Shannon and I have a (least) favorite new smell: burning clutch.

Yesterday, while driving back from New York in rain so torrential the Saw Mill River Parkway was turned into a virtual floodplain, I noticed that the clutch in my car started feeling really, really mushy. We were on a long, steep uphill, and the clutch was requiring quite a bit higher revs to engage; in addition, it was channeling the most acrid, horrific smell straight back at Shannon and me. There was at least a half-mile left of hill, so with some quick acrobatics, I got off to the shoulder and turned off the car. We debated how I’d be able to even look under the hood with the rain coming down as hard as it was, and we started hunting for the nearest Subaru dealer. (Thank goodness I kept the little “every Subaru dealer in the country” brochure when I bought the car!)

After one dealer’s service department treated me like a radioactive, smallpox-laden anthrax spore, we found another closeby, and decided to start back up and limp along to see if they’d take a look. When we got to their service department, one of the techs took my keys and took the car out for a quick spin. He came back and said that it felt OK, and that the smell was undoubtedly the clutch; he said that it was probably OK to get back to Boston, but that I should bring it in to my local dealer today for a look-see.

I got it in first thing this morning, only to learn later today that it won’t be until tomorrow afternoon before they look at the car, and then god knows how long before it’s fixed. One mechanic said that he thought some water got into the clutch, making it slip a bit to cause the burning smell; another said that there shouldn’t be any way for water to get into the clutch, and that they’d have to drop the transmission out of the car to see what had happened. And despite a quick bit of learning, I feel like I’m totally at the mercy of the mechanics — if they came to me tomorrow and told me it would be a cool grand to replace the gerbils and rabbit brain that run my transmission, I’d have to just fork it over. One hopes it’ll all be covered under the warranty… we’ll see.


This is what I hate about car repairs, you are at the “mercy of the mechanics”. There really isn’t much you can do other then try to go through reviews ahead of time. Especially when you are on the road and you have a problem though, you need the car fixed. Alot like those commericals for the insurance where the apartment is flooded and the guy asks the plumber for a better price or something.

• Posted by: Blaine Hilton on Oct 28, 2003, 11:29 PM

A couple of the more difficult things to do in life (at least for me) are finding an honest mechanic and an understanding dentist. When I had both in San Francisco, I felt confident that if anything happened to my teeth or car, I would be in good hands and I wouldn’t be getting ripped off. I had that mechanic (Essy from EuroJapan Autoworks in SF for anyone in the bay area looking for a great mechanic) for three years and he helped fix quite a few things, including an eventual clutch replacement (which ran $1200 on my truck). Screw the dealers, I’ve had lots of bad experiences at all sorts of dealerships. Ask around the hospital, see if anyone found a mechanic they’d trust with their lives.

This is where I wish some magical service like friendster, mailing lists, or weblogs could help, but seldom do.

• Posted by: Matt Haughey on Oct 29, 2003, 12:11 AM

I think it is kind of interesting to see the parallels between health care and auto care:

emergency mechanic -> emergency room
local mechanic -> primary care physician
trust the experts -> trust the experts
warranty -> insurance

Of course, I’m not sure that you in particular need these parallels pointed out. :-)

• Posted by: Sam Greenfield on Oct 29, 2003, 10:58 AM
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