Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
To say that 2022 has been an expensive year for me would be an understatement. We don’t need to go into all of the details, but there are two major circumstances that ran my pockets in the past six months. And both circumstances made me realize just how much I don’t know and how that lack of knowledge (potentially) cost me a lot of money. It also brought me to future goals, though. We’ll get back to that.
Let’s start back in the summer, shall we? In the dead of summer, back in July, my air conditioning unit went out in my house. I’ve been living in my house for 10 years now and have had the same unit since I moved in, which was right after the house had been built. Because it was about 95 degrees outside and the humidity was on New Orleans-swamp levels, I immediately called one of the various services in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. A technician showed up a few hours later and diagnosed my problem — my air conditioning unit was shot. He used much more technical terms for it, but according to him, there was literally nothing that could be done to fix my unit, and it would need to be replaced. He showed me several options, ranging from some newfangled technology and some run-of-the-mill options; the options ranged from $16K to $11K.
Now, I know that I know nothing about HVAC systems, but I also felt like it was impossible that I had no option but to spend at least $10K on a new system. Also, I really had no idea if I was being lied to or not. Perhaps not lied to — I don’t think the technician would lie to me, but perhaps the situation wasn’t as dire as it was being made out to be either. The thing is because I know absolutely nothing about HVAC, I couldn’t even object or push back. But because the costs were so high, I called several other services, some local, some national. Everybody showed up and offered me various versions of the same services, and the prices ranged, again, from $12K to about $9K. That’s a lot of money no matter who you are, so is the idea of parting with that much money, especially since I didn’t even know what questions to ask that might make it more clear that I had no options. One of the techs came out and essentially told me they’d need to rebuild the entire area where my furnace currently sits, alleging that it wasn’t built to code and he isn’t sure how my home ever passed inspection to begin with. Mind you, I live in a townhouse community that was all built together, so if mine is illegal, he’s saying the entire subdivision is illegal.
Thankfully, my wife asked one of her friends who mentioned her cousin who has a registered company that told me that he could do the entire job — remove, install and replace the unit for less than half of what the other companies were offering. He said they tend to upsell and assume the worst. He did come out and inspected my unit and told me that he could try to fix the thing and assumed he could, but that the cost of fixing it — because of the necessary parts — was only like $1K less than replacing the entire thing. So he did my entire HVAC for about $5K, and now I have wonderful processed air for both warm and cold seasons. Thankfully, a person who showed me he wasn’t trying to get over on me showed up; shouts out to my wife’s community for the assist. I still spent $5K, but it hurt a lot less than $10K. But it highlighted, again, that I literally have no idea how to diagnose or address an issue on certain mechanical systems, and I’m at the mercy of whoever shows up.
Which brings me to this past weekend when, after picking my car up after a few days of sitting in an airport parking lot, I got in, and my car started making interesting noises and motions when shifting gears. The car felt like it was going to shut down on me several times, so I realized I needed to take it to the shop before I was left stranded somewhere. So I did. I get to the shop, and I get a call telling me that my transmission failed internally and the only recourse was to replace the entire thing. I’m sure you see where this is going: $7K, including labor and parts. I was beside myself; it’s the holiday season, and I have to spend that much. I called around a bunch of places and asked them what their costs were for labor and parts on a new transmission for my car. Everybody was roughly the same except nobody else could get to me for a few weeks; this shop could do it by Friday. So I had to tuck my pride and get it done, but I also realized I didn’t have anybody I could go to — and couldn’t myself — to take a look and see if maybe I was missing something. Sure, I don’t believe the shop just took me for my money; they’re probably telling me the truth. And after calling around to some shops and talking to some folks about my car and its transmission, it sounds like this was about to happen to me no matter what, so perhaps this is just what life is like with my vehicle. But I hated that I didn’t have any options or know-how.
And it made me realize that I’m going to make sure my kids do. While I fully expect my kids to all desire to go to college in a traditional sense, I’m also going to make sure that they find some way to learn about how to fix things that most folks probably don’t know anything about. I realize I’m not alone in my ignorance. I’d wager most folks don’t know how to specifically diagnose an HVAC system or discern that a transmission has failed internally. I’ll bet most of us rely on a shop and trust that the person we’re talking to is being honest. Hopefully, they are, but I’d love to be able to discuss specifics back and forth with somebody telling me that a costly thing is happening. I don’t know if there’s a “building cars for kids” program or a teenager HVAC program out there, but I promise I’m going to start looking. I can do all of the building and assembling and changing of oil and all that stuff, but that’s where it all ends, and I want my kids to either have a village that can help in that regard or be able to do some of it themselves so they can more confidently deal with whoever is being asked to service a system.
Thankfully, I haven’t had any other major issues with my car since I got it, and we are absolutely getting the most out of this vehicle. And at this point, I’ve replaced every major appliance in my house in the past two years, so I should be good for a while. Lord knows I can’t take any more financial hits. But I definitely feel like there’s a wealth of knowledge I need to get to because I hate wondering if I’m being taken advantage of because I don’t know what I don’t know.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.