A couple of car-related stories to keep you warm while waiting for pitchers and catchers to report:

I brought my wife’s Honda Element to a local gas station for an inspection sticker recently, and to my surprise, the inspection resulted in a rejection sticker. It was a surprise because the Element is still pretty new – in fact, it’s still covered under the factory warranty (and even if it wasn’t, we coughed up for the extended warranty, just in case). The person who inspected the car told me that the problem was emissions related, and that it would likely be covered by the warranty. So, it was off to the dealership.

Later, when I called to see if the Element was ready to be picked up from the dealership, I asked if there would be any charge. I was told that although there would usually be a $109 charge for hooking the Element up to the computer for debugging, since I was a good customer the charge would be waived this time. I told the gentleman that I appreciated the fact that they waived the charge, but asked if such a charge would be normal for a car covered by warranty. After all, when I was sold the extended warranty I remember the salesman waving a list of the parts that might just break – and convincing me that it would be nice not to have to lay out any cash for those repairs for quite some time.

The guy on the phone hemmed and hawed and told me that although any repairs would be covered by the warranty, hooking the car up to the computer to find out what was wrong was not covered. “You see,” he explained, “we don’t get reimbursed by Honda for that step in the process, and it takes our technicians time and effort to use the computer to troubleshoot the problem.” (He did not specify how much time or effort was taken during the step)

I let him off the phone without further interrogation, but the situation seems a bit absurd – assuming that the gentleman on the phone was correct and did not mistake the details. Perhaps the fee is always waived for warranty customers in an effort to make us feel good – but in that case, why bother mentioning it?

It’s understandable why the dealership or other repair places would charge people in general for using the machine – after all, they have to pay for the machine. But charging in the case of warranty repairs undermines the idea behind a warranty. I might be a bit of an ingrate for complaining – since they didn’t actually charge me – but why would it be my problem whether Honda reimburses the dealer or not, when the actual problem is with a part covered by my warranty?

That leads me to wonder if it’s possible to avoid the charge by asking the dealer to troubleshoot the problem without the computer. Hmm…

…Speaking of cars, I renewed the registration for my car in October last year (my registration expired in November). I did the whole transaction through the website, paid my 50 bucks, and got the letter with the new registration and license plate sticker (with a “10” on it) a few days later. No problem. I remember that it was raining the day I got the letter, and I didn’t want to try to affix the sticker to a wet license plate, so I put the letter on the little table we have near the door and promptly forgot about it.

Time passed.

It was the middle of November when I realized that I didn’t have the updated registration in my car. When I checked, it was no longer on the little table near the door. I asked my wife (known in my house, fairly or unfairly, as “She Who Moves Things”), but she claimed no knowledge of the letter. I then ransacked my house three times with no success.

Once I was convinced that the registration would not magically present itself, I went on the Registry website and ordered a duplicate registration for 25 bucks. The letter with the duplicate registration showed up a few days later, but without the accompanying license plate sticker.

This was a concern, because I have been pulled over in the past for an expired license plate sticker (the registration was valid that time, but the sticker was safely resting in the glove compartment). I really didn’t want to give the police an excuse to be pulling me over on a regular basis. I mean, it’s nice to catch up with my local law enforcement professionals, but I prefer to do that while they are acting in a non-official capacity.

So, I decided to just renew my registration again. This would cost 50 bucks (for a total of 125 for a single registration), but at least would give me a new license plate sticker and some peace of mind. But, when I tried to renew the site wouldn’t allow it (because my current registration had more than 6 months before it expired). Nothing is easy.

At this point, I had a choice: Physically go to a registry office and watch valuable hours of my life drain away while I waited in line, or try to contact someone.

My first thought was that it would be easier to explain this mess on the phone, so I attempted to call. But, I encountered an automated matrix of recorded messages with no paths that led to live human beings (Sadly, I can confirm that shouting “Help” into the phone did not trigger anything, either).

So, I sent an email explaining the situation. I fully expected to get a terse reply commanding my presence in a branch office, but to my surprise (and delight), I got the following unsigned email from the Registry:

“Hello, I am personally sending you a replacement decal in the mail today.”

True to his or her word, an envelope containing a single license plate sticker showed up a few days later (and that sucker was immediately affixed to my plate). The only issue that might arise now is the fact that the sticker has a “12” on it, while my registration actually expires in month “10” (yes, I actually worry about dumb stuff like this). I’m sure that will be fun to explain: “You see, officer, the letter was on the little table near our door…”