Inspecting Bluto

There’s a rhythm that occurs when you consider switching up your ride and buying a new used car. You begin thinking about that model. You research it, look online, read FAQs that list common problems, find an example within striking distance that checks off your boxes, and go look at it. You sit in it, get the scent on you, and drive it. While there’s definitely some left-brain calculation going on involving price, mileage, immediately required repairs, and other things, it’s the right-brain part that’s fascinating, because there’s this wondrous ephemeral moment when you can feel that your mind has made the decision: Yes, I can see myself living with this car for the next X number of months or years. Yes, I want it. Yes, we’re going to do this. From there, it’s just a matter of negotiating price and executing the logistics to get the car home and legal.

Then you live with the car, as no test drive is ever thorough enough to evaluate whether it’s really going to fit into your life. The first few days are key; you either warm to it, or think, as the guy in the episode of The Simpsons who trades Homer an expensive Italian sports car for the last Krusty burger: “I am having zee buyer’s remorse.”

So far, I’m liking the Bluto the X5. I haven’t used it to tow anything yet, and it’s certainly no Suburban in terms of cargo space, but the other things that sold me on it—the six-speed and the sport package—continue to pay enjoyment dividends every time I drive it. I adore the visuals of the car’s black interior, I look forward to sitting in the heated sport seats, and the sport package gives it a firm enough suspension that the last adjective I would ever use for the car is “wallowy.” Perhaps I was too harsh naming it Bluto.

Last week I detailed the excitement that occurred when I forgot that the driver’s-side window regulator was wonky, rolled the thing all the way down to say something to Maire Anne when I pulled into the driveway, and found the window stuck in the down position in 40-degree weather with the sun setting and rain forecast for that evening.

I know about the plastic clips that are usually the cause of the problem, but I didn’t have any. After trying to grab the 1/8″ of the window that stuck out with non-marring pliers and failing, I pulled the door panel off, helped the window back up from the bottom, and slapped the panel back on. I made a mental note to put a physical note over the switch warning me (and others) not to roll the window all the way down, but 1. I forgot, and 2. I hated to disturb all that perfect inky blackness with something as crass as a yellow Post-It note.

Of course, the other shoe needed to drop (like the window). And of course it did.

It happened when I took the car to get inspected. The sticker on the windshield was good till 4/2020, but the law in Massachusetts is that you need to get a car inspected within seven days after purchase. Is it absolutely necessary to pay for this when the car still has a valid sticker on it? Well, there is some risk if you don’t. The inspection sticker is imprinted, in small type, with the license plate number it was issued for, so if the car is sold, the sticker doesn’t match the plate. While it’s almost unheard of for police to notice it while you’re driving and stop you because the sticker is registered to another plate, they can stop you for some other reason, check the sticker, and cite you for being uninspected if it doesn’t match. Plus there’s a bar code on the sticker that’s read with a scanner, and I’ve heard about people getting cited for it if they get a parking ticket and the inspection sticker is scanned and doesn’t match the plate. (In addition, note that there is a benefit to you, the buyer, in getting the car inspected within the required seven-day window, as there are certain “lemon law” time-window provisions that get triggered if it fails, which expire if you don’t bother to get it inspected.)

But to me, the more convincing reason to get it done was that everything was working. I’d just replaced the lower control arm with the bad ball joint (which they would’ve checked, and it would’ve been cause for failure), and the check-engine, supplemental restraint, traction control, and ABS lights were all off. For the $35 inspection fee, the smart money was on “inspect the damn thing right now!” Of course, I could get unlucky and it could go the other way: I could drive in with a sticker good on its face through next April, and they could find something wrong with the car, fail me, scrape off the good sticker, and replace it with the big ugly R sticker. But what’s life without risk?

The Lebanese guys at my regular station know me, inspect my cavalcade of cars, and tend to give me a little slack where they can (which these days isn’t much, now that Massachusetts photographs and records inspections), but the main guy who does the inspections was out, so I went next door to an Egyptian family-run station. I don’t use this one as much, mainly out of habit, but also because experience has shown that they’re a little tougher. Not that it should’ve mattered with the X5; everything worked.

When I pulled in front of the bay door and said, “I need an inspection,” the young man looked at the 4/2020 date on the sticker and surprised me by asking, “Why?” I think he was trying to save me the 35 bucks. I explained my rationale. He nodded, got it, climbed in, and began to drive the car inside the bay, and I immediately heard him exclaim surprise at the car’s standard transmission. He began calling over people over to check it out.

Once Bluto was in the inspection bay, four employees swarmed it. They loved the car, fawning all over it, not believing the six-speed stick, the sport seats, the condition, and the car’s 270,000 mileage. I think I blew their mind when I pointed out the trailer hitch.

I then sat in the waiting area while they performed the inspection. I smiled when I saw the new yellow sticker, stamped 11/20, being applied to the right corner of the windshield.

But then I noticed that when they were finished, a guy reached in through the open driver’s-side window to shut off the car. I realized that I hadn’t told them NOT TO ROLL THE DRIVER’S-SIDE WINDOW ALL THE WAY DOWN or it wouldn’t come back up. I can’t really say whether I’d forgotten to tell them or whether I’d decided that they’d have no reason to roll down the window, but I didn’t, and they did. Damn!

I walked around to the right side of the car, opened up the door, and hit the button to try to roll the window up. As it had done in my driveway, it only came up about 1/8 of an inch.

I had a flash of anger, not really at them, but at the fact that I hadn’t told them not to roll it down, and because of that, now I was going to have to pull the door panel off again.

They were very apologetic, and said they’d make it right. I tried to wave them off, saying it wasn’t their fault, but a senior mechanic, a guy about my age, immediately came over and had a look at it. He tried to grab the small protruding bit of the window with a pair of non-marring pliers and pull it up, as I had done. I was a little dismissive, saying that I’d already tried that, that it wouldn’t work, and that the door panel was going to have to come off. I offered to do it with him, as I’d just done it a few days ago.

The guy smiled, politely ignored me.

He had the window back up in about fifteen seconds.

I love it when people know more than I do.

Two plastic window regulator clips are now on order. In the meantime, for now, the window switch has a big ugly yellow “DON’T!” Post-It note on it. It does poke a hole in the Zen of Bluto’s black hole of an interior, but it also has a certain form-follows-function directness to it that I find appealing.

And yes, there’s also a pair of non-marring pliers in the glove box.—Rob Siegel


Rob’s new book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, was just released and is available on Amazon here. His other books, including his recent Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, are available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally-inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.

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