Mar 27

infiniti-changeMost normal people try to give you some idea why the vehicle is in for service. They call before they come in, or they leave a note with the vehicle. These individuals realize that the more information they give us, the faster we can zero in on the problem and return the vehicle in a reasonable period of time. The other folks just don’t seem to understand that in order for the system to work they have to participate. Otherwise, the whole process screeches to a halt. The two vehicles in question had no such information accompanying them. They were just there.

In California, there isn’t a hell of a lot I can do with a vehicle that is just ‘there.’ Without a signed, written repair order, I’m dead in the water. That authorization must be for specific automotive service work and it must come from the registered vehicle owner in order to safely remain within the law. Remaining within the law roughly translates to retaining any hope of getting paid if there is a problem. Consequently, we’re pretty careful about who we trust when a vehicle appears without its owner or a clear, written authorization to proceed. We have to be.

The two cars left in the driveway were left without an appointment, authorization or instructions. Nevertheless, they were blocking the driveway and we had to do something with them or effectively remain closed for the rest of the day.

Reinforcing my theory that crazies love company, both owners turned up at precisely the same moment.

Both had been to the shop with other cars and other work in the past and had left the two vehicles in question of for prepurchase, used-vehicle inspections. That might not seem strange to you. But, it did seem a bit strange to us! You see both cars had been towed to the shop and even as crazy as I sometimes get, I still couldn’t understand anyone buying a car that wouldn’t start or wouldn’t run! After all, neither of these vehicles were ‘classics.’ Unless, of course, you count ‘classically trashed’ as a category! They were, however, both “great deals,” according to their prospective owners. They were described as, “once in a lifetime opportunities,” and we were given the authorization to proceed.

You may not know either of these two customers or their families, but I know you know both vehicles. One was the car that’s been on your street or out in front of your neighbor’s place for years just waiting for the ‘restoration’ to begin. It’s the vehicle that is ‘perfect’ in every way save the fact it doesn’t work! The other is the car you just told one of your customers to get rid of — as soon as possible — because the cost of the last breakdown had already exceeded the value of the vehicle and the next one was both imminent and sure to be equally as expensive. One had been given to a local church as a tax-deductible donation and the other came from the ubiquitous ‘next door neighbor.’

The neighbor’s car hadn’t been registered, started or run in years. But, this was neither a consideration, nor a deterrent. Cosmetically, it was pristine: Body, paint and interior were all like new, and that’s all that seemed to matter.

Despite the fact that both families were behaving in the same irrational fashion — paying for prepurchase inspections on cars that wouldn’t start or run — they were very different in almost every other way. One of the families was acting crazy out of desperation. They have little or no money to spend. Consequently, they can’t always afford to make rational decisions because rational decisions often require a financial commitment they are incapable of making. Desperation, however, can drive strange behavior and this family was in desperate need of another vehicle even if it meant exercising something less than their best judgment.

The other family is just plain crazy, a kind of crazy you and I know all too well! They have money; not a lot, but enough and they spend it. They just spend it on things you and I can and will never understand: a thousand dollars for wheels and tires on the kid’s car or eight hundred on an audio system that can shatter glass a block away or vibrate manhole covers off the street. Then, they’ll go on an endless search for the ‘perfect’ $49.95 brake job! Aside from the basic contradictions inherent in everything they do, they don’t communicate well. Regardless of what you say, they hear what they want to hear. And, it isn’t long before you realize that you haven’t a chance of understanding them or of being understood.

I hate being forced into a corner. I hate making decisions I know are not prudent or rational. I hate doing things I know can blow up in my face or bite me in the … assets! I hate a lot of things. But, more than anything else, I hate being confronted with a waiting room full of crazies at nine o’clock in the morning, especially when the only way to get them out is to accept these two vehicles for service! And, before I realized what had happened, we were trying to get both vehicles started.

One of the vehicles was a 1985 Audi 5000S, and the list of known problems would have been comical if the family interested in buying it had the resources to restore the vehicle. The windows didn’t go up and down properly. The lights didn’t work and neither did the instrument cluster or a half-dozen other critical functions on the vehicle. It wouldn’t start, and, according to the original owner, when it did start it wouldn’t idle. It had been donated to a local church without a moment to spare. Regardless, the prospective owner wanted it checked. I wrote the estimate for just over $150 and assigned a technician.

By the end of the day, the vehicle was running and we had a laundry list of problems totaling over $1,800. That wasn’t bad considering age and mileage, but it might as well have been $1,000,000 because it was far more than these folks could realistically afford.

The other vehicle was a later model Infiniti G20. But, like a piece of fruit you might mistakenly bring home from the market, it looked great on the outside despite being nearly rotten on the inside.

The estimate for the G20 was fairly straightforward: Clean the posts and cables, charge the battery, check the charging system and then proceed with the inspection. All in all, the total for initial work plus the inspection came to just over $120. I thought I was going to have to call 911 when I passed the estimate across the counter for a signature! The prospective owner almost had a stroke right there in the waiting room. “Can’t you just look at it?” I told her I did look at it, when I got there in the morning and couldn’t figure out what to do with it because it wouldn’t start or run! Looking at it was free; I could see it from the office. Finding out what was wrong with it was going to cost someone a few bucks.

The sunroof wouldn’t work, the left rear window wouldn’t go up and down, the vehicle wouldn’t start or run and the battery was dead so we knew there would be some initial charges for diagnosis and testing. At the very least, the vehicle would need to have the battery charged and the electrical system tested. Her response was simple. “I don’t want to spend any money on this car. I’ll just have my son put a battery in it!” If only our world was that simple!

When all was said and done, we did almost a thousand dollars worth of work on the Infiniti and a few hundred dollars worth of work on the Audi. And, my guess is that we’ll see both these vehicles again because there was still quite a bit of work left to do on both vehicles.

That may sound crazy, but fixing cars is what we do and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that sanity is not a prerequisite for vehicle ownership. Neither is it for good mechanics (see PFM Automotive). If it were, there wouldn’t be as much traffic as there is in L.A. It isn’t a prerequisite for being in this business either. Otherwise, I’d probably be working for someone else and you would be getting pretty lonely!


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