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take-home auto care

Once the stress of navigating the car purchasing process subsides, the reality of having to find a reliable mechanic and genuine parts for routine maintenance set in. The issue in Kenya is that there are so many counterfeit parts floating around that it is nearly impossible to know the quality of the replacements parts you are getting. The market is flooded with Chinese and South East Asian knock-offs that use the same encasing and packaging as the legit parts, down to the hologram that car companies have put on as a counterfeit deterrent. In the States, unless you drive a luxury car, there really is no need to get dealership manufactured original parts. Here, on the other hand, unless you order the parts online or go to physically purchase them yourself from a reputable dealer, you’re bound to get imitation parts even if you pay the marked-up price for originals.

Before we sealed the deal on the purchase, the head of GSO told D to bring the car by the Embassy so that one of the Embassy mechanics could take a look at it and make sure we weren’t being sold a lemon. The mechanic declared the car to be in good shape, with the caveat that the front shocks and breaks needed to be replaced, something the previous owner readily acknowledged. This mechanic also told S he’d do the job, though we felt a little weird about asking him to do it. He does not have his own garage and he would’ve had to work on the car at our house during his off hours. Our other alternative was a mechanic S’s friend had recommended to us. He would’ve gladly come to pick the car up to take to his garage downtown, but even though his standard of labor came highly endorsed, the prices he quoted us for the parts were a bit suspect. Even though he asked significantly more for the labor, the Embassy mechanic also seemed more trustworthy. Plus there was the added bonus that most of the Embassy fleet consists of Toyota Land Cruisers, so he should know our car inside and out. He even offered to accompany S to the Toyota dealership to pick up the parts we needed.

The job – changing the breaks, replacing the front shocks, and an oil change – was supposed to take half a day’s labor, so we agreed to do it last Friday. The Embassy closes at noon on Fridays and we figured that from noon to sundown was plenty of time. S spent the better half of that morning battling traffic because the Toyota dealership is located downtown, but that nuisance aside, things seemed to go auspiciously at first. The dealership had all the parts we needed, which is never a sure-fire bet here, and the mechanic showed up on time. After a few hours of fiddling with the car, however, he realized that he had left a tool or two at home and the job came to a screeching halt. We agreed that he would come back the next morning and that it should only take about 3 hours to finish everything up. At 9am S’s phone rang and she went downstairs to hand over the keys. However, at mid-day the mechanic had to leave again because he forgot to bring yet another tool. Only this time, it started pouring while he was away. He had left the car propped up, with one of the wheels off, the hood up, and an assortment of screws and bolts strewn all over our driveway. So D had to scramble to collect the various tools and car parts and put them under cover so they wouldn’t rust before they had a chance to go back into the car.

Our intrepid mechanic returned sometime in the afternoon and by sunset called S outside to test drive the car. It drove well but still needed a wheel alignment and balance, and 2 more liters of oil. Additionally, the hand break needed to be tightened, and somehow we had two “extra” screws – they were needed to secure the plate on the underbelly of the car, but it got too dark for him to see. And so the car maintenance continued into this week. On Monday, he returned to tighten the hand break, add more synthetic oil, and put the screws back on the plate so it would stop rattling around. The car was driving better but we noticed that something was squeaking. The mechanic took the car for a spin and realized that in the stressful rainy back-and-forth afternoon he forgot to put a rubber piece back where it belonged after putting in the new shocks. This means that he has to come back to our house once more in order to take off the entire front right wheel, shock, and so forth. When exactly that will be, however, is anyone’s guess – we have to wait until he gets a day off that he wants to spend tinkering with our car.

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