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Cars seem to be a hot topic around the newsroom these past few weeks. After all, reporters live and die by the automobile.

For some, reporters and editors spend much of their afternoons getting around town and spend45 minutes to an hour each way every day just getting to and from work. Therefore, when a reporter or editor has their car taken away for whatever reason, it's an issue.

Last week, it became an issue for me. I took my '98 Ford Escort into the car dealership for its yearly inspection last Monday. It's a big deal when I'm without my car. Because of my short stature, I have special pedal extensions that are bolted onto the gas and brake. It takes approximately 25 minutes to put the extenders on and 15 to take them off.

Therefore, I always make it an effort to take my car in the night before the inspection so it will be ready as close to first thing in the day as possible. That way, I can have someone help me drop the car off at night and somehow find someone to help me pick it up before work at 4 p.m. the next afternoon.

When I woke up Monday morning, I faced the unexpected. When I didn't hear from the dealership by noon, I got nervous.

The phone finally rings at 1 p.m. "Yes, Mr. Leitzell. You need $1,500 worth of repair, including a new radiator, before we can even put the car through the inspection."

My jaw dropped. Those weren't the words that I was expecting to hear. They wanted to know if I wanted to have the radiator replaced.

What choice did I have? I was at the mercy of the dealership. I don't know anything about cars. I expected to face some repair work but not that much. Apparently, the car needed a new radiator and brake pads because I had done so much damage to my car driving around Chester and Delaware counties within the past 12 months.

Brake pads, I understood. I haven't exactly been known to make the smoothest of stops, but a radiator? That upset me, especially when I've reported cooling problems with my car to the dealership before.

I specifically remember two other occasions of taking my car into the shop within the past 12 months complaining that antifreeze was leaking out from under the front of the car and the "check coolant" signal consistently lighting up on the dashboard. I was at a pace where I was filling up my car with antifreeze every six weeks.

They claim that the radiator had big holes creating the leaks and it was ruined and couldn't be put through the emissions test. I trust them, but couldn't believe that the problem had to go this far.

The first time I took the car in to the shop in February 2003, they said they fixed the coolant system. In August 2003, the dealership said it was merely a faulty light on the dashboard.

This time, they reported that I didn't complain about the problems in the past and they were unaware of the issue. They said I reported leaks and they didn't see any. They said I reported air conditioner problems and they didn't see any. And the biggest claim of all was that they did a full inspection of the car.

I'm sorry, I'm not a mechanic. I merely report the symptoms when I hand over my car and as a paying customer, I expect them to fix it.

I expect to report symptoms and if the dealership doesn't understand what I mean, then they should inspect the car more thoroughly.

What I don't expect is the car to get in as bad a shape as it did. If I knew then that the car was as bad as it was, it wouldn't have needed that much work this time.

When push came to shove, they went ahead and fixed my car. It meant two days without an automobile.

The car is my life. It is my means of getting around town. I just can't borrow a car and expect to get to work just as easily. So when I went two days without the car, it felt like an eternity. I had to wait for a family member to get off work so they could drive me to work.

Had the car been fixed originally when I reported the problems, none of the current problems would have happened and I wouldn't be short $1,500 from my bank account.

But of course, the customer is never right.

Kevin Leitzell can be reached at kleitzell@phoenixvillenews.com.

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