The Aerial Maneuver
“C’mon, f*ckface, let’s go for a test drive.”
Felonious Monk and I had been going back-and-forth for more than a week about one particular silver VR6 Jetta in the inventory at Dishonest Used Car Dealership that had a clunk in its front suspension. He’d fix it, I’d test drive it, and the clunk would be back. Every time you went over a big enough bump you’d get an ugly clunk. These kinds of problems are notoriously hard to fix, since suspension systems on modern cars are complex and it’s impossible to simulate the kind of forces a suspension system sees when the car is on the lift. Usually what winds up happening is you just throw parts at the problem until the problem goes away, which is exactly what we were doing.
My technician hopped in the driver’s seat and I in the passenger’s, and we drove off on our test drive. Felonious Monk was a simply horrific driver. Lane markings and red lights were apparently only suggestions. We went a couple of miles around town in the car, him listening for the clunking noise, and me holding on for dear life.
FM: “Well? You satisfied? I don’t hear sh!t.”
Me: “I’m not convinced. Pull into that parking lot and hit some speed bumps.”
Clearly irritated with me, he did as directed, hitting a few speed bumps in rapid succession at about six million miles-per-hour. On the last bump, I heard it.
Me: “There! There it was. That little clunk when the suspension came down.”
FM: “What clunk? You’re making sh!t up.”
Me: “I swear. I’m still hearing it, man.”
FM: “Fine. Whatever. I still don’t hear it.”
Felonious Monk whipped the car around and screeched out of the parking lot. Instead of turning left back to the shop, he turned right.
Me: “Where are we going?”
FM: “There’s a little hill over here that has a bump on it. I want to see if I can hear it.”
A minute later, we arrived at said little hill. Except it was not little, not even remotely. The road dropped a good 250 feet in about a quarter mile and the “bump” Felonious Monk advertised turned out to be a set of railroad tracks. Something stupid was about to happen.
Me: “Don’t you f*cking dare.”
Felonious Monk grinned and stomped the accelerator to the floor. The six-cylinder under the hood roared and launched us forward. We careened down the hill toward the railroad tracks. I didn’t have the courage to look over at the speedometer, but we were moving. At the railroad crossing, the road flattened out for perhaps 25 feet. In the span of less than a second, the suspension came down, sprung back up, and as we left the flat section onto the remainder of the hill, the suspension crashed back down again with a bang. Felonious Monk slowed our descent and turned us off onto a side street. He grinned at me.
FM: “There, I heard it that time.”
Me: “You’re an asshole. That’s the car hitting its bumpstops.”
FM: “I know. Hey, guess what?”
FM: “I heard it in the parking lot too.”
He danced around in his seat a bit, clearly pleased at his victory.
Me: “Seriously f*ck you.”
He turned us around, and we went back to the shop for another round of trying to figure out what was clunking around in the suspension.
”Hey, y’all know anythin’ about that there black Jetta that came in on a flatbed this morning?”
Colossal Redneck was in my office one Monday morning, inquiring about a car that had just mysteriously appeared on the back of a tow truck. This happens more often than you’d imagine: you’ll just come in in the morning and there’s a car sitting in your lot with absolutely no information about who owns it or what they want done with it.
Me: “I poked my head under it. It’s missing its belly pan, and the oil pan looks like it’s got a gnarly crack in it. Other than that, all I know is that it’s an ’04 with a VR6. I punched up the VIN, and it’s one we sold a while back, but the number listed just goes straight to voicemail.”
Without a repair order there was nothing much we could do except let it sit in the lot dripping oil until the owner checked in with us.
Thursday morning. The phone rings.
Me: “Service, this is 36055512.”
On the other end of the line was the single fastest-talking human being ever made.
Me: “Whoa. Is this the black ’04 Jetta with the cracked oil pan?”
Thankfully, Mr. Ambulancechaser Esquire slowed his roll a bit so I could actually figure out what the f*ck he was talking about.
The Lawyer: “Yes, that is my client’s vehicle.”
Me: “Oh good, I’m glad someone called. It came in with no paperwork or instructions, so we weren’t sure what you would like done with it.”
The Lawyer: “Yes, my client is wondering when you will be replacing the engine in it.”
Me: “Uh… is that what your client wants done? I can build a quote for you and send it your way.”
The Lawyer: “Why is a quote necessary?”
Me: “So your client knows how much this is going to cost him or her?”
The lawyer laughed condescendingly.
The Lawyer: “No, you’re failing to understand, this will cost my client nothing.”
Me: “Oooookay. Why don’t we back up a bit and you tell me what’s going on.”
The lawyer went back into turbo-mode.
The Lawyer: “OnoraboutthedateofSaturdaythe21st,myclientwasdrivinginthe2004VolkswagenJetta,henceforthknownas”thevehicle”soldtohimbyanagentofDishonestUsedCarDealershipwhen,inhiswords,the”enginefelloutofthevehicleandoilwenteverywhere.”MyclientthenhadthevehicletowedtoyourlocationsothatyourcompanymayaffordrepairstothevehicleinaccordancetothewarrantyagreementsignedbymyclientandtheagentofDishonestUsedCarDealership…”
He continued on for some time.
Me: “Okay, so let me make sure I understand this correctly. Your client is claiming that the engine “fell out of the car,” which cracked the oil pan, and he wants a new engine under warranty, is that correct?”
The Lawyer: “That is correct.”
Me: “Alright, well, the engine “falling out” would be unusual to say the least. We’ll have to investigate and I’ll get back to you with our findings.”
I took down the lawyer’s information and promised him a call later in the day. I hung up and walked over to Colossal Redneck’s office to relay the situation.
Me: “So, that Jetta with the cracked oil pan. You ain’t gonna believe this, but I just got a call from the customer’s attorney.”
CR: “They got the lawyers on us already, huh?”
Me: “Yep. They’re claiming we somehow caused the “engine to fall out.””
CR: “Uh… huh? That’s… that ain’t really a thing that happens.”
Me: “Customer wants a new engine on our dime.”
CR: “Uh, that ain’t really a thing that’s gonna happen.”
Me: “Agreed. I told ‘em we’d look it over and be in touch.”
We went outside and popped the hood. Aside from the missing belly pan and cracked oil pan, everything appeared to be in order. All the motor mounts were holding fast, and the engine hadn’t migrated anywhere it wasn’t supposed to. The oil pan had huge scrape marks along its length, which combined with the conspicuously-missing belly pan led us to only one conclusion.
Me: “I’ve got a verdict.”
CR: “Customer dun bottomed his car out and wants us ‘ta pay for it?”
We went back inside and Colossal Redneck called the customer’s attorney. I couldn’t hear the other end of the line, but from what I gathered, the lawyer was having none of it. Colossal Redneck hung up and shook his head.
CR: “Sounds like he’s gonna come and make an appearance. I guess they wanna dispute this in person or somethin’.”
Later that afternoon, a black Passat pulled into the driveway and a man piled out. Even from all the way across the parking lot, I could tell this guy was some kind of intergalactic space douchebag. His polyester suit reeked of cheap and his person reeked of cheap cologne.
Me: “Hi, I’m 36055512.”
I held out my hand. He looked at it and refused to shake it.
The Lawyer: ”I believe you have my client’s car.”
I led him over to where we had the Jetta stashed. Colossal Redneck already had the hood open.
CR: “Howdy, sir. Name’s Colossal Redneck. We spoke on the phone.”
He held his hand out. The lawyer stared at him.
CR: “Y’all got a name I can address ya’ by?”
The Lawyer: “Sir is fine.”
CR: “Uh… okay, sir. We’ve had a look over yer Jetta, and there’s nothin’ wrong with how the engine is sittin’ in the engine bay. It sure didn’t “fall out,” anyway. It looks like yer client might’a hit a hard bump or somethin’ and cracked the oil pan.”
The Lawyer: “I doubt that very much.”
Me: “I’m not sure what to tell you. The engine is sitting firmly where it’s supposed to.”
The Lawyer: “Yes, and there’s a simple reason for that. As soon as your culpability in this was shown to you, you went and put the engine back where it’s supposed to be.”
Me: “One, no, and two, if you look under the car, the VR6 pan hangs down quite a bit. It’s also missing its belly pan, which indicates to me that something, most likely the road surface, contacted the underside of the car.”
The lawyer looked at me and rolled his eyes. He reached over and slammed the hood closed.
The Lawyer: “Watch this.”
He placed his palms on the hood of the car and pushed it down an inch or two.
The Lawyer: “Do you see that? That’s the car bottoming out, and it was nowhere near hitting the oil pan on the ground.”
Me: “Okay, there are so many assumptions you have wrong here, I don’t even know where to start. That was nowhere near bottoming out. There’s no way a 170 lb guy can exert the same kind of forces that the suspension sees on a hard bump. Also, roads have a crown to them and irregularities in the pavement that our driveway does not. It is entirely possible for the oil pan to have contacted the ground on this car, especially with how low the VR6 oil pan hangs.”
Before I had a chance to debate further with the lawyer, Felonious Monk came up and grabbed my attention.
FM: “Hey dude. I changed out the sway bar bushings in that Jetta to try and get that clunk out of the suspension. Let’s take it for a test drive when you have a minute.”
I turned to Colossal Redneck.
Me: “Hey, I’m leaving this in your hands. Have fun!”
For all the times he had thrown me under the bus or left me big steaming piles of sh!t to clean up, he could handle a difficult customer for once.
Felonious Monk and I got into the clunking Jetta and once again lurched out of the parking lot to try and chase down any remnants of the noise in the suspension. He drove us back over to the parking lot with the speed bumps, and for all the world, it looked like he had done it. The suspension was quiet. We pulled out of the lot, once again to the right instead of left. I protested.
Me: “Not again, you asshole.”
Felonious Monk just cackled. We pulled to the top of the giant hill. Felonious Monk slid the transmission into neutral and revved the engine to redline. He slammed the shifter back into drive, and the car launched down the hill as we were serenaded by howling tires and a screaming six-cylinder.
We came to the flat section where the tracks crossed. In a split second, the suspension crashed down and catapulted back up. The road dropped away. The engine roared, signaling our front tires were no longer in contact with the pavement. The nose came back down and the entire front of the car crashed into the asphalt with a huge bang. A handful of other noises followed as our car shed pieces of itself.
FM: “Oh sh!t! Oh f*ck! Oh sh!t!”
He whipped the wheel to the side and stomped the brakes, ABS jerking us to a stop on the side of the road. I got out and looked over what he had done. 50 yards behind the car was its belly pan, with the entire front bumper not far away. Most conspicuous, however, was a trail of brown liquid forming underneath the car.
Me: “You stupid f*ck. Are you kidding me?”
I pulled out my phone and dialed Colossal Redneck’s cell. He answered.
Me: “So, uh, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have just found irrefutable evidence that a VR6 oil pan can indeed come into contact with the ground. The bad news is you’ll need to come over here with the tow rig to come get it.”
Felonious Monk’s test flight was at least enough evidence to convince the lawyer to go away for the afternoon, especially since as soon as we got back to the shop, the three of us immediately started yelling at each other and ignoring him. The lawyer left the shop with the threat of his client suing, but the threat turned out to be empty, and for reasons none of us could have expected.
It was the following morning, and Colossal Redneck was shouting at me from his office.
CR: “HEY, HEY, C’MERE AN’ LOOK AT THIS!”
I walked over. On the screen, Colossal Redneck had a photograph. For once, it was a picture of people who actually had clothes on.
CR: “So, ya’ know how Rom and The Amazon always are takin’ pictures a’ people they sell cars ta’? Look what I found!”
Rom and The Amazon had instituted a policy about six months before where every person who bought a car from us had to have their picture taken with their new ride. They were supposedly going to use these pictures for the giant multimedia extravaganza website that our Incompetent Tech Guy had been “working on” for the last six months. On Colossal Redneck’s screen was a photograph of a plainly-dressed man with his very suburban-looking family in front of a black Jetta.
CR: “That’s that there lawyer that came yesterday, ain’t it?”
Me: “So… what the f*ck? The client he was representing was… himself?”
CR: “This is pretty f*ckin’ weird right here.”
I pulled up the customer’s file and copied the name into Google. The first thing that came up was his employee page at the company he worked for.
Me: “Look at this. He’s middle management at a defense contractor.”
Colossal Redneck started howling laughing.
CR: “You mean not only weren’t there a client, he ain’t even a lawyer?”
Me: “I guess? I mean, if he calls again, I guess I can drop that on him.”
Colossal Redneck nodded in agreement.
Me: “I have to say, this is pretty god-damned weird, even for our customers. Like, what the f*ck?”
CR: “Yeah. What the f*ck indeed.”