Lube Job

Act like a person who cannot be trifled with. It also helps to appear moody and a little bit unstable. You may want to act as though you are going to blow up if you are not treated well.

-Burke Leon's

'Insider's Guide to Buying a Car'

I am usually a person who can be counted on to TRY to do the right thing (I rescue puppies; I always give up my seat to pregnant women and the elderly; I never take up handicapped spaces; and I've mastered many other superficial gestures as well ) But I have no defense for the fact that I drive what my friend Walt describes as "the most selfish vehicle on the planet."

It comes equipped with 230 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, with a payload capacity of nearly two tons. It'll stow 116.4 cubic feet and tows 8,000 pounds right outta the box. The center console is so massive it can only be traversed by a well-oiled Sherpa (included in the MSRP), and (according to my friend Faris) the only thing it's missing is a 12-year-old named Jimmy who'd live in the back, and mix everybody's drinks at the end of a hard day.

Fully loaded, it outweighs Delaware. Fully armed, it could take out a smallish third world country. Somebody stop me. Before I write a country song.

I am thoroughly prepared to concede that my passion goes far beyond normal and proceeds straight to the ranks of mortal sin.

When I bought it, I swore I would be buried in it (because I love it, and because I hated the process of buying it).

That said, with some degree of anguish, I made the decision a while back to sell it.

I finally succumbed to the relentless nagging of my tax attorney, who strongly advised in favor of the tax merits of a lease.

I don't pay him to traffic in emotional investments. So I gave in. I lovingly wrote the ad for it myself. And I began to desultorily shop around.

And that is, of course, right around the time it broke down (somehow sensing its impending day on the Auction Block).

This was bad. Because, for nearly a decade, I'd had the same mechanic. He and his family and staff took scrupulous care of my car and of me - nursing me through many a breakdown (of both the mechanical and nervous variety).

Things broke, they fixed them. The price was always fair; the repairs always lasted.

Oh I know, it sounds insane, and yet I swear it's true. (This is where I hum, "misty water-colored memmm'ries.")

Then when I bought an American-made vehicle, they divorced me.

It wasn't personal, they explained gently (as I took the news really hard). And sure, I can understand how they can provide the best service by specializing in one thing, and doing it to perfection.

(I'm telling you right now though, if my vet switches to a Poodles-Only practice, you might as well get out the Thorazine.)

So what am I to do now? Them's mean streets when you're a small blonde trapped on the side of the road in a crippled tank.

Now I find myself having a lot of antagonistic conversations that go like this:

"What's the problem?"

The same one I brought it in for two weeks ago.

"Which is what?" front of you on the computer printout.

"I show we put in a new battery."

...Yes, and the fact that I'm standing here would seem to indicate that - while I have an EXQUISITE NEW TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR BATTERY-this did NOT solve the problem.

I was getting snippy because I'd SAID, all along, the problem wasn't the battery. The engine started fine, and died in idle. You can't turn over an engine THIS BIG with a dead battery. Could've been the computer. Could've been the induction system regulating air and fuel. Could've been a bad EGR valve (my first thought). Bad solenoid? Maybe. What it was NOT, I insisted, was the battery. (They'd just looked at me like I was speaking Farsi.)

Then he got snippy back, as if I was accusing him of something.

"Well ma'am," he said in the tone we all normally reserve for recalcitrant 3-year-olds, "we wouldn't have put in a new battery if the old one wasn't bad."

"I didn't suggest you had," was my polite response. "What I'm suggesting is, either A. the problem was unrelated to a low battery [that was my best guess], or B. the low battery could've been a SYMPTOM."

By then, I was angry about so MANY things, I couldn't begin to convey them all.

First off, if my problem was a battery, this would've been the budget: a "juice" detector at K-Mart (approximately $3.98); diagnostics?($00.00 for anyone who can read); and finally, if necessary, a new battery (maybe $75 on sale), installed ($00.00).

Second, maybe my old mechanic DID spoil me, but I NEVER ONCE took my car there without them topping off all the fluids and checking every belt and hose.

So when I got in my truck - two hundred bucks lighter - only to find the "low washer fluid" light blinking at me, I was about one brain cell shy of an aneurysm.

Let's see. What does windshield wiper fluid cost? Last time I bought any...about 68 cents a gallon.

So, let's do the math. What IS the POTENTIAL value of a lifetime of prospective loyalty, devotion, goodwill, and future business (not to mention referred customers)? Apparently, something LESS than 68 cents.

Good to know.

The story has a semi-happy ending though. Foremost, I've found a master tech I think I can commit to.

Mainly, he drives a truck with the exact same engine my vehicle has. And I like a mechanic with a truck for the same reason I like a woman gynecologist - I want somebody who owns the equipment, not just someone with access.