Sunday, July 25, 2010


I’ve never been the kind of guy who can diagnosis automotive problems by looking at the engine or smelling the tailpipe. If the key turned and the car roared to life, I was fine. Otherwise, it was time to buy a new car.

Even in the old days when cars were basically mechanical beasts and young men loved nothing more than leaning under the hood for hours on end to tinker. Adjusting a belt, reconnecting a hose, monitoring fluid levels. None of it really makes sense to me. Sure, I can add a quart of oil when it sounds like the car is about to shake apart, but half of the oil runs down the outside of the intake and slops on the garage floor.

Better to just ignore the problem altogether.

When problems can’t be ignored and I am in no mood to deal with a car salesman, I will instead deal with the car mechanic. I’ve got a fellow I take the autos to, but it is a scary proposition because there is so much trust involved. I have to trust his skills and his equipment (and perhaps more importantly the grease monkeys he hires) and I have to trust the service will be top notch and properly priced.

Mind you, I have had no indication that I have ever been gypped at this particular establishment, but every time I go I enjoy a slight burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. That’s not the taco I had for lunch, either, it is the complete supplication I have for the automotive specialist. If he told me the ancillary cog on the secondary radiator needed replacing, I’d say, “Have at it!” even though that part doesn’t really exist.

If he told me it would take six days to get the part from the warehouse and three months to install it, I’d laugh and tell him how much I enjoy walking.

If he wrote the expected cost for the work and the number was too big to fit in the box marked “estimate,” I would shrug my shoulders and prove then and there how much I enjoy walking. Three months later I’d walk back to pick up my car.

When car repairs are required, I just have to go with the flow, since there is no chance I can take care of it myself. Being a control freak and being able to take care of most things in my life on my own, it is a feeling I don't particular enjoy.

I have the reverse problem with another kind of specialist. The medical professional, the general practitioner, the physician-slash-doctor, has knowledge of certain things that are far beyond my ken, but I have found them somewhat unhelpful in recent years.

I wanted a standard physical before I embarked on my marathon running and the doctor told me—before running any tests, mind you—that I would die and leave my children fatherless. I needed an ankle injury checked, and another doctor said it was sprained or broken. Evidence of either, proof of neither, or something like that. He sold me a pair of crutches and sent me on my way.

A third physician took one look at a part of my anatomy and recommended a lotion. I was looking for something more immediate as it was, well, rather painful, but all he could suggest I do was purchase a tube of such-and-such that I would find on the next aisle over from the dog food. I could have found the rash cream on my own, without the joy of the waiting room and the co-pay.

All three of these fellows did their job, I suppose, but provided nothing I couldn’t have done on my own. If my internal organs ever become external I’ll visit someone who graduated from medical school, but until then I think I will continue to self-diagnose.

The fine line of when the specialist is needed is ever changing. Sometimes we rely on so-called experts when a little common sense will do. Other times we try a little do-it-yourself and things go from bad to worse. I guess it pays to know your own strengths and weaknesses.

I have a pretty good handle on mine. I have never and will never attempt any sort of automotive repair. And my wife has a couple of medical dictionaries I can use to identify and resolve any ailment that might come my way.

I just hope the car is working when it comes time to rush me to the emergency room.

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