Friday, July 24, 2009

Lisa and the Lug Nuts

I got in my car to go to work this morning, but by the time I reached the end of my street, I realized I had a flat tire. So I turned around and drove home, slowly.

In the driveway, I spent fifteen sweaty, frustrating minutes trying to loosen the lug nuts with a lug wrench. But apparently, the high-school dropout who put the wheel on last tightened them so tightly, I couldn’t turn them at all. Conceding defeat, I called the roadside assistance program of my car insurance company.

A locksmith pulled up in a small van about 40 minutes later, not the tow-truck I was expecting. Even more unexpectedly, a young woman named Lisa got out of the van. In 5 minutes, with a few mighty grunts, she had loosened all of the lug nuts using nothing more than a lug wrench, making me feel like a total wimp. I wonder if her boyfriend behaves himself.

She quickly swapped the flat tire for the doughnut spare, which had lost some air over the years, and looked kind of flat. “Let me pump that up for you,” she said, removing a portable electric pump from the van. It’s the kind of pump that runs off the cigarette lighter in the car. But for some reason, the pump wouldn’t run. She fiddled with it for a little while, but no luck.

“Well, it’s not that low,” she observed. “Why don’t you just drive it slowly to the gas station and inflate it there?” And she left.

I got into the car, started the engine, and then noticed that I couldn’t shift out of Park. The shift lever wouldn’t budge. It’s supposed to do that until you step on the brake, but I was mashing that brake pedal to the floor. I gave it a hard yank, and with a loud “SNAP” it dropped into gear.

During that short drive, I noticed the following things:
  • The radio didn’t work.

  • The speedometer didn’t work.

  • Neither did the odometer. Strangely, the tachometer works.

  • The “PRND21” display showing the shift selection didn’t work.

  • The automatic transmission didn’t work. I can shift manually, but when the car is in “D,” it’s in 3rd gear and won’t change to a lower gear automatically.
I’m sure it’s just a fuse problem, but I’m worried about all of the electrical or electronic components that might not be working that I haven’t discovered yet. And I’ve never heard of a fuse that controls the automatic transmission.

I called the company that sent Lisa to my house and explained the problem, which I suspect had something to do with the pump. The manager was very cordial, but had no intention of accepting responsibility for my car problems. “That would be the technician’s responsibility,” he declared.

I think I’ll call my car insurance company to see if they’ll accept any responsibility for this. Because I don’t want to mess with Lisa.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey Buddy - Wanna Buy Some Insurance?

      NOTE: My back is fine. A minor herniated disk. Anti-inflammatory drugs fixed me up in 24 hours. Chiropractors are charlatans.
After a water leak damaged our kitchen a year and a half ago, the insurance company gave us a settlement of $9,558. We used that money and a great deal more of our own savings to renovate the kitchen. It was the first time we have ever made an insurance claim in over 20 years of home ownership, during which time we faithfully made our insurance premium payments to cover us for just such an event.

So of course, the insurance company raised our premiums. They will probably tell you that statistically, we are now a greater “risk” to them, because we have shown a predisposition to make claims, and they have to recover their “losses.” It’s all bullshit. Insurance is no longer what it claims to be. Instead of many policy holders paying the claims of the few who suffer losses, insurance companies are now functioning as loan sharks, just like organized crime. They collect “protection” money in monthly premiums, and demand repayment of their claim settlements in installments.

Disgusted, I went online to use the power of the Internet to force insurance companies to compete for my business. I filled out an online form and was informed that I would shortly receive quotes from a variety of providers. Within hours, I did. But of course, insurance is an old-fashioned business and they don’t really understand the Internet yet.

In the old days, there were maybe 4 or 5 insurance agents in your community. You’d go to the guy who was in your church, or your kid’s scoutmaster, or the one who looked best in a suit. They’d consult with you about your needs, quote you the premium, and shake your hand firmly. That was the old days. Is anybody so na├»ve today that they imagine the trustworthy local insurance agent somehow controls the purse strings of the corporation and will do right by them if they have to make a claim?

Instead of e-mailing their quotes to me, insurance agents called me on the phone. Six of them the first day, and six more the following day. Each of them follows the exact same pattern. First, a friendly greeting. Then they read me the numbers. There are at least eight variables in the insurance quotes, and each of these agents imagined that I was listening attentively, seduced by their charm and the earnest conviction with which they plowed through the complex premium structure.

After the third call, I interrupted the friendly greeting and told them, “Send it to me an e-mail, can you do that? So I can compare your quote with the dozen or so I’m going to get from other insurance agents just like you?” They don’t seem to understand that it’s not a handshake business anymore, and they’re up against hundreds of hungry insurers from all over the country. Show me your numbers. If I have any questions, I'll call you. If the numbers are good, you’ll get my business. If not, maybe there’s a career for you in organized crime.