Yesterday's little task should have been SO quick and easy. But my trip to the Emissions Test Center to get my dad's car approved turned into a circus. But it could have been oh-so much worse. (And even for all the headaches had a surprisingly happy ending.) And therein lies the tale.
Emissions checks are handled totally differently in Illinois than California. In California, you can make an appointment with any authorized shop which then runs a very long, detailed procedure that costs about $30-40. In Illinois it only takes a minute, and is free, but you have to wait in line at one of only a few state-run facilities. (As my dad put it, "If they have the chance in Illinois to have something that would create state jobs which would allow for patronage, that's what they'll go with.")
I drove out 25 minutes to Skokie on a Friday morning, timed my visit well and there was only a short line, and had the test. But they couldn't do it. The car didn't fail, but was "rejected," which is different. That means they couldn't even start the test. My dad's car sits most of the time, and I was told to drive it for a week, and to bring it back at that point for re-testing. Basically, the car's internal computer wasn't registering and had to be re-set.
(I'm going to be describing some auto-tech things later, and I warn you in advance that I don't know what I'm talking about, in part because it never got explained things in specifics. So, I'll be somewhat generic and I trust close in concept.)
Anyway, I started the car up to leave the emissions facility -- but it wouldn't properly crank. A couple workers there pushed the car out of the way (at one point shouting at me not to apply the brakes, but -- well, when another car came zipping by as we hit the street, it seemed like a really good idea to do so), but there I was out in the middle of semi-nowhere, not sure who best to call. Fortunately, the guys said there was a shop a block away who they weren't associated with, but often sent cars to.
The owner, Noah Zafrir, came over to tow the car to his place. First though, I asked if he was AAA, but he wasn't -- and I thought for a moment whether to thank him for his time, but go with the Auto Club to save on the towing charge. In the end, I figured that he was so close, and the facility used him a lot, so, what the heck, just go with that.
Little did I know at that point that it was the best decision I could have made.
There were two issues. The first of course was fixing the car, and it turned out to be a broken fuel pump. Noah had to order one, and by the time it got delivered and fixed, that took 2-1/2 hours. (Happily, I bring a book with me wherever I go. I get chided for it, but what care I? Especially on a day like this. Lots o' reading got done today!)
Then, though, he said something surprising about the second issue -- the emissions test. It seems that the problem was related to a not-uncommon glitch with the car's computer getting "frozen" (his word). But he said that although they tell you to drive the car for a week, this only sometimes fixes it. But often "you could drive the car for a month, and it won't get fixed, the computer will still be frozen." He however knew how to get around the problem and re-set it. Most shops don't know about how to do it, but he did it all the time. It wasn't uncommon for other shops to even send cars to him. It would take another hour, and he usually charges $180 for it, but for a variety of reasons (not the least of which, I assume, was because I'd been there so long and had paid well for the fuel pump), he said he'd do it for free. Yes, free.
It sounded odd to me, but he was very insistent and convincing about the problem and the fix. I wouldn't even have to come back in a week, and he would drive over with me to the emissions facility when it was done. And it would be fine, he reiterated, he always got the system re-set. Always. They guarantee it will work. "The emissions people wouldn't have a problem with me coming back the same day?" I asked, They don't care, he said, every time you get your car checked, they make $10 from the state. Oh, okay, I figured, hey, if he wasn't going to charge me and it didn't work, or if the emissions people refused to see me, all I was out was an hour. Sure, go ahead.
It turns out to have been my second good decision of the day, because he was really great at this. On the wall of his shop, he had a framed, personal letter of commendation from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency thanking him for his great work in installing confidence in the process. There was also a framed article about his shop in a trade journal, raving about his work and 100% success record. And there was a long letter of deep gratitude from a customer whose car had been rejected seven times, and each time was told to drive for a week, and one time to be sure he even drove all the way up to Wisconsin and back, and yet his car's emission computer stayed frozen. Finally, after his latest rejection, he saw Noah's shop, "Factory Muffler and Complete Auto Repair," across the way and out of desperation he gave it a try. An hour later, all was fixed, and he passed. He couldn't express the depths of his appreciation.
Anyway, Noah did his work, and 40 minutes later came over to drive with me to the emissions facility. He waited in the car with me as we sat in line, his equipment attached to my car's system. "It's not a problem, you'll pass. Whenever they see me in the car, they know it's right."
And so it was. We drove through, a minute later the car passed, and we went back to his shop to drop him off.
It was a circus day, and the fuel pump (while fairly priced) was not inexpensive, but believe me, without Noah, it all could have been so much worse, I'd not only have had to drive all the way back out a week later, but the problem might well not have been solved. And then I'd been leaving town without there being a resolution.
What started out a horrible day turned out to have a joyfully satisfying resolution. I don't know how many readers of these pages are in the Chicago North Shore area, but if you're one of them and ever have a emissions test problem, you'd be doing yourself a favor by having it resolved by Noah and his son -- they have two garages, this one in Skokie, and the other not too far away in Chicago on Devon Ave. Their website is here.
Among other things, this is what they say on the site--
"We repair vehicles right the first time and do receive much referral business from other local shops when they run into difficult repairs. In fact, we have customers that come to see us after the dealer could not repair their vehicle. Over the last ten years we have accomplished something that really says a lot about how dedicated we are about our work. We have one of the highest ratings for failed emission tests in the state. July of 2003, the air team had been monitoring our progress and came down to our facility to meet us and congratulate us."
"While most shops can attempt to correct a failed emission test and charge a customer regardless of the outcome, we have a policy: if we can not get your vehicle to pass the emission test, you will not pay! We guarantee it. "
I like the Auto Club, a lot. It's done very well by me over the years. But this is one time that I am SO glad I didn't call them.
There is a new movie about to open soon called Noah. I know it's about the ark and all that -- but if they had been smart, they'd have made it about this good fellow. In some ways, an honest, efficient, reasonably-priced, talented auto repair shop
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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