Getting more than oil with your oil change

While I was heading to meet my carpool partner the other morning, a glowing red light appeared on my dashboard. It was in the shape of an old-fashioned Arabian Nights oil lamp, so I figured the genie who powers my car needed maintenance. That’s how much I know about automobile engines.          

I realized that ignoring the demands of the genie could lead to major damage, but it was 4:30 in the morning and I didn’t feel safe stopping by the side of the road and thumbing for a magic carpet ride. I limped the last few blocks to where I meet Lynn, accelerating slowly after each stop so the sloshing oil wouldn’t reactivate the warning. If I could just keep the light off, I figured there’d be no damage. (I think it flickered on a few more times, but I looked away so it didn’t count). I made it safely to the parking lot and hopped into Lynn’s car.          

I figured a day basking in the therapeutic power of a gentle spring sun might prove restorative to my Civic. I’d heard that Japanese automakers had made marvelous advancements in building self-healing cars, or maybe I’m thinking about those love robots they keep inventing. In any case, when I returned that afternoon and cranked the car, there was that pesky Aladdin’s lamp again. I guessed either my oil pressure was low, or I was to be granted three wishes. I wished the light would go away, then I wished I’d brought my other car, then I wished I had a trillion dollars. When none of these happened, I drove slowly across the street to the new lube shop that had opened only a few weeks before.          

The franchise was named “Take 5 Oil Change” and the sign out front claimed “we change your oil, not your schedule.” I didn’t know much about the chain, other than that when they began operations last month, there were festivities more befitting the end of a world war than the debut of yet another car care center. They’d had balloons and bunting and clowns, all to publicize their “different” way of servicing Rock Hill’s vehicles. They claimed to honestly, genuinely care, not just about collecting $60.97 for four quarts of Castrol GTX and a new air filter, but about your comfort and well-being as a child of God.           

I’m not a fan the hyper-service you often see in new business enterprises that are trying just a little too hard. I attempted to patronize an independent fast food outlet that opened across from the McDonald’s near my home until the manager annoyed me to the point of no return. “Can I get you some more ketchup?” he’d ask every five minutes. “How about some additional napkins? Would you like to try one of our desserts? How about if my wife comes over and cleans your bathrooms?” Finally I fled to the golden arches next door, secure in the knowledge that I’d be ignored by every employee who worked there.           

When I pulled up to the service bay at Take 5, I was immediately swarmed by a crew of almost half a dozen crisply uniformed workers. One guided me into position with a series of sharply executed hand signals that could successfully land an F-15 fighter on a heaving carrier. Another actually saluted me, while what seemed to be the team leader approached my car window. He welcomed me, told me to turn my ignition two clicks toward off, and leave the key in. I started to get out to head for what I presumed to be a waiting room of untold splendor before he gently stopped me.         

“At Take 5, we change your oil, not your schedule,” he recited. “You can wait right there and we’ll have you done in about five minutes.”         

I groaned inwardly at the prospect of having to make chit-chat with eager young mechanic types while I waited, but immediately learned that they planned instead to be all business. I popped the hood and they took on the appearance of a NASCAR pit crew, calling out the different thingies they were inspecting and answering each with an authoritative “check!” From a pit beneath me, Jeremiah drained what oil I had left in the crankcase, while above Chris G. handled things like the battery water, tire pressure and wiper blades. Joey was on “courtesy duty”, asking if I’d care for a drink, topping off not only the car’s fluids but mine as well. All the while, Chris K. stood with clipboard in hand, apparently in charge of safety.         

“What kind of oil would you like?” Joey asked me.         

It was the question I had feared. I’m aware of the existence of many kinds of oil — from fish oil to olive oil to that excess grease on my forehead in the morning — though I was pretty sure none of these were appropriate for my engine. I think I wanted 1040 EZ, or was that the name of an income tax form? Or maybe 401(k)? Formula 409?         

“I’d probably recommend an intermediate weight, considering the weather we’re having,” he finally suggested.         

“Yes, a medium weight sounds good,” I responded. “Give me about five or six pounds of oil, I guess.”         

He said their best value was currently on sale for $10.50 a quart, so I went with that. The group sang out a few more status reports (“Tamper seal? Applied! Chassis lube? Sealed! Wiper blades? OK!”) before Joey returned to ask if I wanted a new air filter. He showed me my current one, a bit dingy perhaps though nothing to be embarrassed about. Then he flashed the bright white of what a new one looked like, and had me sold on another $19.99 worth of purchases. Only later would I remember I was buying a filter and not a toothy new smile, and could’ve saved a few bucks.         

“We’re pretty much done with everything,” Joey reported. “We’re just going to do our standard double-check. Each man will inspect his teammate’s job, to guarantee your safety and satisfaction.”         

Yeah, whatever, check, check, check. It was now coming up on almost eight minutes that I’d been in the garage, and I was starting to get a little impatient with all the attention. Don’t they have any other patrons to wait on? Aren’t they about ready for a smoke? Those cell phones in your pockets aren’t going to text themselves, you know. It only took another thirty seconds or so of frenetic activity and finally, the job was done. I was handed a detailed invoice (number 4073, issued at 2:34 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, May 3, in the year 2010 of the Common Era), paid my bill, thanked Joey and the boys, and started pulling out.   

As I turned toward the exit, I saw a sign that read “honk if you liked our work.” In the rearview mirror, I could see the crew watching me, eager for a toot of validation. I normally shun such hokey conventions, especially since that time I got violently ill after eating at Long John Silver’s even though I had rung their bell. Yet these guys were so happy to have a job, so pleased to do work that people actually needed (unlike, for example, the financial proofreading I do), that I couldn’t resist. I beeped the horn and saw a round of high-fives behind me as I drove away.   

Once again, the magic of modern motoring was safely happening beneath my hood, thanks not to the supernatural powers of an obedient, cross-armed apparition, but thanks instead to five mortals at Take 5.   

What the hell is that?

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5 Responses to “Getting more than oil with your oil change”

  1. sandysays1 Says:

    Loved your post! My human had a similar experience with a ruptured tranny line. Thank goodness for small town farm boy mechanics who stay open ’til six on Saturday.


  2. Paul Dixon Says:

    But…but…they didn’t check your TAIL LIGHT FLUID LEVEL!!!

  3. planetross Says:

    I sense you will return to this establishment.

    Maybe they were just making sure your horn worked: last thing on the checklist!

  4. Ministry Fox Says:

    You just don’t get that level of service in France, but on the other hand, since you hand over two euro in three in income taxes, you can’t really afford a car, so it doesn’t matter.
    Or perhaps they recognised you from your blog and were just hoping for a positive review.

  5. that girl Says:

    5 minutes? How is that enough time to take a nap in the waiting room?

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