“How an Auto Mechanic Who Knew the Rules of Punctuation Saved Me $200” by Tom Raabe

Tom Raabe
Tom Raabe

Tom Raabe is an editor at Eerdmans. In honor of National Punctuation Day today, he tells the story of a heroic auto mechanic whose deft grasp of English grammar helped Tom avoid a costly (and unnecessary) repair.

The trusty Hyundai was having problems. I knew what that meant in a rudimentary way—it meant trouble, and trouble meant money—but the particulars of that trouble remained beyond my automotive grasp. I took the car to a chain repair store and laid out the symptoms to Mike, the man behind the counter, in as much detail as I could. I said, “My car is running loud.”

Mike offered a knowing but sympathetic nod, ran me through the formalities, took my keys, and said he’d have the boys in the bays look into it. I retired to the magazine rack and caught up on my Car & Drivers, not to mention my Road & Tracks.

Fifteen minutes later Mike was back with the bad news. Seems the car was running loud because the muffler was shot. Required were a new muffler, a clamp, and new bolts for the clamp. Because the muffler was attached to a long and expensive pipe of some sort, that too would perforce be included in the repair. It was going to set me back 310 big ones.

“Really?” I said. “I just had my exhaust system worked on a little while ago.”

“That’s what it says here,” Mike replied, waving the work order the mechanic had filled out. “You need a muffler and a clamp and bolts.”

“Shoot,” I said, shaking my head.

“Want to take a look?”

“Okay,” I said.

We tramped through the office door back to Bay 2, where my car was on the hoist. Mike unsheathed a ballpoint from his pen caddy and started poking at the muffler. “That’s odd,” he said. “This thing still looks all right. No visible holes or rust or anything.” He holstered his ballpoint and looked at me. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” he said authoritatively.

“Darryl!” he called as he approached a fellow in greasy work overalls leaning against the hood of a different car and wiping his hands on a rag. There was an edge to his voice. “You said the muffler was bad on that Hyundai,” Mike said, waving the work order now in Darryl’s face. “Looks fine to me.”

Darryl snatched the work order from Mike’s hands, looked at it, and raised his head. “I didn’t call for a new muffler, Mike,” he said, a little bite entering his voice. “I called for a muffler clamp and bolts. Two things. A muffler clamp … and bolts. Not a muffler, a clamp, and bolts. There’s no comma in there, Mike.”

Mike took back the work order, looked at it closely to confirm the absence of the comma, grunted, and led me out of the bays and to the counter. And, as if nothing had just happened—or, as is also possible, as if this sort of thing happened all the time—rang up the new tally: $110 for a muffler clamp, bolts, and labor.

And that is why, on this National Punctuation Day, I am thankful for auto mechanics who know their rules of punctuation.

Click here to read more by Tom Raabe.

Click here to learn more about National Punctuation Day.