Manna From the Car Gods, with addenda

Twice in one week. Might be a good time to buy Powerball.

Some time ago, I was informed that my car needed a new cabin air filter and a transmission fluid flush. One of those made sense. The latter, however, seemed a tad premature for a car barely two years old.

Therefore, I took Ariane to CarZeus (the God of Cars). The original CarZeus is long retired, of course, but in his time he kept some truly atrocious pieces of automotive technology ferrying me to and from work. When he retired, he sold the shop to his top mechanic, and I've stayed with them loyally and referred others to them. They have always taken excellent care of my cars, explained things I didn't understand without an ounce of condescension, helped me avoid some costly mistakes, and have never applied the Female Surcharge that always seems to accompany car repair bills when I go elsewhere.

CarZeus's crew confirmed what I suspected: the air filter needed replacement, but the transmission fluid flush was nowhere near necessary. Thus, a $175 bill was averted.

Fast forward a few days, and it was time for my tires to be rotated. That meant going back to the tire place, since I bought the lifetime plan. The car had been making louder noises and vibrating hard at higher speeds, and I mentioned it to them, concerned that maybe we'd gone too long between rotations.

Not quite, they told me at pickup. There's a wheel bearing going bad.

Again, this car is now slightly over two years old. This seems a tad early, just like replacing the tires last year seemed VERY early - how could tires start unspooling off the rim eighteen months after purchase? (It helps if they're made of jelly, apparently.)

The tire place quoted me $720 for the bearing. I fell out of my chair. Figuratively speaking.

Fortunately, I also invested in a bumper-to-bumper warranty for the car. So you'd better believe I made an appointment at my dealership for the very next day. And that night, I dug through the Stack of Doom on my desk (I'm about three years behind in my filing) to locate all the paperwork from purchasing my car, the extended warranty information, even the form indicating that if I went all seven years of the warranty term without using it, they'd refund me the $1,685 extra I paid for it.

Jim and I talked it over: what would we do if the bearing wasn't covered under the warranty? We have savings, but we'd need more. We could pull money out of the 401k, but we had to do that for the tires last year and at some point I would like to actually retire. We talked about whether we'd have to pursue legal action to enforce the warranty, and what would be a cost-effective way to do it.

We strategized about dealing with (mostly male) mechanics and how Jim would go along with me, but sit separately and make sure I went alone to talk to them, because when Jim and I stand next to each other at auto mechanics (other than CarZeus), banks, computer repair shops and other male-dominated places, they talk to him, not me, and it's harder for me to negotiate.

We went in expecting to be screwed, you see. It never even occurred to us that it would, in the words of the immortal Capt. Tightpants, go smooth.

We arrived. I explained the situation to the tech. He looked up my file, confirmed the details on the car and said they'd get me in as quickly as possible. I did emails while waiting. About two hours later they called me back to the shop, and Jim wished me luck as I marched off to battle with my file in hand.

The tech informed me that the bearing had indeed gone bad. So they fixed it, no charge, covered under the warranty. Car is ready to go.

I was flabbergasted. I didn't even have to fight? Not like health insurance, where I have to file appeals at least twice a month for claims improperly handled or vendors who send bills even after they've been paid. Not like the hard drive on my son's computer, which developed bad sectors only nine months after installation and OOPS they only guarantee it for 90 days, so sorry.

We went back outside and found the car, newly washed. And as we drove away, I told Jim, "I was expecting to get screwed. How fucked is that? We've now reached a point where we simply expect to get screwed walking into any situation, and we develop plans of attack based on minimizing the screwage."

"Well, it's us," he said, and he has a point. But it isn't just us. There's a certain amount of "it costs a lot to be poor," and both of us come from that mindset. It's like shoes: a good solid $55 pair of sneakers can last you ten years or more. I know; I'm still wearing a pair of New Balance sneaks I bought in 2004. But Jim's sneakers have always come from Wal-mart. They're $15, and they last six months at most. Then they fall apart.

"Just pay the extra for the good ones." That's the wise choice, because in the end, you pay less by buying a $55 pair for ten years than $15 every six months. But first you have to have the $55.

And that's the key. This is the first car I've owned new in my life. It wasn't easy to get and it isn't easy to pay for, but we're in a place now where we could get it. That meant a warranty. And apparently that means they actually honor the warranty without making you fight. That's a hell of a lot more cost-effective than buying a "cheaper" car that would have put us out $720 for a repair bill.

We've reached a fairly comfortable place in our lives now, where our bills are paid and we have enough to live on afterward, barring disaster. There are trials ahead - a fairly staggering loss of monthly income next year, plus the looming beast of College Tuition for Boy - but for now, we're okay. And that's weird for us, because for all our lives, we've been scratching. Jim was doing blue-collar labor, I was a single mom with two jobs. We're used to the $15 sneakers. And we won't even talk about what it was like when he was laid off.

But this year, I bought him a pair of New Balance. And the car is running so smoothly that I keep accidentally speeding. That's not a bad place to be. But we don't forget where we were, because it's not that far behind us.

In other news:

• I recently discovered that my hairdresser has put a notation in my file that I should be allotted extra time. That's because I'm such a delightful person that she enjoys chatting with me for an extra 15 minutes, right? Not because my hair is a complex and annoying pain in the ass to cut and style? Hush and let me cling to my delusions.

• That aforementioned laptop hard drive? Yeah, that we had to pay for. Normally I ride for all things Apple, but in this particular area, they really let me down. I paid for a new 500GB hard drive for Boy's laptop last year, and they mangled the frame putting it back together, so they had to replace the frame as well. That was all fine and good, but nine months later that new hard drive developed bad sectors. Foolish me, I thought it would be under warranty, but apparently they only guarantee their hardware for 90 days. I get a better warranty on camping supplies.

Thus, my new best friends are at MacHQ in St. Louis. An authorized Mac reseller, they guarantee their installed parts for life. They did my laptop's new hard drive around the same time as Boy's upgrade last year, and I've had zero problems. When I look to buy my new desktop next year, I may be looking there instead.

• A snippet I simply can't let go...

ME: Where the hell are my black pants?
JIM: Hanging in the closet.
ME: Where they're supposed to be? No wonder I can't find them... you finished the laundry?
JIM: Yup. Last night.
ME: You're awesome. I want to be you when I grow up.
BOY: (from other room) You don't have much time.
ME: ....HEY!!
BOY: *snickers*
MAN: *strolls out of room*
ME: Smartass!

Comments

  1. Buying a new car does have its advantages, like warranty. I would lay odds that the regular warranty should have covered the bearings, but I could be wrong. The only new car I ever owned got a warranty-covered repair at 4 years old, a month from the warranty expiring. Back axle went out. But after that, I was on my own, and it was an American-made piece of junk, so...I was replacing an engine a couple years after that.

    I don't know how you got ten years out of those sneakers, though. I buy ONLY New Balance because they are worth the price and last about 18 months or so for me. But they are ALL I wear, every day, to work, to work out, to run errands, etc. And I buy them online through JoesNewBalance.com, where prices are half what you pay in the store, most of the time.

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  2. I wear the sneakers about equal time with Birkenstocks for non work time, which probably contributed to their longevity. I'm noting that website, though!

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  3. If you were close to Nashville, I could help you with car problems. Better than the shop, you can help and learn if you wish. Now that the neighbor has a press, wheel bearings are a breeze. He just did them on his car.

    2 years is early for a wheel bearing. Is it a Chrysler product? Mom has done 2 on her car. Certified preowned didn't do her any good. I have done 2 on my car, but I am sitting at 16 years of hard driving. Nearing 180k miles on the ol' Cougar. Still a fine car even if it is showing it's age a bit.

    Agreed on the shoes. I am a Sketchers man. I inspect the way shoes are put together. Stitching needs to go through the upper, not just appear to or use glue to hold up to me. I am very bad about wearing shoes till I have holes in the uppers.

    And as for references, ask Stephania, Panya, or Darrell. I'm sure they will all give good reviews of my backyard work.

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