This infuriating tale comes to us from Chairman Kaga, and while it might not include self immolation (Work on that, will you, Chairman?) it's both a cautionary tale and an example of why you should always change your own oil. It also gets special treatment for mentioning Manos: The Hands Of Fate, the subject of one of the all-time great Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, in which the title character mesmerizes women for his own nefarious purposes. Now, people in every walk of life will try to pull a fast one on you, but rarely with the up-front bluntness Kaga experienced-and, due to his own purity of heart, almost fell for.
I almost always change my own oil. Probably 99% of the time; the only exceptions being when it's incredibly cold and I just don't want to lie on my back on the garage floor. However, this was not always the case. About ten years ago, I worked at City Hall in Hot Springs, Arkansas. One of the perks of public service was having the owner of a local quick-lube shop serve on one of our boards, who offered discounts to all city employees. It was locally owned, locally operated and had a good reputation, and you couldn't beat a $15 oil change with a baseball bat.
The trouble came when I got my Integra GS-R. It was a '94 with 60k miles, babied by a local CPA. The car was on Mobil1 full synthetic, which drove up the cost of changes considerably, but I maintained a religious schedule nevertheless.
The owner of the lube shop had a massive heart attack about a year later and died. His son took over. I kept taking my car there, still getting the discount. One afternoon as I sat in the lobby area, waiting for the oil change to be finished, I happened to see the garage tech pumping my car full of house-brand 10W30 from an overhead rig. In the past, they had always poured the Mobil1 from a plastic bottle. I got the attention of the desk clerk and told her I'd requested synthetic. She checked the work order and confirmed that's what I was getting. No, I said, no, I just witnessed the guy use regular house oil from the rig. Not even name brand dino oil. Impossible, she said.
She called him over, and he lied. Said he HAD used Mobil1 synthetic. Show me one of the bottles, I asked.
-The one the Mobil1 came from. It should be in the trash bin by my car.
-There is no bottle, he said.
Jedi mind trick?
Well, no-Of course there's no bottle, because I watched you pump house oil from the rig into my car, and now you're lying about it. Either you're incompetent or this business is ripping me off.
-Oh, duh, we have Mobil1 in the overhead now.
-Really? Why do none of the rigs, all of which have prominently displayed decals of the oil brand's logo on them, have one for Mobil1 synthetic? And why is there an entire rack of it on the wall over there?
-Oh, that's just for decoration. That'll be $45 please.
-Where's your manager?
The desk clerk intervened at this point, pointing out he might have used a synthetic blend by accident, and would discount my bill to the regular price. Honest mistake.
OK. The naivete sets in, the anger dissipates. I'm already late getting back to the office. After all, the dead owner was standup guy and maybe the trauma was just throwing things off kilter.
Next oil change, which came in 3,000 miles instead of 5,000, I decided to go back, but to keep an eye on things. I specifically, explicitly, and in no uncertain terms said I wanted Mobil1 5W30 full-synthetic motor oil in my car. The red Integra. Yes, that one right there. I confirmed the synthetic cost more and came from silver plastic bottles on that shelf over there, not from the overhead rig.
And I'll be danged if a different guy once again used the house 10W30 from the overhead rig as I stood there watching him. It was patently aggressive, this maneuver, as if to either say I was such a rube that I wouldn't know the difference, or possibly "I don't care you khaki-wearing, import driving punk, you get what you get."
I protested. The desk clerk, who now claimed to be the manager as well, had the nerve to back him up while demanding I pay $45 for a full synthetic change or she'd call the police for theft. Fine, I said, but first show me the empty bottles.
-The bottles you absolutely, positively confirmed the oil that was to be put into my car came from. The silver ones, like those over on that shelf, where you told me they were stored. Those bottles. I can see them with my eyes.
-There are no bottles.
Jedi mind trick again! Of course there are no bottles, because you're cheating me and who knows how many other customers. I'm calling the BBB today. You guys suck.
Not only did I call the BBB (who did nothing other than log the complaints), but I told everyone at City Hall, who told everyone they knew, which started a whole dialogue about how other people had noticed sloppy work - loose oil caps, stripped drain plugs, reused filters, everything.
These days, when I drive home, I silently chuckle at the car wash that's replaced the Lord Manos' own lube shop.
-After the fire, we assume.
-Wait, fire? What fire?
-Lord Kaga assures us there was no fire.
Garage of Horror is a recurring feature where we share your automotive nightmares. Some are mild, some are wild, but all are moments - some funny, some painful, some outlandish - that you'd rather not repeat. Have your own Garage of Horror story? Email it here with the subject line "Garage of Horror."