''Mornin' ma'am''

Greeting someone with the friendly yet informal ''Mornin' ma'am!'' may not be really offensive, but the thing is, I'm not 60. Sure, my small height probably misled the technician at the local shop, but I was barely 20 years old and ''ma'am'' in no way applied to me. Sorry.

A few years ago, as I prepared to pick up my father's 1992 Honda Accord after an oil change, I discovered that what was once a simple $25 job now costs twice as much. I was shocked. I mean, $50 is the maximum price allowed by Quebec's Consumer Protection Office (Office de la protection du consommateur) without a proper estimate being required.

oil change

Following the initial ''Mornin' ma'am,'' I was told that the oil pan needed to be replaced before rust got the better of it. Knowing my Dad and how he usually keeps his car in top shape, this seemed absurd. Then I thought about it: the Accord was getting seriously old and could start leaking soon.

I asked the technician to see the oil pan, which any consumer is fully entitled to do. What I saw was a slick black pan in seemingly reasonable condition, with no orange traces suggesting some form of corrosion. I refrained from yelling at the guy, and instead politely told him that I didn't think a replacement was necessary.

His answer turned out to be the most ridiculous story I have ever heard. Apparently, the pan was sweating oil, which explained the slick black surface. He wanted me to believe that the metal case had morphed into a sifter.

In order to convince me, the technician tried to hammer the oil pan as hard as he could, looking to pierce it through. The pan withstood the attacks and lasted another three full years.

''Ma'am'' is not exclusive to those smart asses who will try to wreck your car and scam you by charging for useless repairs. Some jolly folks use the expression quite simply without harbouring any condescending or sexist thoughts.

So, the next time you take your car to the repair shop, don't leave your intuition and discerning judgement on the back seat. Feel free to ask questions, demand to see the parts that supposedly need to be replaced, and don't be fooled into thinking that you know nothing about cars and mechanics. It's easy to recognize a cracked rubber or rusty sheetmetal!