Well, I had planned on posting this yesterday, but someone broke into the junction box at the end of my alleyway and started yanking out coax, presumably for reasons related to meth. Good times, living in an industrial park…
Anyway, here we go.
It’s Friday evening, and I’m standing in the sales bay at Dishonest Used Car Dealership, watching the sun go down over the industrial wasteland I call my part of town. The Raver is standing next to me, smoking… something. In five minutes, I’ll switch off the phones, lock my computer, close the bay door, and have a glorious 63 hours of freedom.
A decrepit Volvo clattered up to the sales bay and swerved toward us, forcing The Raver and me to jump out of the way. It lurched to a stop halfway in the door, blocking both anything from exiting the bay and anything from getting past in the parking lot. It did not sound healthy, this car, nor did it appear to have been washed in many, many years. From the driver’s door rolled out a rotund little creature, some sort of bearded hobbit in a stained blue jumpsuit. The hobbit slammed the door shut, which failed to close, and then it slammed it again, before raising both arms in the air and waddling toward us. It spoke.
”HELLO TO YOU, FRIENDS! Here I am comingk to be please to fixingk auto!”
It was unmistakably Russian.
Now, I love Russians. Or, more accurately, I love Russian women. But Russian guys can be one of two things – they’re either the best customers in the world because they’re hilarious and they don’t give a s#!t about anything, or they’re the worst, most unreasonably demanding customers on earth. I was not yet sure what to make of this one.
Me: “Come on in, we’ll do some paperwork, and we’ll have the technicians take a look at your car first thing on Monday.”
He followed me into the office and sat in the chair across from my desk.
Me: “What year is your Volvo?”
He grabbed a pen off my desk and gesticulated wildly with it as he shouted.
Him: “Yes, is VOLVO!”
Me: “Do you know the year?”
Me: “And what year is it?”
Him: “Yes, is BROWN!”
I walked back out, wrote down the VIN, and punched it into the computer. It was an ’85 760.
He shouted at me in not-English what was going on with the car. Apparently it failed to start at times and would misfire and stumble. But the kicker was that he had been to six shops already, none of which could figure out what was going on. Some of the names he mentioned were shops I knew were highly competent. One or maybe two shops not being able to figure out a difficult problem on an old, uncommon car I could understand, but six?
We walked back out to the bay, and I pulled his car out of the doorway and stuck it in the parking lot. It ran like sh!t, it was full of trash, and it smelled like death. The Russian stood in the middle of the parking lot, looked around, turned a full 360, and then walked off beyond the chain link fence and into the sunset. The Raver, still working on his “cigarette,” keeled over in laughter and pulled closed the bay door for the weekend.
Monday morning, 8:00. My technicians are beginning to trickle in for the day, but the office is still mostly empty. I hear the back door swing open and someone walk inside, presumably one of the bosses or a lackey.
”HELLO? HELLO TO YOU?”
It was the Russian. I poked my head around the corner and found him standing in the empty hallway, banging his fist on the wall, still clad in the same filthy jumpsuit. He whipped around to face me and threw his arms in the air.
”Am here to pickingk up Volvo!”
Me: ”I’m sorry, sir, it’s not done yet. We haven’t even started on it, since we just opened up a moment ago. One of my technicians will pull it in in a little bit, and we’ll give you a call later today with what we find.”
Him: ”Is not done? You sayed Monday! Is Monday!”
Me: “As I explained on Friday, we’re not open on the weekend, and we just opened for the day today. We’ll have an update for you later this afternoon.”
He pondered briefly, and then wordlessly whipped around and marched back outside, disappearing beyond the chain link fence.
Mr. Sarcastic, my youngest technician, kicked his way into the office cackling to himself and trotted over to my desk.
MS: “Dude, you gotta have a look at this s#!t.”
I followed him out to the bay, where the Russian’s car was sort of running.
MS: “Put a meter on the battery.”
I touched the probes of his multimeter to the battery terminals and watched the display.
Me: “Holy christ, dude, 18 volts?”
Nominal alternator output on a 12V electrical system is 14.4V. 18V is miles outside of spec, and it was a miracle anything electric worked on the car at all.
MS: “Yeah, and get this, keep watching it.”
Sure enough, the voltage fluctuated randomly, from about 16V to 20V, depending on how badly the car was misfiring at the time. MS opened the driver’s door to the car and motioned for me to watch.
MS: “Check this s#!t out.”
He pressed the button to raise the driver’s window, which responded by positively leaping up and slamming closed, all the extra voltage having given the window motor a kick in the pants.
MS: “You ever seen anything like that? You could cut somebody’s head off with that thing.”
Felonious Monk came over and tried to slice the apple he was eating with the window, but sadly it had a safety switch that sensed the resistance and prevented us from doing anything hilarious with it.
Me: “Okay, so the voltage regulator is shot.”
MS: “Yeah, you think? They’re not integral to the alternator on this engine, so that’s an easy fix.”
Me: “What’cha think’s causing the misfire and the no-start?”
MS: “Not sure yet. With how much voltage this thing is kicking out and how unstable it is, it’s a damn miracle anything electronic works on this thing at all. I’m putting the meter on the common culprits, but anything that’s a sensor is just giving garbage readings.”
Me: “The regulator’s cheap and an easy fix, right? Go ahead and throw it on there and let’s see what happens.”
MS swapped the regulator, figuring that if the guy didn’t want to pay for it, it was a quick swap to put his old one back on. Anyway, at this point, we were charging the guy an hour of labor basically to put a meter on the battery and dick around with the dude’s power windows. MS very quickly reappeared in my office with a diagnosis of a failed neutral safety switch, a bad coil, and one or two other failed sensors. He cautioned that this was only the first round of diagnosis, and that he might find other things that had failed after replacing those. I called the customer and relayed the news, who surprisingly agreed to a few hundred worth of repairs on such a battered old car. I cautioned him that these parts were broken, but that there might be others that would show their ugly faces as soon as we replaced these. He said he understood.
”Yeah, I got more for ‘ya.”
MS was back in my office. It was now just about noon, and he had been grinding on the Volvo for most of the morning.
MS: “Got the new NSS and coil in there, but I’m still getting a no-start on occasion. Felonious Monk gave me a hand on it, and we’re getting nothing useful out of the crank position sensor. That’ll cause the same kind of no-start condition, and it’s real common on these engines, so it looks like a compound failure.”
Me: “But the NSS was for sure bad?”
He plunked a greasy part on my desk. It smelled of hot electrical and was covered in dents.
MS: “Looks like someone’s been reefing on it with a hammer or something to try and get it to work. It’s pretty thoroughly f*cked.”
MS went to lunch and I called the customer, left a voicemail, and wandered over to the sandwich shop for the most delicious hour of the day.
An hour later I returned, stomach besotted with pastrami. I pulled open the back door only to find the Russian standing at the other end of the hall with his back toward me, staring at the ceiling. Colossal Redneck hollered at me from his office.
CR: “Hey, you got a customer here.”
Me: “How long has he been standing there?”
CR: “I dunno. Half an hour.”
Me: “You didn’t help him?”
CR: “I couldn’t find ya.”
Me: “Lunch, man. I was across the way. You just let him stand there for a half hour?”
CR shrugged his shoulders. Looking at barely-clothed women on his work computer was much more important than helping a paying customer, surely. I walked over to the Russian and got his attention.
Me: “Sir? Can I help you?”
There was a long pause, and then he jumped, startled, and whipped around to face me. It appeared there was a traffic jam somewhere in his synapses.
Him: “HELLO! You have I message on phone! Here am to pickingk up Volvo!”
Me: “I’m sorry, sir, there must be some kind of miscommunication. The message I left is that the crank position sensor has failed, which is also keeping the car from starting. We would like your permission to replace that part as well, but please understand that we may continue to find broken parts on the car that need to be replaced before it will start and run correctly.”
Apparently, these were the wrong words.
Him: “WHAT IN F**K!? WHAT IS THIS? I AM WORKINGK MAN! Am bring car to you for fix, and for all of weekend not fix, and now not fix! Have been in seeeeeks of shops for fix, all NO FIX! And now you not even know to fix! You are not knowingk what means to work! AM WORKINGK MAN!”
Suddenly it all made sense. Just about everything electronic on this car was fried, and he had gone from shop to shop with his minimal English and poor understanding of compound failures, never giving anyone a chance to actually fix what was wrong with the car before yelling and screaming and getting himself kicked out of the shop. I have a fairly high tolerance for abusive behavior and I stood to earn a few more bucks off his invoice, so rather than kick him back to whatever Siberian coal mine he had come out of, I decided to sit him down and explain some simple facts. I showed the Russian to my office and printed his invoice as it currently stood, slapping it onto the desk in front of him. I circled the total.
Me: “Sir, you have exactly three options, which are as follows:
You may approve additional repairs to the car and leave my shop until I call you to tell you your car is finished. We will continue to diagnose and repair the vehicle. My technicians are talented and they know Volvos very well. They will get your car running right if you are willing to be patient.
2. You may pay this invoice in full as it stands and leave my shop. Your vehicle is currently pulled apart and does not run, so we will be happy to call a tow truck on your behalf, who you will also pay out of your pocket.
3. You may just leave, in which case we will seize your car under a mechanic’s lien and we will reserve the option to file a police report against you and/or file a lawsuit for theft of services in small claims court.
Take your time reading over that invoice, and when you have decided which of your three options you would like to take, let me know.”
The Russian snatched the invoice off my desk, and slammed the door behind him. Through my office window, I watched as he stood in the hallway, whipped out a phone, and began screaming in Russian into it. No more than three minutes later, he snapped the phone closed and marched back into my office, and continued shouting.
”OKAY! YES! MORE FIX!”
He whipped around, left my office, pulled out his phone, and began screaming once again into it. He walked out through the bay and once again disappeared beyond the chain link fence.
Mr. Sarcastic came in to my office a few minutes before closing and relayed that the last round of fixes had gotten the car mostly running right, and that he didn’t want to go any further with it. At this point, just about every sensor in the car’s primitive computer system was giving off at least slightly crazy readings, and we had reached the point where it was just going to have to be good enough. The car started every time and ran reasonably smoothly, and any additional improvement was going to require major surgery. I steeled myself and called the customer, leaving a voicemail that his car was ready for pickup first thing in the morning.
Almost immediately the Russian appeared from beyond the chain link fence. Was he living down there, in the ravine behind the industrial park? He waltzed into my office, and raised both arms above his head. I braced myself for the barrage that was no doubt incoming, but the man instead gave a huge grin.
Him: “I KNEW YOU WOULD FIX! I knew from moment of comingk here into shop that YOU would be one to fix car!”
My jaw dropped, hit the floor, and bounced a few times. While I was certainly pleased he was shouting happily this time, this was a whole new kind of bizarre to me. I know crazy. I have dated crazy. But this was something new. I apparently had Leonard Shelby in my office; just absolutely no recollection of previous events whatsoever. I could only assume he had his home address tattooed onto his arm so he didn’t forget: 1 The Ravine Behind the Used Car Dealership, Sh!tty Industrial Town, USA.
Me: “Um… yes… well… my technicians are very skilled. We’ve gotten the car to where it’s starting and driving reasonably well, and beyond this point, we would be looking at major repairs. We think you’ll be happy with it.”
He paid in wadded-up bills pulled from his pocket, and practically skipped out to the decrepit old Volvo, which was idling in the parking lot behind the sales bay. I walked out to find The Raver standing in the doorway observing, “cigarette” in hand. We watched as the Russian climbed into the Volvo, slammed it into drive, and squealed out of the parking lot at top speed. The car launched onto the street, narrowly missing a passing delivery truck before swerving into the oncoming lane and disappearing beyond the sandwich shop and into the sunset. I could think of but one quote to punctuate such a sight.
”There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes.”
The Raver silently nodded and pulled shut the bay door for the night. We never saw the Russian again.