We had to get some car repair done this weekend. A tire blew out, and it turned out to be because the alignment was off. Normally we take our cars to Toshi at JAS in Monrovia (they are very good, extremely honest and charge reasonable rates), but that didn’t work out for us because our Saturday was taken up with archery classes and the shop is not open on Sundays. I suggested getting a tire from one of the hole-in-the-wall places in the sketchy area of town where they sell used tires and “factory seconds” for cheap. My bride responded “isn’t that discount sushi?”
I knew exactly what she meant.
You see, there used to be a restaurant a couple of towns east of us called “Sushi For Less.” The instant I first saw their sign, I remembered the episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer eats improperly-prepared fugu and thinks he’s going to die. I pointed at the sign and said to my family, “there are certain things in life that you don’t want to scrimp on; discount sushi is a bad idea.” Since then, “discount sushi” has become our code word for any attempt at saving a few bucks by getting the cheap version of something that will probably fail and end up costing you a lot, especially anything that could actually get you killed.
For a good understanding of the discount sushi concept, go to the nearest dollar store or other discount retailer (99c Only, Big Lots, etc.) You’ll find two different categories of goods in these places: discontinued/closeout merchandise from major manufacturers, and cheap stuff made especially for sale at the dollar store. The first category yields good deals; you get major brand-name goods at a discount; the second category is discount sushi, junk that will fall apart with the first use. Somebody once told me, “never buy the same tool twice.” If the first one breaks, make sure the second one is a significant upgrade so that hopefully it won’t break again.
Here are a few other examples of things you don’t want to get from the lowest bidder:
– laser eye surgery
– gastrointestinal weight-loss surgery (the “lap band”)
– plastic surgery
– pretty much any kind of surgery
– tattoos, piercings, or any other permanent body modifications
– anything upon which your life depends
I’m sure you can think of a great many other things you’re happy to pay full price for just to make sure it doesn’t maim or kill you. That’s why we have a comments section.
Several categories of car repair fall into this classification as well, especially if you’re driving a lot, and most especially if you’re driving a lot to get to and from your job. When I was working in Glendale (12 miles west) or Irwindale (15 miles east), I could, if I had to, take a bus to work. If necessary, Terri could drive me to work or pick me up, with fairly minor inconvenience. These days I work in Santa Clarita, about 35 miles northwest; taking a bus or light rail to work would involved first going 20 miles south to Union Station to connect to the correct bus or train, which would then drop me three miles from my office over an hour later. All told, getting there or back would take a minimum of two hours. Having Terri drive me would take up at least a quarter of her work day. I’ve been listed on a couple of carpooling sites for almost a year and have not found anyone who commutes the same route I do at roughly the same time. All of which leads us to one cold fact: either I drive myself to work every day or I find job closer to home and accessible by public transit. Given that it took almost four years to land this gig, I’m not terribly hopeful about that happening anytime soon, so it seems pretty important that I keep the car running as well as I can, which means we can’t afford to “discount sushi” the car repairs.
Given the time allotted and the urgency of the situation (I’m just not going to drive 70 miles a day on a “donut” spare), we went to the local Pep Boys.
I tried to make an appointment for the morning via their website, but it didn’t go through for some reason. Didn’t matter, because we got over there when they opened at 9:00 AM and found there was already a line formed. Even if I’d had an appointment, I still would have been waiting at least a half-hour to get checked in.
The guy who helped us, Chris, was really great. We told him what we wanted (alignment, a tire, and an oil change), and he got us checked in; it was going to take about two to two-and-a-half hours to get everything done. We left the car and went to have breakfast (but that’s another post), then ran errands and worked on a project that involves photos of locations in Pasadena (also another post). At about the hour-and-a-half mark, Chris called to let me know that the other front tire was worn out nearly as much as the one that blew up, and one of the back tires was looking pretty iffy as well. Also the rear brakes were pretty well shot. We gave him the go-ahead and he said it would take another 3 hours or so. About 2 hours later he called to say the car was ready.
Chris went to a lot of trouble to get us the best deal he could; as I scanned the Pep Boys site looking at special offers and coupons trying to find the best deal (“coupon not valid with any other offer”), Chris settled it for me. There was a coupon for $10 off wheel alignment, and another for 15% off brake service, so he told me he would give me both. He pointed to the price comparison sign on the wall and said he’d do the $10 off as a competitive price-match, and use the 15% off coupon. With the discounts and rebates, I ended up saving about $150 by the time I got out of there, and he finished the job about two hours sooner than he had said to expect it.
Car repair is never fun, but it’s a lot less painful when the service people make an effort to treat you right. Toshi is still my preferred mechanic, but if I have to get something minor done quickly, I will happily return to Pep Boys, especially if Chris is working that day.