I don’t think cars had outside rear view mirrors when I learned to drive in the mid-1950s. I can remember driving from Claremont to Newport, and I would look up at the rear view mirror, just to be sure I wasn’t being followed by a police car. If I wanted to see if a car was passing on my left – there was no right-had lane, and passing on the right wasn’t allowed anyway – I twisted my head and looked over my shoulder.
At some point outside mirrors became standard equipment. You could only adjust them manually, which was ok in nice weather but uncomfortable if you wanted to adjust the mirror’s angle from inside and it was freezing cold or raining. Then someone came up with the idea of an inside lever to move the mirror up or down or back and forth, and like everything else in automobiles, that eventually became electronic.
This left one problem unsolved, the so-called “blind spot.” You look at one of the outside mirrors, the coast seems clear, you pull out to pass a car or start back into the right-hand lane, and there it is – a car you didn’t know was there. The best case scenario is that you swerve and avoid contact, while the other driver honks at you, mouths something you don’t want to hear, and makes a gesture.
A year ago, I went to swap in my old car and told the salesman I wanted a car without a blind spot. He said there was no such thing, but he could put me in a car with a “blind spot warning system.” It’s a light on the inside of either door that comes on when there’s a car coming alongside that you cannot see.
I took that car, meaning a lot less head-turning and neck-stretching. Then, one day a few weeks ago, I saw a strange symbol on the instrument panel and took out the driver’s manual. There’s a whole page devoted to explaining what the various icons mean. This particular squiggle means that the blind spot sensor system is on the fritz.
The car was due for service, just an oil change and tire rotation, so I took it in and asked Victor, the man behind the counter, if they could look at the warning signal and fix that problem at the same time. I said I’d wait. This was just a pit stop.
An hour later he gave me the report. “We ran it through the computer, and we’ll need to take off the rear bumper to see what’s wrong.” He took me into the shop and showed me an almost imperceptible indentation near the rear. “Did you run into something?” Victor asked. I told him I had no memory of doing so. “It must have been a hit and run,” he surmised.
So I made an appointment and took the car back a few days later. Around lunchtime the phone rang. Victor. “Your blind spot sensor system needs to be replaced.”
“When can you do it?” I asked.
“It depends how long it takes to get the parts,” came the answer. Then a pause, followed by, “the cost will be $1902, parts and labor.”
I must have misheard him. “What did you just say?”
He repeated himself, and I thought, “My entire first car didn’t cost that much.”
My next words were, “What choice do I have?” I thought it was a rhetorical question and that Victor would say something like, “Well, that’s up to you.”
Instead he said, “You could call your insurance agent. It’s probably covered under your policy.” How come I didn’t think of that?
The insurance agent was very pleasant, and in no time at all she had the necessary information, gave me a claim number, and said I should call the insurance company. I did so within a minute, but the agent beat me to it. They already knew about the claim and gave me the phone number of the appraisal company. I called and the woman there told me they had already assigned my car to someone. These people move fast.
This recent experience tells me two things. One is that, like it or not, we don’t control the gadgets in life, they control us. The other is that when it comes to modern cars, it pays to carry collision insurance.