Over, and over, and over, I’ve been faced with situations where I’ve had to choose to trust my gut…and been glad I did. I know I need to heed that quiet inner voice when it tells me, “Something’s not right here.”
And yet, when push came to shove, I didn’t do it this past weekend.
What is it about “trusting your gut”, anyway? We’ve all heard the mantra before:
Trust your gut.
Cultivate your intuition.
Exercise your sixth sense.
But how many of us, when faced with a situation where we actually have to do it, back down with a murmured, “Well, I’m just overthinking this,” or worse: “I’m just being paranoid”.
Unfortunately, last Friday, I blinked. I didn’t follow my gut. And I paid for it in stress, anxiety, and a heck of a lot of money.
This is a long post today–my longest ever, at 3,175 words. It’s also two days late. But trust me–you don’t want to miss what happened. You’ll also understand why I’m so long overdue on my “Monday Challenge” this week.
Because if it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.
Thursday started innocuously enough.
I found out that my darling cousin Mia, and her kids, were back in upstate New York for a few days before making a final move to California. I was delighted–I thought we had already missed our last chance to say goodbye to them, and immediately arranged to make a quick overnight to go see her. We also arranged to take her cat, Ivan, home with us, since they would be living out of suitcases and hotels until escrow closed on their new house.
When we arrived in New Paltz, New York, we noticed something weird: our truck–a Chevy Silverado 1500 with extended crew cab–was running hot. Worse yet, we had a warning message: “ENGINE COOLANT HOT”.
We’d never had that message before, but being the dutiful mechanic’s daughter that I am, I quickly used my best trick for when a vehicle gets hot on a 95-degree day and you’re stuck in traffic, as we were:
I rolled down the windows and blasted the heater.
Normally, that will bleed the heat off the engine, and cool it right down.
Except…it didn’t work this time.
I knew we could be in trouble, so I pulled over and turned the truck off. We stayed put for a while, long enough for the truck to have cooled down a bit, then started off again.
The truck heated right back up.
A minute down the road, we stopped at a farmstand, and took a long break. We let the truck cool down for a good 20 minutes before making the last two-mile jump to the Ulster County Fairgrounds, where we were to meet Mia.
Almost immediately upon starting up the truck, the temperature shot right back up again. This was not good! We got the truck to the fairgrounds, and shut it down, and went to enjoy the fair. We let it sit for 5 1/2 hours, while we played games, rode rides, and won three new goldfish family pets.
After the fair, we headed the three minutes down the road to Mia’s house. The truck temperature started off fine, then rapidly rose until, 30 seconds from her home, it suddenly started chiming: “ENGINE OVERHEATED”. I could see Mia’s house, so I threw the truck into neutral and coasted to her driveway. The chime ceased, the message went back to “ENGINE COOLANT HOT”, and we parked and shut it down.
The next day, after a quick tow to a nearby service station, they diagnosed and fixed a failed thermostat.
We were up enjoying ourselves at Lake Minnewaska when we received a call from the shop. “I have some really bad news,” the service station guy said. “We fixed the thermostat, but it’s continuing to overheat. We think it’s the head gasket.”
I had been afraid of this. Having spoken to my dad, who is a former mechanic, I knew it could be the head gasket, a water pump, or a belt–the thermostat had been a nice (read: inexpensive) surprise, but Dad was still concerned about that head gasket. “We can’t handle this kind of repair,” the service station guy continued, “So we think you should tow it to a Chevy dealership. They will be able to do the work.”
My immediate, gut reaction said not just NO, but HELL NO. I have had mostly bad experiences with dealerships; we’ve been caught up in a nasty round of repairs before, only to find that nothing was solving the problem. That dealership later built a brand-new, state-of-the-art fancy facility across the street, and we vowed never to finance someone else’s expansion ever again. The only dealership we ever trusted was Crown Honda in Redding, California–but that’s another story! (They’re very good, by the way.)
Despite that immediate reaction, I wasn’t sure who else to send the truck to. My cousin has always had company vehicles, so she’d never had to deal with repairs before, and wasn’t sure who was reputable. I talked myself out of my gut reaction, and asked AAA to approve the second tow to Chevy, since further repairs were needed.
Chevy received the truck on Friday, and on Saturday I had to call them a couple of times, since they weren’t calling me. I told them that we were here from Maine, and in an attempt to get him to understand my predicament, I explained we were stranded, my cousin was moving in a few days, and I had two little girls with me.
And my gut continued to tighten with every subsequent conversation.
“Well, we think it’s the head gasket,” the man, who I will call ROB, said. (Keep in mind, I had already explained everything and told them I was told that it might be the head gasket.) “That’s a big repair, about $2300. And that’s assuming nothing else has gone wrong inside, which we won’t know till we open it up,” Rob continued.
Then the conversation got downright weird: “You know,” he added, “125,000 miles is pretty high mileage. It might not be worth fixing at all.”
My first reaction was shock. Since when is 125,000 on an 8-year-old truck “high” mileage? That’s a lame comment. Trucks can go much further than that. Our Honda is a year older and has twice the mileage. But his comment that it “might not be worth fixing” was downright ridiculous–and chilling. The truck, as it stood, bluebooked for $15,000 minimum, even with the so-called “high mileage” and engine trouble.
And he knew it–he’s a dealership. It’s his job to know this. That’s when I suddenly realized I had likely just heard the opening volley of an attempt to railroad me into trading in my truck. That would have been a win/win for them; they’d get a valuable truck for less than it was worth, and I would be in hock to them for a new vehicle.
They had me over a barrel: I was effectively stranded. With kids.
Aside from all this, you would think that if I asked him to do the work, then he’d just get with it and–you know–do the work. It certainly wasn’t up to him to decide whether my truck was “worth fixing” or not.
Saturday passed, with nothing done on the truck. Sunday, they were closed. Monday rolled around, and by 10 a.m.–with no phone calls forthcoming–I called Chevy again. This time I spoke to someone I’ll call FRED.
“Well, we think it may be the head gasket,” Fred said. (Haven’t we heard this before?) “But we won’t know for sure until we open it up.”
“Look, you’ve had the truck since Friday, and I’ve already told you this.” I explained, growing more frustrated. And when I get frustrated, I get teary-eyed. And you can hear it in my voice. I think he took the sound the wrong way, because he started to get domineering.
“Look, ma’am,” he said, “we had to do our own diagnostics. And we’re very busy here.”
“And you’ve had my truck since Friday night,” I said. “I’ve told you we’re stranded here. Why is it taking so long to get it done?”
“We needed to make sure that’s what the problem is,” Fred said. “So would you like us to do the work?”
I told him yes, I expected him to get to it, and hung up. A few minutes later, he called me back.
“My technician went over the truck,” he said, “and he said the coolant levels look fine, and he thinks it’s the head gasket.” (At this point I was ready to throw my phone at someone.)
“How long will it take to get it fixed?” I asked. “Can it be done today?”
“Look, ma’am,” he started to get snarky, “this is a 14-hour job, minimum. What we’d like to do is take the head gaskets and send them to a machine shop, and they can tell if they’re warped. And IF I push them, the machine shop might get them done in about a week. And that’s IF I push them.”
At this point I was ready to spit. The last time I checked, if I am paying someone to do a job for me, they should do their job, which includes pushing people to get work done on my behalf. But I didn’t say that. Instead I said, “Have you opened up the truck yet?”
“No, ma’am,” Fred said.
“Good,” I answered. “Don’t do anything until I call you back.”
Update: I just realized after re-reading this tonight that this is where Chevy made their play for the truck. They had set me up perfectly: I was stuck, with kids, and to the point of tears. They had already lobbied for “high mileage” and “not worth fixing”, and I had at one point agreed that we didn’t want to pay “tons” for repairs. I meant tens of thousands; they probably thought I meant a few thousand. When Fred played his “a week to check to see if that’s all it is, and it may be more,” I’m sure he expected me to fold. And when I told him not to do anything until I called him back, I’m sure he expected me to say, “We can’t afford that. What will you give me for the truck?” Instead, I blew his mind with my next move.
I hung up on Fred, and that’s when instinct kicked in.
I finally started to trust my gut.
I started calling around to find out where I could rent a truck to tow my Silverado home to my own mechanic in Maine, some 300 miles away.
Thankfully, when I called Budget Truck Rental nearby, I had our first major lucky break. MaryAnne, the lovely woman there, listened to my story, then told me that, unfortunately, they didn’t have any trucks that could handle it. “You know,” she added thoughtfully, “I know some guys nearby who might be able to tow it to Maine for you, for a flat fee.” She gave me the names of Al and Ken at Absolutely Automotive, and told me, “Tell them MaryAnne sent you.”
My husband called Al, and explained what was going on. They agreed to tow the truck to Maine, but felt awful about charging us the full $1200 for the $4/mile price. “We’ll do it for $800, if that’s what you really want to do,” Al said, immediately giving us a 25% discount, just because he felt badly about what we were going through.
He then told my husband that he wanted to take a look at the truck. He said he would do it for free, but that he had a feeling that Chevy had “missed something”. He explained that, oftentimes a vehicle that overheats has a blocked water pump–which matched what my dad said–and that people don’t always remember to look for that. “If that’s what it is, we can fix it for you and save you the eight hundred bucks,” Al said. “And if not, we’ll go ahead and tow it instead. “
“Done,” my husband said.
I called Fred back and told him, “Button it up. I’m sending a tow truck over, and they’re going to tow it home to Maine.”
There was a stunned silence on the other end. (Note: he was likely expecting me to roll over and hand him the truck keys at this point.)
“Is he going to settle the bill?” Fred asked rather nastily.
“No, I will. Can I give you a credit card over the phone?”
“We don’t do that,” he said, “because of the potential for identity fraud.” Instead, I arranged to pay over email (as though that was any more secure!!), but then decided to go in and pay in person.
My cousin had to drive to Newark later that day, so she immediately drove me over to a rental car agency (because Chevy had steadfastly refused to give me a loaner car, despite the length of time in the shop), and I went to Chevy, just as the guy from Absolutely Automotive arrived. I paid the $118.89 bill for the “diagnostic” work they did, they handed over the key, and I turned it over to Absolutely Automotive. I removed everything from the truck that I’d need (GPS, car chargers, glasses, etc.) and went back to my cousin’s house.
Less than an hour later, my husband got a call from Al. I was listening in, and watching my husband’s expressions, which ranged from shock, to incredulity, to downright anger. “Vapor lock? Yeah, we know what it is,” Kent said. He’s right–we do. We’ve had it before. And we know how to fix it ourselves.
I’m not a mechanic’s daughter for nothing, you know.
Kent listened a bit more, said, “Yeah, great, take it up to 70,” and then said we’d be waiting for his call and hung up.
It turns out that the head gasket was not the problem. The truck had a vapor lock–essentially, there was too much air in the system, and it had to be “burped”. And Chevy was wrong–the truck was, in fact, low on coolant. Al had to put in almost two full gallons to fix the problem.
Al did what Kent said, and he ran the truck around town, then took it on the highway and opened her up. And the truck stayed cool and steady.
The fix took 30 minutes flat. And it cost us $83.
We were so thrilled that we asked Al to go ahead and replace the tires–we had to do it anyway, and were going to do it in Maine, but we gave him the job out of appreciation for his work.
We kept the rental car, and used that as “cheap insurance,” running that along behind the truck all the way home. I figured if the truck had another problem, we could hire AAA to tow the truck home (we have 100 mile towing service), and we’d get home okay because we had the rental car.
I needn’t have worried; the truck ran fine all the way home. No problems at all. We pulled into our driveway at 1:30 a.m. It was now Tuesday morning.
Along for the ride was Ivan, the cat, who will be living with us for the next month, and two of the three goldfish that we won at the fair. Sadly, we lost one. They’d spent the preceding four days living in a soup pot at my cousin’s house quite happily, until that last day.
There were a couple of times I could have trusted my gut, and overlooked it, only to suffer frustration and upset. The first was when the initial shop wanted to tow it to Chevy. The second was when Chevy called the truck “high mileage” and intimated that it “might not be worth fixing.”
But as soon as they said, “at least a week”, I finally woke up–and everything fell into place.
I have since contacted a lovely woman named “G” (making me wonder if she’s an agent for the Men in Black). She works for the New York State Attorney General’s Office in Manhattan. She’s in the “consumer fraud” division, and has opened up paperwork on my behalf to get a refund of the $118.89, and possibly even the $205 for the rental car.
What I really want, however, is for Chevy to receive a scary call from the Attorney General’s Fraud office, asking them, “So tell us again about that repair estimate…”
AAA apologized profusely for our treatment, and is looking at whether that Chevy dealership has “AAA-approved” status…and whether that should change. As they said, “Our shops should never treat our customers this way”. They also immediately approved a refund of the $95 out-of-pocket tow fees I paid to have the truck taken from Chevy to Absolutely Automotive.
Despite the chaos and the stress, there were actually a number of blessings that we experienced, some of which I outlined last Saturday:
- We got an extra 3 days with my beloved cousin Mia and her kids.
- I got to know Mia’s soulmate, Lin, who is hysterically funny, highly intelligent, and a downright nice guy.
- We made it to her home before we broke down.
- We were well-fed, had clean clothes, were in a comfortable, air-conditioned home, and we were safe.
- There were tons of distractions, with Wii, computers, Olympics, movies, long walks in the evenings, great meals, wonderful conversations, and a lot of laughs.
- There’s this one memorable YouTube video we created when we got absolutely silly on Saturday afternoon while waiting for Chevy to call (see below).
- We were helped by MaryAnne, a lovely woman at Budget Truck Rental who took it upon herself to help us out when all she really had to do was tell us that no, they didn’t have a truck big enough.
- We met Al and his crew at Absolutely Automotive, who not only offered us an automatic 25% off a fair tow charge, but also offered to look at the truck. Then they fixed it in a half hour, for less money than that crazy 3-day diagnostic that Chevy required.
- We were able to take some of Mia’s furniture away for her with our truck, so she didn’t have to move it or find a way to dispose of it.
Blessings, blessings, and more blessings. You know how they say “things always work out for the best”? They really do. And we’re proof.
Your challenge for the week, and actually for your life, is this:
Trust. Your. Gut.
I’ve said it often enough to my daughter, and I’ve been told that my entire life. But when push came to shove, I backed down–and walked myself into three agonizing days and over $300 in unnecessary fees.
Had I simply told the first service shop to wait while I looked into someone else, we would have been spared the heartache, frustration, irritation, anxiety, anger, and fear over possibly losing the truck for days on end and having to spend $3000–or more–to get it back.
Two days later, the truck continues to run beautifully, with no further problems. High mileage and all.
Guess it was worth fixing after all, wasn’t it, Rob and Fred?
One more thing:
Always remember that if someone treats you to exceptional service, say thank you, and do so profusely and generously.
We’ve already sent both MaryAnne and Al (and his crew) a couple of heartfelt thank-you gifts. We hope they enjoy them, because without their help, this would have been a nightmare we’d still be living today.