Opinion: Bill Walton, see a specialist


My vehicle is fairly new so I was a bit alarmed when the engine coughed, the transmission downshifted on its own, an orange message briefly flashed in the center of the console and then everything returned to normal operation. I pulled over to the side of the road and let the machine idle for a while. Everything looked A-OK.

However, being new and me being old, I called Tom the salesman who sold me the SUV.

This vehicle has more electronic systems than me. He checks things in before I even open the doors, sensing my presence and getting ready for a road trip. He checks the gas level, the oil in the crankcase, the transmission fluids, the tire pressure, the windshield washer (even looks for raindrops to wipe from the windshield), adjusts the mirrors, checks all the lights even when the sun is out. brilliant, which I have no idea how many airbags there are in the car, and even slides the seat into my preferred driving position when seated.

So when the engine coughed, I wondered if a sensor had failed.

Tom, I said, the engine coughed. I fixed this to sound more mechanical – the engine misfired; the gearbox, i mean the transmission, downshifted and an orange message appeared on the monitor. What did the message say, he said. I don’t know – it was too quick for me to read. And it’s gone now. Is everything okay now? Yeah I think so. Don’t worry, it was probably just a blip. Call the store specialist in the morning if it happens again.

I don’t know what a blip means in mechanical language and his recommendation sounded like take two aspirins and call me in the morning. I should have called a specialist, but you have to jump through the hoops – go through the dealership – the car’s GP, so to speak.

In the morning, my vehicle had another jerk. I called parts and service and Bert said bring it over and I’ll take a look. Let me check our schedule. Tomorrow at 11:15, okay? Of course, keep driving – it’s probably just a jerk. At least I now knew that my vehicle was a “she” and not a “that”. And here I had called her “Santa” – Mrs. Santa from now on.

At 11:30 am (I had to sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes) Bert took me to the examination booth. He lifted the hood and made me start the engine. He listened with his electronic gadget (it looked like a stethoscope). Hmm, he said. I think we better send you to Johnson’s Electronics and do an MRA. What is it, says I. Magnetic resonance amplifier – kind of like an ECG for cars. Johnson’s has the best in town. Let me call for an appointment. Next Tuesday at 2 p.m., how are you? Bert asked.

Is it okay to drive her until I asked? I almost said “that”. Of course, don’t do any racing or stunts, he laughs, no doubt thinking what the odds were of an 80-year-old man doing stunts in a 4-cylinder SUV?

The following week, I was on time at the Johnson Clinic, but had to wait an hour. Alice, the tech apologized for getting an emergency RMA on a police cruiser. Let’s go see her, she said, pointing to my vehicle. I think she just has a blip, I say. I have the look doctors give patients when they self-diagnose using the internet.

Alice hooked up a handful of wires to parts of the engine and started it. No, not a blip, Alice said. Sounds like you have a blockage in the fuel injector. I can go through the fuel tank with a catheter brush or we can just add ethanol cleaner and let it run. I’ve got some pills right here – we can try that. The pills sounded better than a catheter for Mrs. Santa, so I nodded.

And, said Alice in a white coat, I’m going to order an exhaustoscopy to check her emissions. It could be an impact in the catalytic converter. We should probably do a fluid analysis at Mrs. Transmission, just to be sure. They will send you the appointment.

I had to ask: who pays for all these tests? The manufacturer has an insurance plan – it’s all part of the purchase price. Just like your own health care, says Alice. We need to keep her healthy until she’s ready for the scrapyard. I must have looked shocked. Oh, don’t worry – she’s good for three or four hundred thousand miles. Shit, I’ll be 95 by then, I thought.

A week later, she bluffed again. I called Bert and told him. Just a moment, he says, while I look at Alice’s diagnostic file. Yes, I have the MRA results. Isn’t this client file sharing awesome, he asked me. What have you been using since your date, Bert asked. Premium, just like Alice said, I replied. All right, let me see how soon I can get you a new injector.

You’ll have to join the waiting list, said Bert. Looks like it’ll be six weeks before we can get a new one and do the replacement surgery. We could try a used one, it might be faster. Are the second-hand ones any good, I wonder. Of course, just like a heart transplant – they put them in all the time. Ha ha, he laughed. It might not last that long, but we’ll give you a guarantee.

So next week, Mrs. Santa is going for a replacement of the injection system. Bert says they’ll put Kleen Flo on so we don’t have any rejection issues. But the blips should go away.

Now I wonder what will happen if I have a blip. Not Mrs. Santa, but me, personally. How long will it take to get an appointment, get an MRA or whatever they use on humans, colonoscopy, urinalysis and have the injector cleaned or replaced? Ten will get you five, the car will be faster than the human. Just say.


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