Annual inspections are required in New York State, and I usually do this at my local dealer, since they are close to where I live and the service department is open 24 hours most days. This year, it came with an unpleasant surprise, or around $750 of necessary service work, which is right around the line where I might go elsewhere.
The work included things you would expect on an 11-year-old car with 68,000 miles on it: The serpentine belt had a crack in it and needed replacing, the coolant was dirty and needed flushing, ditto with the brake fluid, the fuel injectors also needed cleaning, as did the throttle body. I was told that everything except the brake flush was needed to pass inspection, something I’m still a little dubious about, given that inspections here are mainly focused on brakes, the steering system, lights, and safety features, but perhaps they were referring to the emissions inspection. I’m assuming they keep these things purposefully vague.
Anyway, I signed off, and three hours later I got a call to say that the car was done, I went back, paid them, and drove off, testing it a little bit, since the dealer also said the engine “wasn’t running well” because of the dirty injectors. The car seemed ... fine? I don’t know, it’s hard to tell about performance differences on a car that makes 109 horsepower.
A few things to consider here, the first being that I know and trust an independent mechanic in Brooklyn, and probably could’ve gotten the work done for less there. When the air-conditioning unit fried itself on the Fit a couple years, for example, I took it to him after the dealership quoted me $3,000 for the repair, which he did for $1,600. But he doesn’t do inspections, meaning that if I paid him to do it I’d have a second trip elsewhere to make.
He also doesn’t work on Sundays, and it was a Sunday. And while normally waiting a day or two might be fine, my inspection had expired a few days prior, which is not only a ticketable offense in New York, it’s also a towable one. And tickets, well, living in New York you accept that you will get tickets, but it’s the towing part of that which is the real stick.
Short story: Six or seven years ago I walked out of my apartment in Brooklyn and looked at the Fit, which was parked on the street, and noticed a ticket under the windshield, and assumed it was for failing to move my car for alternate-side street parking, and left it, and went about my day, and figured I would worry about it later. The following day, I walked out of my apartment and noticed that my car was gone.
Interesting, I thought. After a brief search online I traced it to the Brooklyn Tow Pound. I was pretty sure I was parked legally, and, indeed, when I got to the tow pound they said that, in fact, my inspection sticker had expired, and that was the reason it had been towed. Great, I said, I’ll drive it to get it inspected right away. Wrong, they said, your car with its expired inspection sticker is not street legal, we can’t let you drive it away. You’ll have to call a tow truck to tow it away.
Which is a long way of saying that after about $1,500 in towing fees, fines, repair costs, and inspection costs, I have been religious about not letting my car inspection expire ever since. But not this year, the year my life became a zoo, which explains some of the panic I had when I realized I had forgotten. And why the dealer was the best option for me at that moment in time since it was a Sunday, and the work needed to get done now. My choice was basically already made because $750 sounded fine if the alternative was several hours of my life wasted at the Queens Tow Pound and double that in cost.
But if this was a non-emergency situation I probably maybe would’ve considered taking it to my guy in Brooklyn. For big repairs, like the aforementioned fried air-conditioning unit, I will always probably go to him, since the potential savings can really add up. For more routine maintenance, the calculation is a little different, especially since my car is well out of warranty.
Which is to say $750 is right about on that line, between making an extra trip and potentially saving some money or just accepting my fate at Paragon Honda every year thanks to this state-mandated ritual.
The most Jalopnik answer to all of this, of course, is that I should fix my own damn car, which is fair, but I don’t trust myself enough to not fuck something up, because fucking up would be fine if the Fit had reached Beater Status but it isn’t quite there yet. And if I want to protect the car’s (small but still existent) value I better have service records.
The broader takeaway is that I could have avoided this whole dilemma by not having to rush it and planning ahead even to the slightest degree, I guess. My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is to be less of a shambles, as has been my New Year’s resolution every year for a couple of decades now. Never quite took, for some reason, though I’m working on it.