FusesCClipsCirca 1983, Santa Barbara, CA – The Fiat sits in the median. Turning the key does nothing. Jiggling wires and opening the fuse box turns up nothing. The car remains dead. I find a repair shop that can fix Italian cars and have the Fiat towed there at a cost of $30. At my income, that’s a big “ouch.”

The guy calls me the next day and says I can pick up the car. When I come to get it, I ask what caused the breakdown. A fuse had blown. He replaced it. Five bucks.

I’m relieved, but puzzled. All the fuses I’d checked seemed fine. “Where is this fuse?” I ask.

He gives me a funny look. “That’s how we make our money,” he says, and offers no more information.

I’m stunned. I can’t afford to spend another $35 so he can make less than $5 in profit the next time this same fuse blows. When the carburetor jams up a few months later, I find another mechanic who works on Fiats. He’ll fix it, and he tells me I can save some money by removing and replacing the carburetor myself. Gratefully noted. I ask him about the fuse I couldn’t find.

“Beneath the carpet under the driver’s seat,” he says. Sweet! I have a Fiat mechanic.

Same year, different car. The clutch goes out on my Pontiac T1000. I have the car towed to a GM-certified repair place. They grin, shake their heads and fix it on the spot. It’s done in a few minutes.

“How much?” I ask.

“No charge.”

“Really?! What did you do?” I ask.

One of the guys points to a corrugated worm coming out of the firewall. “This sleeve slides over the clutch cable. You pull it out to adjust the amount of play. It’s kept in place by this flimsy aluminum C-clip. These things break all the time.” He reaches into a box and hands me half a dozen of them. “If you run out, come back for more,” he says.

I keep them in the glove compartment. Over the next couple of years, I replace several. Tired of having the clutch go out, I finally cut a piece of pipe to the right length and wire it in place. Problem solved.

One day the car starts growling like an adenoidal chihuahua. It’s lost power, too. I take it to the C-clip guys.

They show me a hole in the manifold.

“How much is this going to cost?” I shudder to ask.

“Nothing. California emissions law requires the entire exhaust system to be maintained under warranty,” they tell me. “We’ll just bill Pontiac.”

Guess whom I recommended wholeheartedly when a friend’s car needs major work?

Minor investments paid off in major trust.


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