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An Exercise in Deficiency



I've written recently about how my perception that I had deficits (not just flaws, but flaws that were unacceptable to me) and the defenses I built up so that I wouldn't have to perceive them have influenced my personality structure for most of my life. One of the perceived deficits was that I believed I "should" be skilled at fixing cars, as I believed other men to be (and a secondary deficit is the possibility that I may be more sexist than I would like.) Because I have been having car trouble lately, even though that hardly qualifies as mental illness-inducing, it has given me the chance to observe my own functioning in a way that might be interesting to others.

So, it's been burning oil at a fairly high rate. Most people would have taken it in to a mechanic to check on that, but mechanics have always made me uncomfortable. First, I feel like they know more than I do (not something I've ever enjoyed feeling.) Second, I then expect them to take advantage of their extra knowledge in some way. Rather than expecting them to be helpful and do their job fairly in exchange for the money I would pay them, my fears (part of my defensive coping) made me suspect that they might exaggerate the work needed or even sabotage things to generate more work. I had no actual experience of such maneuvers, but then, I told myself, how would I know? In other words, with my skewed world-view but without actual evidence, I went from seeing people as essentially helpful to assuming they were crooks.

Eventually, despite my attempts to keep the oil levels up, I began to hear a noise and feel some vibration that weren't there before. I knew I needed to take the car in. Still, my attempts were half-hearted. First, I used an internet form provided by one dealer's website to ask for an appointment, but it was never confirmed. I waited several days in the hopes that they would reply, because it would be easier to deal with it on the internet than by calling them. Then, I looked up a number of local dealerships of various brands, partly to find mechanics and partly to shop for a replacement. Unfortunately, when I gave up on the website, I didn't re-check my research. I ended up spending time to take my car to a dealership that only sold and serviced a different brand. My memory and thinking had been clouded by the overhanging reluctance to go at all.

Today, I took it to a dealership that services my brand, and I just heard back from them on the phone. The oil leak didn't even get checked very thoroughly, because of all the other things they found wrong with it. Of course, several of those issues affect the safety of driving the car. Even just the one or two most urgent problems would cost more than the residual value of the car.

It was interesting to observe my own reactions to this news. First, there was a concern that they might be trying to cheat me, but there's no more reason to believe that than there was before. Second, there was a feeling that I had failed, that my lack of automotive skill had one way or another caused the list of problems. But the car is getting old, and the bulk of the issues they found aren't really things I would expect anyone to have been able to prevent.

My current phase of processing is to work on contingency plans, such as how to buy a replacement car. It doesn't seem to make sense to put more money into this one, at this stage. And, with that more integrated viewpoint of the real situation, I also wanted to share my process with others. Who knows, maybe someone will see things that they do, and know that they're not alone.


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Sorry about the car troubles. They are always a huge expense. Just last week, my husband backed into the air pump at work and broke the tail light on our SUV. No big deal, I thought. Wrong. $500 to repair. Ouch. Some years back, we decided it would probably be cheaper to pay monthly for a newer car rather than to keep paying constant repair bills. I think that has (mostly) worked out, minus these kinds of mishaps. :o I think It's important to find an auto repair shop that you trust. My ignorance about cars has been taken advantage of before, so it isn't unheard of to consider. I hope you find a replacement car soon.

At any rate, maybe it's okay to give yourself a break? Not everyone is mechanically inclined and everyone also has stuff they'd like to know more about.

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"[M]echanics have always made me uncomfortable. First, I feel like they know more than I do (not something I've ever enjoyed feeling.) Second, I then expect them to take advantage of their extra knowledge in some way. Rather than expecting them to be helpful and do their job fairly in exchange for the money I would pay them, my fears (part of my defensive coping) made me suspect that they might exaggerate the work needed or even sabotage things to generate more work. I had no actual experience of such maneuvers, but then, I told myself, how would I know?"

I could have written this myself, so many times. I'm currently going to a place that sold me tires at a good price and they've done pretty well so far. It's not a large shop, it's part of a chain, the customer service people seem genuine and helpful, and I've talked to the mechanics a couple of times -- they seem genuine, too. So I'm kind of like, even if they do make a mistake someday, maybe they aren't trying to cheat me. And so I have finally let the worry go a little.

How do you feel about the process of maybe buying a replacement car? That one scares me, too, maybe even more than getting service for it.

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I just found the situation to be a really cool case study (of myself), because I've begun to be able to watch the process in motion. So sometimes it gets overwhelming, like it used to, but then I can get my head up above it and watch again. It helps so much to have realized what I'm afraid of, because it never made much sense before, when I was embedded in it.

Or, maybe I always knew I was afraid of a lack in myself, and maybe I even knew that it was exaggerated, or even not important at all. Maybe the new insight is how my conscious mind organized into an opposition of fear versus bluster, in order to protect me from awareness of the deficit, which I thought was both a devastating and an unchangeable one, when I was younger. So this is what older people meant when they talked about perspective! :-)

And yeah, the news from the mechanic wasn't good at all, so I am mobilizing to buy a new car. And yes, there are similar issues. But I get to watch! :-) So, I'm excitable, nervous, didn't sleep extremely well. But I went to a dealership last night for a test drive, and though it went fairly well, walked out without buying. My current plan is to sit on it until Saturday, and if I'm still interested in that car, to buy it then.

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Playing the role of observer can be helpful once you learn how. Things become much clearer. I can do it sometimes now, but not others.

Make sure to bargain with them about the car, if at all possible, and don't let them fool you into getting 'extras' that you don't need. (Watch out for the trip to the back room.) Not that any of that ever happened to me... :rolleyes:

Good luck with the new car. :)

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Mmm, there's a sort of fight going on, between the part that wants to see the salesman as a crooked adversary, and the part that wants to be as open with him as I've learned to be with most people, in the past couple of years. To be honest, the second one was more evident while talking to the salesman yesterday. And there's something I like about that, about feeling consistent instead of acting out of fear in certain situations. And yet, the fear part worries that openness gives away my entire bargaining position.

Maybe some middle ground will be established, some day. ;-)

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Mark, now it's just about negotiating the best price for a car---they can't see your wet underarms or read your mind :-) They might even call you before Sat. You might feel a need to be honest, so go ahead be honest.... X is all I will pay. Period. You always have the advantage. It may not feel that way.

You can go online and know exactly what you can expect to pay for that car---make, model options. The strongest position is silence. If they don't accept your first offer, which they won't, unless you offered too much, sit there in silence. Wait for the salesman to speak. Also, if they don't accept your best price, know there is another dealership that will be more flexible. Stand up and calmly walk away. They will call you. It's the end of the month and that works to your advantage. When your dollars come close, ask them (the salesman has no power, his sales manager accepts your offer or not) if they are willing to lose a sale for X amount of dollars? You can also negotiate free oil changes for one year, car mats, repair any nicks or dents the car might have, etc.

Seriously, check the Internet for the lowest price you can expect you pay. You can also make offers to multiple dealers, via email, listing what you want and let them come to you.

Some day, you might enjoy doing this. :~) Good luck.

At the end of the day, if you get within a1-2K difference, over the life of the car, it's nothing.

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Ken, thank you for that wealth of practical advice. :-)

I can definitely see how a negotiation process like this could be enjoyable, because I can hear your enjoyment in your words. I hope it's okay if, at the moment, I'm dubious about the joy portion, for me ...

Partly, it's me coming from a tradition of things having prices and values that are accepted, instead of haggling for everything. My salesman appears to be a recent Arab ex-patriate, which suggests he may have the advantage over me there (not to mention the obvious advantage of just being a car salesman.) Everything we've talked about so far has been MSRP, which everyone knows is fictitious. What isn't accurately known (by me, at least) is what the real "value" is ...

At this point, my attitude tends to be that we're already within 1-2K. Of course, that makes it a lot easier for me because I don't have to do anything, which suggests I'm letting myself off too easy.

I've bought cars before, and although I'm always anxious in situations like these, I think I manage to limit it to being stressful as opposed to so painful I have to avoid it.

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Of course it's okay if you don't find joy from the process of buying a car, most people don't.

The important part in this process is that you drive out of the lot with a smile and enjoy your dependable new car. :-)

Oh, only negotiate one thing at a time so he won't inflate something else to compensate. Start with the base, agree on that, your trade, agree... etc.

Hope your car doesn't talk to you. Mine does and we have been arguing a lot lately. LOL.

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