10 things I learned while sitting in a garage waiting room

I have a 2007 Chevy Uplander van that has been my dog sport van since 2008. I take care of my vehicles, having repairs done as they crop up because I’m on the road a lot.

The setup in my van is perfect for dog sports. I’ve taken out most of two rows of back seats and erected dog crates in their places.

I also have folded dog crates stored on top of those crates and a couple of bins that have things I use on the road, like travel food bowls and water buckets for the dogs, spare collars and leashes, poop bags, sheets and towels to drape over crates at competition sites, a pillow for me (I dislike motel pillows), a wine bottle opener — you know — the essentials.

It’s been a really good vehicle for me, but now that it has more than 187,000 miles, it is starting to pick away at my wallet with increasingly serious issues.

I also have a second vehicle — a pickup truck — that belonged to my husband. We purchased it new in 2008 and Jim died in 2010. It has way fewer miles on it, and I use it primarily during hunting season, for winter driving, to transport the recycling or pick up pellets for the pellet stove and to haul my utility trailer or boat. But it still needs service, and wonky sensors will make the check engine light come on more often than I like.


Needless to say, with an aging vehicle and one with many sensors in it, I have spent a lot of time at my favorite garages lately. And I’ve learned a few things:

  1. Not many people are actually “morning people.” I have been grunted at, glared at, blatantly ignored and rewarded with growling rebukes when I’ve delivered my cheery “good morning” to fellow vehicle victims.
  2. The garage counter staff must take happy pills because they are always really nice to me. Maybe they know they will get paid that week because here comes Julie with her van, or maybe it’s because they have gotten to know me and actually like me. Whatever the reason, I really appreciate their willingness to help me sort through my latest vehicle problems.
  3. Mechanics are some of the nicest — and most patient — people in the world. Time and time again, they patiently explain vehicle anatomy and physiology to me and look so proud when I understand. And they have saved my life. Recently, while in pursuit of fixing another problem, a mechanic found a bushing issue that would have ended in a bad accident had he not found it. Treat your trustworthy mechanics well.
  4. Garages really are forward thinking in their quest for an orderly waiting area. They offer magazines and TV, but also coffee and most importantly — public access to WiFi. That last bit allows people like me whose office need only be a cell phone, laptop and WiFi to get some work done while waiting for diagnosis and repairs.
  5. It’s a really good idea to establish a long-term relationship with a garage. The employees get to know your vehicle and you, and they will make an extra effort to find parts that don’t cost outrageous amounts of money and will help save you money in general.
  6. Garages have a certain smell of rubber and petroleum products that permeates even the waiting rooms that are well separated from the service bays. I find it soothing in an odd way. It reminds me of happy times in my childhood when I visited my grandfather’s garage and ate Skyway bars out of the candy machine and kept trying to like the Moxie he always had about. I still don’t like Moxie. I know that seems un-Maine-like, but I accepted the truth a long time ago.
  7. Rodents and air filters don’t mix. When one gets comfy in the other, it tends to upset a sensor or two, not to mention leaving the vehicle part in ruins. If you have a rodent, you’re fortunate if it only made a nest and didn’t have a midnight snack on your hoses.
  8. Garages are very costly places to have to spend any amount of time. Between my ailing Brittany dog Thistle’s health issues and my aging van’s mechanical issues, my dwindling bank accounts are feeling the pinch. But a good mechanic also advises you when it’s time to think about moving on to a different vehicle and stop putting money into one with increasingly serious issues, like my van that needs the engine taken apart to get to a seal sort of on the back side and under the engine.
  9. It seems that many mechanics are tall or at least have long legs. With my short legs, I can never reach the gas and brake pedals when I get back into my vehicle after the garage is finished with it. They also like to adjust the steering wheel to their comfort for that long drive from the parking spot into the service bay and back out again.
  10. The person who invented sensors for vehicles must own his own country by now, because sensors seem to be attached to EVERYTHING. It used to be that when a dashboard light went on, it was a very serious thing that had to be handled immediately. Now if you hit a bump wrong, the air in the spare tire is low, you have had to replace your battery, or the gas cap isn’t tightened properly, a sensor is triggered and back to the garage you go to have a diagnostic run and repairs made or sensors reset. The dashboard light for my engine came on recently in the truck, glaring at me in its solid persistence that I do something, so I called my garage. That was when I learned probably my most important lesson of all from my recent garage experiences: a solid engine light is a concern but not a crisis; a blinking engine light is very, very bad.

Glad we sorted that out. Now if I can just stay away from the garages for a bit, maybe I can afford to go back on the road.

Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.