Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Highway Robbery

It's shaken time again...
You'll see the mechanics grin.
Shaken time again.
They know it's an easy way
To rob us forever
(sung to the tune of Cold Gin by KISS)

Ah, yes, shaken (vehicle inspection) time has just come and gone for the BLUE RAV4.


Depending on how old your car is, you have to take it to a mechanic or car dealer every two or three years so that they can get it up to the government's official standards regarding safety and performance. Many if not most Japanese don't bother; when their car's shaken time comes up, they simply trade it in and get a new machine. It's easy to see why. It tends to be very expensive.

The funny thing is that, judging by the cars that are able to pass the test, the government standards don't seem to be all that strict. It would probably be a lot easier and a helluva lot cheaper for people to bring their cars to the testing stations themselves. Nope. Only licensed mechanics and car dealers are allowed to do it. We can't have people doing things on their own, now, can we? I'm sure the bureaucrats would say (as they always do) that they're looking out for the public welfare. I think it really has more to do (as it always does) with all those little fees that wind up getting tacked onto the bill.

It's usually a lot cheaper to have an independent mechanic take care of shaken than a dealer, but I usually go with the latter anyway. Specifically, I always take my car to the place where I bought it. There are many reasons for this, most of which are based on personal experience. For one thing, car dealers here in Japan tend to go out of their way to make sure you keep coming back. (Heck, the guy that sold me my BLUE car kept driving up to my place two or three times a year, often with a seasonal present, just to make sure everything was running alright...and to remind me that I should wash the thing now and then.) Independent mechanics, on the other hand, have a bad habit of simply not giving a damn. They do the job, take the money, and say, "Next..." I've actually taken cars to fix-it shops for shaken in the past and had them come back in worse shape than before. I've also heard plenty of horror stories about how people or businesses have had their cars come back from shaken with engines that wouldn't start, brakes that wouldn't work right, and wheels so far out of alignment that the car pulled hard to one side. Of course, when those hapless souls took their car back to the mechanic again, they had to pay to have it fixed (i.e. restored to normal). No thanks. It may cost more, but I still go back to the dealership that wants my trust.

The trouble is that you never know how MUCH more it's going to cost.


The last time I took my BLUE car to the dealer for shaken it wound up not costing very much at all. The car was more or less already up to specs. The only extra charge came from one of those "while we're at it" deals. I had already been planning to get new tires (in fact, I'd been planning to go to a tire shop the very next day), and the dealer had a sale going on on the very brand and type I'd been looking for, so I went ahead with it. It still didn't cost as much as I'd expected.

That was then. This is now.

I took my BLUE machine in on Wednesday morning, and they showed me a detailed estimate plus a few options. It seemed pretty reasonable, so I went ahead with several of the options. Another nice thing about it was that my car would be all done and ready to roll the next day (another reason I prefer dealers; independent mechanics can take up to a week for shaken). I inked the form, took the keys for the loaner (a little, silver Vitz), and headed to the school feeling very fortunate.

A few hours later, I got a phone call. Suddenly I found myself thinking of that scene in the movie The MASK when Stanley goes to the fix-it shop to get his car back from its oil change and is given a whole list of expensive repairs. I was told that several components, including the alternator belt, air cleaner, spark plugs, and one of the brakes, were shot and had to be replaced. I was told I could refuse, but it was implied in no uncertain terms that my car wouldn't be passing the test (at least in the care of that dealer) otherwise. I probably could have taken my car to a mechanic for cheaper repairs and then back to the dealer for the shaken itself, but that just sounded like a lot more bother and time that I really didn't have.

A vision of my summer bonus rapidly shrinking before my eyes, I told them to go for it.


Well, the good thing was it still wasn't as expensive as I'd feared. The bad thing was that I could've bought a new Les Paul for less than that.

At least they had the kindness to clean and polish my car up, inside and out. It really looked nice when I picked it up. Nice, shiny, metallic BLUE. It also felt and sounded a lot better than before, too. I guess I should take some comfort from that...and rethink my plans for my summer bonus.

Next comes my car insurance.



  • I take it that most cars in Japan are rarely serviced by their owners? Do you even have auto parts stores?

    By Blogger Pa've, at 6:23 AM  

  • Sounds like "shaken" translates into English as "shake down".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 2:25 PM  

  • I've been shaken by just reading that.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:10 PM  

  • Yes, there are auto parts stores, but they have largely come into being just during the last ten years. When I first came to Japan they were very few and far between. Now there are a few chain outfits whose outlets are actually quite large and offer a wide variety of parts and accessories.


    Those stores also have garages and mechanics in back to install those parts for you. Very few people attempt to do it themselves.

    I've found that that tends to be the Japanese way of thinking in general: never try to do anything yourself. Always defer to a certified (overpriced) professional.

    Heck, back in 1992 I actually freaked out my Japanese coworkers when I asked for advice on how to clean and tune up the gas heater for my bath. The process was, after all, a dirt-simple one. Even so, the very idea of me trying to fix it myself sent them into hysterics. Finally, one of them called a gas man for me...over my protests...(and since it was school-owned housing, I couldn't easily refuse...)with the result that I ended up paying a wad of money for what amounted to a guy scraping gunk off the end of a tube with a screwdriver.

    You live in a patronizing, hierarchical culture...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:30 PM  

  • Sounds like the DEQ has a good mafia counterpart over there in the LOTRS.

    Most cars wont hold a "good tune" much longer than I can. Its a good thing that they havent seen the dollar signs and pushed to require it more often. At least they got trashed the last time they tried to extend the boundary.

    One more good reason not to live within the DEQ's "Hood".

    By Blogger Vulgarius, at 6:28 AM  

  • Okay, I'm way way late on this post, but what the heck!

    I remember once driving my car late at night (~2am) to drive a friend of mine home. About 1 mile from her house, the wheels on my Chevy Spectrum started making a horrible grinding sound.

    We decided to park the car, and walk the rest of the way. I called my father, and he grumpily came to get me and bring me home.

    The next day, I took a bus to where my car was. There was a gas station about 2 blocks from where I had parked the car, so I decided to see if they could help. They said they would look at it, so I gave the mechanic my car key and phone number, and caught a bus to work.

    All day, I expected to hear the worst. I was ready for $1000 repair job, when the phone finally rang. The service station said my car was ready. I took a bus to the gas station, and met the mechanic with my credit card in hand. He said that a screw had come loose in one of the wheels, and that he just had to replace it.

    He charged me 45 cents!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 9:30 AM  

  • Well, the truth is that it's much cheaper to get your car fixed, oil changed, etc. at the dealer's shop than at a local mechanic. I bought my two cars through the same local mechanic and the third one through a TOYOTA dealership. Actually, mechanics come and pick up clients' cars at home with no time, whereas you have to bring your car to the dealer's shop.
    I don't know the price ranges at AUTO BUCKS or YELLOW HAT-car accessory shops, though.

    By Anonymous lilac, at 6:45 PM  

  • Ooops. I forgot to mention I live in Japan.

    By Anonymous lilac, at 9:46 PM  

  • Thanks, Lilac!

    Actually, I think the name "Yellow Hat" pretty much gave away where you are. ;-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:32 PM  

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