Lamentations on the Perils of Oil Changes at Megastores in which Hot Dogs, Lightbulbs, and Shoes are Sold: A Christmas Story (Part I)

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, December 21, 2007 11:00 PM

Every once in a while it doesn't matter what you pay, because incompetence comes in all shapes, forms, and bill sizes.

Let me tell you the first part of a two part story concerning my recent "relations" with Wal-Mart.


Once upon a time, my car needed an oil change.

My car was a tad over on mileage (a tad being a smidge of an understatement), but my car was burning no oil and I had put in a liter to make sure that I would have enough. I'd not been putting it off so much as I couldn't go - I was under the assumption that Wal-Mart's auto service closed at 6:00, and I was working late with classes in the morning. So I was on may way home, and decided that once and for all I would stop and get the damn thing serviced.

I stopped at a place that proclaimed "30 MINUTE OIL CHANGE" on the side of its hanger-sized shop (should have been my first clue). Someone met me as I was walking to the office and told me that they only serviced semis. Of course. So I get back on the road and decided to go to the Wal-Mart in Benton, but there's a three car line that doesn't look it will move any time soon. Finally, I decided to stop at the Wal-Mart in Malvern, which is the closest one to my house on my way home.

Reluctantly, I tell the guy all of my information, just knowing that I was going to be at Wal-Mart forever (believe it or not, shopping at Wal-Mart was not something I could afford). So the guy took all my information and I went inside to "shop" - here meaning I looked longingly at all the things I wanted to buy. A familiar feeling, right? At any rate, I bought Flat Earth apple chips (which were really good) and cajun tuna (I wanted fish, dammit), and went to the back to check out. I waited about 10-15 more minutes for my car and then it was ready. I got in it and it was all ready to go - nothing perceivably wrong. I congratulated myself on keeping my car maintained voluntarily before something went wrong, and drove it home.


The next morning, I left around 8 for work, an hour late. No hitches, no bumps. Around 3:30 that afternoon, I started home. That's when the trouble started.

It started with a rapid clicking noise coming from under the hood. I knew that wasn't right, but when I revved my motor and the sound went away, I thought it was gone. When the RPMs fell back down, the clicking got louder. I was in a wreck - a very small one (less than 5 MPH) - nearly two months ago, but it shifted my radiator up. I thought that my engine was vibrating and making the radiator move and rattle. It was a logical explanation.

I started driving on I-30 on the way home. I was in the left lane when my dashboard lights started coming on. Less than 10 seconds later, my engine cut off. I was going 60 MPH. I coasted my way over to the right line and pulled over. I let the car rest for a minute, racking my brain for the rhyme and reason. I started the car again, and proceeded at about 35 or 40 MPH, trying to get somewhere where I could pull over safely.

It wasn't long at all before the lights came on again. This time I saw the oil light come on first, and the only thing I could think was "surely not." My engine cut off again, and I coasted off onto the Colonel Glenn exit and stopped. I popped the hood, the whole time telling myself "It's definitely not the oil. Not the oil. Not the oil." I checked the oil and, sure enough, it was completely bone dry. Oh, I was angry. I flash-boiled. I called my mother and told her what happened, and that I needed someone to come get me. It would be a full hour before they would even be able to reach me, and that was without traffic.

My mother called my grandmother, who called the wrecker. My mom told me she was on her way. I waited.

I was listening to an NPR review of Sweeney Todd (I thought it was hilarious that the reviewer feared that Depp's singing voice would turn "Sweeney Todd" into "Sweeney Manilow") when my mother called me and told me to call Wal-Mart. Cue hilarious exchanges.

Note: I had calmed down around two minutes after I realized what happened, so I was particularly calm.

I call the Wal-Mart number on my receipt from the oil change.

Customer Service: Hello. Thank you for calling Wal-Mart. How may I direct your call?
Me: Ah, yes. I need to talk to a manager. I came in yesterday to get an oil change, and my car stalled while I was driving it. Now I have no oil in my car and I'm stranded.
Customer Service: Oh my... Let me transfer you. I wouldn't know anything about it! [nervous laughter]
--Hold Music for two seconds before the automotive department picked up.--
Auto Service: Hello, thank you for calling Wal-Mart automotive service and parts [or whatever the hell it's called]. We sell tires for less. This is _____.
Me: Ahhhhh... yes. I was in yesterday for an oil change. My engine stopped running while I was driving it, and when I pulled over to see what was the matter, I had no oil in my car. And I'm stranded right now.
Auto Service: OH MY LORD. Let me get the manager. [Phone clicks as it's laid on the counter. Cashier screams, "DAVID!" and relates to him in a very jumbled way why I want to talk to him. The phone clicks as someone picks up the phone.]
David: This is David. How can I help you?
Me: Hello! I was in yesterday for an oil change. Today on the way home my engine stopped running while I was driving. When I pulled over, I had no oil in my engine-
David: OhmyGod.
Me: -and I'm stranded.
David: [audible deep breath] Where are you?
Me: I'm in Little Rock, but I have a tow truck coming for me. That's been taken care of.
David: Where are you having it towed to?
Me: My parents wanted me to have it towed to Wal-Mart.
David: Okay. That would be good. Let me have your name and phone number.

As soon as I got off the phone with David, a man pulled over ahead of me and stuck his head out the window. "Are you alright?" I nodded and told him I had a tow truck coming. He told me he just wanted to check and I thanked him. I called my grandmother and my mother back (as they had both called me in the five minutes I was on the phone), and found out that the guy that we called to come tow my car was stuck in traffic nearly 75 miles away, and that I would have to wait on him to give him the key to my car. Lovely. I called my best friends and got no answer, so I settled in for a pleasantly unplanned reading of Slaughterhouse Five.

The tow truck guy called and tried to make sure of where I was. One my best friends called me back. My mother and my grandmother called me again. An army soldier stopped and checked on me. A state trooper stopped and checked on me. He told me my license plates didn't match my car, but this turned out to be his error. Then he became really jovial and told me to make a paper airplane of the warning ticket he had to write. All in all, I read about 10 pages of my book.

My mom and sort-of-stepdad (long story) came and got me, and we met the tow truck at Benton to give him the key to my car. We went out to eat for dinner, and my grandmother called me and told me that the man who was towing my car suggested that I not take it to Wal-Mart, because they could "fix" whatever it was and claim it wasn't their fault. He said he had seen it before, and would hate for it to happen to me. So we decided he would lock it up for the night and that the next morning take it to the dealership where I bought it. Then we changed the plan and decided to take it to the dealership for the car maker (Dodge) instead of the dealership where I bought it (Ford).

Part II of this riveting epic due before Christmas! I know you're waiting anxiously.

3 Response to "Lamentations on the Perils of Oil Changes at Megastores in which Hot Dogs, Lightbulbs, and Shoes are Sold: A Christmas Story (Part I)"

andrés Says:

Uugh! That's horrible, love. I last got my oil changed at Wal-Mart, but I didn't have this problem. I didn't see this post until today. =(

Johnny Depp's voice was pretty atrocious, but it didn't spoil the movie for me. During the first song, I texted our mutual friend Shoakley, telling him that Tim Burton should stop writing musicals, and Johnny Depp shouldn't sing. But by the end of the movie, all was well. The music was very Phantom-of-the-Opera-esque, but that could be due to the fact that ole Tim didn't have anything to do with the music. (As you can probably tell, I'm still quite miffed about Corpse Bride.)

Eric B. Says:

It's this sort of stuff that makes me happy I no longer own a car.

Sarah Says:

Okay, I know that this was quite frustrating at the time, but I find your story (particularly the way you tell it) rather hilarious. Essentially, customer service reaction: "OH MY LORD. Let me get the manager. [Phone clicks as it's laid on the counter. Cashier screams, "DAVID!" and relates to him in a very jumbled way why I want to talk to him. The phone clicks as someone picks up the phone.]" and then "David: OhmyGod." Classic. And then the paper airplane warning ticket? It was like a sketch comedy act set you up.

But still, bad luck love.

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