Joburg Expat: It's Not Stealing - You Don't Need All That Oil in Your Engine Anyway!

January 20, 2012

It's Not Stealing - You Don't Need All That Oil in Your Engine Anyway!

I've told you before about getting your car serviced in South Africa and the need to remove all your valuables from your car before dropping it off, but recently I encountered a whole new dimension to this.

We were driving back from the Kruger Park, through beautiful landscapes on roads winding up and down mountains, along more than one steep rock face that had me wondering when was the last time (or, more pressingly, when would be the next time) that those huge boulders littering the side of the road had come hurtling down the mountain. There was no safety net whatsoever.

But my concern over the boulders soon faded when something beeped, and a warning message to check oil levels appeared on the dashboard. As luck would have it, this was Noisette's car, but Noisette was not actually in the car. This is the pattern in our family when it comes to any kind of emergency, like snakes in the garage or squirrels in the chimney or all thirteen smoke alarms going off at two a.m.  Noisette has a knack for disappearing when the going gets rough or when there is blood involved (or dirty diapers or vomit, for that matter, but that is another story).

Luckily this wasn't a real crisis. After all, the car was running just fine. It was probably just all that going up and down that made the oil level fluctuate. But we stopped at the next garage (gas station, if you're American) just in case, and indeed the oil level turned out to be at the minimum. I didn't think twice about why this might be, but as usually happens here in Africa, another customer ambled over to find out what was going on and offer his advice. Which was this: "A new car like this, especially a Mercedes, should never be out of oil if you've been servicing it regularly - someone's been skimping you on the oil at the dealership."

What?

You see, that's where South Africa gets you again and again. You think you've been living here long enough to know what to expect, but your thinking doesn't even go into some directions that it should be going. I would never even think someone at the car dealership could siphon off oil on the side to sell it later, but now that I have this image in my head, it makes perfect sense. Most people won't know that oil is missing until much later, and then they'll just assume it's time for more oil. So it's really just such a little thing, why not do it? The fact that's it dishonest doesn't seem to bother people, and getting caught for it is highly unlikely. You could always explain it away with sloppiness, which god knows you can find plenty of in South Africa.

I've now developed a certain routine with Fourways Audi, the dealership I take my own car to (by virtue of being closest). I go there about once every few months because oil is leaking from my engine (get the irony - Noisette's car is missing oil but not leaking, my car is leaking oil but not missing any...). Whenever the patch in my garage gets too big, it's time to make another appointment. I drink my cappuccino there, get my ride home, enjoy my day without having to do any errands, and get picked up again in the afternoon, at which point I'm told that "It's definitely been fixed this time, somebody didn't screw the oil plug in correctly last time." Except next time it might be "Somebody screwed the oil plug in too tightly last time, breaking the seal" or "They put in too much oil last time, causing an overflow." The last time I was there to have the wheels re-balanced (the need for which arises from driving against curbs, something I've become quite the expert at), I found out at the end of the day that the rebalancing machine was broken and likely would remain so for the next three months. By now I don't even bother to gasp at the idea of something being broken for three months.

But this is sunny Africa, and there is always an upside to everything. No one cleans my car so well as the guys at Fourways Audi, every time I leave my car with them. And so far it's been absolutely free. Provided I don't leave any valuables in there.

My sparkling clean car after yet another service

They clean everything, inside and out. And they clean "out" everything:-)