The Key to the Key
July 25, 2008
I don’t understand how cars work. Gasoline explodes and pushes pistons. Plugs, and hoses, and pumps, and transmissions, and drive trains, and axles are involved. It all sounds like a damned hum to me.
I can’t service or repair cars either. When my wife and I were our twenties, and we were pretty broke, we desperately needed a car for a new job location, so I bought an ancient Volvo for $100. It ran. A work friend of mine, a very nice guy even though he was very adept and macho, told me I should learn to maintain my cheap car myself.
Trying to live up to his expectations, I tried to change the oil myself. After several hours of frantically trying to get the filter off (with no success) so I could drain the old oil, I drove it to a nearby gas station where a mechanic got the filter off, drained and changed the oil, all in a few minutes. I sulked and hated myself.
Then the car started to spray gasoline over the hot engine. Terrified that I would be consumed by a spark turning the car into a giant fireball, I drove to a Greek mechanic (I think Volvos are from Greece, are they not?) who examined the carburetor. After his investigation the mechanic told me (through his thick Greek accent) that the previous owner had repaired the carburetor himself, and when the previous amateur mechanic had re-assembled it, he had left half the parts out. The Greek Volvo expert got the right parts and put it all back together properly and the car ran for a couple of years.
From those days forward I decided to leave my automotive life in the hands of qualified mechanics.
As we have never bought a new car, I have mostly used small, independent repair shops. By the principle that God loves fools and drunks (though I don’t drink much alcohol), I have been very fortunate for the most part in the auto mechanics I have used.
On the few occasions I took a car into one or another dealer’s service department (because I needed some specialized service), I found them officious, impersonal, unfriendly, inconsiderate, and people you wouldn’t send your worst enemy to.
When my wife bought her little used truck, she took it into a dealer a couple of times. My wife is a person of strong opinions and intense emotions (traits she obviously inherits from Random Granddaughter), and she swore she would have nothing more to do ever again with this dealer’s service department, whom she considered rude scumbags.
As we moved from impecunious and debt-ridden poverty to genteel and debt-free poverty, we bought a couple of nearly new cars from rental car companies. This method of purchasing is not a bad option for people in genteel poverty who need to purchase a pretty good but not completely new car.
With the last car, I bought an extended service contract. When the car started having an argument with the Check Engine Light (which eventually proved to be the result of an illicit relationship between the car and a pollution control device), the contract required me to use an authorized dealer for repairs.
Much to my surprise, the service staff and other employees of the dealer turned out to be courteous, thoughtful, competent, cooperative, good-humored, flexible and generally pleasant people to deal with. So I have used them ever since. (If you treat me nicely, I am very loyal. If you betray me or disgruntle me, I will hold a grudge for a long time and seek revenge. I tell people this when I enter a business relationship with them.)
My little car has held up well, but I am wearing it out. It is an interesting question whether the car will wear out before I retire next year, or I will wear out before I retire, or we all will be still operating.)
Recently, the key stopped opening the lock on the passenger’s door. To unlock the door, I had to open the driver’s side door and reach over. Not a disaster, but inconvenient, and if the driver’s side door did the same, we would be up the creek without a paddle.
I sprayed dry graphite lubricant in the lock. I sprayed liquid graphite lubricant in the lock. The lock leaked dry and liquid graphite all over the driveway, but the key still did not work.
I called the dealer’s service department, though I figured fixing locks was not their thing. A mechanic told me that all they could do was replace the entire lock.
“How much?” I asked with foreboding.
“About $200,” he answered.
When I took the car in for an oil change I asked them to look at it, but not to do anything heroic [expensive].
I carry two sets of keys with me. Over the years, I have locked myself out of my car and out of my house, so I always keep spare keys in a jacket pocket. When I take the car in for service, I leave spare key with the service department.
After my car was serviced, the service coordinator said, “I don’t find any problem with your passenger’s side lock. It opens fine.”
I said, “I have to see this.”
He opened the door, using the spare key. I tried my key. The door wouldn’t open. He looked at my key. He said, “The problem is not with the lock. It’s with your key.”
He examined both keys. He pointed out some imperceptible flaw (to my eye) in the bits that go in and out on my key. Because my keys worked on the driver’s door but not the passenger’s door, it never occurred to me that the problem was not the lock, but the key. I put the spare key on my keychain as my main key. (I still don’t understand why the worn out key works on one side and not the other.)
The service invoice charged me the normal charge for an oil change and lube. There was no charge for “fixing” my lock. I figure if they had added a $10 charge for “helping clueless customer” I would not have complained, but there was no charge and they didn’t even chuckle, much less guffaw, at least not in front of me. Although their location is less convenient now that I live on an island, I remain a loyal customer.