Automotive Ineptitude

I grew up in a place where the hood of a car was propped up on the weekends on a fairly regular basis.  The reason was two-fold: my folks drove a lot of less-than-awesome automobiles for a good stretch of time, and my dad also posessed the technical acumen to solve a lot of his own problems with cars.

I helped out, but I didn’t absorb much, and served more in the capacity of a tool holder/fetcher/light-pointer than anything else.  Suffice it to say, I moved out of Eagle River with the bare minimum of knowledge about cars.

I think that’s a fairly typical situation these days.  Not only have automobiles become more complex machines, with their computerized parts and compact designs, and proprietary elements, but the way that cars work has actually gotten lots and lots BETTER over the last 20-30 years.  An average guy doesn’t need to know as much about how the car works or how to fix it, because they simply don’t break down as much.

It’s a workable situation until you get to certain “required” maintenance where that average guy is just going to get bent over, to put it as mildly as possible.  One of the things that you get with a manual transmission auto is the “timing belt.”  It’s a part that most manufacturers will recommend replacing somewhere around 60-75,000 miles.  My Mazda just hit 87K.  I haven’t changed it yet.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it.  Particularly with my 80-mile daily commute, I actually spend a little bit of time dwelling on it every single day.  On one hand, I’m sure that it’s a good idea to have this job done, and on the other, I can’t help but think back to my days of Ford Festiva ownership.  I drove Willy, my 93 Festiva, for about 7+ years and over 100,000 miles.  I bought when its odometer was at about 52K.  My mom recommended at the time, “hey, get that timing belt replaced first thing.”  It seemed like a prudent move.  It was my first car that I actually bought, and I wanted to get going on the right foot.  I don’t remember what it cost, but for a little car like that in 1998, I’m pretty sure it was fairly reasonable.  That was all well and good, but I drove that car another 100K (twice as long as it went on the first timing belt), and never thought about replacing it again.  I drove it into the Rawhide sunset with that same belt that was installed at Lakeland Motors on that fateful June afternoon.

So when I get the coupons in the mail from the Mazda dealer, imploring me to get that timing belt replaced, warning me, “Don’t Wait Too Long!” and I see that the coupon is for $100 OFF this service (when I know the last time I did it, albeit 10 years ago, the total service wasn’t 100 bucks), I think of that second belt that went into the Festiva and I wonder, are they just trying to screw me?

I envy those of you who have a reputable mechanic that you feel you can trust.  I don’t have the vaguest idea of how to go about finding one, and in all likelihood, I will bumble through my years of auto ownership, getting boned on one deal or another, at predictable intervals, in accordance with my maintenance schedule.

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