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Adventures in Auto Repair

    I have to take the car to the shop. By the end of the day I'll be out 500. There will be something wrong with the car that only the people in the shop can perceive, using special computer diagnostics, X-ray scanners, laser beams, GPS tracking instruments and good old-fashioned eyeballing, and the cost of fixing the problem will be 500 dollars.

    It used to be that car repairs always cost 150 dollars, but the auto repair industry gradually realized that no one has any idea how cars work anymore, that they're a black box, as inscrutable as neutron stars. The mechanic will say something like, "The plasma valves are completely shot," or "The carbon re-uptake inhibitor isn't drawing any juice," and you have no choice but to nod your head and hand over the credit card. The mechanic then scribbles a lot of random numbers on an invoice and somehow it always totals up to just about 500 bucks on the nose. The concept of "market forces" presupposes some level of knowledge among consumers of goods and services; when the consumer is ignorant, suppliers of goods and services can charge whatever they want. In elite schools of economics, such as Wharton, this is known as the Auto Mechanic Anomaly.

    The last time my car went to the shop, I had to spend close to 500 dollars to have the "oxygen sensors" and the "pollen filters" replaced. Apparently there was something wrong with the respiration of the car. It wasn't breathing correctly. Trust me when I report that in the old days, car engines didn't have pollen filters or oxygen sensors, or really anything at all other than sparkplugs, a radiator, and a carburetor.

   Now, just a week after the oxygen and pollen problem, the little dashboard warning light is on again, and I've been informed by the mechanic that there's a malfunction in the E.G.R. valve. This is the valve that controls 

   The one thing I know for certain about the E.G.R. valve is what it'll cost to have it fixed.

   [Click here to read Sunday's column on the end of the Gas Age.]

   [This just in: I've looked over my paperwork, and discovered that I did not, in fact, spend "close to 500 dollars" to have the oxygen sensors and pollen filters replaced. I spent $785.57. Here's the bill:

   Replace oxygen sensors: Parts 188.38 each, plus 150 labor. (Total 526.76)

   Replace air filter, fuel filter, pcv valve, and remove all necessary items to gain access and replace pollen filters: PCV valve 23.79, air filter 28.41, pollen filter 41.40, plus 112.50 labor (Total 206.10)

   "Env. Fee": $10.

    Sales Tax: $42.71

   GRAND TOTAL: $785.57 ]

By Joel Achenbach  |  October 4, 2005; 9:37 AM ET
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I just bought new tires. The tires were $400. The ancillary brake and front-end work was another $700. I knew something needed to be done. I just didn't know what. That was still $100 over my mental estimate.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 4, 2005 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Just walk or bike to work, Joel. It'll do you good! Let's see, the Starbucks office is how far from your home? The cost per gallon of a cappy or latte is far more expensive per gallon than gas, though.

Posted by: Loomis | October 4, 2005 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Just think, that walk or bike is bound to improve your own personal respiration! How smoggy is it in D.C.? Particulate matter. etc?

Posted by: Loomis | October 4, 2005 10:09 AM | Report abuse

My brother is a mechanic with his own garage, and this is all very real stuff. He explained to me his methodology for ripping customers off, and how eventually he rips them off for less and less (if they become regular customers) until he's just charging the actual price, and then they fell like they're getting a deal. I've seen him make money selling cars he nev er actually owned, people are so ignorant about their cars.

Needles to say, I live 400 miles away from him and therefore absolutely dread taking my car to the shop.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Off topic to the boodle: Who do you have to sleep with to be allowed a blog link in your signature? Is there a secret handshake or just some HTML/blogscript trick I'm not familar with? I don't want to spam the board, but I like people to be able to track me back. Thanks.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 4, 2005 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Why not turn in your brother for committing continuous felonies? Do you speak with him, LP?

Posted by: Bob | October 4, 2005 10:19 AM | Report abuse


Try hitting "post" without filling in the comments section (no name or comment). That'll lead you to a secret TypePad page that allows you to add your link to your signature.

See, those of us who make the most mistakes often learn the most stuff!

Posted by: TBG | October 4, 2005 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad that my car is old enough that I know what I'm talking about when I need to get it fixed. My father and I had some bonding experience replacing the engine about 2 years ago in his driveway. I need a new car but am afraid of the new gadgetry and computer systems. I bet I won't even be able to change my spark plugs but living in LA for two years has highlighted the necessities of air conditioning among other features.

Posted by: peanutgallerymember | October 4, 2005 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Used to be that anyone could repair their vehicle in the back yard. It can't be done now, because everything needs a computer to test it. I think this is like the any product which new and improves itself right out of common sense. If this is technological advancement, give me the old days of auto repair.

Posted by: dr | October 4, 2005 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Oooh! Car repairs - this is right up my alley. I've owned my VW Jetta (brand new) since 2002 and it's in the shop for various problems about every 6 months. I look at it as a way to test drive other cars since I've had a wide variety of rental cars over the years. One year I had a minivan for 6 weeks right before Christmas, which was convenient for holiday shopping! I know every VW dealership from Frederick to Rockville (and even one in Virginia) because my car has "visited" every one at least once. I know more about ignition coils than I ever did in my old car. I also know what the various lights mean on my instrument panel ("That flashing light is for the catalytic converter - now what's wrong?"). People ask me if I like my car and my answer is, "Sure. When it works".

At least it's all been covered under my warranty so I haven't had to pay for anything...yet.

Posted by: AJ | October 4, 2005 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Ha! Very funny, Bob. If I turned him in, who would let me know when I'm getting ripped off from the mechanics up here? It's all part of the circle of life, you see.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 10:31 AM | Report abuse

It's a tropical wave day here in Florida--combination of bodysurfing and wondering if the place will flood. Do I really want that H3 that'll happily nose its way through 2 feet of water, or does someone in Australia sell a snorkel for my Ford Focus? Its air conditioning compressor failed in June, precisely when Washingtonians were discovering that theirs had failed, too.

Posted by: Dave | October 4, 2005 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Things like this just provide me more reasons for wanting to move to Italy. They walk everywhere. And they have trains that go everywhere. I would love to live somewhere where cars are a rarity and walking is the norm. I love walking. And walking is free. You really only have to buy new shoes two or three times a year and that is still much cheaper than car maintenance. Plus Italy is a big art center so naturally it's my dream country.

And yellowjkt, your comment about "who do you have to sleep with" made me laugh. Do you have a blog?

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Hilarious, and sadly true.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2005 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Hee, I have discovered the "secret" Typepad page - very cool.

One word for you, Joel: leasing. I gave up on car ownership back in 2001. My 2001 Jetta was leased, and the warranty fully covered most of the weird crap that ended up happening to it over the 3 year period I had it (Jettas are crap, but that's another story). Most recent vehicle? Also leased, a BMW, which also comes with - get this - COMPLETELY FREE maintenance. As in, I don't pay for oil changes, nada. In fact, I've had it for over a year and have yet to have to take it in for the first oil change (between 12,000 and 15,000 miles). Of course, if you drive all over Christendom, then leasing isn't for you. Or if you want to actually own your car, or want to put after market things in it like my brother does to his "truck". But for me, I'll take maintenance free, thank you!

Posted by: pls | October 4, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Move to Western PA- it only costs $150, just like the old days. I would say that the maintenance on my 2001 Subaru, originally purchased in Trenton, NJ, is 60-70% cheaper in Western PA then it was in Jersey. PJT

Posted by: PJT | October 4, 2005 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, cars are harder and more expensive to fix today, but who ever expected their car in 1975 to run for at least 150,000 miles? Odometers didn't even go over 99,999.

These days if it doesn't go at least that far you feel like you've been ripped off.

Posted by: TBG | October 4, 2005 10:52 AM | Report abuse

My wife took her car in to get new plugs and she called me to say that she needed new brake rotors! I asked what the hell were they doing pulling off the wheels? Is that the route they take to get to the spark plugs? Its like once they have your car in their clutches, they go over it looking for stuff to do. I told her the rotors could wait.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Don't you know nothing in life is free? And even if anything was free car dealers and mechanics are the last people on earth to give you a free deal. Yes, you get free maintenance but believe me, it's already factored in to your lease payments. You send in these monthly payments at the end of every month and at the end of your lease term you're left with - nothing! Take it from me - leasing is never as economical as buying.

Posted by: omodudu | October 4, 2005 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I didn't think Italians had much in the line of air conditioning. I could be wrong though.

Posted by: peanutgallerymember | October 4, 2005 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Yes, but I'd rather have lower payments and a new car every 3 years than higher payments and a car with maintenance issues at the end of 5 years. Just replacing a transmission, for example, is $3000, or $250/mo. for a year. Not to mention brakes, brake pads, rotors, and anything else that can go wonky with an older car.

Posted by: pls | October 4, 2005 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Pls - chances are you would not be replacing the transmission for a new car within 3 years or even if you are it would be covered by warranty. Even if you want a new car every 3 years, you still make out better financially if you buy and trade it in every 3 years. Do you want me to run the numbers for you? I'm trying to restrain myself from boring the other members of the boodle by spouting numbers but I don't think I can hold back much longer

Posted by: omodudu | October 4, 2005 11:12 AM | Report abuse


Italians don't have much air conditioning? I may have to rethink this. I do like air conditioned comfort. But then again, you only live once and why not live in as many places as possible before settling down? Maybe I'll just live there for fall and winter sometime. I'm gonna have to ponder this.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I have 5 vehicles ranging from 1980 (which I bought brand new) to 2005 and if you pop the hood, you can see the progression. Things start disappearing. The carburetor, the spark plugs (there are there you just can't see them), the oil filter (once again it is in there somewhere). The engine in my 1980 Ford truck looks like a by God engine, the 2005 Mercedes, a black box.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 11:14 AM | Report abuse has done a great job of explaining the financial implications of lease vs. buying. Here's the link
Of course if the aim of the game is to drive a nicer car at a lower monthly cost, leasing is the way to go. But if you're talking about the most economical way to drive the same car - then leasing loses all the time

Posted by: omodudu | October 4, 2005 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Joel, didn't anyone ever tell you than an internal combustion engine is just an air-pump? Four stroke engines just Suck, Squish, Bang, and Blow. Doesn't take much anthropomorphizing to say they respirate.

What you're being quoted sounds legit, but a lot of what you're describing can be done easily with a moderate investment in hand tools and (most importantly) time.

To your point that cars are more or less completely controlled by computers these days (when was the last time you say a distributor, much less a carb?), you're right, but there are scanners and programs to download data to give you access to the data available for less than $200. It's nice when a car tells you where to start looking for a problem.

Your typical EGR valve (say, for a V6 Ford Taurus) costs about $45 retail (and well, $1.50 for the gasket); a wholesaler can get it for about $30. I'm not sure exactly where the EGR valve is on that car, but they tend to not be in difficult locations like 02 sensors. I'd call it about an hour's work with hand tools.

Replacing just about any air filter on a car (incl. pollen filters) takes less than 10 minutes and costs about $10 retail.

Everything else is just labor (think about that hourly rate, eh?).

The interesting thing to me here is how the auto industry and their related industry trade groups have bamboozled the entire western world into believing that automobiles are too difficult to work on, and that even the simplest regular maintenance is beyond most people's competence. Trust me, most of the mechanics in a typical garage aren't wearing Mensa rings because they're concerned about shop safety.

It's about investment - if you're willing to invest time to learn and to work, and money on tools (which will pay for themselves in a short time), it's really not that hard.

Tonight, I'm off to tear the rear suspension out of a 46-year old British sports car, with the intent of ameliorating it's inherent design shortcomings, or replacing it with one of a better design (and improved function).

This is what I do for fun.


Posted by: bc | October 4, 2005 11:19 AM | Report abuse

this EGR valve, that must be the thing to say with mechanics. After many, many trips to the repair shop because of the "EGR valve", i was out $1,800. each time i was told, it should be okay now, only to be back in the shop a week or so later with the same problem. after a year of this, i traded it in for a new car. after test driving my old car, the dealership told me i needed a new transmission.

Posted by: mary alice | October 4, 2005 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure Joel has got to be thinking: I'll bet I could get "bc" to fix my car for a hundred bucks! Or even fifty!

Posted by: off topic | October 4, 2005 11:31 AM | Report abuse


I aspire to know cars like you seem to. I took "Know Your Car" my senior year in high school, but I always skipped it. It did teach me how to weld and change oil and grease bearings, though. And I painted a car. And fixed a dent. But I don't remember anything about the inner workings.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

LB, that black box you're looking at is a plastic cover, held down by a couple of nuts.

Conspiracy theorists: why do car designers think people would rather see The Monolith from 2001: a Space Odyssey under their hood than the actual internal combustion engine or hybrid drive system that's in there? Could it be because they want to intimidate you right into their service department?


Posted by: bc | October 4, 2005 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I don't mind paying for stuff I know is broken. It's the endless list of unecessary recommendations they make. One time they told me my timing belt was frayed. My car nut coworker says they would need x-ray vision to determine that.

And thanks for the shout out Sara. I stole the "who do you have to sleep with" line and bowlderized it from a very funny episode of The Larry Sanders Show, although I'm sure the phrase predates that. My latest post is better candidates for SCOTUS than Harriet. And not the usual inside the beltway choices.

Gawker media is starting comments, but it's for invited registered users only. Like a cyber velvet rope for the cool kids.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 4, 2005 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Joel: We've talked about this before. You've really got to take control of this car maintenance situation. And, it's simple. You tell your driver, "Charles, take the car - oh, the black one this time - into the shop to have the whatchamahoogie replaced or recalibrated or whatever. When you come back, you can have lunch with the other help on the porch. We've having trout on roasted leeks, your favorite. Tah!"

That's it. Nothing to it. Now go, let's see you take charge. Make us proud.

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 11:37 AM | Report abuse

ot, Joel knows where to find me when he's ready to stop whining.

Sara, the fact that you know how to weld and grease bearings is a head start on 95% of the people in the world. I'll just go ahead and say it in my best Paris Hilton voice: That's HOT.


Posted by: bc | October 4, 2005 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm not taking that plastic cover off. I'm afraid something like a jack in the box will spring out and void my warranty.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm not taking that plastic cover off. I'm afarid something like a jack in the box will spring out and void my warranty.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 11:46 AM | Report abuse

bc - I hear you on the monlith thing. I have a 93 pontiac grand am, and it's all steel plates over everything so as to keep me from looking at or touching anything.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 11:46 AM | Report abuse

A vandal in the neighborhood broke my passenger-side rear view mirror one night last spring. I can't adjust it, and the mirror is a little floppy in its casing/rear-view-mirror-holderator. When I took my Honda in for scheduled maintenance in the spring, I inquired about the cost of fixing the mirror. The cost for mirror repair alone: $188.

My husband took a week's vacation at the time. I e-mailed a reporter friend with a ledger of our vacation expenses.

Car maintenance: $350
Dental work: $500
Veterinary bill: etc.

Needless to say, we stayed home, and in the evenings rented some videos. One day we played local tourist.

$188 for fixing a side-passenger mirror? I drive blind on one side of my vehicle. Heaven help me!

If I could CSI-find the neighborhood hoodlum who maliciously tinkered with my car, I think I'd strangle him or her with my bare hands!

Posted by: Loomis | October 4, 2005 11:51 AM | Report abuse

omodudu - it's your mission in life to convince me to buy, not lease, hmm? :-)

Posted by: pls | October 4, 2005 11:53 AM | Report abuse

bc as Paris Hilton . . . I'm trying to picture it and it's just not working. It may have something to do with the fact that you have substance.

LB, hahaha! Jack in the box. Imagine how startling that would be. And then how mad you'd be that you disturbed it and ruined your warranty. I agree with you, leave it alone.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 11:53 AM | Report abuse

your EGR valve is the engine gas return valve. the light is probably on, because there is a build up of carbon and it needs to be cleaned. If you would like to try it, you can buy a few bottles of fuel injector cleaner and the high octane gas and drive at highway speed for about 20 miles. of course with gas prices, that could also run about $500 dollars...

Posted by: cno | October 4, 2005 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Linda, my first car (or truck, actually--'88 Ford Ranger) also had a loose mirror. My step-dad tightened it using a Wal-Mart plastic bag. Ugly, but it worked. You could go designer and use a Bloomingdale's bag or something. So if the floppiness is bothering you . . .

I don't know what to do about the adjustment capabilities, though. bc?

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 11:57 AM | Report abuse

It would probably be holding a sign saying "Dummy what did you think that you would be able to work on under here?"

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I've twice replaced side view mirrors with junkyard parts, it's and it only takes ten minutes. A mechanic tried to charge me eighty bucks to have him do it so the car would pass inspection, I yelled, I felt a lot better afterwards for knowing that I didn't get ripped off for that, at least.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 12:00 PM | Report abuse

What is the purpose of those 2 symbols (one is a triangle, the other a rectangle with little dots on it) just above the 3 knobs that control the a/c and heat in my car. I just noticed them this morning on my 8 yr. old Nissan Sentra. The triangle seems to be "on" (or else I just never noticed it was red before). When I push it the blinker lights flash. Anyone know what this could be?

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 12:02 PM | Report abuse

the triangle is your emergency flashers

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 12:07 PM | Report abuse

In my Jetta the triangle is the button I push for the hazard lights. In Germany your car comes with an emergency car kit, including a triangle thingie you're supposed to put on the road (next to the flares) to let everyone know "Attention! My Jetta has broken down again." Maybe it's the same in the Nissan?

Posted by: AJ | October 4, 2005 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Thank you LB - but should the triangle be "red" - the rectangle isn't red.

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I have a BMW and it has a red triangle for the flashers. It is red plastic and although I have never pushed it I think a light would come on under it if I did. I don't know what your rectangle button would be.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 12:17 PM | Report abuse

it's the veeblefitzer that drives the kratzenjammer. ask LP's felonious brother.

Posted by: Bob | October 4, 2005 12:23 PM | Report abuse

When I'm lucky enough to need a part that can be replaced with just simple tools, I find it very satisfying to visit the junkyard.

1) way cheaper
2) an easy way to live the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle"
3) feel the testosterone rush of doing an Actual Car Repair yourself
4) fun to try and find where the dogs are chained up, or maybe run into one roaming around the place!

Posted by: mizerock | October 4, 2005 12:24 PM | Report abuse

That can't be right Nani's car is Japanese

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

pls - I wouldn't go so far as to say it's my mission in life. But it's just that people get ripped off signing leases every day - maybe it's the finance guru in me ;-)

Posted by: omodudu | October 4, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

no, it's the warmup activator for the orgasmic clutch intercooler

Posted by: fman | October 4, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I figure for any new car the shop manuals and an engine code reader are always good investments. Might be $150-$200 for the pair, and a few hundred more in tools, but it only takes a project or two to save all that back in the labor I'd have to spend anyway.

My dad is an amazing shadetree mechanic. After swapping out a transmission in their modern daily driver, he swore he'd never do it again- changing the transmission was fine, but all that electronics stuff he had to figure out was a royal pain. Of course, when the new transmission failed, he pulled it and put in the replacement himself.

If I didn't have to furtively break my HOA rules on vehicle repair, I'd probably do more of this stuff. I pine for a garage.

Junkyard parts are good things....

Posted by: Les | October 4, 2005 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Could the rectangle be the symbol for the rear window defroster?

Posted by: peanutgallerymember | October 4, 2005 12:30 PM | Report abuse

A sincere thanks for your attempt to help...and your humor!

A Bloomingdale's bag? Haha! When Hurricane Rita hit, San Antonio was opening up its newest and most upscale mall, not too far from us, called La Cantera. The big "in" mall prior to that was our Quarry. If you know Spanish, then you'll know that La Cantera means "quarry." So, now we've got QI and QII. But as Hurricane Rita hit, almost all 4,800 parking spaces at the new mega-mall were filled. Houston evacuated to San Antonio, and San Antonio evacuated to its newest entertainment complex.

The big four anchor department stores are Foley's, Dillards, Nordstroms (San Antonians say "Ooh-la-la), and Neiman Marcus (my husband's co-worker calls it "Needless Markup" and I suspect this joke has been around for some time). Rather than enclosed and laid out in an alley, or grid, or dumb-bell configuration, the mall overhead/plot plan is very organic, with each pedestrian walkway set up like the main trunks branching from a tree.

Since we're talking cars today on the blog, the 160 acres of the mall--the size of a typical multi-use neighborhood--is devoted to a single use: conspicuous consumption, and must depend on lengthy auto trips (for most Alamo City residents) for all but the tiniest fraction of sales. This according to our local culture writer Mike Greenberg.

Greenberg does a good job in an accompanying piece of writing pointing out that there is a huge difference between the private and public realms of urban design. He notes that at La Cantera no pets are allowed, people can't "hang out" after hours, and even a photograph of one's Aunt Emily from Duluth would be prohibited without explicit authorization from mall management.

My husband and I walked the entire complex a week ago Sunday. Where is the book store (any book store?), I wondered? As Greenberg pointed out, "The Shops [at La Cantera] has 10 jewelry stores--but no storefront churches, no tattoo parlors, no used book stores, no fruterias or taquerias or panderias, no pool halls, no hardware stores, no theater companies or artists' collectives or union halls."

"Real diversity is constrained by the single owner's leasing strategy and target market."

Again, thanks for the humor, Sara. Perhaps the garden-variety plastic bag will work?

Posted by: Linda Loomis | October 4, 2005 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Go to Autozone and buy an EGR valve and a Chilton's manual for your particular model year. Spend $100.00 of the $400.00 you just saved on a 100 piece mechanic's tool set from Sears. Spend the other $300.00 on a weekend getaway after replacing the bad EGR valve (about 15 minutes worth of work).

Posted by: Natedawg | October 4, 2005 12:33 PM | Report abuse

bc has inspired me to change my own oil at Ft. McNair's auto-hobby shop ($10 for a bay and all the tools you could ever want!) Of course, my VW can't be like every other engine in the world and uses an internal cartridge style filter that I think can only be bought at a VW dealership or over the internet, so some investigation may be in order.

Posted by: jw | October 4, 2005 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm with PJT. My generally reliable but clunker Dodge minivan's transmission recently gave up the ghost. It was the second one in the car, and it was a rebuild. The original tranny lasted about 120K miles; the rebulid lasted to 205K. When I took the van to the local dealer, their estimate was $2500. The guy in McKeesport, PA said he would do the same job again for the same price as 3 years ago--$950.00. I may retire up there.

Posted by: ebtnut | October 4, 2005 12:37 PM | Report abuse

As an owner of a repair shop for over 25 years,I am constantly hearing complaints about the price of repairs. My reply is to fix it yourself. We have invested thousands of dollars in test equipment and tools to do the job right.Forunately, we have a backlog of repair work that keeps 5 other individuals employed. So, save yourself some money and do it yourself. I am sure you complain about the price of the plumber, the electrician and others in the service sector. How many of these individuals make enough money to live in your neighborhood?

Posted by: scott | October 4, 2005 12:38 PM | Report abuse

No, Bob it's the FRED - (f***ing ridiculous electronic device)

It's the technical term. Or so I have been told.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Scott: Ever since I became a husband and father, I've found it much more time and cost-efficient to patronize my local auto repair person than to do it myself. Anyone can maintain or repair an automobile, or replace a roof, install a toilet, or add a sunroom. You just need time. Time to learn how to do it, plan how to do it, collect the tools and materials necessary to get the job done, and time to actually complete the job. I used to have that kind of time. I'm very happy that there are skilled professionals out there who have "invested thousands of dollars in test equipment and tools to do the job right."

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"I am sure you complain about the price of the plumber, the electrician and others in the service sector. How many of these individuals make enough money to live in your neighborhood"

Umm--I'd have to say my brother the electrician (specializing in Potomac houses) lives in a way better neighborhood than this GS-er can afford.

Posted by: Lmm825 | October 4, 2005 12:57 PM | Report abuse

My bro and sis-in-law had a 2001 Jetta that kept breaking down on them (I'm not sure how), so they finally traded it in and bought a new Saturn. My brother's original Saturn was a very reliable car.

Although I doubt Italy would get as hot and humid as the good old USA, it's amazing what your body can adjust to without AC. You just learn to shower more often, especially a cool one just before bed.

Posted by: TA | October 4, 2005 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Sara, here are 2 of the 10 film suggestions I have for you:

12 ANGRY MEN (1957): this was a low budget, not commercially successful film, just 17 days in the making. A diverse group of 12 jurors, all male, locked into a small jury room on a hot summer day, until they reach a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty in a capital murder case. The defendant is a poor hispanic teenager accused of killing his father. The film examines the prejudices, personalities, cultural differences that threaten to taint the jurors' decision making abilities. (starring Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshal, Lee J. Cobb, and many great character actors that most of the older boodlers would recognize).

THE HEIRESS (1949) directed by William Wyler. Olivia deHavilland is a wealthy plain, painfully shy spinster who lives with her domineering father whom she loves dearly and strives desperately to please. It is a great wonder to her when Montgomery Clift comes into her life and quickly falls deeply in love with her and proposes marriage. Her father does not believe any man could love her for any reason but her wealth. The heart of this drama is the question of whether Clift loves her or whether he has a mercenary agenda. Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins give magnificent performances.

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 1:00 PM | Report abuse

The critic, one just can't get away from him, say Joel.

Posted by: Cassandra | October 4, 2005 1:02 PM | Report abuse

wait a minute - cowtown's a man?


and yeah, my bro lives on long island in a very nice house. He would be ashamed to live in my neighborhood. Or my state, for that matter. But it is a hard living, that I do recognize. Even if he is kind ofa jerk.

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Nani. I've written them down. I'll keep this piece of paper on my desk to add to as suggestions come in. I appreciate the time you're taking to find me some quality films to watch, so thanks again.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 1:09 PM | Report abuse


You have an opportunity to live for a year in Italy? You're young, unmarried, and you're not just starting an executive employment situation, right? You should go. Your resume will look better, you'll gain valuable life experience, you'll have fun, learn, play, explore. Don't think twice about it. Once you begin a family or a "major career" (whatever that is, nowdays), your opportunity will be GONE. Do it. And send us photos.

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 1:09 PM | Report abuse


Sorry if I was less than clear. I don't have an opportunity staring me in the face, but I'm in the process of taking Italian for my major and I'm a fan of Italy. I like it there. Good food, less stressful, lots of walking, great architecture and very friendly people. So I'm planning on moving there for at least some small amount of time after I graduate. Next fall I'll be spending four months in London studying art and philosophy, though, so I do have travel opporunities coming up. I've never been to London, but my mother says she likes it even more than Italy. I'll send photos from both places.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2005 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I worry I will kill the boodle again, but here goes:

bc, I am in awe that you not only fix your car, but, from the description of what you plan to do to it tonight, willingly break it in a fit of creative destruction. We may need you to come to the Post and change the chassis on our newspaper.

Scott, thanks for joining the conversation, and we welcome your insights. I wasn't trying to pick on people who fix cars, but rather was pointing out my own ignorance about how cars work, and the price I pay for that ignorance. It turns out the EGR valve is covered under a Honda recall, so I might be able to get through today without spending 500 bucks. That said, I've looked over my paperwork, and discovered that I made an error in today's kit. I did not spend nearly 500 dollars to have the oxygen sensors and pollen filters replaced. I spent $785.57.

Here's the bill:

Replace oxygen sensors: Parts 188.38 each, plus 150 labor. (Total 526.76)

Replace air filter, fuel filter, pcv valve, and remove all necessary items to gain access and replace pollen filters: PCV valve 23.79, air filter 28.41, pollen filter 41.40, plus 112.50 labor (Total 206.10)

"Env. Fee": $10.

Sales Tax: $42.71

GRAND TOTAL: $785.57

Posted by: Achenbach | October 4, 2005 1:50 PM | Report abuse

jw, those oil filter cartridges are common to German cars, VWs, Audis, BMWs, etc.

Not a big deal, and generally a lot easier than the self-contained filters to do once you get used to it. I've been able to find mine at any reputable Big Auto Parts Haus (that's a German Joke). Make sure you get the right size socket for the oil filter case cap. Makes things much easier. Try Olympus Auto parts, they're not too far from where you work, jw.

LP, I'm with you on the junkyard parts, though it's getting tougher and tougher to find independent "pull your own" 'yards these days that aren't part of a conglomerate with non-negotiable pricing (sad times, eh, mizerock?). These days it's mostly folks who pull parts for you and charge you 65-85% of new parts.

ebnut, expect to have to replace that Mopar minivan's trans every 70-120K mi. Those differential cages just seem to split after being used for so long.

Linda, chances are that the little flexible cable that you use to adjust the mirror was stretched in the incident, and won't keep the necessary tension on the mirror mounts. Not too hard to fix, for someone with the right parts and tools.

On a related note, I buy the factory service manuals for every car I buy (not cheap: $100-$300, depending on the car). There's info and guidance in them that I haven't found in the Chilton's or other 3rd party manuals. Like torque specs for every single nut and bolt on the car...


Posted by: bc | October 4, 2005 1:52 PM | Report abuse

yeesh! i leave for one day and it takes me a day and a half to catch up! (i had jury duty yesterday - oh, so much fun! no, i wasn't picked to be on a jury)

as for italy - sorry sara, no ac... i went in december so it wasn't hot, but they also don't have the "clean up after your dog" rule so there is a LOT of poop on the streets in the major cities. and everyone smokes - EVERYONE! also, they don't seem to have clothes dryers - everyone hangs their laundry out to dry... as for london, i took a semester off of college my sophomore year and lived in London for 6 months... best experience! absolutely! are you going with anyone? i went alone and was quite lonely for the first week (and horribly homesick) but once i made some friends i had a blast! last i was there (1991) they had a thing about clothes dryers too (they had these combo washer turned dryer that never really dried anything and since london is a humid city - well, it was interesting drying your clothes!)

as for cars... i have to ask scott - HONESTLY scott, do you tend to overcharge women? are you honestly fair w/your prices? cuz if you are let me know where you are! i need a mechanic who isn't gonna rip me off cuz i'm a chick! i just got a new car last year (my first new new car ever) and i LOVE it! tho my last car (a '93 toyota paseo) was the best car ever! only needed routine maintenance - which is why i bought another toyota (2003 toyota celica gt). I highly recommend them!!

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 1:53 PM | Report abuse

London's great. You'll love it. And walking there is great, too. Check out for hints and advice from people who visit Europe often. It really helped me when I visited Paris not long ago.

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 1:53 PM | Report abuse

So if you spend around $200 today you should break even at about $1000 for the last two visits. All will still be right with the universe, though that particular "rightness" will suck.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 1:54 PM | Report abuse

bc - imho brandywine has a used auto parts that is still good - tho i haven't been there in several years...

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 1:59 PM | Report abuse

anyone could live in my neighborhood, I've got a crackhouse across the ally behind us. Heard a loud boom a year ago or so and my 14 year old daughter said it was probably a meth lab blowing up...she turned out to be right.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 2:02 PM | Report abuse


It'll be study abroad when I go to London, so I shouldn't be too lonely. There will be other students in my major there with me. And because my major is so small we all pretty much know each other already.

I'll be staying in a Victorian townhouse in Notting Hill. My college owns two adjoining houses there for study abroad students. And they have free laundry service. So it should be a pretty comfortable experience.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Don't bother ever replacing the oxygen sensor, all it has to do with is emission control. Just don't give a hoot and pollute.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Sara-I lived in Germany but I traveled to both London and Italy. I loved both countries but Italian food is much better than British food! I fell in love with Rome - all that history. I walked everywhere in London and traveled outside London to Stonehenge (before they put up the fence) and Bath. You will have a great time. Just don't forget that they speak English in Britain! I went to London from Germany and we were bad American kids who were used to talking about people on the bus. We started to do the same on a bus in London when a passenger reminded us that they spoke English! Embarassing.

Linda-I was amazed by the Quarry. It's kind of like our big box stores up here, but with much better looking storefronts. My aunt works at Chicos in the Quarry. It's beautiful for a "mall". I'll have to stop by the new "La Cantera" next time I'm in SA.

Posted by: AJ | October 4, 2005 2:08 PM | Report abuse

ebnut and bc: Three new 1991-1992 Chrystler products in my immediate family. Two of them are still in service, and I can count seven tranny replacements between them so far. Now I'm driving a Honda... no coincidence.

Posted by: Les | October 4, 2005 2:10 PM | Report abuse

and joel - i'm with you re: bc's "gearhead" traits - you guys are geniuses! i know a few other gearheads and i marvel at the abilities! and yes, i opened the hood to my new car and it looked like nothing i had ever seen before... i do know how to check my oil, water levels, change my tires and oil (not that i would ever do it, it's cheap enough to have someone else do it! oil that is - i think every woman should know how to change a tire!) but other than that...

sara - two other good old movies are sweet bird of youth (geraldine page is phenomen!) and suddenly last summer. i'm a big tennessee williams fan and i think suddenly last summer was liz taylor's best ever!

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I just got a second job! This warrants exclamation points! It's at my gym. I've wanted to work there forever. It's so laid back and I get to read all day. Plus now I think I get the remainder of my membership refunded because workers work out for free, so I'll get $24 back. Woohoo!

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 2:14 PM | Report abuse


I know how to change a tire. We should start a club. I once got a flat tire while I was in a white skirt and high heels. I changed that bad boy and didn't get a speck of dirt on anything but my hands, which I promptly washed. I think I deserve some sort of plaque for that, but I have yet to receive one.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Sara, this is all for you. Forget Italy. Go to Copenhagen. Everybody walks, rides bikes or public transportation. It's clean, most folks speak very good English, there are large portions of the central city that are pedestrian only. The guys will not consider it their duty to grope you as in some countries(I name no names), there is a ton of great art and architecture, and the country is naturally air conditioned. In fairness, Italy has better food.
If you're looking for movies, here are a couple of (not even Japanese!) choices- The Wrong Box starring Michael Caine, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and Peter Sellers in a Victorian farce with a story by R.L. Stevenson. Or find the original Lady Killers with Alec Guiness and Sellers. Or if you want something stronger, Night of the Hunter starring Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters, and Peter Graves in the only film ever directed by Charles Laughton. Strange, expressionistic, and very very creepy. Definitive villainous stepfather portrayal by Mitchum. Supposedly Laughton loathed children and the two child actors got most of their direction from Mitchum.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 4, 2005 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I had a self inflicted mishap with my rearview mirror as well, my husband basically superglued it back in place and it's been fine ever since. Superglue may be a better alternative to a shopping bag.

Posted by: omodudu | October 4, 2005 2:21 PM | Report abuse

mo, We treat all customers fairly(male or female). we use a time guide for repair times (Alldata).These guides are what the manufacturer recommends for time allowance. It is true that some repairs are performed faster than the allowance, but there are also many times that you cannot complete the job in the alloted period. I always recommend that you speak with others about finding a reputable repair shop. Our clients are our best(and only) source of advertising. We would like to have you as a client, but we are located in South Florida, a rather far drive from D.C.

Posted by: scott | October 4, 2005 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Yes, they're all valid parts... the problem is they're ALL marked up about 300 percent. Find another shop, it's not impossible. Use to locate an online dealer where you can drill down the parts list for your model and get an idea what the parts should cost before you approve the bill. Oxygen sensors are about 50 bucks each, not 188...

Posted by: einsteinsoldman | October 4, 2005 2:33 PM | Report abuse

There is one key line in your bill which is the wonderful catch-all of modern car repair....removing OTHER parts to get access to the part that needs to be fixed.

Today's engine compartments....and indeed the entire design of the modern car is to make sure that NO part on the car can be easily accessed.

My wife's VW Bug needs a new left turn signal light. You cannot replace the light by removing the outside plastic cover. You have to get at it from INSIDE the car's rear cargo area and that process involves literally about $100 worth of labor to remove a series of panels to gain access....all to replace bulb worth about $1.

Posted by: dweb823 | October 4, 2005 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. Joel, you might find it less awesome when you find out that the car I'm doing all this stuff to is not mine...(ha, ha, ha!).
How's your geometry? It's always more fun to sit down and plot suspension camber curves with someone else...and a little more earthy than plotting orbits of NEOs.

I can fix a lot of stuff. If you can tell me how the Post's chassis got bent, we can build one that won't break the same way next time...maybe get a more efficient engine in there, too.

There are two O2 sensors on most cars, upstream and downstream (of the Cat converter), cost at your typical auto parts store is around $100 each (ahem). They're kind of a PITA to replace, but probably less than an hour total with the right tools. And we don't know which one actually went (though the car probably did), so you might have gotten away with half of that, though most dealers recommend replacing them at 100k mi. as a wear item.

All those filters (with the exception of the fuel filter) and PCV valve would cost maybe $50 total at the big parts haus, and take all of 20 minutes total to swap in the street in front of Chez Achenbach. Maybe 25 min. if you take swigs of beer while you're doing it (I do).


Posted by: bc | October 4, 2005 2:47 PM | Report abuse

kurosawaguy and Sara - Night of the Hunter is also on the list of 10. The visual effects are remarkable; the black and white photography make them even more so. And the story is just downright scary.

mo, have you seen Tennessee Williams' Reflections in a Golden Eye? (Marlon Brando and Liz Taylor and a very young, very naked Robert Forster). Directed by John Huston.

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 2:51 PM | Report abuse

like I said, with oxygen sensors, don't bother. Same goes with the catalytic converter, when it goes out, just blow it off.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Wow, is this a record for the boodle not going off-topic?

Posted by: LP | October 4, 2005 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I second that, LB. My "Engine Light" went on 22 months ago. My mechanic advised that it has nothing to do with my engine, but with the oxygen sensor. He couldn't advise me NOT to have it fixed, he would only confirm that it had to do with pollution control and not the engine (so why does it say, "Check Engine?"). So, I drive proudly with my engine light gleeming away to spite the rapacious auto parts industry.

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 3:04 PM | Report abuse

As Joel knows, we love our cars. My airbag light is on which the mechanic said means the driver side air bag isn't working, I may get that one taken care of.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Oh, yes, a topic after my own heart today! And after catching up on a few days of riviting comments, I now can ask one question about auto repair--I think I should probably direct it to bc or Scott, but Sara, it sounds like you've maybe got some mad skills, too. I need a new "window motor" for my passenger side front window. Firestone (my customary mechanic place) advises me that the part costs about $250.00 and that the labor will put the job at well over $400. Yikes! My husband, as well as his cousin who's a mechanic, both advise me to go to the local junkyard and get the part there. 1. Is this a good idea, and 2. what's the likelihood that the local junkyard will have a window motor for a 2003 Saturn Ion?

I also need some other work done on my car (brake pads and rotors, as well as new tires)...I should get these things done, but I'm so afraid of having the price totally jacked up because I'm a woman alone in a auto mechanic's shop.

Posted by: Erica Snipes | October 4, 2005 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Years ago, when my two daughters wanted to get their learners permits, as a condition of getting same, I made them do the following with me on the family buggy: change all four tires, change the oil, do a lube job, and a tune-up. The older one hated the experience; she acted like grease was something that squirted out of the south end of a north bond horse. The younger one tolerated the lesson as the price to be paid for having the bum luck to get me as a father.

Fast forward ten years. The older daughter is married to an auto parts distributor. The younger one is a plane mechanic for the US Air Force. At least they don't get ripped off for auto repairs!

Posted by: Don from I-270 | October 4, 2005 3:18 PM | Report abuse

a 2 year old car shouldn't need rotors, probably don't even need pads unless you do a lot of city driving and ride your brakes alot.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 3:19 PM | Report abuse

It would be meaningful to know what kind of car that nominee Miers drives. Any guesses?

Posted by: Bob | October 4, 2005 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Would have to be American, probably traditional, maybe a Buick. Then again, given her home state, maybe a Ford Explorer.

For work, she's probably chauferred in a Lincoln Town Car.

Posted by: Melvin/a | October 4, 2005 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Nani and kurosawaguy, thanks for all the movie recommendations! I have been adding them to my Netflix queue. Netflix doesn't seem to have "The Wrong Box", or at least it doesn't turn up when I search for it. That's a first.

Posted by: TA | October 4, 2005 3:27 PM | Report abuse

this is getting to be like Car Talk on NPR

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 3:28 PM | Report abuse

If you're looking for a mechanic I recommend the Car Talk web site. They have a feature called MechanX Files or some such, where readers have posted recommendations for car repair shops all over the country. They-Tom and Ray- don't endorse anyone, they just pass on the comments from regular schmoes like me. I use Tony's Auto Repair in Alexandria, partly because I like them and partly because it allows me to say that I take my car to a certified Maserati mechanic. Tres chic, no?
Oh, and as far as new cars lasting longer, my first car was a 1929 Ford which ran when I got it in 1963 and ran even better when I sold it. Then I bought a 1969 Ford van, kept it for 23 years and 250,000 miles, and donated it when the body rust got bad. Still ran quite well.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 4, 2005 3:30 PM | Report abuse

A good mechanic on Capitol Hill is Distad's Amoco (although it's actually a BP now). I've been going to them for several years, they have decent prices, and they are honest as far as I know. I went in with a "check engine" light over a year ago and they ran a test and decided it was nothing to worry about (they told me what it was, but I had never heard of it, so I forgot). Anyway, the car is still running beautifully and they saved me some money.

Posted by: TA | October 4, 2005 3:35 PM | Report abuse

yes, we do love our cars don't we? i'm sorry, i love to hug trees but join a car pool? BAH!!!

see scott, i would hazard a guess that most women tremble at the thought of stepping into an auto mechanic sans testosterone company!

nani - i haven't seen that one! i'll hafta check it out... did you see summer and smoke? great script but they miscast geraldine page - she was older than the character and it was hard to see her trying to play it off...

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Sara--it may be true that a lot of Italians don't own cars or drive, but it's also true that some of the most fabulous and desirable cars in the world are built there, such as Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini. Some of the most beautiful roads to drive on are also located in Italy, including the world-famous Amalfi Drive. So don't be too quick to dismiss the Italians' love affair with cars. You just don't see it in crowded cities.

Posted by: Scott | October 4, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse


This is just a guess but I have a suspision that you may drive an Audi, maybe an A6/100 something of that sort. If so changing the EGR vavle won't fix your problem. It's the EGR passage that needs to be cleaned. You can do it yourself with a bit of steel cable. Check here:

In any case good luck.

Posted by: Simon | October 4, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse

My dad bought a 1947 Ford brand new, kept it in immaculate condition and drove it 28 years. Changed the oil religiously every 3 months. I can't recall it ever breaking down or needing repairs other than preventative maintenance. He sold it to an auto collector, regretted it and tried to buy it back. No way.

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Joel drives a whimpy Honda

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Joel-san drives a Honda.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 4, 2005 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I know they like their cars in Italy. I just like that it's easier to get around there without a car. I would much rather walk places than drive places.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 3:45 PM | Report abuse

mo, Reflections wasn't a big success and is one of Brando, Taylor and Huston's lesser known films. Summer and Smoke, yes! I had (still have?) a crush on Laurence Harvey.

Posted by: Nani | October 4, 2005 3:46 PM | Report abuse

This movie list is growing like wildfire!

Thanks for the suggestions, kurosawaguy. I'll add them to Nani's.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Night of the Hunter is an excellent film.

Let me suggest Shadow of a Doubt, a lesser-known Hitchcock flick, starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten. Wright plays Cotten's niece and over the course of the film begins to suspect that her beloved uncle (whom she is named after) is a serial killer. It is also shot in black and white.

Posted by: pj | October 4, 2005 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Bob wants to know what kind of car Harriet Miers drives??? I don't know how that's relevant to the woman (Supreme Court nominee), but I know the answer.

It's in today's Christian Science Monitor:

"Actually, 10 p.m. would probably be an early night," says Kristen Silverberg, who worked with Ms. Miers at the White House until a month ago. And in the morning, "when you [went] into the West [Executive] parking spaces, her red car was always there." The red car? A Mercedes - but not a flashy shade of red, adds Ms. Silverberg, now an assistant secretary of State.

Posted by: Loomis | October 4, 2005 3:52 PM | Report abuse

sara - also if you haven't see it - who's afraid of virginia woolf? - liz plays the best martha i've ever seen imho! and zeffirelli's romeo and juliet (1968) - olivia hussey plays the most beautiful innocent juliet ever!

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I have to say (to agree with Sara and mo) that before I had a car my parents made me get the Girl Scout Car Maintenance badge (or whatever it is called these days). It still astonishes me how many female friends I've had to help change a tire. A tire! And I agree with the club idea too...

Posted by: peanutgallerymember | October 4, 2005 4:02 PM | Report abuse

There was definitely a time in my life when working on my own car was an option, but now I'm happy to leave it to the professionals. I don't have time to mess with it and if I totally screw something up, then what? One of my greatest fears is having my car die in the midst of DC rush hour and having hundreds of people actively cursing me and sending all sorts of evil karma my way.

Plus, I might break a nail.

Posted by: Pixel | October 4, 2005 4:04 PM | Report abuse

pgm - i wondered if you were male or female... i think we all deserve awards for changing our tires! i make it a point to teach all my female friends how to change a tire and where the oil dipstick is... you should know both of those b4 getting a license...

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I've seen that version of Romeo and Juliet. I really liked it. I'll add the other movie to my list, though.

peanutgallerymember, I think the club should be a due-free club. That would encourage more membership and would encourage more women (who would obviously be jealous that they aren't in such a prestigious club) to learn to change tires. We'd be doing a public service.

Posted by: Sara | October 4, 2005 4:07 PM | Report abuse

If my car dies and leaves me on the side of the road, I might get eaten by coyotes. I wonder which would be a worse predicament, yours or mine.

Posted by: LB | October 4, 2005 4:10 PM | Report abuse

nani - how did you feel about geraldine page in summer and smoke? i felt like she was wearing prosthetics or something on her face??

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I'd rather take my chances with the coyotes. DC drivers are meaner and far more aggressive than any li'l old pack of wild, rabid dogs.

OT: The Sixth annual Capitol City Brewing Oktoberfest will be taking over the Village at Shirlington this Saturday, October 8th, from noon to 7pm. I'll be pouring during the earlier part of the day, but I'm not sure which of the 30 breweries I'll be lending a hand to. If you like beer, you should come to this event. Standard disclaimers apply.

Posted by: Pixel | October 4, 2005 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I LOVE the Shirlington Oktoberfest and was planning to attend, but am disappointed that they changed it to a $20 all-you-can-drink deal rather than buying beer tickets. That's a good way to chase away families and the pleasantly diverse crowd and replace it with a frat party. I don't really do the frat party thing anymore...

Posted by: TA | October 4, 2005 4:34 PM | Report abuse

If you want to see a REALLY chilling movie, get "Triumph of the Will" a documentary of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. It is filled with speeches and parades and all kinds of facist imagery. Directed by Leni Riefenstahl it is scary propaganda (and brilliant filmmaking) and gives you an idea of the power of Hitler and the adoration shown him by the Germans.

Posted by: pj | October 4, 2005 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The scary thing about Zefferelli's R&J is that Leonard Whiting as Romeo was more beautiful than Hussey as Juliet. And I say that as a straight man, married to the same woman for 35 years and not attracted to other men, ever. Was that too much protest? Well, anyway I stand by my statement. LW was prettier. Shadow of a Doubt is my (and the director's) favorite Hitchcock film. Wonderful cast, great plot, lots of sly humor. The love interest with MacDonald Carey is a waste of time, but the rest is great.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 4, 2005 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I used to go to a mechanic who would get his parts from NAPA but would charge me something like twice what I would pay at NAPA myself. Will mechanics fix your car with parts you buy yourself (the exact same parts he uses)?

Posted by: kt | October 4, 2005 4:58 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2005 4:59 PM | Report abuse

LOL... me thinks kurosawaguy doth protest too much! i agree that he was quite "pretty" but she was just beautiful and i say that as a single woman who is not attracted to other women (except queen latifah) but i'm a female so i'm allowed to say other women look good!

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 5:03 PM | Report abuse

what i find interesting about hitchcock is that he had a cameo role in practically all his films!

Posted by: mo | October 4, 2005 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Make sure you're taking your car to an independent shop, not a dealer. Consumer Checkbook found that independents charge less and do better work!

Posted by: Mike | October 4, 2005 5:12 PM | Report abuse

TA, last year you could either buy tickets or do the $10 taster glass/all you can taste. The latter was definitely a better deal. The idea is to /taste/, not chug, and the tiny tasting glass sort of forces people to slow down because they have to stand in line again for a fill. I hope to be pouring for Victory Brewing from Downingtown, PA.

Posted by: Pixel | October 4, 2005 5:15 PM | Report abuse

A while back I took my Ford Ranger into the dealer in Beverly Hills due to engine misfire. I was told I would require an electrical system rewiring for a cost $800. I then proceeded to another dealer in Los Angeles and was told I had a cracked cylinder head, estimate for repair $2500. On my way back home I stopped at an independant repair shop. As it turned out I had a bad spark plug. Actual cost of repair $10. I guess at Ford larceny is job one!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2005 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Moi Moi's favorite movie is, "Is Blue Plains Burning?" It is the epic tale of a disgruntled sewage plant worker who organizes the first global labor union and then goes mad with power, or it could have been the sewage fumes mixed with power that did it, or maybe the protagonist was just born nuts, or perhaps it was the sticky purple liquid that the Great Laborer drank straight from the plastic bottle which drove him to madness. Whosowhat-ever... The film isn't so much thought provoking as it is movie theater parking lot brawl provoking.

Posted by: Moi Moi | October 4, 2005 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Veering sharply off topic, but did anyone read about the Nobel prize winners for medicine. One of the pair gave himself an ulcer to prove that the bacteria was the cause of the disease and not the result. Joel, now there is an article topic for you. Not sure if it would be a science article or a humour article though.

Further to the Leni Riefenstahl, there is a wonderful documentary out about Trudl Junge, Hilter's Secretary. She was his secretary when she was 22, starting in 1942 to the end, and so most of her growing up, rational years would have been under Hitler. She provides some amazing insight from an ordinary person about the hows and whys of what happened to the German people in the WWII. I have always wondered how an entire nation could be so conned so deeply, and now I think I begin to understand. She speaks of the utter fear they had of what would happen to the German people if they lost the war. Her insights into the last days in the bunker was amazing too, and I heartily recommend this film.

Posted by: dr | October 4, 2005 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Yup, I'm a girl (yay!). Sorry to post this in a random place waaaay down the 'boodle. Have been doing actual work today (sigh).

Posted by: peanutgallerymember | October 4, 2005 5:34 PM | Report abuse

If the oxygen sensor in your car fails, it hurts more than the environment. Your car uses that sensor to determine the right amount of gasoline to put in the engine. If it puts too little, your engine will break. If it puts too much, you get poor gas mileage and less power. The extra fuel can clog your catalytic converter, possibly leaving you on the side of the road.

If the oxygen sensor fails, the computer detects that it is no longer getting input from the sensor and falls back to a "default" fueling level, which always errs on the side of "too much gas".

So replace the stupid oxygen sensor!

Posted by: mdmbkr | October 4, 2005 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Since this discussion seems to be about cars, I have a question that I hope someone can help me with. My car has three pedals - one makes it go faster, one makes it stop, but i'm not sure what the other pedal does. Any ideas ?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2005 5:59 PM | Report abuse


Thank you for your sage advice. Now I'll just feel guilty as I drive with my Check Engine light on. Fine. As a husband, father, and recovered Catholic, I know guilt.

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't feel guilty. More like lazy .. if you track your MPG you might have noticed a decline since the check engine light came on. Now find out how much money you would have saved if your MPG had never dropped .. would that pay for a new sensor? A new catalytic converter?

Posted by: mdmbkr | October 4, 2005 6:15 PM | Report abuse

PS Good luck with your recovery

Posted by: mdmbkr | October 4, 2005 6:28 PM | Report abuse

BTW I am not suggesting you are lazy if you don't track your MPG. I was referring to not replacing the stupid sensor.

The less you care about mileage the more likely you are to care about power; in either case fixing the O2 sensor is a good idea.

Posted by: mdmbkr | October 4, 2005 6:30 PM | Report abuse


What do you think of cno's idea of 11:53:56 AM ("flushing" fuel system with injector cleaner and premium gas)?

Posted by: CowTown | October 4, 2005 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I always come too late to the party but here goes... Hah! I got my oxygen sensor replaced for $345. Of course I had to go to the dealership for that one. Apparently dealerships corner the market on necessary car bling, if bling can be considered "neccessary".

Back in August my passenger side power window got stuck in the down position. My guys got it back up and John at Jay's Automotive spent some quality time calling around--$500 to solve the problem as you just buy the motor, no you have to purchase the whole assembly. Who needs cross ventilation anyway?

Posted by: Amanda | October 4, 2005 6:55 PM | Report abuse


I'm in the same timezone as you, Central, so it's an hour earlier than the stamp. I'm a night owl so sometimes sleep in the day, therefore if Joel cuts off the kaboddle at 6:00pm (5:00pm my time) I can read but won't be able to respond.

Try Verona as a city to walk around if you get to Italy. It has wonderful museums,nice squares and gates, and great buildings - an Arena built in 1 AD where they still hold operas - and Juliet's balcony. It's a myth but people leave notes all over the walls and pavement.

CowTown and others with warning lights that stay on with no known cause:

The CarTalk guys' remedy is to cover it with tape so you can't see it.


Posted by: boondocklurker | October 4, 2005 6:57 PM | Report abuse

caught the car bug early on and have had
to contend with it regarding the larger
issues of social accountability and world
sustainability vs. cars ever since...... have become much more electronic
devices since the mid 70's....which is
a good thing as the early attempts at car
exhaust cleanup were at times horrific as
to side effects...poor starting...not very
smooth running....less power...more gas the early 80's for
many automakers it was the normal approach
to introduce more and more electronically
controlled engine and vehicle control parts
to allow better performance or salesroom
floor "WOW!" experiences...................
...power and performance of all modern cars
is very dependent on components that are
not mechanical but electronic/computing
in scope.....allowing for higher levels of
performance...longer service intervals.....
...more ease of diagnosis for repair as
it is possible to download data............
...the same has happened with trucks,ag
and construction equipment...and if you
take notice of modern aircraft cockpits
its all about by wire and
multidisplay screens......................
...for some techno comparing look at a
early space shuttle control panel setup
and then at a recent photo of same area :-)
...things got better...smarter..but the
costs of repair came along for the ride
too.........the car bug?.....daily drivers
are but a part.....if like me you have
jumped into old car collecting or resto
activities you really are in for the big
ride........lots of fun but the $$$$$$$
factor has become buffet/gates$$$like when
compared to 35 years ago........:-).....

Posted by: an american in siam.... | October 4, 2005 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Re: tire changing club

Once, I had a flat tire, so I changed to the temporary spare and drove to a "service station" (ahem). It was Sunday, and only one guy was working. He said he could plug the hole and put air in the tire but he wasn't allowed to run the lift and he wasn't allowed to use my jack, so he couldn't put the tire on my car. I told him, no problem, just fix the tire. He handed over the repaired tire, and I jacked up the car and put it on in place of the spare. I got my hands dirty, and he let me use the sink and the Lava soap that was usually for the employees. He felt kind of guilty, I guess, but I was happy and proud of myself. It did cross my mind, though, that this would never happen in Texas. (It happened in Florida.)

Posted by: Abby | October 4, 2005 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I used to have a really crummy car, I called it my Old-mobile, it was a Firenze, I think. I paid $600 for it, and it had electric windows. Needless to say, no air conditioning, so when the passenger side window mechanism broke, I paid $100 (!) to get it fixed. Rip off. The mechanic (loose use of term) used junk parts and specified that the job was not "warranteed"--and it only lasted about 2 days. I couldn't spend any more money on it* so I solved the problem with a pair of pliers and a rubber doorstopper. Use the pliers to pull the window up, then jam the doorstopper in to keep it in place. If you want to let the window down partway, pull the stopper loose and let the window down, then jam it back in to hold the window. Works like a charm.

*More Car Talk humor:

Tom: Some people say you shouldn't spend more money on the car than the amount the car is worth.

Ray: My brother does that every time he fills the tank with gas!

Posted by: Poor but Honest | October 4, 2005 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Working on your own car is kind of like having a midwife deliver your baby. It sounds like a great idea until things start to go wrong. It is no fun at all to have removed several vital engine components only to realize that you bought the wrong sized gasket...and that you broke the old gasket removing it....and that you have absolutely no way to get to the auto parts store. After that experience, paying the garage doesn't sting quite so much.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 4, 2005 8:49 PM | Report abuse

This thread needs a moderator.

Posted by: Mike | October 4, 2005 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Mike, you're in charge.

Posted by: Achenbach | October 4, 2005 9:41 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who dislike SUVs intensely, I recommend the site (or somesuch, google will get you there). I have occasionally tried to make up new names for SUV's as I sit behind them in traffic. Ford Exploder, Land Rover Freeloader, Toyota Highhander, Lincoln Extravigator, etc.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 4, 2005 9:58 PM | Report abuse

素人ライブチャット、無料ライブチャットが萌えて凄いライブチャット倶楽部で炎のライブチャット、そして素人で萌え。ライブチャット最前線だからライブチャット糾弾風呂具。萌え萌えライブチャットでぷるるんライブチャット。God bless.

Posted by: ライブチャット | October 5, 2005 4:36 AM | Report abuse

My 18 year old sister is a horrible driver. She's been in two accidents so far which both involved stationary objects, she's had her license suspended (for driving with other people in the car during her 6-mo after getting a license). One day, she got a flat tire and some how didn't realize. She drove all the way home on it, eventually shredding the tire and riding directly on the rim. How do you not notice something like this?

Posted by: jw | October 5, 2005 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Rough translation: all those making slanderous statements about Japanese cars will pay when their FUGB warning light goes on, causing great anxiety as the horn honks. Take that, you gaijin.

Posted by: gargantua | October 5, 2005 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Just a final not about 'car guys'.

Like most things in life, it's about who you know as much as what you know.

Most successful long-term car guys (or ladies, if I can be so bold) have a network of like-minded friends. When they've got a project or a problem, they call their acknowledged expert in that area when determining a course of action. Most of the time, a friend will volunteer to help out, which is always welcome. In many cases work can be done on a barter system, for alarmingly small amounts of cash, or even for the nearly universal tender of the car guy, beer.

My final bit of advice for those who are frustrated by having auto work done, and feeling like they're paying too much, or that maybe they could save a lot of money by doing some of it themselves; cultivate a network of friends you can call when you have questions.

And be willing to buy beer.


Posted by: b | October 5, 2005 8:35 AM | Report abuse

The bio-auto-mechanical revolution is upon us! Moi Moi suggests replacing your oxygen sensor with a canary because it's cheeper. Oh my, Moi Moi really cracks Moi Moi up sometimes.

Posted by: Moi Moi | October 5, 2005 9:01 AM | Report abuse

SCC "note".

I SO need an editor.

jw, some people have what I call "mechanical sympathy", some don't.

Mechanical sympathy is a combination of sensory awareness and presence of mind to behave rationally. When the senses notice "Hey, that's different.", a sound, or a vibration, or something, that presence of mind kicks in and alerts the consciousness, "Hey, something's different. Perhaps something's wrong.", and the driver takes appropriate action (e.g. stopping and looking).

Some have this, some people have this and are so scared of the idea of a problem that they'll drive in full denial (that's "D" on the gear selector) or will consciously choose to Press on Regardless until the car will no longer move under it's own power (hey, it's just a car, right?) and it collapses in a smoking heap.

Hopefully your sister will learn from this experience to get a feel for problems and how to deal with them...


Posted by: bc | October 5, 2005 9:27 AM | Report abuse

SCC: can you believe I botched the "bc" Name: above?

I do.



Posted by: bc | October 5, 2005 9:29 AM | Report abuse

gargantua - you rock! i tried to translate it using microsoft tool in outlook and got

The amateur live kyat and the free live kyat sprouting, with enormous live kyat club with the live kyat, and the amateur of flame sprouting. Therefore the live kyat forefront live kyat impeachment bath tool. The ぷ る る it is at the sprouting sprouting live kyat the live kyat.

i was like HUH?????

oh and bc - i'm more 'en willing to buy lots and lots o beer for reliable car repair - hopefully with a new car i won't need it soon (tho i DO have to get my oil changed! i kid!)

Posted by: mo | October 5, 2005 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Dear CowTown:

In the original blog post, "the E.G.R. valve" is a link to a nice description. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with gasoline and injector cleaner would do nothing for it. Here's the URL for that link just in case:

Posted by: mdmbkr | October 5, 2005 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Its ok- passenger side rear-view mirrors aren't important. My 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity wasn't even made with one. Chevrolet didn't feel it was necessary, evidently.

Posted by: Heather | October 6, 2005 9:01 AM | Report abuse

The main reason cars are so much technologically advanced than they used to be is because with electronics:

1. They run better.
2. They're more reliable.
3. They last longer.
Tree huggers take note:
4. They burn fuel much, much more cleanly and efficiently.
5. Oxygen sensors and catalytic converters are part of the modern automobile's emissions system, which runs about 10 times cleaner than 25 years ago.
6. Don't be such a bunch of victimized whiners. Learn something about your car so you know what you're talking about with your mechanic. It's not that hard. Assert yourself.
7. Pansies.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 6, 2005 6:29 PM | Report abuse

So many values/numbers are involved for replacing even the smallest of the smallest part of your car. I'm not really a pro but i have my own Simple auto body repair tips with me(more: ).You'll never know whether your car will start acting up or if you need basic replacements.

I'm trying to make sure that my budget won't be ripped off by service repairs. :)

Posted by: Stacey Wilson | October 14, 2005 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Nowadays it's not easy
being a stupid consumer
taken in by quick and sleazy
mechanics who know we're dumber
than deer turds when it comes
to knowing what's under the hood.

The problem could be real
the problem could be fake;
but no one is cutting you a deal
when the brakes ain't gonna brake.
If it costs a grand for rotor's and drums,
you pay. You couldn't fix them, he could!!

Posted by: Max Sitting | October 18, 2005 8:11 PM | Report abuse

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