You’d think an odometer would be easy to fix…
Last month, I posted about my discovery that my car’s odometer had broken down, and my decision to leave it unrepaired for the nonce rather than go through the hassle of leaving my car in the shop for a few days. In the interim, though, I realized that accurate odometer readings are important for things like insurance and resale value, so I decided to go ahead and see about getting the repair done. The dealer told me they’d have to send the part out to a specialist, meaning I’d have to leave my car with them for at least a couple of days, meaning I’d have to take a long bus ride home. So I checked with my local garage to find out if they could do it, then called the dealer to compare price estimates. Turns out the local place would’ve charged considerably more — but in the process of talking to both places, I learned they had both consulted with the same speedometer specialty shop, the one the dealer would’ve sent the part to. So I decided to talk to the specialists directly and see what they could tell me. It sounded like they had the best handle on the problem, and they offered me the lowest estimate, but the problem was transportation. The shop is about a mile from the nearest bus stop, mostly without sidewalks, and then I’d have to ride the entire length of the bus route just to get downtown and transfer to a bus back home — and then reverse it when the car was ready.
So I’d just about decided to go to the dealer, which is much closer to several bus routes, and let them send the part out to the specialty shop. But they suggested that if I got the shop to order in the part, then I could bring my car in when it was ready and save a few days. Which gave me time to rethink my plan, because it turned out the dealer would’ve charged an extra 90 bucks in labor for the part removal, and I realized that it wasn’t worth 90 bucks just to avoid a mile of walking either way. So I decided I’d take the car directly to the specialists and hopefully get it back within a few days. Once I learned they had the part in, I dropped the car off in the morning, got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, and actually rather enjoyed the bus ride because it went places I’ve never been before, including a fair stretch right alongside the Ohio River. I returned home with the hope that I’d be making the reverse trip a day or two later.
But it turned out the bus only went out there a few times a day, so if I got the call later than about 2:45 in the afternoon, I’d have to wait until the next day. And then I discovered it didn’t go out there at all on weekends, so I was disappointed when they were still working on the problem come Friday afternoon. It ended up taking until Monday, five days in all. It turns out that the part they needed to replace was the body control module, the actual computer “brain” of the car. Yup, that’s modern technology — one little function breaks down and the entire computer needs to be replaced. And apparently the car wasn’t designed to permit that kind of replacement, so they had to do some kind of workarounds to get the car and the new brain to recognize each other. They actually had to e-mail the part’s manufacturer over in Europe somewhere to get instructions. (They told me that cars are designed that way since the dealers want you to rely on them for repairs and replacements — but it was the dealer who sent me to these guys!)
Now, as I said in the earlier post, the dealer told me that the car’s onboard computer would still be registering the actual mileage even if it didn’t show on the display — but that was a misdiagnosis, since the problem was with the central module rather than just a sensor. With a whole new control module, the mileage would have to be programmed in from scratch. Fortunately, I don’t drive that often, and I keep pretty good records. So I was able to reconstruct all my driving since the odometer broke down. As I said last time, I knew that had occurred exactly 49 miles after the last time I filled the tank, and I knew the date of that fill-up. So I went through my financial records and receipts to remind myself where I’d spent money since that date, checked my calendar to fill in anywhere else I’d gone, used Google Maps to calculate travel distances, then subtracted 49 miles. That gave me my approximate mileage since the breakdown, to within a few miles’ margin of error. But as it turned out, the reprogramming could only get it within 30 or 40 miles anyway. But that’s like a twentieth of a percent of the car’s total mileage, so I guess it doesn’t matter much, statistically.
So anyway, I finally got the call on Monday afternoon, in time for me to catch the last available bus of the day. I’d told them not to rush it, since I wouldn’t want to come out there and find that it still didn’t work. But the repairman assured me it was ready. What’s more, he even volunteered to pick me up at the bus stop and drive me back to the shop, which I really appreciated given the frigid weather. I wasn’t quite sure what to watch for when I got off the bus, but he soon showed up in my own car; the pickup served two functions, since it was proof that the car was working and the odometer registering again.
So I drove us back to the shop and paid my bill, which was exactly equal to his estimate (well, plus tax). It seemed we were all done — but then I found that the car wouldn’t respond to my key-fob remote anymore. So the repairman had me follow his car over to a nearby GM dealership whose repair guy had helped him with some of the programming, and got the guy to do some sort of handshake or reset to fix the problem in a couple of minutes, for no extra charge. Then I went and got some much-needed groceries (I’d picked up a few essentials on foot over the weekend, but I needed more), filled the tank again, and drove home, with the car performing fine. I wanted to fill up right after so I could reset the trip odometer and resume my gas-mileage calculations fresh.
I had been wondering why the shop had such a remote, pedestrian-unfriendly location, given that people would occasionally need to drop their cars off and find alternate transport home. But now that I’ve gotten a sense of the collaboration among different mechanics, the way they consult with each other and help each other out, I guess it makes sense that you’d want to locate an auto-repair business close to other auto specialists and dealers.
All in all, I spent a fair amount of money on this, but I’m confident that I chose both the least expensive and the best option available (two things that don’t often go together). If I’d taken it anywhere else, I would’ve spent more and might’ve been without my car even longer, given the evident trickiness of the repair. And really, if the problem was with the central computer, maybe it’s a good thing I went ahead and did this. If that function of the control chip had broken down, who knows what else might’ve failed soon?