Don’t Like: Dealing With A Nuance In Beauracracy

There’s nothing more banal that complaining about bureaucracy. I admit this. It’s like a stand-up comedian bitching about lines at the DMV. It’s nothing but maturbatory self-aggrandizing. But lately I’ve been once again thrust into my yearly scenario of having to explain to justify to other human beings that my car is fully operational, clean-running, and fit for driving.

First off, I say this not, but because my car is a piece of crap that doesn’t pass the eyeball test. It totally does.  You would never think there’s a problem with it. It’s 1999 toyota camry that’s clean, runs great, and is excellent condition. On top of that it meets all the standards of Los Angeles emissions tests.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the 1999 toyota camry has a well-documented problem of the check engine light coming on and reporting an “ERG” flow problem… only there is no problem, everything is in perfect working order. It took my mother and her mechanic back home a whole year to figure this out. They diagnosed the problem and she promptly searched the internet and discovered that many others have had the same problem. So she would take it to her mechanic at her convenience when the light would come on, he would check to be sure that that was the problem, and then shut the light off. It was great.

I have since bought the car from her and been using it here in Los Angeles. Thankfullly, I was hyper-aware of this problem already. So the time came where I had to take it to a shop for it’s due maintenence and repair and was not only promptly told I had an ERG flow problem, but that the car was undrivable without it being fixed. A massive discussion took place. The person was convinced there was an actual problem and I documented my case against it. He was positive that it wasn’t and gave me a whole list of reasons why I needed a set of repairs to A, B, C, and D. I took it to three other mechanics and they all said the same thing.

So I got the ERG flow system replaced for 1000 dollars. The day after the work was completed the light came back on. And yes, of coures the ERG flow was in the indicated problem. “Well that’s weird! Must be this other problem.” was his response. I typically do not yell. I can’t remember ever yelling at a service person before. There is just no need and there wasn’t even a need for it then. But here I yelled. I was angry because everyone refused to listen to me. I’m not a mechanic and I’m not a nave when it comes to cars either. Unfortunately the mechanic shop was part of a big chain and my feeble attempts to take them to small claims court was met with upstanding resistence, and would probably result with even more money out of my pocket. So why bother? I drove my car and the check engine light would come on and i’d routinely get it checked for any other problems, and refused service when someone said my ERG flow needed to be fixed.

So all of this came to back to rear it’s ugly head today, when I went to get my smog test so I could renew the registry on my vehicle. The man said he could not approve my vehicle because my check engine light was on. Now, I’m already at a disadvantage because it was my last day of registration and I had my appointment at a DMV in 15 minutes.

Which is my fault right? I waited too long. They’re not responsible. Well no matter how many times over the last four years I’ve told them to correct my address, no matter the fact that I had called 6 times in the last five weeks to get my registration sent to me at the correct address, they have continually failed to update the address and send me my information.  Why does this matter so much? Because the registration notice includes your “renewal ID Number” which is the only way you can renew your car without missing work and going to a DMV in person. And missing work is a last possible option for me. That’s right, you can’t call and obtain your number, you can’t email, you need it snail mailed for some absolute nonsense reason. So after 5 weeks of pleading with the DMV, I was out of options and scheduled the first possible appointment which would only make me a little late to work and that happened to be the last day of my registry.

Which brings us back to me getting the required smog test, which I didn’t realize was required of me. I thought it was every two years, but it’s every two years within renewel, which means my year and 1 month status counts as 2 years for the registration renewel purposes. But did you know that if it’s outside the 2 year window with a renewal purpose it’s technically expired? (Meaning if you get your smog test a few months before your renewal, you still need to get one in the last few months of the next two year window for it to be considered a legally drivable vehicle). Most people don’t know that and I don’t blame them because you know it’s the literal definiton of a double standard. FUN STUFF.

So I explain all of this and the smog test guy is nice and helpful and gives me a number of a “Refugee Service” that can vouch for a car that has a problem like mine. I leave and call to cancel my dmv appointment, then call the service once I’m at (and late) to work. they say “sorry we can’t serve you without a failed smog test notice.”

“But the guy recommended me to your service and wrote down the number?”

“We need a failed notice to go forward.”

“But that will cost me lots of money to get a test I know is going to be failed anyway and then you’ll charge me for the same smog check service?”

“Sorry it’s policy.”

Fine.  I’ll have to go back to the guy and pay for a failed smog test. I then go onto explain the problem to the Refugee service and she says, even with all my documentation: “This car isn’t on our list of cars. This will probably very hard to prove. You should probably just get it fixed.”

“But it doesn’t need to be fixed. That’s not how it works, I just explained it y-”

“If it’s not on the list you have a battle ahead of you. You should try to get it fixed.”

“Yeah. But even if I fix it, that won’t help. The light will still be on.”

“But that’s not my problem.”

“WHAT? That’s the definition of your problem, that’s what you guys do right?!?! You help people who have nonsense problems with their cars get passed the too rigid laws that don’t account for problems exactly like this one.”

“Yeah, but we’ve never seen this problem before.”

“But thousands of others have. I can show you. Wouldn’t I just be your first for this particular company then? I mean hasn’t this happened before? This doesn’t even make sense.”

“Um… [long silence except for the sound of gum chewing].”

“I’m going to look for another refugee service.”

“We’re the only approved ones in california”

“Well then let me come in to talk to your supervisor.”

“Just get that failed test notice first.”

I hang up. The girl was actually nice sounding, but just didn’t get what was going on. It’s that simple.

Look, we all know dealing with a bureaucracy is a pain in the butt. So what? everyone has to do deal with. And everyone’s situation is unique to them and everyone has a specific problem. But dealing with a nuance like this is just death. What do you do? How do you convince people to help you? Everyone thinks I’m trying to pull one over on them. I feel like that scientist in that annoying blockbuster than knows the truth and everyone thinks he’s crazy. Bureaucracies are a big old fact of life and they’re annoying, but when you have a black and white case they still work. Which is what they’re supposed to do. And that’s still something.

But the second you get into any gray area, that’s where it gets complicated. They’re designed not to deal with gray areas. They’re meant to make it simple for them. To refuse. To make it black and white. And that’s not how life works. I have a situation of inherent nuance. And they’d rather I not.

So all I have to say is this, does anyone know a mechanic who would be willing to shut of my check engine light, for a nonsense reading, and pass me for a smog test?

Probably not.

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One Response to Don’t Like: Dealing With A Nuance In Beauracracy

  1. Matt says:

    These 3 articles may help you:

    http://www.stretcher.com/stories/02/02nov25k.cfm

    http://www.sematopia.com/2006/08/how-to-turn-off-your-check-engine-light/

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_reset_a_check_engine_light

    If you were in GA, NJ, or PA I could tell you where to go… you could consider putting the car back in your mom’s name and register it in Mass…

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