For many of us who own a vehicle, we are happy when it manages to get us from one place to another in good time and in good working order. Seldom do we think about what is going on inside the engine to turn the wheels beneath us. We just turn the key and push the brake and gas pedals, focusing instead on not hitting anything. This is as it should be. There are too many dangerous things on the roads to think about without worrying about whether the engine is firing in the correct order. Still, as soon as the car breaks down we can think about little else.
When something fails, a great majority of us curse the car and wonder how many numbers are going to be erased from our bank account before we can get our wheels back. We drive or tow the vehicle into the shop and rely on the expertise of the mechanic to tell us what’s wrong and what it will cost to make the problem go away. Often we leave the car and await the dreaded phone call that will let us know that the fluxback undulator arm has been severed from the dilipitated flex control box, causing the car to jibberate. The fix will be one thousand dollars if we want the cheap option or fifteen hundred for the more lasting fix with the optional fribbit. We sigh and pay anyway.
Some brave souls (or those who are financially strapped) defray the cost of the all-knowing mechanic by trying to fix the problem themselves. They purchase the manual, read it, get completely lost, look it up on YouTube, and then head to the auto parts store or the local junkyard to track down the part that they think might be broken. Most times this is only a guess since a car is only slightly less complex than a woman’s psyche, and thus a first guess is likely to be wrong – or at least not the complete solution.
It doesn’t matter what you need when you walk into a parts store, you will always be missing a vital piece of information that will inevitably make you feel stupid. You need to replace the oxygen sensor in your vehicle. When you arrive at the counter you find there are actually three sensors and they are all different. Oops. Research failure. Sometimes you don’t even make it that far; you get stumped when trying to explain what vehicle you have.
Yes, you know the make and model and year, but what about the engine size? Okay, you’ve got the engine size down now, but is it standard, standard AWD, the XL model, the 4WD model, what? Every time you go in they will ask you some new piece of information about your vehicle that you don’t have.
Those of us who are more budget conscious, perhaps because we have been to the auto store and had to go sell five pints of blood to purchase the right cable, look first for a used part. Whether you are in Fresno or Naperville, auto parts from a wrecker can save you a bundle. But even in these places it sometimes takes three hours to find the right vehicle, and when you do, the one part you need has already been filched.
You are not alone. Finding and fixing your car’s problems without the help of a mechanic’s education if most often complex, but tight economic times often call for such endeavors. Think of it as a chance to learn a new skill, and decide right now that you’ll be grateful for the opportunity. Still, I feel your pain.