When You Can’t Afford Safety Related Car Repairs, What Do You Do?

When You Can’t Afford Safety Related Car Repairs, What Do You Do?

I know that I’m very, very lucky

Photo by Nina Mercado on Unsplash

I was at my car dealer today getting an 18,000 mile checkup. Actually it wasn’t even that: the car is 20 months into its lease and has less than 16,000 miles on the clock. But it was time to take it in.

I used to think that dealership service was too expensive but in more recent years I’ve found my dealership to be around the same price as everyone else. They are usually quicker and I can always get a free loaner when they can’t be, so that’s where I go, in or out of warranty.

When I arrived at 7:30 in the morning there was only one person ahead of me, a man in his mid to late fifties in business attire. I assumed he was heading to a job or sales calls after his service. We had a brief conversation at the fancy multi-choice coffee machine which wasn’t quite awake yet. It made impressive noises when we tried to get our drinks but couldn’t fulfill its promise, so we went back to our seats.

I busied myself with email, he sat across the room looking through some papers. Time passed and then one of the service folks came out to talk to him.

His car needed work. She told him that his tire tread was thin and that he’d need all new tires. His brake pads were dangerously thin as well and she listed off a half dozen other things that needed attention.

I’ve used this shop for almost 20 years now. I know that they don’t tell you that you need anything that you don’t. If it will need repair soon but can wait a few months, they tell you. She didn’t say anything like that.

She paused and said, “All told that would come to $1,750.”

I saw the man’s lips start to move and then stop. He took a breath and then asked about the brakes. She told him they were close to bare. The tires? They wouldn’t pass a state inspection but he wasn’t due for that yet. They talked about the other items and he took another breath. “Let’s do the brakes today”. He wasn’t happy.

I squirmed in my seat. Had she said that to me, i would have shrugged and told her to go ahead. I have enough money to cover expenses like that and rank safety high in importance.

But this was someone else, not me. Who knows what his situation was? COVID might have hurt his income. He might be divorced, he might have a lot of credit card debt, young children to feed and clothe. His financial state might have been his fault or might have been circumstances beyond his control.

Does it matter? No, because he was giving up safety.

In years past, when I was pulling in good money, I might have offered to pay part of the bill. There were only the three of us there, so it would not have been very embarrassing for him. I was tempted even now, but we are retired. Comfortably retired, but not so comfortable to give away money to a stranger. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I can’t save the world.

I’m lucky. Yes, I worked hard for many decades and yes I made good decisions but still: I was also lucky. This man probably was not.

It’s easy for someone to insist that people make their own beds and must lie in them. It’s so easy to be holier than thou. It’s so easy to convince yourself that undeserving or not, it’s not your problem to fix.

But it’s raining today. I cannot help thinking of this man driving on dangerous tires on slick roads. It will bother me.

At least his brakes are fixed.

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