Daniel B. Kline: Gentleman, start your enginePublished 8:19pm Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Next to the photo of the guy in oil-stained overalls wearing a shirt with his name on it, would be a picture of me trying to figure out where to put gas in my rental car.
My auto mechanic skills consist solely of being able to add windshield wiper fluid to one of our two cars (I haven’t exactly figured it out on my vehicle yet) and knowing how to change a fuse on my former 1982 Chevrolet Malibu Classic.
I got rid of that car in 1992 and, to be fair, in addition to changing its fuses, I also knew how to jam a pen in its air intake so it would start (often shooting flames into the air).
As someone who has no mechanical ability, even the most minor problem with my car scares me.
If I detect a weird rattle, notice a clunking noise or hear some unexplained static on the radio I assume total disaster.
In general, my response to any suspicious noises my car makes is to turn up the radio.
If I can drown out the problem with some music, perhaps it will resolve itself.
Of course, that solution generally leads to louder, even more suspicious noises and the inevitable trip to the mechanic.
Not knowing anything about cars leaves you entirely vulnerable to people who have the superpowers required to change oil, replace shocks and who know the difference between the transmission and the carburetor.
If a mechanic told me I needed a new flux capacitor, I could argue about that being a fictional part from Back to the Future, but ultimately, I’d have to pay the man to get a new one so I could get my car back.
It’s not that I don’t want to know about cars, it’s just that my brain tends to not be wired that way.
This week, I actually paid my very nice appliance repair man $80 to tell me that my dishwasher was not in fact broken; the plug had simply come loose.
He pretended the problem might have been a bad wire, but I saw him push the plug in, causing all the lights to go back on.
Prior to that, I did not even know my dishwasher had a plug despite the fact that it had been lurking under my sink for the last three years.
If a loose plug throws me for a loop then you might imagine my frustration when they key simply refused to come out of my ignition this weekend.
The key would turn the car off or on, but it would not move into that last position where the radio goes off and the key slides out.
I ignored my initial instinct, which was to pry the key out and instead turned to the owner’s manual which told me there was a manual release switch in the steering wheel column.
After 30 minutes or so of fumbling around looking for that, I found the switch and liberated my key.
Now, of course, I was left with solving the problem which, according to the Internet, could either be a $40 lock cylinder or a mechanical problem requiring me to replace every piece of the car save for the cup holders.
Fortunately, I have a friend who runs the repair department at a local used car dealer.
If I bring him my car, he can usually put his hand on the hood, whisper a few things and magically know what’s wrong.
He actually still has my car, but he’s pretty sure I won’t need the full transplant and will probably just have to replace some sort of switch.
Daniel B. Kline’s work appears in more than 100 papers weekly.
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