From January 1st to mid-February I drove little, and when I did, I had one eye on the rear view mirror, watching for the cops. One night,coming home from work, I just made it into a Walgreen's parking lot before the squad car coming up behind me came close enough to see my license plate.
I was driving illegally. On expired tags. Not because I could not afford the registration, the Davidson County wheel tax, and the auto emissions testing fee, which all came to $100 , but because I could not afford another $400 to fix an oxygen sensor that made my truck fail at the inspection station.
The station was very clear on what sensor it was and where it was, and I give them credit.
But that was not the line fed me by Big Name Auto Car Care when I called to get an estimate. I have no doubt that the man who answered the phone was being recorded or video taped in some kind of corporate compliance surveillance scheme.
He had a script. And he stuck to it.
The emissions test was not reliable, he said. Any one of over 40 things could be wrong, and Big Name could only find out by running their $99.00 dollar diagnostic.
But I wanted an estimate, and for 5 minutes I wrangled him, trying to get a number. Every other sentence from him was "We won't know until we do our $99.99 diagnostic".
He grew tired of me though, and spit out" $250.00", not including the test.
I could not afford this without picking up extra shifts at my job. I drove to work scared, afraid to lose another hundred on a ticket for expired tags. And after the near miss near Walgreen's I went back to Big Name, desperate. I asked if I could pay off my bill in installments.
Oh, yes I could. If I applied for a Big Name credit card. The front desk smelled my desperation, and they were going in for the kill- Now I had to hear not only about their $99.99 diagnostic, but about their easy credit. They saw me as an gullible mark for a revolving balance of hundreds at 23%, and at 30% if I was one minute late with a payment.
One check with the credit bureau would have dampened their enthusiasm, for no one is going to give me a credit card, but I did not want to embarrass myself by telling them this.
I drove to the auto parts store. They tested the truck for free. The husband of a friend replaced the sensor for me for nothing. It took him 15 minutes, and the part cost $70.00. I had to drive around for a few days to complete a "drive cycle", but a week later I passed emissions testing.
During all this my sensible brother pointed out that the biggest victims in the Car Care Charade are older women who know nothing about cars. We are easily bilked. Easily scammed by oily voiced front desk men no better than hustlers.
Lucky for me I had friends.
Apropos of all this, I recently read that the desperate are now stealing current tags off other peoples' cars. I also read that Colorado may eliminate auto emissions testing since new cars run very clean.
And now Tennessee is thinking about not testing cars under three years old. After all, whose ego can take being seen in an old car? It is un- American, even if the average new car costs over $30,000 and has a monthly payment of $500. Or, one can lease. Which I suspect many of my neighbors at these apartments do.
That would account for the Mercedes, and the BMWs, and the Lexuses I see here. Not too many older women like me driving 13 year old trucks-
$1000 for the apartment, $500 for the lease- I have to assume my neighbors are eating Ramen noodles.