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Ew, gross: are there cars you won’t service?

by | May 31, 2022

“Just blow into the tube and it will start right up.”

The owner’s car was fitted with an ignition interlock, a machine that would analyze one’s breath for alcohol prior to allowing the vehicle to start. It was a common court order for DUI offenders in that state.


“Huh? What do you mean, no?”

“I mean if you want me to work on this, you’re going to have to come down here and get this car started so I can pull it into my bay. I don’t really want to play a song on your carflute.”

Ignition interlock installed on a vehicle

Maybe I’m being a baby, but I’ve never been real keen on the idea of applying my face to one of these just to get a car to start. Photo by Telford Auto Repair.

The customer was expectedly angry. My shop foreman was also angry with me and so was my writer, but when I suggested they pull the car in, the anger dissipated because it seemed all three of us made the same decision. Since I didn’t feel great relying on the owner of this vehicle to have made good choices, therefore making sure nothing unsavory happens to me, I am not going to put my mouth on that machine.

Filthy car interior

This isn’t too bad, though I don’t think I’d ever let my own car get this dirty. Photo by backyard_mechanic509.

This little vignette is not exclusive to me; every mechanic has the story. Pet fur everywhere. Dirty diapers. Loads of fast food remnants. This raises questions. What is reasonable? What do we owe the motorists? What do they owe us?

I knew a fella who worked on trash trucks. He got gross garbage juice and insect larvae on him regularly. I can deal with that stuff, I guess, but it does seem like the potential for health hazards goes up a bit for that, right? Another time, I can recall getting into an F-150 that had a bench seat in it, and everything starboard of the middle of the cupholder was butts, ashes, or cigarette boxes. I mean a pile… just a mound. You coulda filled a wheelbarrow with all the ash. I worked on it (and test-drove a few miles to verify the repair). Yuck.

I don’t often have someone else service my cars these days, but when I do, I normally bring in vehicles that are pretty tidy. That’s mostly selfish; I just don’t care to be in a disgusting vehicle if I don’t have to. I’ve never been told my car was unpleasant. I recall using floormats and seat covers in my time as a wrench; I never wanted to get anyone’s car goopy since I am perpetually filthy. However, there were a few times I was glad to have a plastic seat cover because I was certain I was getting a case of hooptie-cooties from some of the wrecks that rolled in.

So what about you? Do you work on anything that comes in, or do you draw a line? Where is that line? Has it impacted your shop’s profitability?

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