Some used-car ads include the notation that the seller has all the repair records for the car, with all maintenance — scheduled or...
Some used-car ads include the notation that the seller has all the repair records for the car, with all maintenance — scheduled or otherwise — having been done by the same garage.
That’s certainly helpful, but it strikes me as, for lack of a better term, tailpipe retentive.
Compiling repair data on the cars I’ve owned would be like genealogical research, digging up receipts from mechanics covering five cities in three states.
My wife and I might not drive cars until the wheels fall off, but before we’re done with them, those wheels have developed a distinct wobble: a 1974 Ford Maverick for 13 years, an ’81 Volkswagen Jetta for 11 years and an ’86 Toyota wagon for 18 years — and counting.
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These cars have been kept in running order by an eclectic group of mechanics.
Once the warranties expired, we shunned dealership service departments in favor of small shops, some of them one-man operations, where the service is more personal, the repair options are more creative and there’s more likely to be a dog wandering among the service bays.
There was Willie Bob of Lubbock, Texas, whose gnarled, multiconsonant last name I can still spell. He reminded me of Goober from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Sensing my hesitation at testing a just-repaired auto, Willie Bob once exhorted me to “Just drive the thing!” This could be interpreted as an approach to life: When in doubt, floor it.
That’s normally about as philosophical as a mechanic gets. But a man named Hans on Long Island, N.Y., took a more reflective, cerebral approach. “Does the car owe you anything?” Hans once asked as I deliberated on a pricey repair. My answer: Yes — until I wring every last mile out of its rusting carcass.
Jim operated a one-man shop in Dallas that, decades earlier, had been a two-pump gas station — the kind of place Bonnie and Clyde might have robbed. He was — and still is — a simple, hard-working man. Who could talk your ear off. And then start on your other ear.
These days, the Toyota is entrusted to Jeff, a co-worker who fixes cars as a sideline.
While doing major excavation to fix a chronic oil leak, he came across a wiring problem.
In describing what might happen if that problem wasn’t fixed, he used two words I’ve never heard from a mechanic: engine fire. Such words get my attention. Forget “Does the car owe you anything?” The bigger question at this point is: “Can you picture your car as a charcoal briquette?”
Driving a car for years makes one attuned to its peculiarities. But it helps to have a mechanic who knows how to coax more miles out of your faithful rattletrap.
And while he — or even she — discerns how you treat your car, pay attention to how you treat your mechanic.
Otherwise, you’ll never be able to absorb the pearls of wisdom of such shade-tree philosophers as Willie Bob Gschwend:
Just drive the thing.
John C. Davenport: email@example.com