Daze of My Life/Tony Came Through in the Clutch

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Yes, this column is about cars, so Iíll try to explain so that even I can understand it. My carís engine was leaking like a sieve. Actually, thatís uncomplimentary to the sieve. The more oil Iíd pour in, the more oil would pour out.

Even a car genius like me knows that the oil is supposed to stay in the engine, not under it. Unfortunately, the puddle of oil that appeared underneath my car meant a call would have to be made to my mechanic, Tony, or else; and later that day, after yet another oil spill (after yet another oil refilling), I carefully drove the 25 miles from McLean to Tonyís Garage in Burtonsville to drop off my car and prayed the drive didnít compound my previous negligence.

The following day Tony called with his initial diagnosis. As far as he could tell - and he couldnít quite tell since the engine was covered with oil that had splattered - the oil pressure switch, a relatively inexpensive part, but still a major repair since he had to ďpull the transmission,Ē was leaking. He said he would know more later after he steam-cleaned the engine, which would enable him to see more clearly the causes of the leakage.

And sure enough when Tony and I spoke again, he confirmed, regretfully, that both the rear main seal and cover gasket were also leaking and needed replacing. Not great news, as the price of the parts was now escalating, but still modest in comparison with the price of the labor. But since I wasnít prepared to sell the car, I authorized the repair and hoped for a speedy recovery, especially since I was also renting a car from Enterprise (they came and picked me up), until my car was ready. And believe me, renting a car, even at wholesale rates, while repairing another, is no picnic. Actually, itís more like cleaning up after a picnic when the food is all gone.

As the nine days of car rental neared their expensive end and my daily phone call to Tonyís to inquire about parts and labor continued, Tony suggested the possibility of replacing the clutch, since with the transmission pulled, access (i.e., labor costs) to the clutch assembly was, in effect, already paid for/incurred, with the underlying repair. The old ďwhile we are here, why donít we...Ē

Certainly the idea seemed logical. I donít want to be penny-wise when a trusted resource is advising me not to be pound-foolish. After all, my car does have 150,000 miles on it, and itís not being driven any less than it was in its prime. So I told Tony to take a look and see what he thought. Then he asked me a few questions about my clutch-oriented driving experiences of late. My answers didnít sound bad to him but... then I asked the big question - how much will it cost? ďAnother $500,Ē he said. I grunted and said something like, ďOy, well, let me know, and Iíll decide.Ē

The following day, Tony and I spoke. He said the clutch looked fine: no leakage, no grease, no whatever. Then I said, ďWell then, given the extra cost, Iím going to pass on the clutch for now. Just finish the other repair and call me as soon as the car is ready, and thanks.Ē The next day I received the call and finally picked up my car.

Now I ask you, could Tony just as easily have told me that I needed a new clutch? Absolutely! And if Tony, whom Iíve done car-business with for 10 years, told me I needed a new clutch, could I have even gotten a second opinion, given that the carís engine/transmission was in pieces in his garage? I donít see how. As a result of his honesty, would you say Tony just saved me from paying $500 for a repair I didnít really need? Yes, definitely!

If my clutch goes bad in the near future, will I blame Tony? No. Will I bring my car back to him for that or any other mechanical repair? Yes. Do I want to see Tony anytime soon? No. Would I refer friends and family to Tonyís? Absolutely. Will I write a column about him? Obviously.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.