In our small Iowa hometown, the scenario was a bit different. If your car breaks, you call Mike's (the garage is actually owned/run by Roger, but all the locals know that, of course). They'll pick up your car at work or home (leave the keys in it), fix it, and return it to your workplace, home, etc. with a handwritten bill on the front seat. Drop off the money when you can. Roger might mention a few things that will need fixing eventually, but you can still drive for awhile without worrying. Wave to Roger on your way to church or in the grocery store.
I knew that today's Korean Car Mechanic Scenario would probably be different than either of those versions, but that's where the cross-cultural fun comes in: mechanic vs. layman, Korean vs. American. All sorts of potential for adventure.
Our van certainly needed some attention: the A/C screams its fool head off; the rear passenger fender got snagged, inverted and nearly torn off during the van's only visit to the car wash (Car Wash Guy, who insisted that our "free" car wash coupon was no longer useful on its own but must be accompanied by at least 3 other "free" tokens, used green duct-tape to advertise our mishap); the van apparently backed itself into a wall and smashed up its tail-light; a headlight is out; and, oh, we haven't changed the oil since we bought the van. In August. 2013.
Wanting to be well-prepared, Nick wrote all these problems down and tucked the list safely away. He consulted other ex-pats about a good mechanic, made an appointment with referred mechanic for 9am Friday morning, and even got a friend to loan us his car to make the drop-off. Nick also made arrangements with his not-such-a-morning-person former TA to meet us in case of translation troubles. I was impressed by Nick's steps but suspected we would still be surprised somehow.
We got to Hi-Car about 10 minutes late. Nick was met by a friendly ajeema. Apparently, Mechanic Man was still sleeping. Oh. I'm not sure why the shop was running on a "When I Feel Like It" schedule, but there it is. Lots of Korean coffee shops and other places appear to run on this schedule, and it's NOT an early-morning kind of culture. But with a 9am appointment I assumed, well, wrongly.
OK. After going to wake Dear Mechanic (DM), the ajeema returned to the office, where we heard her chatting away with someone (perhaps the TV?) and roasting sweet potatoes on the home-made wood stove. Said stove was pouring smoke out of a rickety pipe at the front of the garage. On us, in other words, as we waited. I was reminded of childhood campfires and flaming marshmallows; I wondered if they had a fire escape plan. Piled around the small parking lot we noticed lumber, tree branches, bikes, bags of garbage, broken laundry racks, and many, many beer bottles. Taken together, these first impressions suggested that (a) DM is not a morning person; (b) DM is not particularly tidy; and (c) DM likes to party. We were not sure what these meant for his mechanical abilities.
Nick realized that his Safely Tucked List was, well, missing (strike 1), and Sleepy TA still wasnt responding (strike 2). Ever-resourceful, Nick called another student and put him on speakerphone to facilitate communication. DM knew just enough English to affirm what he was hearing: "Nay, air con belt-eh; set-eh?" (this meant, "Yes, I understand that your van's air conditioning needs attention: would you like just 1 belt or both of them to be replaced?"). And so it went for the other needs, including "die-bah hayd-lye-eet-eh" which was accompanied by gestures to the van's front left section and we nodded vigorously, speaking with excessively big eyes (why? I don't know) and enunciated, exclamatory speech: "Yes! Headlight! Feeks!". The list conveyed, DM agreed to call Nick's handheld (the Korean term for cell phone) when the van was ready. We did not know what to expect in terms of quality, timeline, or price.
Just a few hours later, Nick got the call and we drove back to Hi-Car. DM had replaced his green sandals with orange sneakers and brightened when he sees us. He suddenly knows much more English than he did this morning and proudly shows us around the van. He fixed the rear fender, tail-light, and headlight; replaced the A/C and alternator belts; changed the oil ("Chain-jee oh-eel moh shote!!" he proclaimed, which I roughly translated as "you are car-owning morons"); replaced the filthy A/C filter ("is white! Now so dirty!"); and filled the tires (pointing out one that will soon need replacing). He took it for a test drive and it's ready to go.
We troop back to the office after more over-enunciated commentary and exaggerated facial expressions, and he jots down numbers on a dirty page already filled with numbers. "Belt? 25,000. A/C filter? no. free...." and so one. He mentally totals it up and it comes to... $150 (160,000 won).
We scored big time. Home run for us. :)