Last week I brought my 2006 Subaru Outback in for its annual safety and emissions inspection. Twice. Cars registered in New York City must be inspected within the city limits at a privately owned auto repair shop that is also a licensed Official Inspection Station. Each year it is a struggle to get a new inspection sticker without the repair shop trying to upsell or overcharge me for work that may not be necessary. I always think it would be easier if I were a man. If I were a rich man.
I let the Subaru dealer perform all the routine maintenance on the car. The master plan was to bring the car in to the dealer for its 90,000 mile servicing before the 2016 inspection sticker expired. The dealer can’t give me a sticker because they are outside the city limits, but at least they would catch anything that might cause me to fail. I didn’t follow the master plan.
I’ve tried eight different inspection stations. There are only two I’ve gone back to; Marty’s always passed my car if I paid for an oil change and wiper blades (regardless of how bad the car was), and Ericson always told me what was wrong with the car and actually fixed it (but they always found something to fix, usually in the $300 to $800 range).
Last year, I took the car to Ericson and had them do the struts and change the gas cap (the check engine light kept going on). A few months later, I put new tires on the car, installed a new battery, and replaced the timing belt. This year, I just wanted to pay $37 and get a 2017 inspection sticker.
Hoping for a miracle, I tried out a new nearby Official Inspection Station. Before I could close the driver’s door, the mechanic took out his flashlight, waved it at the rear tire, and said “Look at all that rust.” Then he told me the car needed rotors and new brake pads. He didn’t even go through the motions to put the car up on the lift. He said no shop would pass the car without the repairs. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that if I were a man he wouldn’t have tried that line. I told him that I’d try my luck someplace else, I wasn’t in the market for rotors. He tried to charge me for a failed inspection. I told him to fuck off.
In these moments, I blame my bad luck on being read as female, as a butch in a Subaru, as an easy mark, as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I repeat the mantra of “if I were a man this wouldn’t be happening to me”. It isn’t dysphoria, I’m angry that I’m being treated disrespectfully. I’m also lacking confidence. I don’t remember the last time I replaced the brake pads.
The guys at work brag about how they never get conned at inspection. They sound confident. Maybe they are making it up. Maybe they are too embarrassed to tell the truth. Maybe they secretly paid full price for rotors and brakes, whether they needed them or not. I’ll never know.
I backed the car out of the shop and drove to Marty’s. On the way, I decided I was going to tell the mechanic that I just wanted a new inspection sticker. That I was going in next month for the 90,000 mile servicing, and that I would take care of anything major at that time.
The mechanic on duty wasn’t Marty’s regular easygoing mechanic. It was the guy from Ericson’s. The guy who always finds stuff to fix. He’d lost his lease on his old shop and bought out Marty’s.
He remembered me by name and we shook hands. He remembered the struts. He saw the new tires. I squared my shoulders and told him about the imminent 90,000 mile servicing. He told me there was a new Starbucks around the corner, close to the stairs to the High Line, and that I should come back in 30 minutes. When I did, there was a 2017 sticker on my car. He told me the car was good to go, that I probably should get new brake pads, and that he’d see me same time next year.
Notes: I grew up with the original cast album of Fiddler On The Roof. Here is Zero Mostel, at the 1971 Tony Awards, singing “If I Were A Rich Man“. Whenever my mother complained about us living in a small apartment without air-conditioning, my father would sing the first verse.
There used to be lots of auto body repair shops in Chelsea. One by one they’ve been replaced by apartment buildings, art galleries, and boutiques. The Heavenly Body Shop signage still exists, but the building now houses a Commes De Garcon shop. Marty’s is a couple of blocks away, tucked under the elevated structure of the High Line park.