Tag Archives: mechanic

Dispatch from a Cabin

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The last few weeks have been difficult.

At the end of September, I drove the van down to the mercantile so The Man and I could use the internet on our day off. As we were heading back to the campground, I noticed the oil pressure gauge was wacky, the needle bouncing around and showing the oil pressure was way, way high. The Man said an oil pressure gauge would never read high, that the gauge is there to tell the driver if the oil pressure is too low. We walked back to mercantile, used the internet again, and the man figured out the problem was more than likely the oil sending unit. Our boss was in town, so he picked up the part for us. The next day, The Man put in the new oil sending unit, and the gauge went back to normal. Disaster averted for the cost of a $28 part.

Last Tuesday was to be our final day off before we left the mountain. We decided to leave the campground to escape campers who wanted to chitchat even after politely being told we were on our day off. We parked in the woods for a while, but then The Man decided he needed to go back to the campground for a reason I can no longer remember. I turned the van around and stopped at the main road to look both ways before pulling onto the asphalt. The van died. It happens sometimes, so I wasn’t too worried, but then I couldn’t get the van to start. Then I was worried because my van always starts.

I tried starting it again and again and again. Nothing.

Both The Man and I wondered if something had come lose after the replacement of the oil sending unit, so we removed the doghouse from front part of the van between the two seats, and The Man fiddled with some parts. I tried to start the van again. Nothing.

We figured we’d have to get the van towed. The problem was getting to a telephone. The nearest phone was twelve miles away.

We walked down the road a ways and waited for cars to come by so we could stick out our thumbs. The passing cars were few and far between, and those we did see didn’t stop.

After a couple of hours, we walked back to the van and tried hitchhiking from there. We had no luck for the longest time.

We had just decided to walk the couple miles back to the campground and try to find someone there who would help, when a pickup truck that had just passed us came back in our direction. The driver had turned around to help us! Our faith in humanity was restored.

The elderly couple in the truck drove us to the campground where our boss and his wife stay. The boss was on an errand, but the wife handed us the phone. I called my insurance company and found out my roadside assistance only coveres a tow of 15 miles. That wasn’t going to be much help, since we were sixty miles away for the repair shop The Big Boss Man recommended. The Man called AAA and arranged to have a tow truck meet us the next morning. In the meantime, the wife offered us the use of the campground’s vacant cabin. We jumped at the chance to have a shower and sleep in a queen size bed in a heated building.

We found we got internet in the cabin, so I got on Facebook while The Man looked at minivans for sale in several states. I saw I had Facebook messages from The Man’s sister and cousin, asking him to call home. He immediately knew something was wrong. I borrowed the satellite phone from the wife, and The Man called his sis and found out his mother had passed away. I don’t think he slept at all that night.

We met the tow truck driver on Wednesday morning, and The Man, Jerico the dog, and I piled into the cab of the tow truck. The driver, a nice man young enough to be our son, attached the van, and away we went. The ride into town was blissfully uneventful.

We had the van dropped off at the mechanic recommended by The Big Boss Man. The owner of the shop said he’d take a look at the van and call me in about an hour. Two hours later, as The Man and I watched the batteries in our phones lose power, I called the mechanic shop again. If we were going to have to get a motel room, I wanted to do that early enough in the day to get some enjoyement out of the money spent. The owner said he still hadn’t had a chance to look at the van, but he’d call me in half an hour.

About that time, I got a call from The Big Boss Man. He was in town. If the van wasn’t ready to go, he was willing to drive us back up the mountain and let us spend another night in the vacant cabin. He was bringing his personal truck to the same mechanic in the morning, and we could ride with him. We jumped at the chance. I called the mechanic and told him we’d see him in the morning.

In the morning, the repair shop owner was still not able to tell me what was wrong with the van. I don’t know if it had even been looked at yet, but it had been moved onto the shop’s tiny concrete lot. About two hours later, the owner of the shop called me to say the problem was the distributor modulator. I told him to go ahead and fix the problem. It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice. I needed my van to run.

I wasn’t so lucky with the expense this time. The total with parts and labor came to $226. Groan. It’s always something.

So how did we celebrate the van running again? By taking an epic five hour road trip through the greater Los Angeles traffic zone so The Man could buy a minivan…but that’s a story for a different day.

On the second-to-last day of our work season, The Big Boss Man made us a proposition. We could stay in the cabin and do some work around the campground to make up for the two and a half days we had missed during the week. We’d get a warm place to sleep, electricity, hot water, and fatter pay checks. We agreed, but an hour later, The Man couldn’t take it anymore, and decided he was out of the campground business. He packed his minivan and headed to civilization to line up insurance and jump through the hoops of getting the car registered.

Me? I decided I wanted a few days in the cabin. I finished my paperwork this morning and I’ll pack up all the items in the cabin’s kitchen this evening. Tomorrow I’ll paint picnic tables, maybe do some raking and fire ring cleaning on Wednesday and Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll schedule blog posts and enjoy the electricity and hot water.

 

All Moved In

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I moved into my temporary home yesterday afternoon.

The day was quite a whirlwind. My van was still in the shop, and I wasn’t sure when it would be ready to drive. The new housemate needed my share of the rent to pay the landlady who wanted the cash before she went on a trip to California. The Lady of the House was willing to drive me to pick up the van, but she had an early afternoon appointment of her own and had to pick up The Boy from school later in the afternoon.

It all worked out fairly smoothly. I talked to the mechanic around 10:30, and he assured me that the van would be ready by the afternoon. He even called me as promised later on when the work was complete. (This was the first time ever that a mechanic called me to let me know work on my vehicle was complete. I’ve always had to call the shop to find out the status of the job.)

Since I didn’t have transportation, my new housemate drove out to the home of the host family to pick up my share of the rent. I guess the landlady was really hounding him for it.

When The Lady got back from her appointment, we hopped into her car and zipped over to the auto repair shop. She dropped me off at the gate and zipped off to pick up The Boy. I paid for the repairs, and headed back to the home of the host family to pack the rest of my belongings into the van. I really wanted to be on the road before rush hour.

By “pack the rest of my belongings into the van,” I mean I threw the rest of my stuff in as quickly as possible. I was on the road a little before 4pm, so I just got the early bird rush hour and not the full-on, super-crowded rush hour. The driving was ok. I had my usual changing lane angst, but I did fine (meaning I was not involved in a crash of any kind).

My keys unlocked the doors of my new abode, which is always helpful.

Taking the advice of Judge Judy and the much nicer judge on The People’s Court, I took photos of the (very few) damaged items in my new room. There are some scuff marks on the wall, the door has some peeling paint and discoloration, wires are hanging out to the light fixture attachment on the ceiling fan. There’s no bad damage, but I want to have proof, just in case.

While he was picking up my rent money, the new housemate offered me the use of an extra mattress. After taking photos of the empty room, I dragged the mattress from the spare room into my bedroom and placed it in the corner next to the window. The bed looked quite inviting after I made it with my clean linens, but I stayed strong and did not lie down for a nap.

It was pretty hot in the house, but luckily, I found that the window opened. Unluckily, the window did not have a screen. Luckily, the screen was on the ground right outside the window. To get to the screen, I had to go through the kitchen and dining area, out the sliding glass door, through the back patio, and out another fence into the side yard. Whew! But there was the screen. I got it back into the window, although it was a bit torqued. It fit pretty well and kept bugs out for the rest of the afternoon.

I hauled my clothes in next and unpacked the items I think I will be wearing to my temp job. I have too much clothes! (This has been a problem of mine for a long time.) I mostly have a lot of skirts. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a long, colorful cotton skirt. The next few weeks are going to be a time of purging the items that aren’t 100% comfortable. There’s no need to carry around clothes that itch or bind.

After all the clothes were unpacked, I sat around playing solitaire and waiting for the housemate to come home to give me the password for the WiFi. Later I took a bath. I have a private bathroom, which is an absolute luxury.

I heard the housemate leave for work a little while ago. I have the house to myself! I’m going to haul in some food from the van, now that I know what cabinet I should use. I should eat something too. After I run a few errands, I can take it easy and prepare myself to be a working woman once again.

Appointments

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After waiting two days for the office manager at my dentist’s office to call me back, I called her first thing yesterday morning. (By “first thing,” I mean before 8:30.) The dental assistant answered the phone. She is an adequate dental assistant, but I don’t think she’s the brightest bulb in the chandelier. First, when I tried to explain who I was and give some information about my situation, she told me she thought I had the wrong number. Then, when I said the office manager was supposed to call me back yesterday and hadn’t, she said that yes, the office manager had called me. I pointed out to her that my phone had never rung, no voice mail had been left, and my phone didn’t show a missed call. Then I just forged in with, “in any case,” and asked if I should call back later when the office manager was in. Oh, she assured me, the office manager was in. (Why she didn’t immediately pass the phone to the office manager, we’ll never know.)

The office manager got on the phone and told me she had received the report from Dr. Endo. She just had to print it she said, then the dentist would look at it and decide if she could remove the tooth. She told me she was printing the report as we spoke, and would call me back as soon as the dentist had read it.

She actually did call me back a few minutes later. The dentist would not do the extraction. The tooth was too close to the impacted wisdom tooth. She was afraid of “messing something up.” However, she did refer me once again to the possible bargain dentist (Dr. Jay) who’d said she couldn’t do a root canal because of my curved roots.

I called Dr. Jay. She said she would do the extraction. I reminded her about my curving roots, but she was not deterred. She said she can do just about any extraction. So I have an appointment with her next week. The extraction will cost $150.

Then I called the mechanic and made an appointment to bring in the van on Wednesday. He said he was going to call me back before the end of the day, but he didn’t. I am going to forgive him because I know he is super busy. I expect I’ll hear from him Monday. He said he should have all the work done in one day, but if something went wrong (such as being sold incorrect parts), it might take two days. I’m hoping the van will be ready for me to pick up on Wednesday, because on Thursday I am supposed to move into my new (temporary) home.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for good dental and vehicular news.

Better Van News

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After a routine oil change resulted in a laundry list of supposedly needed repairs that were going to cost upwards of $2,000, the Lady of the House gave me the name and number of a mechanic her family (and her friend’s family) have used in the past. The Lady thinks the guy does good work and believes him to be very honest. I called him before the weekend and made arrangements to bring the van in to his shop early on Wednesday morning.

Our phone conversation was very enlightening. He seemed surprised by how high many of the prices given by the first garage were. He asked me how long the “check engine” light had been on. When I said it wasn’t on, he wondered how the first garage knew about a certain problem if it wasn’t because of the “check engine light.” He asked how much oil was ending up on the ground; when I told him I didn’t see any oil on the ground, he wondered why the first garage would recommend one of the repairs if hardly any oil was leaking. Before he even looked at the van, I felt reassured that maybe the van wasn’t in as bad a state as I had been led to believe.

I arrived at the garage bright and early on Wednesday morning. The mechanic remembered me and our phone conversation. He took the van into one of the bays to look it over. I didn’t wait long before he came back.

He said that yes, there were small oil and coolant leaks. However, the leaks were so small that no fluid was hitting the ground. He said he wouldn’t even worry about these leaks unless they got worse. He said to be sure to check the fluids regularly. I told him that the guy at the other garage said I should check the oil and coolant every other day. The second opinion mechanic said I should check the fluid once a month, or if I wanted to be super cautious, every two weeks.

Obviously those other guys were trying to scare me into having work done that isn’t even currently necessary.

The second opinion mechanic did say I need some front end work. The thing is, when you start taking things apart up there, it’s better to change as many parts as possible because you only want to pay labor once. So to get the front end tiptop, it will cost about $700, which I’ll be able to do once I get my first paycheck from the soon to start temp job.

I feel better about the van.

In tooth news, I called the my dentist’s office and explained to the office manager what happened at the endodontist’s office. The office manager said that the endodontist had not sent the report, but that she would call his office and ask for it, show it to the dentist, and call me back. She never called back. I guess I have to add that to my list of things to do.

Oil Change Revisited

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Last we left the oil change saga, I had gone to a locally owned auto repair shop that turned out a little sketchy. After that encounter, I got online and found a shop with really good reviews. People said they were honest, did good work, didn’t do work that wasn’t necessary. It all sounded fine, so I called in the morning to find out when I could come in.

The main who answered the phone had the swoon-worthy voice of a radio announcer. This man was smooth. He said an oil change for the van would cost $19.99. He told me to come on in, and they’d take care of me.

When I arrived, there were already several people sitting in the clean waiting area. The big television was playing a morning news show. After checking in and meeting Mr. Swoon, I settled in with my book, confident that I would soon be happily back on the road.

After some time, another worker called me up to the desk and told me that they’d found some problems. Every time he’d name a problem, I’d say, What does that mean? After two problems, he called Mr. Swoon from the back to deal with me.

Mr. Swoon was very nice and patiently explained everything to me in language I could (almost) understand. I had already told him I didn’t have any money, mentioned the new crown and the root canal that I still need. When he finished listing everything wrong with the van, I asked him how much it would all cost. He said about $2,000. That’s when I started to cry.

Here’s a list of the things wrong with my van and how much the repair will cost.

Lower intake manifold gasket leaking ($825.50)

Transmission mount ($165.50)

Upper ball joints ($385.50)

Inner and outer tie rod ends ($416.50)

Rear main seal leaking ($650)

Upper and lower radiator hoses ($149.95)

Fuel injection service ($109.95)

Fuel filter ($85.50)

Shocks ($289.95 x 2)

Of course, some of these repairs aren’t urgent. Shocks? I’ve never had a van with decent shocks. Aren’t shocks just about comfort? I’d rather spend money on my air conditioner instead of buying shocks.

And I could probably buy parts online or at an auto parts store and save money that way. I didn’t ask, but I’ve done that before when I was having Sears work on one of my vans. (I don’t trust Sears any more because workers at a Sears in Ohio straight up lied about what was wrong with my vehicle.)

We all know that if I buy the parts myself and get an individual to work on my van in his/her backyard, I could save myself a lot of money. The problem is that the person I trust to do this kind of work is in another state, and I don’t know who to trust where I am.

So I started crying. Not sobbing, just tearing up, but then the tears started to fall. I tried to dry my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt. I apologized, and Mr. Swoon got really flustered. He told me he’d finish the paperwork, so I sat down. I quit crying pretty quickly. Crying’s not going to help, so why keep doing it?

When Mr. Swoon finished writing up the recommendations, he called me up to the counter. He asked me if I was ok, and told me they’d take care of me. He even grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze.

As soon as I got back to van and into the driver’s seat, I received a phone call about a potential job. I was taking that call when I saw Mr. Swoon walk out of the office and head towards me. I thought he probably had some business with the vehicle next to me, but he came right over to my open door and asked me again if I were ok. I had to ask the temp job recruiter on the phone to hold on, then assure Mr. Swoon that I was indeed ok. He seemed really worried about me.

I wondered again later to the Lady of the House why more people aren’t bursting into tears when they hear bad news while sitting in the chair at the dentist’s office or when the guy behind the desk at the auto repair shop tells them the work their vehicle needs will cost more than what they paid for the vehicle in the first place. We decided most people are just numbed out, either by the day-to-day struggle to survive or by the drugs (marijuana, meth, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, pain killers, whatever) they are using to help them get through the day. The Lady wondered if fewer people would need drugs if they allowed themselves to cry in front of the mechanic or dentist or whoever is asking for more money than they possess.

I don’t doubt the van needs work. It’s a 1992. I just don’t know if it needs everything this place says it needs, and I don’t know what can wait and for how long. So now I have to start the process of finding a garage to give me a second opinion.

And the $19.95 oil change? It cost me $24.45. That’s a lot of tax, I thought, but found when I looked at the receipt that the tax as only $1.30. However, there’s also a $1.20 charge for “supplies” (on top of the $13.95 I paid for parts), and a “hazmat” charge of $2. What are these supplies? And if every oil change results in a hazmat charge, why not just add that to the advertised price? I’m tired of surprises.

Sketchy Characters

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I’ve needed an oil change for a couple of weeks. While driving around town, I saw a small garage that seemed locally owned with a sign out front that read, Oil Change $17.99. That seemed like a really good price, so I stopped there one afternoon. When I asked for an oil change, the guy at the counter said it would be an hour before they could get to me. I didn’t want to sit there for an hour and there was nothing nearby that I needed or wanted to do, so I left and blew off getting the work done.

One morning a few days later, I called the shop around 8:40 and asked if they could change my oil if I showed up in about half an hour. The guy who answered the phone told me to come in one hour, and he could take care of me.

I arrived a little before the appointed time, and told the guy at the counter that I had called earlier. He told me they could do an oil change in an hour. I thought that was strange since I had something akin to an appointment, but I realize that sometimes it takes longer to make a repair than estimated. I figured it was just taking the mechanic a little longer than he’d thought to finish up what he was doing.

The guy I was talking to ask me if I wanted to leave the van and come back. I don’t know where he thought I was going without my vehicle. There’s not a coffee shop or anything remotely fun on that block. I told him I didn’t have anywhere to go so I’d wait.

I sat in one of the chairs in the grungy waiting room and pulled out my book. I’d been sitting there reading for at least 10 minutes when the guy came back into the waiting area and asked me if I knew it was going to cost $30 to have the oil changed in my van.

I was stunned and told him No, I didn’t know that.

Yeah, he said, it’s $30 for an oil change on a van or a truck.

I usually pay a little more than $30 for an oil change, and I know that’s about what it runs at Wal-mart. I wasn’t opposed to paying $30. However, I thought it was really sketchy that the sign in front said $17.99 for an oil change, not $17.99 and up, not $17.99 (vans and trucks extra). I thought it was sketchy that I’d come in previously and the guy I talked to that day didn’t mention the oil change would cost more because I had a van. I thought it was sketchy that I’d called 45 minutes earlier inquiring about an oil change and had not been told that on some vehicles it would cost more than the advertised price.

I really felt like the guy was trying to get rid of me, so I got up and left. I might end up paying someone $30 for an oil change, but it’s not going to be the folks at that garage.

I was annoyed further when as I was leaving because I saw the same guy I’d been talking to get into a customer’s Denali and drive it into one of the bays. Why was I going to have to wait another 45 minutes, but that guy’s SUV was going right in?

I figured there wasn’t much I could do to fight back, but I knew I could write about my experience and post it on review sites. When I got back to my laptop, I did a search on the garage and found it already had several bad reviews. The workers were accused of lying, saying they’d repaired things that were still broken, as well as breaking things, then saying they hadn’t caused the damage.

Note to self: read reviews before stopping in for an oil change.