My dear old 1998 Honda Accord needed its registration tags renewed in July. I had been avoiding it, because before it can get registered, it needed to be smogged, and before it could be smogged, there was this pesky "check engine" light on the dash that needed to be put out of its misery. It's been shining at me for several months.... maybe six months.
Last time I had one of those dreaded lights (about two years ago), I needed to replace my catalytic converter. Obviously, I should have dealt with it sooner, but I just kept hoping it would go out on its own. Sometimes they do - more than one person suggested all I needed to do was tighten my gas cap. But, it didn't, so -- realizing that August was almost over and any likelyhood that a ticketwriting policeman would show a little lenience was getting slimmer and slimmer -- I dropped it off at my regular independent Honda repair shop.
I've been going to this place for more than 15 years. All five of my Hondas have received regular service from this shop, so I trust them, though I was shocked when they told me it would be $90 to diagnose the light. I barked at the guy "Are you nuts? All you have to do is plug in a diagnostic tool and read a code!" and he did his best to explain why it made sense to charge so much, saying something to the effect that just because the tool shows a specific code doesn't always mean that it's easy to fix. I left in a huff, frustrated because I knew it wasn't going to fix itself. If you have device such as a Car M.D. you can plug it in and get these error codes yourself and track them on your personal computer. Unfortunately, I am a Mac user, so this device isn't in my toolbox.
So the guy from the repair shop called me about 30 minutes later to tell me the oxygen sensor was bad, and the part was - oh, I forget now -- something like $200 dollars. I forget how much the sensor cost, because that was the GOOD NEWS. I also needed a new clutch -- after 144,235 miles, he said it was too far gone to risk driving any farther and possibly damaging the flywheel. I accepted defeat on that because I was aware it had been slipping and figured it was about time anyhow. (Can you see the $900 flying out of my wallet?)
Oh, and I needed a new axle because the CV boot was bad, which I had forgotten about the last time the mechanic had advised me of that repair in January, so yeah, that repair made sense, as well. Since they had to pull the axle to get to the clutch, they weren't going to charge me the labor twice. (There goes another couple hundies...)
AND, while they were in there getting their elbows dirty, he recommended they change some gaskets that were looking a little oozy. A pittance at another hundred or so smakerels.
Also, as long as it happened to be in the shop, I went ahead and had the scheduled intermediate service, oil change, tunemup thing. It had been six months since the last time it was in the shop and needed a new air filter. That turned out to be the cheapest repair of the day at $175.
KaChing! My little $90 estimate had escalated to $1800 in less than an hour.
Wait, I know, you think the story is getting long? Well, you ain't heard nothing yet.
At the end of the day, they called to tell me they had replaced the oxygen sensor, and the check engine light came back on again. Thinking they must have somehow received a defective part, they reordered it, and asked me to bring the car back in a few days so they could complete the repair. (What did the guy say about how a simple diagnostic code isn't always as simple as it seems?) Isn't there some pathetic irony in the fact that $1800 dollars later, I still couldn't take my car to get smogged and registered?
SOOOOOO, a week later, I dropped the car off again to complete the repair. Guess what? The second oxygen sensor was still flashing the check engine dashboard light, and the diagnostic code kept saying the sensor was faulty, they began to think it was my car's computer causing the problem. They yanked the computer and discovered a circuit so fried it looked like I was trying to cook bacon with it. It's the end of the day, and they can't get it put back together in time, so now I have to have to get a rental car so I can pick up my kidlet from school. Even with a courtesy discount, my overnight test-drive in Enterprise's Chevy Cobalt was $50.
The next day, I returned the rental car to Enterprise, and they courteously returned me to the repair shops. After this many visits to the autoshop it was getting to be a little bit too much like home there! Thankfully, by the end of day, they had located and installed a used computer ($300), and I was able to drive my car home with nary an inappropriate glow on the dashboard. It almost looked strange to see everything so dark!
Today, I took my car to be smog-checked, and it passed with flying colors. Throw in the $140 registration fee to renew online (including late fees, etc.) and I just spent $2300 repairing a 10-year-old Honda Accord with 144,400 miles on the odometer. I think that might be just about what the car is worth.
I am optimistically hoping that I just made a down-payment on another 50,000 miles in my Accord. On the bright side, it's still cheaper than monthly payments, increased insurance, and higher registration fees on a new car. At least, I'll just keep telling myself that.