Pulling the plug on an old car

We’ve all had those cars in our shop that would be better off
resting at the nearest salvage yard.  You know the ones with
countless problems, none of which are cheap to repair. But, it’s
an old regular customer who can’t afford much more than a
Band-aide on the old ditch dodger, and you feel more family
than mechanic, so you do your best to keep the old thing running.

But, there comes a time when no matter how much bailing
wire or duct tape you’ve got, ya just can’t hold the old car
together anymore.  That’s when you’ve got to break the news
to them.  Most of the time, they understand. Sometimes it
only makes sense when you bring the shovel and shotgun along
when you explain their car’s demise.

The latest was a well-worn ‘85 van that has seen more
than its fair share of soccer games and trips to the relatives. 
I don’t think the salvage value for the old car was much more
than what it could bring on the weight scale.  It had more than
a few problems, and yes it would take a spell now and then and
not start, but it always seemed to keep from completely
falling apart.

It didn’t actually leak oil; it sort of oozed it out here and there.  The coolant more or less stayed put, but ya did have to keep your eye on it.  The brakes, well, they were OK, and the master cylinder was getting a bit soft and due for replacement.  The fuel pump whined awfully loud, but the pressure held up.  The starter was caked in layers of grease and grime, and I was certain it wasn’t going to last much longer.  The driver’s door sagged and creaked as you opened it.  The passenger door, well, that one took a mighty yank to get it to unlatch.  Then, it would make a loud popping sound as the door edge grazed by the mangled front fender.  I think the lights worked fine, and it didn’t have any service lights on, but all in all… it was a mess. 

Of course, all of it could be fixed, but as the miles and age kept adding up little by little more things were going wrong.  Now, it’s the motor mounts that have detreated, leaving the engine flopping around like a fish out of water.  The air conditioner lines have been compromised, the power steering hoses are leaking, and the electrical connections are all getting pulled apart. And, now… the exhaust manifolds are leaking. I think it’s time, time to give this poor old car its last rites. 

I headed up to the waiting room to console my old friend about his decrepit car.  We’ve worked together for many years on this old heap.  The intention was always just to make it last one more month.  Those months were years ago.  I sat down to give him the news.

“Well, partner, I think we’ve got enough assorted problems with the old ride that it’s time to either put some money into it or pull the plug.  Or, dig a hole out back and place a shot behind the left headlight,” I told him.
He laughed and said, “I’ve been waiting for you to tell me that for years.”

And here I thought all this time I was saving this guy’s car from the crusher because he didn’t want to buy a new car.  When in fact, he did like his old car but, he liked coming to the shop even more.  His biggest thrill for the afternoon was watching and listening to all the antics going on at the repair shop.  Seems I’ve been this old guy’s entertainment for quite some time.  I never knew going to the repair shop was like a vaudeville act for this guy.  Apparently so. 

No wonder he would sit for a few hours after his car was repaired.  I thought he was just using the lobby as a temporary office, which I didn’t mind at all.  He wasn’t one of those who was constantly interrupting the flow of the day with a question or two, but he always had a “Hello, how are ya” if you walked by. I guess listening in on the antics of the techs talking technical stuff, writing up tickets, taking phone calls, and all must be some kind of entertainment for somebody out there, and the somebody, was this guy.

It was his way of getting out of the house and mingling with the world.  I’m sure he probably kept a running conversation with his favorite checkout lady at the grocery store, too.  I’ll bet he even enjoyed having solicitors call him, and I’ll bet they were the ones who had a hard time getting him off the phone… not the other way around.

As with most of these jobs, and fellas like this, they eventually have to buy a new car.  He doesn’t come around as often, except for an occasional oil change or new wiper blades. These days he doesn’t drive as much anyway.  So, even his frequent trips have become few and far between.  However, when he does come by there’s always a new story he wants to tell me about.  Once in a while he comes in asking for a complete coolant flush or something like that when we just did one a few months ago.  I suppose he’s getting either a bit forgetful in his old age, or he’s just looking for a way to hang around the shop a bit longer. 

So, even though it was time to pull the plug on the old car, the old guy still shows up from time to time.  Sometimes it’s for a sound he heard, or a vibration he felt, or one of those, “Just check it over for me” kind of afternoons. 

You know, I think I’ve figured it out, it’s not so much the car that needs attention, it’s the customer.   He just wants a bit of conversation and a little company.  And, as long as I’m able to keep the doors open, I’m not pulling the plug on the comradery between myself and my customers.  Cars only last so long, but friendships last forever.

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