Posts Tagged ‘repair’

Help me, Honda

April 27, 2009

So there I sat recently in the waiting room of my local Honda dealer. The oil light came on as I was starting my 2001 Civic the other morning so I guessed it was time for another regularly scheduled maintenance, estimated “with a special we have” to cost me about $120. Funny how they always have those specials going at just the right time.

I’ve been a loyal customer of this same dealer for over 20 years now, so I suppose I trust them to do the right thing. I’ve bought at least six or eight cars over that time, and I’ve always felt obliged to get the service done there, even though I’m sure I’m spending more than I have to. At least I feel they won’t cheat me too badly and, if they do, they’ll do it in a professional and courteous fashion, not like I’ve had done too many times in the past by scruffy half-wits working in their yards.

Part of that extra premium I’m paying goes toward the comfortable waiting room. It looks very much like the break room you might see in any office, though instead of tables to sit at while you eat your lunch there are three rows of attached upholstered chairs. A couple of vending machines line the opposite wall but if you play your cards right, a salesman will treat you to a bag of Doritos for the price of a test drive. The other people currently occupying the room are faced in the general direction of a television playing General Hospital, primarily because no one has the nerve to change the channel. I’m at a counter with my back to the room, alternately sitting in a barstool chair and being afraid I’ll fall from its unstable height. There’s an outlet for my laptop, and more signs and brochures cluttering the surface than I care to read.

If I shift around a little here, I’ll get a look at my fellow patrons. A woman and her daughter were just called back to the cashier’s desk by their service representative, who tells them “everything went well,” much like you’d expect a surgeon to report on how the operation went. That leaves a mom and her young son, an older woman with red shoes and weird earrings, and another woman doing a crossword puzzle who brought her father along for protection from the mechanic/predators.

Hang on a second. I’m being called back to the shop. This could be bad. Please keep me in your prayers.

We pass through an “employees-only” door and my service person asks if I want to borrow her safety goggles for eye protection. I’m good, I say. We maneuver underneath several elevated vehicles to where my car sits exposed on a lift. I avert my eyes, not so much for safety reasons as because I feel I’m looking up someone’s clothes. I bump my head on a tire, but try to pretend I did it on purpose.

My mechanic – “this is Glenn”– calls me over to look at part of the undercarriage. I’m really nervous now, as this is the part where I’m supposed to innately know what I’m looking at just because I was born male. He motions toward a wheely contraption and a belty thing and a moist greasy blob, and starts talking about what looks like an oil leak. I do know enough about auto mechanics to realize that when I hear the word “bad seals,” we’re not talking about misbehaving marine mammals but rather at least $1500 in repairs. Like an abusive father confronted with his child’s bruises in the emergency room, I desperately start trying out excuses.

“When the oil light came on yesterday, I tried to add a quart of oil,” I say. “I may have spilled some around the edge. Could that have caused it?”

“Well, that could be it, I suppose,” says Glenn. He seems disappointed, but my ever-perky customer service rep is as happy with this hypothesis as I am (apparently she’s not on commission).

“I bet that could be it,” says chipper Connie. “I bet you’re right. Yeah, that could definitely be it.”

We all agree that Glenn will clean up the spot, I’ll keep an eye on the driveway underneath my car for oil leaks, and I can return to the waiting room with my son’s college fund still intact.

Man, I didn’t realize how hot these soap opera actresses are. Currently there are three young blondes talking excitedly about something urgent, probably who’s pregnant and who’s not. Extreme close-ups reveal tiny pores and perfect teeth, apparently much easier to maintain than the cheap sets behind them. Just as I’m starting to get an inkling of what’s going on with what passes for a plot, we’re interrupted by the federally mandated thrice-a-day showing of Oprah. “How many people here want to live to be over a 100?” she asks her audience. As the camera pans the crowd, it appears most would rather be getting a free car, but a few sheepishly raise their hands and agree to outlive all their loved ones warehoused in an understaffed rest home.

“Dr. Oz travels to Costa Rica on today’s show to demonstrate how it can be done,” Oprah announces. At first I’m intrigued, but soon realize living that long in Costa Rica also involves back-country poverty, toothless neighbors and smashing my own corn meal.

I spend the rest of my waiting time checking out the brochures that surround me on the counter. I see that my “tires are talking,” trying to tell me about their pressure. I see a factory-style pin-striping offer, which will allow me to have 4-point double rules adhered to the length of my car (cool, I guess). I’m encouraged to ask my dealer about splash protection, a cargo tray, wheel locks, a remote engine starter system and UV protection. Did I know that quality starts from the inside with a Honda Genuine oil filter? I did know that.

Finally, my customer service rep reappears to tell me my car is ready, and I can report to the cashier’s window to settle my bill. As I approach, a young couple arrives from around a blind corner and gets to the counter just ahead of me. I soon realize this could take a while, as they have questions – How can it cost that much? Are you sure there aren’t any discounts we can get? Will you take a check? How much was that again? How do you spell “Honda”?

These sound like the kind of people who could recommend me a good gap-toothed shade-tree mechanic.