SerpentineOnce upon a time, a man could reasonable answer a request to perform a task with “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about that.” In this modern age, however, saying that is equivalent to saying “I’m sorry, but I really am too lazy to Google that.”

When I was a kid, fifteen, and preparing to get my learner’s permit for driving, my father took me out to the car one day and popped the trunk. He showed me where the spare tire was and the jack and the lug nut wrench. He explained that even though many cars are different, there are standards and all the pieces I should need to change a tire were in the car somewhere. My father then showed me how to change a tire. Or rather, he pulled the car manual out of the glove box and showed me where to find the instructions on how to change a tire.

Years and a couple of cars later, I had my first ever flat tire. Pulled over on the side of the road, I didn’t panic or worry, I simply went to the trunk and located the spare, the jack, and the wrench. I got the manual out of the glove compartment and looked up where it told me the jack should be placed to lift the car without damaging it. Then I changed the tire.

That story is a perfect example of the two things by which I live most of my life: general knowledge and knowing where to go for more information. As a computer programmer, my entire philosophy and success is based on knowing the general principles of logic and programming, and then having books and websites I can go to to learn the specifics. If you corner me in an alley and ask me to program in JAVA or .NET I would possibly do okay, but it would be a struggle. Ask me while I’m at my desk, however, and I’ll pull out a book, open a few sites and get to work.

Last week, the serpentine belt came off my car. It didn’t break, it just slipped. I knew this was coming as I knew there was a previously diagnosed problem with the water pump I had been ignoring until I could afford to have it fixed. I’m not much of a car guy. I know the general principles on how engines work and what makes a car go, I know why oil is important and other tidbits, but I’m definitely not the guy you’d rely on to call up specific details on the fly. It’s just not my thing. However, I do have the Internet.

You see, I knew the car needed to get fixed, but I didn’t want to pay a couple hundred bucks for a tow to the shop. I knew that if I could put the belt back on, I could limp the car there on my own. So I Googled it. “1998 Jeep Cherokee serpentine belt”. I found dozens of websites and even instructional YouTube videos on the subject. I read, I watched, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the car. I put the serpentine belt back on and was able to limp the car to the shop.

Whether we know it or not we are learning all the time, and we may only come to realize the things that have become essential to the core of our being much later. Standing with the hood open, wielding knowledge from the Internet, my arms reaching down threading the serpentine belt back onto the pulleys, that’s when I remembered how I learned to change a tire and how the lesson I learned that day formed the person I am today.

Thanks, Dad.

Your Business Model Stinks

I really wish this were a gaming post, but it isn’t so…

Mechanics. I always hear people talk about how they know a good one, but they never seem to want to give up that name, so most of use have to drive our broken cars to the local auto shop and prepare to be ripped off.

Let me just get this out there. Every single auto mechanic I have ever been to has always been nice and is probably knowledgeable and not a complete thief, but their business model is terrible and shitty and it makes me think of them as crooks.

So, my car is busted. Doesn’t matter how, there is something not working or it is making some sort of sound. I take it to the shop. I tell them the problem I am experiencing and they agree to look at it. They give me a complimentary ride home. Later they call and say, “$800.” I say, “Fix it.” Then they call back, “While we were looking at that thing, we noticed this other thing. $300.” I say, “Fix it.” Again they call, “So we pulled out the thing to fix the thing and found that the noise we couldn’t identify from before is coming from over there. $400.” I think about it, push some numbers around in my head, “Fix it.” They call again, “Turns out that the original issue wasn’t just a little broken, it was totally broken, so it’ll be $200 more.” “Okay, fine.” “Oh, and since we are already charging you $400 in labor to dismantle the whosiwhatsis, we looked at the thingamabob and it’s broken. If you fix it now, $300, but if you fix it later we’d have to charge the $400 labor for dismantling again, so?” “Go ahead and fix it.”

I’m up to $2,000 now, on a car that is only worth about $1,500. But I’m okay with that. It beats having a monthly payment since fixes like this only come along once every couple of years. Then they call again, “We’ve got your car up on the rack and noticed that you have a bunch of other problems, all of which are going to lead to your immediate death should they not be fixed, $2,000.” Now I’m angry.

If I had been told, up front, they would charge me a couple hundred to do a complete systems check and give me a full accounting of problems and come up with a $4,000 price tag, I’d have gladly paid them the couple hundred bucks and bid them a good day, sell the car for scrap and get a new (used) car. But the nickel and dime stuff, slowly climbing from a reasonable cost to a bearable cost to a completely unreasonable cost is for shit. Why in the hell would I spent $4,000 to fix a car that isn’t worth $1,500 in full working order?

So here I am, paying $2,000 to half fix a car when I probably could have taken that $2,000 and bought myself a used car that was in better working order. Mechanics, this is bad and you should feel bad. You might have successfully gotten my money, but you have lost my business, and now I’m going to go around bad-mouthing your store, America’s Service Station in Woodstock Towne Lake. I used to like you guys, you did alright by me for a few years, and now you’ve lost my business forever. Suck it.

And to top it off, when I explained my position to the office staff there, they just shrugged and said it isn’t their place to take the value of the car into consideration when repairing it, and they also don’t do complete systems checks because, and I quote, “they are a waste of everyone’s time.”