Friday, April 18, 2014

Auto Parts and the Mixed Blessing of Technology

I have to confess, I appreciate technology but sometimes view it with some degree of skepticism, at least in terms of how it's supposed to make our lives easier, and for that matter, better. I'm not even talking about smartphones and iPads, which I think are a double-edged swords. I am thinking about car repair, and of course there's a long drawn-out story involved.

If anyone has purchased a car in the past 10 years, you may have noticed that tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) now come standard, I believe on all cars, but maybe just imports. My understanding is they stem from a problem with Ford Explorers, whereby low tire pressure problems somehow led to fatal accidents. You might have to check up on that one.

Whatever be the case, we first encountered TPMS on our road trip out west. We rented a Matrix and toward the end of the trip, we noticed a dashboard light went on and we had no clue what it meant. I hate when that happens. It turns out that it meant we had low tire pressure, and when we pulled into Kansas City, we discovered that we had a low tire pressure. It was actually a punctured tire that was slowly leaking. Needless to say, this complicated our trip, but we dealt with it, and from then on realized what it meant.

When we bought our current car, it too had the TPMS light, and for the most part, I think it's a cool thing. How often do we check our tire pressure? If you're like me, I'm guessing not much. This TPMS will give you a head's up when the pressure is low, and the mechanic can even measure it with a handheld computer, which is sort of cool.

The problem is that with all new technology comes more complications in our lives, and do we really need more complications in our lives? I don't, that's for sure. I was surprised when I went to put our snow tires on and they charged me an extra $8/tire to re-calibrate the sensors. Apparently they have to do this every time they change the tires, and believe me, when you're dropping $80 to put on snow tires (not buying, installing), you feel the pain of an extra $32. I complained and the guy over at Wilson Tire explained where the cost came from, but it's literally no sweat off their nose. All they do is plug in some wires and push some buttons. His reasoning is that they have to make-up the cost of the new equipment they had to purchase to deal with TPMS systems, but I felt like it was a scam. Bad PR in my opinion, and when I complained, he offered to not charge me for the TPMS stuff when I put the summer tires on. Fat chance I'll be going back to Wilson Tire, who for the record, have left me with a bad taste in my mouth a couple of times.

In all fairness, I think Interstate Tires charges the same thing, which kills me. You just can't beat the system, though our mechanic RM is cool and doesn't charge. I love that guy. On the subject of mechanics scamming you, I'd like to relay two incidences that in my opinion were nothing short of ridiculous. In Providence, I was having the oil changed and bought new windshield wipers. I asked the guy to put them on, and he charged me for 15 mins of labor. They usually charge about $75/hr, so you do the math. This happened again at Midas in W. Leb, the guy put an air filter in, without my consent, and charged me for labor. I asked him to take it out, and was spared the cost, but not everyone pays attention to these things. It's such a scam, and really gives mechanics a bad reputation. It really pays to have a mechanic you can trust, and I really trust Meunier Towing.

Anyway, in addition to the hassle of technology, it also has a finite life. At some point you have to replace all this stuff, and this was the case with our TPMS. When your tires are low, an exclamation point light goes on, but when the system has a problem, a "TPMS" light goes on. Apparently one of the sensors died and needed to be replaced. They are said to last about 5 years, and then the batteries die. How surprising, another occasion to spend your money.

I checked around and almost without fail, every place I talked to was asking over $65 for the sensor. The car was past warranty, but Shearer Honda offered to replace the thing for half price, which still came out to over $100. They have to remove the tire and rotate and balance it. Plus, Shearer is over in Rutland, which is a bear of a drive. I finally went online (Amazon) and found one for $29. I couldn't believe it, and shipping was $2. I ordered it and RM installed it when he put my snow tires in. He said nobody should charge that much for a sensor, and even when I called Gerrish, they quoted me $65. I was disappointed, to say the least.

Anyway, after RM installed the sensor, another one died, so I had to go through all this again, but I figured I was in no hurry. I ordered it, and RM put it in when he put in the summer tires. Now there are no "dummy lights" on the dash, which is A-okay with me.

Sometimes I think technology is so overrated, but that's because I'm old and boring.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to WORK Wheels USA for the pic.


Bobby Ladson said...

While I can understand your skepticism, monitors such as these do help in preventing accidents, or by alerting you of unseen problems. Yeah, the costs of such technology can be off-putting, but I guess that's a good trade-off when you're taking about expenses on a previously undetected problem. Either way, having a car means the inevitable maintenance visits to the mechanic, so might as well accept these as tools to help you save money in the long run.
Bobby Ladson @

phredude said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Please don't get me wrong, I think the new technology is good and in particular I think this is a useful feature, it's just hard when you get surprised with extra costs. Either way, I can see the value of this and can appreciate it. Thanks again.