Dealing with auto repairs is always a hassle.

Big O Tires – West Los Angeles

Lexus RX330I traded my trusty rusty 2006 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 for a 2004 Lexus RX330 when we had the boy. (I got a really, really good deal on the Lexus at Jim Falk Lexus of Beverly Hills.) A few weeks ago we topped 90,000 miles on it and I knew it was time for a new timing belt.

Getting a new timing belt — or really doing any sort of routine maintenance on a car — is always so annoying. You pay through the nose and when you’re done, your car is hopefully exactly the same.

I was dreading replacing the timing belt because I know it’s a big-ticket item. Sure enough, I called a half-dozen different places and everyone quoted me right around a grand for it. Apparently you’re muy loco if you don’t replace the water pump and a few other hoses and belts and stuff at the same time, since it’s some huge pain to disassemble that area of the car. Look, I’m not a car guy. I never have been. I don’t want to know anything about my car. I pay too much for it to also be required to care about its internal organs.

Big O TiresSo I decided to get the timing belt service done at the Big O Tires near my house. I’ve gotten several other things done there and the prices seem fair and the employees are nice and it’s relatively close if I have to walk. I called two weeks ago and confirmed the price and that it would take a whole day. I called on Friday and asked if they could do it on Saturday and they said they could.

Yesterday at eight o’clock in the morning I drove to the Big O on Gateway Boulevard and Jose at the front desk told me it would be done by the early afternoon. I told him that I had a customer loyalty discount card good for 10% off any repairs and he said that they would deduct that from the bill when I came to get the car after it was finished. (Then I ran home through a slight foggy drizzle of rain; I looped all the way around the block up Santa Monica and down Beverly Glen.)

Sometime after the Gators beat the crap out of South Carolina I got a phone call from Jose, who told me that there were two A/C belts that needed to be replaced, too. He said they wouldn’t charge me for the labor since they already had that part of the car in pieces, but the belts cost $35 and $45. Of course I told him to go ahead and do that, even though I knew that the additional charge would effectively negate the 10% discount. C’est la vie.

I watched most of three or four other college football games while trapped in the house. Without a car seat I couldn’t drive anywhere with a toddler, but he loves watching sports with daddy, so I wasn’t too upset.

Jose called me at four o’clock in the afternoon to tell me the car was ready to go. He said that it would have been done sooner but they wanted to let it sit and run for a while to make sure everything was okay with it, that it wasn’t overheating and that everything had been reassembled properly. By then, though, my wife and I decided that we weren’t going to be leaving the house for the rest of the night and could just go grab it the next morning.

So I drove to Big O this morning at nine o’clock so I could get the Lexus and drive home to get my wife and son and then return immediately to get the other car. It ended up costing $1,004.32 with a $100 discount. (I have no idea why the discount was $100.00 instead of 10%, but didn’t feel like arguing.) When I got in the Lexus to drive home, I pulled out my phone to call my wife and let her know I’d be right there. While the phone was ringing I happened to look at the dashboard and I noticed that the “Check Engine” and two other warning lights were illuminated. So I hung up before she could answer and walked back into the office to let them know.

The older, Persian guy that seemed to be the manager on duty — the same guy who’d just charged my credit card — said that the lights were probably only showing because the mechanic forgot to reset them during the repair. He got some portable digital code reader thingamajig and plugged it into the car underneath the steering wheel. I sat in the passenger seat and watched what he was doing, which seemed to be mostly just staring at the display as if he couldn’t read English. After about five minutes of making confused-sounding grunts and mumbles, he asked me to close my door and he backed out of the parking spot and we drove around the block.

He asked me how far I’d gone before the lights came on and I explained that I hadn’t even put the car in Drive, that I’d only turned the car on and hadn’t driven at all. He said that either the code wasn’t reset by the mechanic or the sensor had come loose during the repair. We pulled back into the Big O parking lot and he fiddled with the portable computer and all the lights went off. He said that the lights should “probably” stay off now and that if they came back on to return and they’d take a look at it. I thanked him and left the lot.

I drove just about a half mile and was about to make a left onto Sepulveda when I saw that all the same lights had come back on. So I made a U-turn and went back into the Big O office.

The old guy told me that they’d need to disassemble the whole thing to determine what was wrong, and that it would take “a few hours, at least,” and they’d call me as soon as it was finished.

I was very, very upset because we’d planned on making a drive into the Valley this afternoon, and because it would mean another day of being trapped in the house, and also, obviously, because I had just spent $1,000 to get the damn thing fixed.

I didn’t have much choice in the matter, so I got in my other car to leave. But that car wouldn’t start. I wasn’t paying attention when I woke up and didn’t realize it was out of gas and running on fumes. So now I was really angry, since I haven’t had a car run out of gas on me since I was sixteen and driving a 1976 Ford Mercury Monarch with a broken fuel gauge. It also meant I had to go back and ask this guy — that I’d just finished yelling at — if I could borrow a gas can so I could walk to a gas station.

He wouldn’t have any of that and gave one of his mechanics the keys to his car to drive me to the nearest gas station with one of those red plastic jugs. (Gas at the 76 on Pico around the corner was $5.29/gallon for the cheap stuff, by the way.) We drove back and I poured the gas into the car — a fun task which involved holding the inlet valve open with a foot-long screwdriver — and thanked them and left.

On the way home I stopped at the Sepulveda West Car Wash because (a) they also sell gas for “only” $4.79/gal and (b) I paid them $55.00 a few weeks ago for unlimited car washes for a month, and the car was pretty filthy.

At about one-thirty this afternoon I got a call from Big O. It was the old Persian guy and he was calling to tell me that because “we” had driven the car with the sensor not properly seated, it was broken and would need to be replaced. He ordered the part online, but since it’s Sunday there’s no way for them to get the replacement part until tomorrow. He apologized and told me that he wouldn’t charge me for the repair.

At that point I flipped out. I told him that not only would I not pay for the repair, but that I wanted some part of my $1,000 back, and that I was pissed, and that it sucked because now on top of everything else — including being trapped at home all weekend — I was going to have to stay home from work tomorrow to get the car. He was very fatalistic about the whole thing, with a lot of, “These things happen,” and, “Such is life,” sort of comments, which absolutely was not the right tactic to use with me at the moment. He seemed to truly not understand why I was so upset, and was annoyed with me for not being grateful that he wasn’t going to charge me to fix the broken sensor.

It’s very frustrating because I’ve been there multiple times over the years for all sorts of different repairs and I’ve never been disappointed.

But I will not be going there again.

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