New (or new to you) cars are great.  The smell, the shiny exterior, the pristine interior and smooth ride make driving a joyous experience.  Of course, all good things come to an end, and years later, the honeymoon is over.  You find that your once noble steed has become a pack mule that smells funny and doesn’t always obey your commands.

Such was the case with my 2005 Dodge Neon.  I purchased it new in 2006 and christened it the “Reliant” during those halcyon days when it was nice and shiny.  Fast-forward almost six years later, and it now has some ‘personality quirks’ such a the stains on the driver’s seat, dent on the back where I punched it one particularly bad day, and yeah, I haven’t been washing it nearly as frequently as I should have been.  It also started running fairly loudly a few months ago, sounding more like a Cessna than a car.  After almost being driven insane by the noise during a drive up to Dallas a few weeks ago, I decided to get the thing fixed and started asking friends and acquaintances if they knew of a good garage in town.  Nobody knew of one, which was more than a little aggravating.

And then I had my little accident…

So I was stuck when the tow truck guy was asked where to send my car to.  I asked the insurance guys for a suggestion and they gave me an address, which I then gave to the tow truck guy.  I then saw my car hauled off to who-knows-where to have who-knows-what done to it.  A week and a half later, I had my car back without a working air conditioner and it was still shaking, so not only was I back to square one, I now needed to have my car looked at before the triple-digit Texas heat kicked in and turned my car into an EZ-Bake oven on wheels.

Luckily my friend Kate finally came around with a recommendation: Alamo Heights Garage.  She spoke highly of them so I figured I’d give them a shot.  I went to their website, and filled out their online form asking for an appointment on Saturday.  I got a response back in a few hours saying that they weren’t open on Saturday.

What is it with mechanics being closed on Saturdays?  Sundays I can understand, but come on, it sucks to have to take time off of work to get my car looked at, and it’s never a short visit.  Anyway, I set up an appointment for the following Tuesday morning, guessing that I would be waiting a half-day while the A/C fixed.  I figured I’d ask them to see just what was making the shaking noise as well.

I arrived at Alamo Heights Garage early Tuesday morning.  I had bought my laptop along so I could work on some writing while I waited.  The first thing I noticed was that the waiting area was very clean, there was a table and chairs where I could sit and work, a television tuned to the local news with some more comfortable seating in front of it and most importantly to me: coffee. 

After describing what was happening to the woman behind the counter, I grabbed a cup of coffee, opened up my lappy and did some work.  I was glad to discover that they had WiFi available.  About a half an hour later, I got the diagnosis: the air conditioner’s discharge hose was bad, and the shaking was caused by three worn engine mounts that would have to be replaced.  The total cost to get  both things fixed was going to be $800: $300 for the A/C and $500 for the mounts.  I figured that since the Reliant had not given me any major problems in the past, I would get the work done and hopefully have a better-running car that I could hold onto longer as well as be easier to sell once that time came.

The work was going to take most of the day, so I was offered a ride to work and was told that I would be contacted once everything was done.  I gratefully accepted the ride and spent the day at work as usual, that is, except for having to hitch a ride to lunch.  As four o’clock arrived, I waited to get a call from the garage letting me know my car was ready.  I started getting nervous, because my job is answering technical support calls, and a bad call could easily last an hour.  Our lines were open beyond the garage’s closing time, so if I got stuck on a long call, I might not be able to leave work in time to get to the garage to pick up my car before they closed.

If that isn’t a setup, I don’t know what is…you can just guess what happened next.

My next call was a customer with a Big Nasty Problem, and of course, five minutes into the call, my cell phone started ringing.  To make matters worse, the customer was dumber than a box of rocks, and I kept looking back and forth at the time while repeatedly trying to tell the customer how to open up a web page. My anxiety only increased as the phone kept ringing about every ten minutes, and I started looking for an opening where I could close out the call.  Luckily, I didn’t have to, either the customer hung up out of frustration or their phone battery died.  Either way, I didn’t care, I immediately called the garage and let them know I was on my way.

I could have been picked up by someone from the garage, but a friend had offered to give me a ride as it was on his way home, so I took him up on it.  I was dropped off, paid the bill, got my keys and hopped into my should-now-be-running-like-new car.  And you know what?  It really feels like a whole new car now, because the guys at Alamo Heights Garage did a great job on it.  The Reliant’s ride was nice and smooth, and the air conditioner worked like a champ.

Did I pay too much for the repairs?  I don’t know enough about cars to know if I did or not.  All I know is that I am happy with the excellent service I received, and the follow up call to see if everything was still work the week after and the 12-month/12,000 mile warranty on the repairs tell me that these guys are going to stand behind their work.

I’d like to thank the folks at Alamo Heights Garage, not only for doing a great job on the repairs to my car, but for making the process as pleasant as it could be.  I didn’t have to take much time off from work, either.  This was easily the best experience I have ever had with a mechanic that I didn’t personally know and I feel more comfortable knowing if my noble steed should ever be in need of repair in the future I know where to take it.

That’s right, almost six years later, the Reliant is my noble steed once again.