Friday, April 27, 2007
Like always. Like never before. Like, someday.
Today was the day I pretended that there's any zen in my life and went to the Saturn dealership to get my car tuned up. I know from previous experiences that one should pack a thick book, headphones, a hat with blinders at the sides, snacks, soda, and a thick wallet when one goes there for periodic maintenance. I had forgotten though that I should also bring a notebook for observations, and chose not to bring a camera because I didn't expect to leave the building (though I did see the wildest icicle light display you could hope for shortly before May Day). I checked my car in at 9am and told them that there were two items that needed attention: the engine doesn't sound quite right and hasn't since the day of my last tuneup (draw your own conclusions), and look at the brakes because they make a rr-rrr-rrrr sound when I slow down between 20mph and a stop. Louann, the counter person with the ample bust and foundation a couple shades north of her real skintone, told me all would be attended to and have a seat for an hour while they check stuff out.
I've spent many hours in this dealership in the nearly six years I've owned my SL1, almost all of which during checkups because my car has never caused me any debilitating trouble. I got it with 8 miles on it in August 2001, out of necessity (the ol' Grannywagon died a death), a month or two before financing rates went into the basement in response to 9/11's economic slump. It's completely paid off and my wife just bought a car a few months ago on a six-year plan, so keeping this beast running is important to me. The dealership has two waiting areas: one in the front near the sales force which has windows and two vending machines, and one in the center of the building with a large television, magazines, and free fresh snacks. I've learned over time that I prefer the one with the windows because I don't like their choice in no-one-is-actually-watching television programming and I'm happier without being around other customers or February's issues of Motor Trend and Time. I can watch traffic. I can watch cars come in for service. I can watch Louann smoke. (That was a buzzkill.) I can listen to other lovers of visual silence talk on their cell phones about their medications. It was okay when the cute well-packed redhead was doing it, she was easier to watch than TV, but the grandmatron later on who was comparing the effectiveness of Lunesta and Ambien when used in combination with her other meds, she inadvertently convinced me I could use more oxygen. The signs on both of the vending machines begging coin-inserters not to shake or pound the devices were ineffective, especially when the machines were approached by employees. I brought two issues of Funny Times and had half-filled my MP3 player, so I was good for at least a couple hours.
Louann stepped in after about an hour to tell me what they'd come across in the basic care and diagnostics of the car, seeking my approval to look further and do what I'd brought the car in for them to do. The estimate at this moment is $500, which is one or two hundred dollars more than it usually is, but whattaya gonna do? I settled back in with my tunes, enjoyed some more stories and cartoons and the redhead reading a backissue of Time, and eventually dug out the granola bar and Mountain Dew that I had packed. Louann stepped in after about an hour to tell me what they'd come across in the advanced search of why my car coughs in idle and first gear, and said they were not going to touch that issue(!) until a little more diagnostic work had been done; she sought approval to inject some ultraviolet dye into my engine somewhere to figure out where this leak was coming from, and I would need to bring the car back in 200-300 miles, at which time they could then fix the stutter, but in the meantime the motor mounts are worn and loose so those should be replaced. The estimate on what more needs to be done goes up another $400, but I have to get to work daily so whattaya gonna do? I settled back in with my tunes, finished my magazines, finished my soda, wandered around while the old lady discussed pharmacological interactions, and eventually (it's now noon) through the service department to confirm I didn't want to be in the other waiting room whereupon she said my car would be ready any minute now so why not pay for it now. Being Saturn, "any minute now" means the work was done fifteen minutes ago and now the 17 year old who is paid to vacuum the carpets and wash the exterior should be done leaving dirty streaks and missing the crumbs on your dashboard in ten minutes.
$402 in parts, $498 in labor, $79 in tax, and a question of "what if..." regarding the potential findings of the UV scope in a couple-three hundred miles -- $120 and an hour if it's just the cover, $1600 and two days if it's the cylander head (which is a rarity, she said) -- and my car materializes in the parking lot. It sounds exactly the same. Louann gets into the driver's seat and starts it up to demonstrate this fact. We say our goodbyes, and I drive around to another parking spot among the new vehicles so I can go chat with my auto agent Kerry who is about to finish a deal. Kerry I trust, which is a compliment since he is a car salesman. I wanted to know whether Saturn was going to have some worthwhile hybrids coming out. At the moment in stock there's the VUE Green Line, which is an SUV that gets 32mpg highway and according to the literature is only electric when parked and uses gasoline to move, and available is the AURA Green Line sedan which gets 35mpg highway but there have been some technical issues so this dealership isn't hyping it strongly. Coming up in 2008 or 2009 will be hybrids closer to what some other brands already offer (electric at city speeds, internal combustion at highway speeds) as well as plug-in hybrids (yeah!)... and that's a span to wait when you may have a valid reason to trade your vehicle in by the time next year's model lineup comes to market. Kerry already grits his teeth that we didn't buy Paige's new car from him (but the same group owns both dealerships, they're two blocks apart), imagine how he'll feel if I have to leave the Saturn family due to their getting products on the market too tardy and the present lineup not using their electrical system for anything more than idling (which may be 30% more fuel efficient but is still totally dependant upon fossil fuel for its locomotion).
So today I spent $980.86 and three hours of my life, with more to come soon before they get to the real engine issue. And yet my car still goes rr-rrr-rrrr when I slow down at stop signs.
BTW, I found your link on Jamie Dawn's blog and decided to follow it home. I'm glad I did, as your site is a compelling read. I'll think of you when we bring the beast in for its next oil change. (And I'll keep riding my bike to work!)
I look forward to reading more of your work, and hope you'll pop by my blog as well.
All the best,
Luanna should really try and match her foundation to her skin tone, or do what I do - don't wear foundation at all. I hate foundation. It's like spackling one's face.
I used to drive a Subaru and I know what you mean about having to find special service and parts... and pay the premium for them.