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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brake Fluid Check

A lady in her late seventies or early eighties drove in the shop at quarter before five yesterday afternoon. She honked, although I was on my way toward her car from the back. I excused her on account of the couple of decades she had on me.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“A neighbor of mine told me I should get my car fixed here. They were real happy with your work.”

All well and good so far, but then it got pretty funny.

“I went to the dealer instead, because I was having starting problems. They said they replaced the starter; but it says on the invoice they replaced the starter assembly. Why didn’t they replace the starter?”

“Uh…” I was groping for words; because in the space of a minute, I’d went from being the recommended shop to being aced out by the dealer, and then enlisted as the dealer complaint department. I felt like Johnny Five, the robot in ‘Short Circuit’: need more input. “Do… you have your invoice, Ma’am?”

“Here,” she shoved the invoice out her window with flare. “See, they replaced the assembly. What does that mean?”

I scanned the invoice quickly. “They did replace your starter. It says rebuilt starter right here in the parts section, Ma’am.”

I point to the part, and she clucks at me.

“Well then why does it say assembly?”

“It just means they’re not replacing one piece of the starter. They replaced the whole starter assembly.”

“They charged me a lot of money.”

I’m beginning to understand why. I’ve already lost fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. “I don’t know Ma’am, but they did replace your starter. Is the car starting okay now?”

“Yes, but ever since they did the work, my brake light flashes.”

I look at her dash, and the brake light was not flashing. She sees my confusion, and plays with the handle of her parking brake next to her.

“It flashes like my park brake’s on, but it’s not. I know it’s not on right now, but it flashes while I’m driving.”

Ahhhhhhh… input. This vehicle has a brake master cylinder with a fluid level sensor. When the fluid drops to the minimum level, the dash light will flash, warning the driver to check the level.

“I believe your brake fluid level may be down. Believe me though, the dealer replacing your starter has nothing to do with it.”

“But it never did it before they worked on it.”

“Possibly, but the fluid level may have dropped slightly since your work was done. What they did had no commonality with your brake fluid level sensor.”

“So… you’re saying it’s a coincidence?” She asks doubtfully.

Yesssssssssss!!!! My mind screams, but because I’ll be twenty years older one day, God willing, I answer with much quieter tone.

“Yes, Ma’am, and if you’ll let me pop your hood, I’ll check the brake fluid level.”

“Why didn’t they check it?” She asks while I open her door and pop the hood. “They charged me a lot of money.”

“It’s possible they did; but as I mentioned, your problem had to do with the starter, not the brakes.” I check the fluid level, and as I suspected, it’s down. I hurry to the back, get my brake fluid bottle, and fill the lady’s master cylinder to proper level. I close the hood, and the car is fixed in seconds. Conversation time costly; but blog material: priceless.

“There you are,” I tell her. “The light should stay off now.”

“I didn’t authorize you to put fluid in. How much is it?”

“It’s on the house, Ma’am,” I tell her, and then I lie. “It’s no big deal.”

“Oh… okay then,” she smiles, and starts her car.

I watch her leave my shop, and then it hit me. I just got served by a woman two decades my senior. It gives me hope for my later years. :)


Stephen Parrish said...

When I need brake fluid I'm coming to you.

BernardL said...

Bring your senior citizen card with you, Stephen. :)

raine said...

So I'm not getting freebies because I try to be sensible when I speak to repair guys?!

BernardL said...

Sure you do, Raine, and we appreciate it. I do my best work for people I can understand. They don't have to talk Tech, just be able to explain what they experience that is wrong with the vehicle. I could have spent an hour after closing going around in circles with my stop in, or give away a buck's worth of brake fluid. I went with the brake fluid. :)

Vesper said...

It's nice how you kept your cool and also turned this into an interesting story for the blog.

BernardL said...

You're right, Vesper, the blog material makes these incidents entertaining for me rather than annoying. I have to be careful sometimes not to prolong them just for the writing value. :)

Barbara Martin said...

"blog material: priceless."

I like these garage incidents, Bernard.

BernardL said...

It's funny, Barbara. I used to get two or three incidents a week worth blogging; but the last six months have been very mundane. I should be happy about it, but it cuts down on my non-fiction material. :) Thank you.

Miladysa said...


Me too :D

BernardL said...

If we get lucky, Miladysa, we get older and still plucky. :)

whydibuy said...

You were honest and I give you full points for that. Seems these days a person goes to a different shop about a different problem and the techs there use that to their advantage. They'll tell the person, yes, the other shop screwed up but we can fix it for a price. It deflects the suspicion to the other guy and gives the tech " cover " for the ripoff to come. 2) It is a common thing for people to utilize linear cause and effect to reach the wrong conclusions. Shop worked on car, brake light on. Conclusion, shop damaged it. Its some kind of hard wired thought process. They never seem to conclude that things break. As if cars would have a perpetual life if it wasn't for those sabotaging mechanics. Very frustrating part of the business.

BernardL said...

It is a frustrating part of the business, whydibuy. I'm not real big on accepting coincidence myself either, so I understand the customer's skepticism. Thanks for the perceptive comment.