The inspection sticker on our 1995 Toyota Camry expired October 1, and since we live near the cities of Bellaire, West U and South Side Place and their vigilant police forces, we don’t mess around about getting a replacement.
So today my wife Jacqueline Lomax and our almost-three-year-old daughter Harriet set out to get it done. Their first stop was Kirby Shell and Auto Repair (2540 W. Holcombe).
Jacqueline explained that she needed a sticker. “Ten minutes later the man returns and tells me there's a problem,” Jacqueline wrote me in an email. The Shell guy told her there was a hole in our muffler. When asked if he could fix the problem, the man vanished for 15 minutes. When found chatting to another mechanic, the guy explained that he couldn’t do it there because the job required a blowtorch.
The mechanic went on to explain that he could continue with the inspection, failing the car because of the muffler, and then Jacqueline could get the muffler fixed, at which point the mechanic would re-do the inspection for free.
Jacqueline decided to skip that step and just go ahead and get the muffler fixed somewhere. The Shell mechanic helpfully suggested that she take the Camry to the good folks at Midas (2407 Holcombe), just across the street. The mechanic assured Jacqueline that it was an easy fix that shouldn’t cost more than $150.
“I'm a little frustrated at this point, but the car has to pass inspection right?” Jacqueline wrote me. She pops across the street to Midas, where she told a mechanic about the faulty muffler and the failed inspection. The Midas guy listened sympathetically and had her fill out a form and take Harriet to a waiting room.
“I watch the Midas folk raise the car and look under it,” she wrote. “They consult each other for a while and then return to the office. ‘There's a problem,’ one of them says. Uh-oh. They take me outside, where I am led under the car with Harriet.”
The mechanics tell her the problem is a bit more serious than a mere messed-up muffler. They say that it’s really the catalytic converter. That sounded suitably serious to my wife, who knows even less about cars than me. And the only way to fix the problem, the Midas guys said, was to “replace the whole shaft.”
“What does this mean? I have absolutely no idea,” Jacqueline wrote. “But the mechanic is keen to explain everything to me in mind-bogglingly minute detail. He points some kind of gun at various points underneath the car and numbers appear on the gun.”
These numbers, the mechanic assured my wife, were not good. "I'm a little confused" Jacqueline told him, "my car went for a full tune-up recently and my mechanic mentioned none of these problems." The Midas guy looked at her blankly for a half-second before charging ahead.
"Don’t worry we can get this fixed for you,” he said “Let’s get you some numbers."
Harriet and Jacqueline were ushered back into the Midas office, where they waited some more. A large man behind the counter told Jacqueline that she was in luck – she could have the parts at a discount! With parts and labor the total price should be right around $465.00, he told her.
At that point, Jacqueline called me, where I cussed a blue streak and told her to get the hell out of there. Jacqueline told the Midas people she couldn’t commit but would try to come back tomorrow. “Why am I feeling guilty about this?” she wrote me.
By this point, Jacqueline was close to tears, and our daughter, oblivious, was singing at the top of her little voice. Which is not so little, especially in the close confines of a Camry.
“I'm stressed,” Jacqueline wrote, “but I decide to try and get the car inspected one last time.”
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She took the car to our old stand-by, the StickerStop at 3603 South Shepherd. Where she waited, and waited some more. “After about 30 minutes I notice that my car is still waiting in the parking lot and the Paris Hilton look-a-like who drove up in a new Mercedes after me has already had her car inspected,” she wrote me. “Oh Lord! Will this day never end? I point this out to the young man behind the desk. He apologizes and they finally roll my car around the service bay. I'm nervous. I know the car is going to fail, and it's close to noon and it's taken me two and half hours to get my car inspected.
“Finally the mechanic returns, and lo and behold a miracle - my car has passed inspection! I hand over the $39.75 and Harriet and I are finally on our way home.”
So Midas, take this from me, my wife and my daughter -- I don’t know how you people sleep. You ruined my wife and daughter’s morning and you tried to wreck our entire month’s finances with your bogus diagnosis. So take that alleged faulty shaft and jam it straight up your catalytic converters.
And thank you, StickerStop, for being honest, if not entirely prompt. – John Nova Lomax