You Poor, Stupid Woman: Conversations with auto service people

By Diana Calaway

Phone request:  I need an appointment for an inspection, oil change, tire rotation—and to get a noise fixed.

Reply:  What kind of noise?

Me:  I don’t know.  A noise that makes me not able to hear the radio any more.

The guy:  Is it in the front or the back of the car?

Me:  Well….  I’m always in the driver’s seat.  From there it sounds everywhere.  

Guy:  Is it a whistle?  A whine?  A bump?  A rattle?  

Me (scratching my head):  More like a roar.  It gets louder as I speed up.

Guy:  Sounds like a wheel bearing.  

P. S. It was.  Didn’t we do a sharp diagnosis?  After several hundred dollars worth of repairs, he tells me the problem could have become dangerous if we had let it continue.

I am reminded of an earlier experience.  As my husband became limited by illness, I began to take over driving for us.  We traveled often, and during one trip to the beach we found that the control on the passenger side did not work to raise or lower that window.  I had to do it for him from the driver’s seat.  When in the shop next time, I pointed out this problem to the guy who sits out front and performs triage on incoming vehicles.  He simply reached inside my window, toggled a button that had invisible print explaining its purpose, and corrected the problem.  Magic!

Feeling helplessly my ignorance of car anatomy, I enjoy remembering once, years ago, when I—a poor, illiterate in mechanic-speak–scored A+ on that test that car service experts like to administer to women.

When I bought the car, there was a leak.  After two unsuccessful attempts to fix it, the guy, before taking it again to the body shop, asked me,  “Exactly where, Ma’am, does it leak?” 

My quick and mechanically specific answer:  “Sir, it leaks into the driver’s left shoe.”  

That time they fixed it.