Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Goes Down Should Go Up

The engine light on my car went on about a month ago, and after one week of ignoring it and three weeks of wishing it would turn off by itself, today I finally took my car to the service department at my local Toyota dealership. The guy there told me it would cost about a $100 to diagnose the problem, which would be applied to whatever parts and labor it took to fix it.

He called me a couple of hours later and told me that the seal on my after-market gas cap wasn't tight enough, so air was leaking into the gas tank or something. He said he could replace the gas cap with a genuine Toyota gas cap.

So the gas cap is essentially costing me $100, but I don't care. As a matter of fact, I'm delighted. It's a lot better than finding out that my engine needed major repairs which would cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

But here's the part that doesn't make me so happy. A couple of months ago, I took the car to a local mechanic to get it a smog check, which you need to do every two years in order to register your car in California. The car failed the smog check, but not because there was anything wrong with the car itself. It failed because the seal on my gas cap wasn't tight enough. In order to get the car to pass, he sold me a new gas cap for $25 -- the very same after-market gas cap that caused my engine light to go on about a month later.

So that kind of bugs me, since I've never spent $125 for a gas cap before, but it doesn't make me angry -- there's just something too funny about the whole thing for me to get angry about it.

But I've really only told you about half the story, because I didn't mention that besides the engine light going on, the car had another problem. The front passenger window didn't always go up or down when I pressed the button. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn't, but usually it would get stuck in the halfway position.

I don't know how long I've had that problem, because I never open or close that window. But three or four months ago, I had a few people in the car, and after the guy in the front seat opened the window, he discovered that he couldn't close it again. After playing with it enough, we finally got it to close again, but I didn't get it fixed because I never opened that window that much in the first place.

However, when the engine light went on, I decided to have them look at the window as well. As with the engine light, the guy told me it would cost about $100 to diagnose the problem, which would be applied to the cost of parts and labor. I figured all together it would cost me a few hundred dollars to get the window fixed, because that's what other people I knew told me it would cost. And even though I rarely open that window, I decided to get it fixed, because as far as automobile windows are concerned, if they go down, they should also go up.

Anyway, when the guy called to tell me about the new gas cap, he also told me that the window needed a new regulator. Don't ask me what it regulates, because I don't know. All I know is that if the regulator doesn't work, the window won't work. The bad news is that for my particular car, the regulator and the motor are one unit, so even if your regulator's good and your motor's bad, or your motor's good and your regulator's bad, you have to buy the entire regulator and motor unit, which means you'll end up paying maybe twice what you'd pay if they were separate parts. I'm not going to even tell you what it's costing me, since I'm too embarrassed to admit it, but let's just say it makes $125 for a gas cap seem like a bargain.

That's not the only bad news, though. He also told me that he didn't have the part in stock and couldn't get one until Tuesday. And I couldn't just pick up the car and take it in again on Tuesday because the door panel is all disassembled and if they were to put it back together again and disassemble it again on Tuesday, they'd have to charge me for the additional labor.

Fortunately, I have another car. Well, actually it's a truck. I hardly ever drive the truck, since it's almost 20 years old and it's not in the best condition. It's safe to drive and it's fairly reliable, but it makes a lot of noises, it looks awful, and a lot of things no longer work -- like the heater, the stereo, the air conditioning, the trip odometer, the windshield washer, and the gas gauge -- but I keep it because sometimes it comes in handy. I seem to drive it less and less each year, but every now and then I might need a sheet of drywall or something else that won't fit in the Camry, and sometimes I drive to places I wouldn't want to leave the Camry, such as airport parking lots during extended trips. One time a friend of mine and I went to Watts Towers, and I took the truck because I didn't feel safe leaving the other car unattended in that part of town. It turns out I needn't have worried, but that's not the point. The point is that I hardly ever drive the truck. But now it looks like I'll be driving it until Tuesday, which makes me happy I still have it.

For years, I've been telling myself I should get rid of it, because it's hard to justify paying the registration fees and insurance premiums on it every year. So I don't even try to justify it. I just pay the money and forget about it. Besides, even though it's a funky old truck, it's never failed a smog check, and since you have to manually roll the windows up and down, there's never any danger of having to buy a new window motor or regulator.