El Jeepo is sick. Or at least not feeling well. The speedometer on my 1996 Jeep Cherokee (that has two wheel drive) decided to quit working two weeks ago. At first, the needle danced a bit, hovering plus or minus ten around my general speed, a strange little lambada that told me approximately how fast I sped down the pot-holed streets of Pittsburgh. But within a few days, the speedometer quit entirely. El Jeepo felt unpredictable. How fast was I going? It’s amazing how you learn, very quickly, how to guesstimate your speed. “This feels like 35,” you’ll say to yourself, going down the road with a slight breeze filtering in through the cracked window. But nevertheless, this state of illness cannot persist and eventually the car must be healed.
I decided to do my homework. I’ve always felt taken advantage of by car shops and I always will. The shop I go to in Pittsburgh, Bastone Auto Service off of Highland Ave, has always felt a bit pricey to me, but I figure that quality work is quality work. When I went to get my oil changed in October, though, they found all these other things wrong with the car and charged me about $90 for the change. Which is ridiculous. But, I thought, the work is quality, and that’s okay. So for this speedometer thing, I looked up what the average cost was for my vehicle. I went to Pep Boys and Advantage Auto (three locations) to confirm that the Check Engine light was related to the speed sensor problem and all four places confirmed that a) the check engine light was related to the speed sensor and b) that the speed sensor didn’t work. They all did without me saying what the problem was. And they all came up with that for free. Awesome.
All right, I thought. I’ll take my car to Bastone at 9AM and they’ll tell me how much it is to fix El Jeepo. I prepared myself to spend between $100 and $150, give or take the cost of labor. I told them to call me once they figured out how much it was, so I could greenlight or redlight their plan of attack. I told them exactly what was wrong with the car and offered to give them the printouts from the other places, which they declined.
They called around 1:45PM with the estimate: $290 to change a sensor. “Are you kidding?” “No, mam.” I asked if there were other solutions. They offered none. I asked if I could source the part somewhere else if it would lower my cost. They said maybe and then refused to quote me how much the labor would be, just muttering, “it’d be lower.” And then, when I went to pick up the car (because I refuse to pay that much), they charged me $50 for diagnosing the problem.
That’s right. On my receipt it says “Check speedometer not working – $43.98.” Plus shop supplies and sales tax. Awesome. I just spent $50 to confirm what I already had confirmed.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m a girl. Or because they know I can’t fix it myself. Or because it’s not Mexico or the Rio Grande Valley, where this whole shebang, parts and labor and all, would cost me $50. Maybe I’m spoiled by having grown up in a place where a full paint-and-upholstery job on the car cost me less than changing one stupid sensor in the Northeast US. Either way, I feel screwed. I know they took part of their day to look at my car. I know that that costs them time and effort. I know that rent is higher here and so are taxes.
But at the end of the day, it’s very clear to me that I drive a 1996 Jeep Cherokee (with two-wheel drive) because I am not rich, and therefore, I cannot afford to drop $50, especially when I have gained nothing, absolutely nothing, from the experience.
So, dear Bastone: I will not be coming back. Thanks for your understanding, and thanks to Bob for standing there stoically as I pretended not to be so upset I was about to cry.