm told by the station owner (hereafter referred to as Asshole) that my truck has failed the visual inspection. Asshole explains that a vacuum hose is attached incorrectly. All I need to do is cough up $15 and he won't even charge me to retest. What a deal. How generous. Cocksucker. I've just replaced all the vacuum hoses. Not only did I methodically replace the original installation, I verified the original installation with a vacuum diagram. An argument ensues. Asshole attempts to use technical terms to beat me into submission. I happen to not only know the terms but also the theory behind the terms he's using. I knock down his house of cards with a thorough explanation of the system in question. Reason does not work with avaricious pig-fuckers like this guy. Asshole insists that his wall-full of reference material has a diagram that will vindicate him. I call his bluff and retrieve my own references. He's unimpressed because the diagrams and illustrations are not a perfect match for my truck. I argue that, diagrams or not, a carburetor is a carburetor. Asshole tries another tack and calls the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I get the feeling that I am supposed to be shaking in my boots. His side of the conversation runs like "I have this customer with these old books. I'm a mechanic with all the latest stuff. So who is right?" The only effect this has is to amuse me. At some point I need to use the can. When I return, Asshole is no longer on the phone. I'm told that the CARB lady said that Asshole is right. By this time I'm just a wee bit suspicious and I express by suspicion. How can I know that Asshole hasn't just hung up the phone and pulled what ever story he wants to out of his pustulant ass? At this, Asshole stalks back to his mountain of shop manuals and flips madly through the pages. I tell him that I'll be waiting in his lounge. After about ten minutes, one of Asshole's employees enters with a refund and an explanation. Apparently, the refund is not an admission of any error on Asshole's part but is only a gesture of good will. I say fuck-you-very-much and drive off.
Case #2: Years later I get lazy. I start thinking that the hassle of changing my oil and dealing with it's responsible disposal is something that I want to pay someone else to worry about. It's a paltry 20-something bucks and takes less than a half hour. I could be doing a bazillion more productive or more entertaining things on a beautiful summer weekend. So the enticement overpowers my inherent distrust, and I take our Civic in. Things go well, I sit in the lounge and browse a magazine. Then some rat-faced little greaseball interrupts my reverie. Apparently, my injectors are "dirty". He shows me some black grease on his finger to verify his claim. He then goes on to explain that they just happen to have a special on injector cleaning today, only $79.95. He doesn't realize that I recognize axle grease and that I can see from where I'm sitting that they haven't touched anything near the injectors. I restrain the urge to bellow, wrap my hands around his scrawny neck, and squeeze until his eyes pop out of his head like that trippin' miner in Outland. I then swallow my next impulse to ask "Did you just pull your finger out of your ass, you little fuck?" Instead I say "No thanks. Just the oil change." I wish this were the end of the saga. I pony up my cash and drive home. I notice a puddle of coolant. I wither the nearby shrubbery with some scorching language and pop the hood. It takes only an instant to find that the upper tank of the radiator is now cracked around an intake mounting boss, right where some mouth-breathing microcephalic mechanic rested their weight as he fired all three of his neurons in his attempt to dredge up some other way to fuck me over. Well, they did fuck me over, but I'd be fucked if I was going to pay for this one. I called the lube joint. No, I can't drive the car back, the fucking RADIATOR is CRACKED and LEAKING. Unless you're in the mood to pay to replace a seize engine, you're going to send someone over to take a look. The inspection lasts a second or two. I risk driving the car back, my eyes glued to the temp gauge, hoping that there's still coolant enough to register. After a day or two, I finally get the car back. I notice a small ding on the door. By this time, I just want to get my car out of the hands of this band of crooked incompetents. I don't make a fuss about the small ding. I do, however, change my own oil now.
Case #3: This is the most recent. Our Honda Civic still chugs along after 13 years and about 210,000 miles. Four months ago, the starter finally crapped out. My options: pay $350 to have someone replace the starter, pay $170 to Honda for a rebuilt starter and do the work myself, or pay $70 to Kragen and do the work myself. Being a perversely cheap bastard, I go with Kragen. An afternoon later and $70 lighter, I have a new starter in our Honda. Big freakin' whoop. I turns out that the new starter doesn't work reliably. I can hear the solenoid clicking away, but the pinion doesn't engage. After a few clicks it cranks and starts right up. Fuck. I cross my fingers and hope that it's something that will work itself out. Four months pass. My wife and I have almost grown used to having to turn the key five or six times to get the car to start. I've had enough. I spend an afternoon monkeying with the thing, shifting the starter around the limits of the bolt holes, lubing the pinion, shimming the starter body, anything to get this steaming-pile-of-shit starter to work. No dice. I take the 20-pound hunk of useless metal back to Kragen for an exchange. First the woman helping us tests our starter in a fixture. She tells me what I already know: it doesn't work. I wish they'd done that before they let me walk out the door the first time. She pulls another starter and is nice enough to test it. It fails. So far we're 0 for 2 on rebuilt starters from Kragen. Luckily, they have another. They test it and tell me it passes. Lucky me. Two thirds of the starters on the shelf don't work. It doesn't bode well for the performance of the remaining third, but this one I'm assured works A-OK. Great, but it's not an exact replacement. The pinion shroud is different. The angle of the solenoid is slightly different. The end of the starter motor doesn't have a bolt in the right place for a bracket. Some parts-counter dude assures me that it will work. Somehow, I allow myself to be talked into it. I suppose that I'll make a good faith effort to make this starter work. It might start the car, but what the fuck am I supposed to do with the wires and hoses that need the bracket that now doesn't fit? If you happen to be reading this on Sunday afternoon, there's a strong possibility that the author is standing at a parts counter trying to get his freakin' money back and looking forward to another beautiful summer evening spent trying to undo the damage done by an unscrupulous, rapacious, shit-for-brains industry.
Columns by Pakeha