I went on vacation the first week of June, leaving my Honda Fit street-parked in New York in a spot not far from my apartment for eight days — timed, brilliantly I thought, to an alternate-side-parking holiday so I wouldn’t be ticketed. When I got back from vacation, I ambled over to the car to make sure it had survived unscathed. All seemed well, so I went back to my apartment and didn’t think about it until the weekend, when I set out on a Saturday to do some weekend things. I knew something was wrong the moment I started the engine, because my humble Fit now sounded like a race car.
Initially, I thought it was just the muffler finally failing. It’s the original unit, and it’s seen plenty of salt from New York winters. That’s fine, I thought — the alternator, air conditioning compressor, tires, windshield wipers (many times), spark plugs, battery, and various filters (many times) have all been replaced on the car, and that’s just the stuff I can remember. If it was time for a new muffler, no biggie. The engine and transmission are still in solid working order, and the car’s never been in a wreck. The bones are still good.
So I drove to the shop and explained, I think there’s something wrong with the muffler, could you check it out?¹ About an hour later, they called back and told me the bad news: The catalytic converter had been stolen, which has been happening a lot lately. The repair would be a mere $3,500. Quite surprised, I told them I’d have to think about it and would call them back. Around that same time, I remembered that I pay for comprehensive insurance, because it’s only an extra $60 a year and I might need it. In fact, I did.
To GEICO’s website I went, to file a claim, which began a new worry: The possibility they might total my car. Despite being in great shape, my Fit is 14 years old, and I dreaded the idea of having to buy a replacement car in possibly the worst car market in recent memory.
After a couple of days, though, GEICO called to tell me that my car was not, in fact, totaled. Insurance would foot the bill, save for my $500 deductible. That was a relief. The shop said that they would order a new catalytic converter and the other necessary parts and get the repair in motion.
It’s Friday, they said, so the parts may not get here till Monday or Tuesday. That’s fine, I said, thinking that a weekend without the car was certainly not a big deal.
On Tuesday, I got a message from the shop, saying that the aftermarket catalytic converter was on backorder, and it might be several more days before they got it. A week after that, I sent them a message to get an update, which went unreplied. A few days after that — somewhat perturbed — I decided to march down to the shop to see What The Hell Is Going On. At the very least, I had to retrieve some things from my car, as, at this point, it seemed likely to be out of commission for a while.
A nice woman at the shop apologized for not getting back to me, saying that the parts were still on backorder. A colleague of hers then offered an estimate of “three to five weeks,” and we commiserated about parts shortages for a bit. At this point — or maybe before this point — most people might have simply tried a different shop, but I was not eager to do that because (a) my insurance had already processed the claim and paid it out, and I wasn’t sure what resetting the whole process would mean; and (b) it’s possible — probable? — that another shop would experience the same issue, and then it might take even longer. Perhaps, too, I’d fallen prey to the sunk cost fallacy and all of that.
Anyway, I retrieved my things from the car and resigned myself to a summer without a vehicle, which is fine, because New York City has good public transportation. Several weeks passed. Then, about 10 days ago, I got a call from GEICO, who informed me that the shop was tired of waiting around for an aftermarket catalytic converter, so they’d now be installing an OEM unit, though that would cost GEICO another $1,000.
That is fine, I said.
Finally, on Monday, over two months since I reported the claim, I got a call, which my phone flagged as a likely scam, but I picked up anyway. It was the shop, which is my local Honda dealer, whose calls apparently seem like scams. The car is done, they said. Come by and pick it up anytime.
The bill, when I got there, was just under $4,500, all but $500 of which had already been paid to me weeks ago by GEICO. I looked at the receipt, perusing all the parts they replaced, which was a bit more than just the catalytic converter because the thieves did other damage, too. One item stuck out to me: At some point in the past two months, the shop had lost the key, which necessitated them making a new one. That service was free.
When I got in the car, it was like the car had never left my hands — though for some reason the shop gave it to me with all four windows rolled down, and a window in the rear was a bit stubborn about going back up. Still, I’m just glad to have my Fit back. And I’m hoping, once again, that the Fit’s ground clearance of just under six inches helps deter future catalytic converter thefts, even though it didn’t this time.
I asked the dealer if there was any kind of anti-theft protection they could install on the new catalytic converter. I would happily pay for it. They said unfortunately there is not. Though I realize now, that seems more like a job for a guy I know in Brooklyn. Last time I saw him, he seemed to know a little too much about the topic, in fact.
¹Some of you might be wondering why I got the exhaust fixed at all, since my straight-piped car sounded AWESOME. The issue, of course, is that my car needs a catalytic converter to pass New York state inspection and thus be road legal. Having once let my inspection lapse, and having had the car towed as a result, let me tell you it’s a very bad day when you arrive at the tow pound to retrieve your non-road-legal car. They’ll inform you that, no, they will not be letting you drive the car away from the tow pound, did you not hear me the first time about it not being road legal? Then one must arrange one’s own tow truck to tow one’s non-road-legal car from the tow pound to a shop for a simple $35 inspection. Another reason: The interior of the car smelled like exhaust. A third: I am old and law-abiding these days.