Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Evil Blood Sucking Car Repair Shops

Oh boy. Today as I was driving to the store to grab some smokes, I started to hear a distinctive rattle up front in the motor area. Not good, thought I. I drove home and let it idle for a while, listening to the rattle and clank. I finally shut off the motor, definitely not happy about this new development. Later, my brother took the car to the post office to mail off his laptop which he just sold on eBay. I heard the car pull up when he got back, and then I heard the sound of the motor increase in volume somewhat as my brother opened the hood. After a few seconds, I heard a SNAP POP. Uh oh. Seconds later, my brother came in and informed me that the serpentine belt had just snapped. Shit. He said that he was afraid to kill the engine because he wasn't sure if it would start again. I told him that he'd better kill it now, as it was running purely on battery power as long as the serpentine belt wasn't turning the alternator and charging the battery. Apparently he hadn't realized this immediately, so he went outside and killed it.

We debated on what to do for a few minutes, and then he suggested that we take it to a repair shop to get an estimate. I thought for a few minutes... a serpentine belt should only cost about 30 bucks, and it should take maybe an hour to effect repairs... at about 50 dollars an hour, it should cost less than a hundred bucks to fix it. So, I agreed, and he drove the car to Firestone using just the battery power.

About 30 minutes later, he arrived home after walking back from Firestone. He told me that the mechanic there had said that it might be something more serious than just the serpentine belt, that the rattling could be due to a loose pulley. Immediately my hackles went up. I've been fucked over by mechanics several times, and hearing this instantly put my on my guard. I warned my brother about this, that mechanics were devious bastards and that I'd been screwed over several times in the past, but he just kind of blew it off. I stressed again the importance of what I was saying, and that we should definitely be wary if they tried to quote us an estimate based on more than just the cost to replace the belt. He started to take offense to this, thinking that I was questioning his ability to handle the situation, and began raising his voice. I asked him why he was getting so pissed and defensive, and he said that he'd never been screwed over by a garage. I told him that just because he hasn't been screwed over doesn't negate the importance or the worthiness of my advice. He grew more and more angry, and finally he told me that he wanted to use the money I had in reserve for rent to pay for any repairs that might be needed. I told him no. I have 200 dollars specifically for rent that I had borrowed from my sister just the day before, and that plus about 500 dollars that I'll be getting on Thursday, is going to be JUST ENOUGH to pay my student loan payment plus my share of the rent. Well, he didn't take too kindly to my refusal to give him that money, and he asked me if I was afraid that the rent wouldn't get paid if I gave him that money. I told him yeah, that's what I was afraid of, and he said that he would make damn sure that the rent got paid, even if I didn't.

Well, that really pissed me off, since I was the one who paid the rent for December, with no help at all from him. I told him that if it weren't for me, the rent wouldn't have gotten paid this month, and that he should think about that before casting stones. Well, about 5 minutes later, he called me on 32 dollars that we still owed out of 650, that never got paid because I just happened to be a little bit short, what with having to pay the entire thing this month. I had told him that I would pay it when I got my next check, but I had forgotten. He called me a liar for saying that I would pay that 32 dollars, since I had forgotten and it was never paid. Well, this set me off like a hydrogen bomb. I grabbed an envelope and a pen and the address for the landlord and got on the computer and looked up directions to his house with MapQuest, which happened to be two miles there and two miles back. I wrote those down, and as I was going out the door, I said "You suck Matt, you really suck. I'm not a liar and I'm moving out. Just as soon as I can. We'll see how you manage when I'm not here to bail your ass out when you're broke." Then he said to me, "You're moving out, huh? That's probably a damn lie too." I got even madder, which I didn't think was possible. I said, "I hate you!" and stormed out the door. I then turned back around and said "Give me my phone!". I sure as hell didn't want him answering when Firestone called back with an estimate. He gave me my phone and I left.

On the way I stopped off at a convenience store and got a money order for 32 dollars and put this in the envelope, and wrote on the front: "Sorry so late, Matt and Ash" and wrote down our address. I continued walking until I got to his house, then I put the envelope in his mailbox and walked back. On my way back, I received a call from Firestone. They said they had an estimate, and that it would be 350 bucks to fix it. I said, 350 for a serpentine belt? They said no, not just the belt, the tensioner needs to be replaced too (the tensioner is another pulley which you can adjust to increase or decrease the tension on the belt, something I didn't know at the time). I asked the guy if he could just put on the belt and forget about the tensioner. He said no. So, I told him that I'd come pick up the car then. He was silent for a few seconds, then said something that I don't remember and I said thanks, bye, and hung up. After that, I called John, my sisters husband, who is pretty good with cars. I asked him if he could help me replace the serpentine belt, and he said sure, that it should be fairly simple and easy.

When I got home, Matt had already gone back to Firestone and picked up the car. I didn't say anything to him. He told me that it would cost 270 dollars to repair it. Well, I was still pretty pissed and didn't want to talk to him, but I had to laugh and tell him that they had quoted 350 to me. Then I started to research serpentine belts and tensioners online for my car. I came across a lot of useful info, such as a diagram showing how to install the belt (it's pretty convoluted) and reports from various people describing their own experiences. I quickly found out that tensioners can be adjusted with a 13 mm socket, and that they can get pretty loose. I went back out to the car and found the tensioner, and sure enough, it was loose and it rattled when I moved it. Well, I sure as hell wasn't going to trust what Firestone said. That tensioner just might need to be tightened, it might not need to be replaced at all. However, it looked to be a pretty big job, as it was a very tight squeeze to access the area where the belt goes onto the pulley's. I had just read about several frustrated people who had spent hours trying to install a serpentine belt to no avail, and I started to realize it might not be possible for me to pull it off, even with Johns help.

So I called John and explained the situation to him, telling him that I thought it might be too big of a job for us to do after all, and that I would just have to wait until I had enough money to pay the fucking Firestone guys to fix it. He said to hold off, that he would be over to check it out. I had plans to visit a friend tonight already, so while I was over at her place, John was at the house, checking out the car.

When I got back home, Matt said that they had looked at the car and researched it some more. What we need is a serpentine kit that costs about 80 bucks, and comes with a belt and the tools we'll need to be able to fix the tensioner and install the new belt. This sounded a lot more reasonable than the 350 they quoted me or the 270 they quoted my brother, once they realized I wasn't going to let them give it to me in the backside. So with 80 dollars for parts and 50 dollars an hour... lets be generous and say it takes two hours to fix it... Firestone should charge me 200 dollars MAXIMUM for parts, labor, and tax to fix that thing. So I was right, they were trying to screw us over, just like ALL mechanics and garages will do in the blink of an eye without thinking twice. I've just had too damn many experiences, several times getting ripped off, and several times ALMOST getting ripped off - like today - NOT to be wary of those fuckers. Repair shops are worse than the IRS. At least the IRS doesn't lie to you.

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