By the time I coasted my ailing new Beetle down Abbot Kinney Boulevard to Wabbit Wepair, my dashboard was lit up with more warnings than a tilted pinball machine. Punching my accelerator to the floor gained me roughly 10 mph per half-mile, despite my having just paid $1,073.49 to a well-meaning mechanic who'd ignored my request for a new fuel filter and installed a new intercooler on the advice of a “scan code” from a diagnostic computer. My front-end grill had been dragging so long that I'd pulled it off and put it in the back seat. I was not in a good mood.
“I think it needs a new fuel filter,” I told Wabbit Wepair's Wayne Pernell as I got out of the car. “I switch back and forth between bio- and dino-diesel, and sometimes the petroleum residue can clog the filter.”
“Sure,” he said. “That sounds reasonable. We'll try that. You know, Occam's razor.”
I nearly swooned with joy.
It's not just that I want someone fixing my car who agrees with 14th-century logician William Occam, who posited that the simplest solution is often the best. It's that I want someone fixing my car who assumes I know such things, too (and doesn't scold me about the fuel I use). Wayne, the shop manager, and his boss, Kent Bush Clemens (“as in Samuel Langhorne,” he says), treat their clients like intelligent beings; they listen, they investigate and then they call you up to see whether you agree that whatever needs to be done is worth the cost. They don't replace stuff just because a dumb light says they should. They use the computers, but they use their brains, too.
“A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself,” Robert Pirsig wrote in The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of my favorite books of the past 40 years. I like to think of a skilled mechanic as a scholar of quality, Pirsig-style. And I like to think of the guys at Wabbit Wepair, who have the machismo to answer the phone “Wabbit!” without shame, as quality-sensitive mechanics, tuning their ears to the music of engines, adjusting, calibrating and tightening until everything hums like it should. Maybe they even check in the end to see whether the computer agrees.
Having a good mechanic benefits one's self-esteem. A few weeks after I drove my freshly peppy Beetle out of Wabbit's lot, I decided I wanted my car to look as good as it ran, and when Wayne called me with a price on a new front grill, I was sold. He ordered it unpainted and got his “body guy” to match my green paint. Then he salvaged my old fog lights. When I picked up the car, he showed me how to turn my fog lights on. And here I thought I knew everything.