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Adventures In Lubrication

Adventures In Lubrication

Many years ago, I was so fed up that I wrote a newspaper column about how much I disliked going to those quickie oil change chains every 3,000 miles. 

And yes, I was - still am - religious about changing my oil. Or rather my car’s. It’s like going to the dentist every six months. No one wants to do that. But we want to keep our teeth. Same goes for automobiles.

As I understand it, nice, clean, thick oil lubes your engine parts and reduces wear. 

“If you want to keep your car on the road,” my dad used to say. “Change the oil. “

Of course, this was the same man who once quit his job to join a carnival. The same guy who confidently predicted that women would replace tiny men as jockeys and that the Kentucky Derby would eventually become an all-female affair. The same fellow who warned that I’d regret not joining him in his little real estate business after I graduated from college with a degree in political science.

“This place is a gold mine,” he declared, gesturing at the dingy Dougherty Realty Co. office in Bordentown, N.J.

“Looks like a converted gas station to me,” I muttered, as I shoved my belongings into the tiny trunk of my Fiat and sped away toward Washington and my first newspaper job.

Dad wasn’t always right. But he was correct about oil changes. I keep my cars forever and absolutely believe mine last years longer than everyone else’s because of my compulsive oil change habit.

For decades I’ve alternated between Jiffy Lube and its primate offspring, Grease Monkey. Both provide an experience I dread more than getting stitches in my head. (Yes, I got stitches in my cranium a couple of years ago during an unlucky fall in boxing class. It was way more fun than an oil change.)

Those quickie joints have the sad aroma of death about them. From the hard plastic seats in the waiting room, to the battery acid coffee in the stained pot to the smudged TV tuned - by law - to Dr. Phil.

No sooner are you halfway through a well-thumbed copy of Field and Stream than a guy in overalls appears carrying what looks like a dead squirrel dipped in sludge. 

“This is your air filter,” he says sadly. “You need a new one.”

“Nope, just put that one back, please,” I’d say. “Looks fine to me.”

At that point Mr. Overalls shuffles off and returns with the manager.

This can only mean one thing: You are about to get the Clean Fluid, Dirty Fluid demonstration.

They whip out little plastic display tubes showing virgin transmission fluid, brake fluid and anti-freeze. Each looks as pure as corn oil. They hold up the clean transmission fluid with a happy face. Then they frown as they show you the black goo they say they sucked from your gearbox.

There is rapid-fire talk of engine explosions and clogged gears and wafer-thin brake linings. Your car will be lucky to last the week without emergency treatment, they say.

No, no and no.

It’s the same routine every time.

Until about a year ago, that is, when I discovered Take 5 Oil Change: “The Fastest Oil Change On The Planet.”

A whole new concept in lubrication. First, it’s a drive through. I mean drive “thru.” You remain in the comfort of your car and avoid sliding off those plastic seats and breaking a hip in the quickie lube waiting room while Dr. Phil drones on.

The workers, er technicians, are polite and don’t look like they’re on parole. Plus they hand you a bottle of “free” Walmart water when you arrive.

I can’t explain why 16.9 ounces of GreatValue water, worth about a nickel, makes you feel special, but it does. I wanted to weep with gratitude the first time a tech handed me a complimentary H2O.

I wasn’t even thirsty when I pulled into one of the bays this week, but I accepted the drink. The tech accepted my credit card. And I escaped without a new air filter. 

An oil change at Take 5 Oil Change “The Fastest Oil Change On The Planet” is supposed to last about 10 minutes - they should call it Take 10 - but mine took longer. Much longer. The oil sucking machine was not working properly. The techs apologized profusely.

Still, they didn’t try to sell me a thing.

So I sipped my refreshing Walmart water and answered emails on my phone while I waited.

Did I miss Mr. Overalls and his Clean Fluid/Dirty Fluid demonstration?

Not one bit.

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