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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Complaints, Trains And Automobiles

Back from the Happy Family Holiday Extravaganza, which this year turned into more of a "sitting around with my youngest brother and my mom's - ? - (I never know quite how to describe Dale - he's not a "boyfriend" in the traditional sense, more of a "companion", but while the latter term implies more than their actual relationship, the former seems somehow less adequate), drinking cheap Canadian whiskey, eating fatty, high-cholesterol smoked beef products, and watching John Wayne movies all day long" sort of holiday. I'm not even certain the term "holiday" is appropriate here, since that would imply some quality of specialness, and so far as I could tell this was pretty much a typical weekend for these guys.

Actually, it could have been worse. No fights ensued, there were no disruptive surprise visits from terminally alcoholic siblings, and I only got into one brief argument with another brother who insisted I accept his gift of $20, while at the same time he adamantly refused to take a proffered Target Gift Card in exchange (unbeknownst to either of us, we both ended sneaking the other's gift back before the visit ended).

The return trip on Sunday turned out to be far more challenging than I desired, as the train failed to appear at the scheduled time (nothing new there), and despite repeated calls - by numerous waiting passengers - to Amtrak Customer Service, we were only informed after a three hour delay that in fact the train would not be coming at all. A mudslide between Olympia and Tacoma had effectively shut down the tracks, and we were to be bused between Kelso and Seattle. But, of course, nobody seemed to know when exactly that would occur. Finally, a charter bus appeared at around 9:15 p.m., more than four hours after the initial scheduled departure time. On the plus side, the driver was a complete maniac who, except for having to drop off a single passenger in Tacoma, otherwise would have completed the one-way trip in under two hours.

In other vehicle-related news: today is Tuesday the 27th, which means my car has been effectively out-of-commission for 8 days now. I called the mechanic yesterday morning, to see what progress had been made, and whether I would be able to come by in the afternoon to pick it up. "Well, we're still trying to figure out why it keeps dying," he said, "but, you should be able to get it later today."

So, I bussed downtown, did a bit of shopping, grabbed a quick lunch, and made my way uptown, arriving at the shop around 2:30 p.m. The bus was still sitting in one of the bays.

"We tried to start it, but now it looks like the starter brushes have worn a bare spot in the coil from all the turn-overs," announced the Head Mech, with a non-chalance just this side of condescending, "We'll need to replace it."

"And, um how long do you think that will take?"

"Depends on how long it takes us to track one down."

"Have you tried Bow-Wow in Lynnwood?" I asked, helpfully, "they carry a full-line of VW parts."

"Never heard of them." That should have tipped the scales right then-and-there. Bow-Wow is legendary; anybody in the Pacific Northwest who's ever worked on a vintage VW knows Bow-Wow, and the fact that this guy didn't even recognize the name only confirmed my worst suspitions: I was clearly in the thrall of complete incompetents.

"Okay, so maybe tomorrow, right?" "Tomorrow" was quickly turning into my least favorite word of the week.

"Yeah, we'll let you know."

I was stuck. My options at that point would have been either to cut my losses and have the bus towed elsewhere, or let them continue to tinker. Utilizing the theory that, "the enemy you know is better than the enemy you don't know", I - unwisely perhaps - decided on the latter course of action.

So, it was back on the bus for me.

As I walked in the door of my apartment at 4:45, my cellphone rang.

Guess who was calling.

"She's all ready to go," declared Head Mech, "you can pick it up, if you can get here before 6:00 p.m."

Back on the bus - again.

Made it with about 15 minutes to spare, and sure enough, there she is sitting outside the garage.

"Where'd you find a starter that quick?" I asked.

"Up in Lynnwood, at __ (some place I'd never heard of before)."

"So, you didn't call Bow-Wow after all."

"Uh, no. These guys had one."

Okay, fine. Whatever. I pay the bill - $650! - take the receipt and key, and hop in.


The other mechanic comes out to see what all the noise is about.


"Oh, yeah. We never could get it to run."

Now, please keep in mind, the MAIN reason I had brought the car in was because it kept dying when I took my foot off the gas. So, basically what this guy has just imparted to me is that, despite having the vehicle in the shop for seven days, and having just spent over $600 of my hard-earned credit, they still had no clue as to what the original problem was, and furthermore, hadn't done a thing in the way of solving it.

At that point, all I wanted to do is get the Hell away from there.

Finally, after about five minutes of nearly constant cranking-over, I managed to get out of the driveway, and limp up the hill to within about 12 blocks of home before the battery gave out ("Oh, we had to start it quite a few times, so the battery is going to need to be charged up!" the mechanic had mentioned, right before I managed to escape their clutches - pun intended. Evidentally, it never occured to them to hook it up to one of their shop chargers in the meantime). I just barely got it into a parking stall right across the street from a garage specializing in European cars, and one which a friend and fellow VW owner had recommended to me in the past. I dropped the ignition key, along with a note and copy of the previous garage's invoice into the mail slot, crossed my fingers, and got on yet another bus for home.

Got a call from the garage this morning. "We're just pulling it into the shop now," said the owner, "from your description, and from what I can see, your battery negative cable is from the Pleistocene era, and that's most likely what's been causing the problems."

"Okay, and how much would it cost to replace that?" I replied.

"Not much, we should have it ready to go in an hour or two."


He went on, "What I can't figure out is why they didn't replace that before replacing your starter. That would have been the most obvious thing to check first."


He went on, "And why in the world did you take it to those guys in the first place?"

"Good question," I answered, "but, believe me, it won't go back there again."

So, the "unsolveable problem" that took a full week and more than $600 for the morons at Elliott Automotive (yes, I'll name them now) to misdiagnose turns out to be something that by rights should have cost maybe $50 in parts and perhaps a couple of hours of shop time - at the most - to correct.

I'm of a mind to stop payment on the credit card charge, and write nasty letters to the Better Business Bureau, State Attorneys General, and anyone else I can think of, warning them about Elliot's unparalleled level of incompetency.

Consider yourselves warned.

Posted byCOMTE on 10:12 AM

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