My car is five years old. Unfortunately, this week it started acting like a five year old. Wednesday morning, I left the house to go to work, and the car wouldn’t start. Now, I know nothing about cars beyond the barest basics (i.e. where the gas station and oil change places are). I let my company stuff me in a cloth-covered box and type all day so that I can afford to outsource automotive knowledge to other people.
So, after doing a level 1 diagnostic (yes, there’s gas — no, the battery isn’t making that click-click-click noise it does when it’s too dead to start the car), I called Roadside Assistance. It’s always fun trying to explain what’s wrong with the car, since I know none of the terminology, and can only run a level 1 diagnostic, so I have to fall back on the skills I do have, i.e. sound effects. “When I turn the key, the engine goes, “vroom-flup” and then stops.” The purpose of this is to get them to quickly realize that I’m going to be of no help to them beyond reciting my address and phone number.
I have no shame whatsoever about this. I help people all the time with obvious investment questions (like why a giant tax refund is not “found money”) and technology questions (like why my DVR won’t save anything). This is called specialization, and is a direct consequence of the development of agriculture 6000 years ago. Since the only other direct consequence of agriculture I can think of is vegetables, I consider this fair compensation.
So Roadside Assistance sends a tow truck to my house. Apparently, they think my car is a full-sized Battlestar, because they send in a tow truck roughly the size of my entire neighborhood. For the sake of efficiency (remember, I have no shame here), I demonstrate the car’s vroom-flupping, just in case the driver can fix it by doing something obvious. No such luck. The driver mutters something about “fuel pump” (which I thought was the thing that I used to put fuel into the car), and decides we have to tow the car to the dealership. But since the tow truck is a flatbed train car, he has to move the truck, winch the car out of the parking space a bit, move the truck, turn the wheel of the car, unwinch the car a bit, turn the wheel back, rinse, and repeat. Effectively trying to parallel park my car on the truck.
Finally, we get the car on the truck and head off to the dealership, which has been alerted to our imminent arrival. When we get there, we find that there is even less room to unload the car than there was to load it. While the driver tries to figure out how to drop off the car, I head into the service department to again explain the vroom-flupping. After giving him all the pertinent information (and quite a bit of impertinent information), I head off to the waiting room to wait.
Two cups of coffee and a plastic-wrapped cinnamon roll later, the service concierge (the guy who took all the information, but doesn’t work on the cars) came out and asked me, “What did you say was the problem again?” I tried explaining the problem again without the vroom-flup (“The car wouldn’t start this morning.”) and he wanders off with sort of a puzzled look.
Half an hour later, he comes back, and we have this conversation:
Concierge: Sir, we’ve can’t find anything wrong. We checked the battery, the fuel pump, the skabadee, and the go thingy (I’m paraphrasing), and it starts every time we try it.
Me: Cool. It got better.
Concierge: Well, we don’t know what’s wrong, so we can’t tell you it won’t happen again.
Me: OK. If it does, I’ll be back.
Then he does the most amazing thing. He hands me a bill for $0.00. Apparently, in violation of 30 years of experience, staring at a functional car is free. Add to that the fact that Roadside Assistance provides free towing, and the whole morning cost me nothing. I went out to my car, started it on the first try, and headed off to work.
That was 4 days ago. My car now vrooms without flupping at all. As best I can determine, my car wanted to go for a ride on the giant trucky, and decided to hold its breath until I caved. And apparently the 3-mile drive to the dealership was satisfactory.
I have since explained to my car that this was very bad behavior. I did not mention that it was free, because I don’t want to incentivize this behavior. If you see my car, remember to mention how expensive it is to go vroom-flup in the morning. Your cooperation is appreciated.