One of life's greatest sources of unpleasantness, besides government, is automotive repair. In fact, car repairs are a lot like government: They're ridiculously expensive, often don't actually fix anything and sometimes make matters worse.
I'm one of those people who drives his cars until they break down in the fast lane and become fodder for Cap'n Herb Emory. Unfortunately, if you're going to drive an older car, you'd better have a good, honest mechanic. And there lies the rub: "Good honest mechanic" is practically a double oxymoron.
The vast majority of us who don't know a fuel injector from a solenoid have basically three options when it comes to car repairs: dealerships, chain stores and mom-and-pop operations.
Dealerships are great as long as the car is under warranty, which is to say right up until it actually breaks down. They generally do good work, and they're sometimes even relatively honest, if only because their reputation is at stake. However, they're the most expensive option by far.
Based on recent experience, though, I'd have to say that chain stores are the worst. The following may serve as a brief cautionary tale.
A few months ago, my 1998 Honda began cutting out at stop lights. So I took it in to a nearby automotive repair chain. I won't mention the shop's name, but interestingly its acronym refers impolitely to a certain body part.
First they told me it needed a new this and a new that, which was going to cost me around $600. That left me with a dilemma -- Should I put that much money into a car that was probably on its last legs anyway?
I decided to gamble, reasoning that even a decent used car would cost me at least $200 a month. If I got three more months out of the Honda, I would break even; anything beyond that, and I was ahead. So I said, "Do it."
When I drove away four hours later, the car didn't cut out at the next light. It never got the chance -- It cut out on me while I was driving at highway speed. This was not an improvement.
So I took it back. This time they set the idle so high that the car began lurching violently into and out of low gear. So I took it back again -- only to be told, this time, that I needed a new transmission. Surprise, surprise.
To make a long story short, I lodged a complaint with the manager -- let's call him "Dan" -- who in essence told me to kiss his acronym. I filed a dispute with my credit card company, which is still pending. And I traded the car.
Also, I learned my lesson. Next time, I'm going to a mom-and-pop shop. Because I'm pretty sure my mom could do a better job fixing cars than "Dan" and his crew.
Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer who lives in Lawrenceville. E-mail him at email@example.com.