A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit my friend Bertha. She is well into her senior citizen years but clings to her last bastion of independence: her automobile.

She suffers from severe asthma, and whether she should be driving is another story. She still chooses to drive, and the law says that is her privilege.

Bertha drives a 1979 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight two-door coupe. She bought the car new, and it has just a touch over 40,000 miles. She doesn't drive much.

Mostly, she ventures to the grocery store and the drugstore, both within blocks of her retirement condo.

The day I was there, we were to go see about getting a waiver for her vehicle's emissions test. Miss Bertha drove from the condo to the neighborhood service station she frequents.

They will pump your gas for a price an extra — 40 cents per gallon. They also do "minor" repairs.

I offered to pump the gas, but Miss Bertha said absolutely not.

She is of the age and generation where Southern ladies would not pump their own gas; it might soil their white gloves. Miss Bertha proudly admits she doesn't even know where the gas goes.

And that is where the problem began. When you don't know about your automobile, you leave yourself open to those who would take advantage of the situation.

Two attendants came to the car. One pumped the gas while the other raised the hood, I assumed, to check the oil. Shortly, the under-the-hood attendant showed up at the driver's window and announced her car was a quart low on oil and needed coolant.

Now, Miss Bertha drives perhaps 500 miles per year and has her oil changed at least twice a year. The odds of the car being low on oil were slim.

I hopped out to take a peek.

Looking first at the coolant reservoir, I noticed that one line said hot and another said cold. The coolant level was smack dab in the center.

Since we had driven all of a block and a half and it was cold day out, there was no way the engine could be up to full operating temperature. I told the attendant we didn't need any coolant.

Next, I headed for the oil dipstick. Just as I had suspected, the oil level was halfway between full and low, just where most people want it to be.

The attendant started to argue with me, assuming I didn't know diddly about an automobile. Matter-of-factly, I stated the car was fine. He continued to press his point.

I could only imagine what he had in mind for the price of a quart of oil and additional coolant.

When we drove out, I had a bad taste in my mouth. How many unsuspecting older drivers are similarly victimized?

Do your older family members or friends who still drive a favor. Invest a little time to make sure they know the basics of carcare, or at least know what questions to ask and what answers to expect.

 

© 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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