Getting your car repaired can be a trying experience for a lot of people. It could be the cost, time without their car, lack of trust with mechanics in general, or their understanding about automobiles. It can put some people into an all-out panic attack. Then, throw into the mix the car in question is an elderly parent’s car that the son or daughter has taken on the responsibility of getting it repaired, or a parent’s own offspring’s ride to school or college. The sudden realization of sending one’s own child out into the vast world is bad enough, but put them behind the wheel? It’s just too much stress for some parents to deal with.
I can’t begin to count the number of times a parent, who’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown over their son or daughter’s ride has said to me, “I don’t want my kid driving that car if it’s going to break down.” Ah, news flash … all cars will at some point in time . . . break down, but don’t panic we’ve all had our turn on the back of a tow truck, and we’ve all got a story to tell about it.
When an elderly parent is involved, usually I’ll get the same old answer, “Well, dad shouldn’t be driving anyway.” But, when one of the kids is placed behind the wheel it’s a completely different story. Just the mere thought of a flat tire or using jumper cables, or worse yet the fuel pump goes on the fritz can leave some parents in a panic mode worthy of a Hollywood Oscar. Sometimes, it’s not the repair that matters as much as a little assurance from the mechanic that everything is going to be fine. For the mechanic, it puts him/her in a spot that no text book or technical seminar ever covered, and that’s how to be consoling and showing compassion for the situation to ease their tension and frustration.
Sometimes, even the best bedside manner isn’t enough, you’ve got to go over every issue one at a time. Especially if the car in question has enough miles on the odometer to have traveled to the moon and back. A lot of times the car is a hand me down from the family, but as soon as “Junior” or “Princess” gets behind the wheel things start going wrong. We all know it can’t be because of the age of the car, or how it’s driven… of course not. Junior does no wrong, and little missy is a perfect angel. The mechanic is entirely to blame why this old car can’t stay on the road without breaking down. Then again, ask any mechanic if they’ve heard this line before, “It’s been a good car, and it’s never broken down before. In fact, we’ve never had to have it serviced.”
There are other ways the mechanic gets involved in creating an atmosphere of trust outside of their tool box. Sometimes, the mechanic has to fix the parent more than they need to fix the car. One Friday afternoon, a call came in about a 20 year car that had a battery issue. After a brief explanation of the problem, the mom said she could have it at the shop right after the new tires were put on. The car showed up, but mom wasn’t driving. It was Grandma. She was assigned the duty of sitting at the tire shop waiting on the new tires, then drive it over to my shop to have the electrical problem checked out. Grandma had enough of auto repair shop lobbies, old magazines, and stale donuts and asked if there was any place to go shopping nearby while I checked the car out. I gave her a few ideas and places to go, and before long she got a ride and left me with the car.
The problem turned out to be nothing at all, just a loose clamp. However, a few other issues were pointed out during the follow-up phone call with mom. Mom had no idea about any other problems, which only made her concerns of sending her offspring to college in a car with any type of problem even more heightened, even though the problems were minor, such as a faulty wiper blade refill and an electric seat that didn’t move.
We had a rather long chat about the overall condition of the car, and after explaining to her that a ripped wiper blade refill and a power seat that didn’t’ work wasn’t much at all to worry about. The wiper blade was an easy fix, and since the seat was in a position that worked well for the youngster there wasn’t any need in digging into that problem. All and all mom’s panic attack had softened to nothing more than a concerned parent looking out for the wellbeing of their child. She was much more at ease sending the boy to college after our conversation. Grandma came back from her shopping trip and picked up the car later that same day.
Just before closing the phone rang, it’s the mother again. This time she was talking so fast I could hardly keep up with her. She was on her way with jumper cables to go rescue grandma who was stranded at the local grocery store. Knowing that I just had it in the shop and checked things out very carefully, I was quite surprised that a problem could even exist. By now, the mom is in full panic mode frantically telling me about the car. I said to her, “I can assure you, the battery couldn’t have gone dead that quickly. My guess is that it’s something else, like it’s not in park, or an overheated starter motor.”
“Well, I don’t know how that could happen,” said the frantic mom. “I’m sure the battery is dead, because this is exactly what happened last time.”
A few minutes later she called back when she got to the car. I could hear the ignition warning chime going off in the background as she was giving me the third degree over having the car in the shop and obviously not finding the problem. I abruptly interrupted her, “Ma’am, would you try to put it in park first then start it.” I could hear the gear selector sliding into park, and the engine starting. There was a moment of silence, then in a soft voice she said, “It wasn’t in park.” (In the background I could hear grandma apologizing the whole time.)
Needless to say, this frantic mom, calmed down almost immediately. She was impressed that I knew what the problem was even though I was nowhere near the car. (Lucky guess actually). She was even more impressed that a mechanic, yes a mechanic, didn’t just take her money and leave her high and dry, but helped make a bad situation a whole lot more tolerable.
Not everyone is cut out to be a mechanic, no more than everyone is cut out to be a brain surgeon. You’ve got to have the right kind of moxie to take on the challenges of this job. Fixing cars in one thing, but you need to master patience and understanding when it comes to dealing with the unaware, uniformed, and quite cautious general public. Sometimes, being a mechanic requires fixing things without a tool box.
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