minding the little things

ownerlessA few months ago my car’s air conditioner stopped working. To be more exact, the fan quit working except on the 5 (high) setting.  I could have the A/C off, or blowing like a hurricane.  I didn’t think about it too much, since I drive with the windows open except when it’s raining, and I don’t drive my car much (a couple of miles to the train station each weekday).

Some other things broke down a few months later and I decided to take the car in for an overhaul. The mechanics were mystified by the fan problem, and ended up keeping the car for an extra day.  When I picked it up, I found out that a non-standard part had been substituted at some point in the car’s repair history and the result had been that the fan had shorted out not only itself, but a lot of the wiring in my ignition.  I didn’t follow all of the technical details, but the mechanic summed it up this way: “you were lucky the steering column didn’t burst into flame when you turned the car on.”  I let out a “whew” and decided that in the future I would try not to let “little” repairs go too long without checking them out.

The same is true for most aspects of your life. Think about all the areas where you need to check out the “little things” to make sure the “big problems” aren’t lurking:

  1. Your health. Going to a doctor once a year is a must, but I realized that my insurance covers vision, dermatology, podiatry, etc.  I am trying to make a better effort to work visits to specialists in occasionally to make sure that no problems are lurking (for example, getting a glaucoma test once a year from my optometrist, whether I need new glasses or not).
  2. Your financial future. Check on your insurance policies and your will.  I am up-to-date on insurance, but Bubelah and I still don’t have a will.  I wonder how I can really offer much financial advice when I haven’t gotten that one piece of critical financial planning done myself, but do as I say, not as I do in this case.
  3. Your family future. Make sure you check on the little things with your family.  Understand what’s going wrong with your relatives, your spouse or your kids before it becomes a bigger issue.   This could be health, school, social life, finances, etc.  Anyone you feel responsible for needs a “checkup” from you once in a while.
  4. Your home. If you own, making sure your home is in good shape is no small exercise.  From alarm systems to air systems maintenance to just checking out the drafty places around the window, fixing little problems now can prevent big problems tomorrow.
  5. Your political future. I know most people get excited about presidential politics in America, but let’s face it – your Senators and Representatives (both federal and state) and even your local officials have more day-to-day influence on your life than the President does.  I know worrying about who gets elected to the state senate isn’t as “big a deal” as Obama v. McCain, but it matters.
  6. Your life, the universe and everything. Little things that bother you today can become a bigger problem tomorrow.  If you’re unhappy about something today, don’t let it fester.  Even if you can’t fix it today, take one tiny step toward correcting it.

I am often more worried about the long-term, big-picture issues and grand questions about life and history and whether the Jets will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but little things like avoiding a fiery steering wheel column through dumb luck remind me that I need to pay attention to the details in life, too.  Don’t wait until the little problems become big problems; I don’t know of too many problems that disappear on their own.

photo credit: swambo

15 comments

  • The Jets did win a super bowl in my lifetime (but I was very very young). I guess my question is “Will they win another?”.

    Great post about keeping on top of things. I just took my car in for a service, caught what could be a big problem early, and all I have left is my yearly visit to the dentist.

  • I been putting off going to my dentist for a cleaning. I think my problem is that I do not like my dentist too much, but am too lazy to look around for a new one. You figure I would learn my lesson by now since the last time I put off seeing my dentist for a while, I ended up having to do a root canal.

  • I think good comparison would be cavity versus root-canal. It's easier and cheaper to fix a cavity rather than wait and have 10 appointments in 6 months to fix one root-canal, let alone thousands of dollars in expenses.

  • You are spot on with #5. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the politics of the presidency but we don't pay nearly enough attention to the people who can actually help us out with our problems.

  • I apologize as this will be of little, if any help at this point as you already had you're car repaired, but the symptoms you describe (blower motor motor only functioning on high) usually is indicative of a blown “blower motor resistor”. This resistor is bypassed in the high position (full 12V to the blower motor, hence no extra resistance). If you're curious, you may want to check out your receipt to see if this part was replaced, and if so you can compare the price you paid to the price on the major auto part store websites. Labor varies from model to model, but usually the labor on this part is an hour or less. I only bring this up due to my pessimism of the auto repair industry and to give you the opportunity to verify that your mechanic gave you a fair and honest price. Of course, it could've been a completely different problem as I have not seen the car in question.

    • David, thanks for the tip. That does sound like the problem as they described it to me. They replaced the part because a non-standard resistor had been put in at some point in the car's past (I got it used). They told me they worked 4 hours on it, but only charged an hour since they didn't get my pre-approval before putting in the extra hours.

      This shop has been where I've taken our cars for four years and they've done good work and been fair on the billing. One time I had to take one of our cars to the dealership instead for various reasons and ended up paying $250 for, essentially, a new gas cap so I understand exactly what you're saying!

  • Pingback: Link Roundup: Wallet returned edition | Mighty Bargain Hunter

  • Pingback: Cassel Does Not Stand on Pillars of Sand (and weekend links)

  • Pingback: Links - 10/30 « Simplifying

  • about the long-term, big-picture issues and grand questions about life and history and whether the Jets will win

  • Oh yes, it's not be chance that the wise men of our country came up with the saying, “a little by little, a mountain is formed.”

    Your advice workd both ways. For generating and maintaining good things as well as stopping bad things when they are still “little.”

  • Pingback: Hot Link » Blog Archive » Link Roundup: Wallet returned edition

  • thomasdosborneii

    You can actually get the Will done on the Internet for VERY little money in less than an hour. I had been procrastinating on that, but I was getting ready to go into the hospital for a procedure and the scheduling pre-op nurse asked me if I had a Health Directive (the thing about no heroics, etc.), so I decided to do one via a website I found and that site also had a Will-preparation program, so I did them both, found witnesses to sign, etc., and voila, those things were done in a flash!

  • thomasdosborneii

    You can actually get the Will done on the Internet for VERY little money in less than an hour. I had been procrastinating on that, but I was getting ready to go into the hospital for a procedure and the scheduling pre-op nurse asked me if I had a Health Directive (the thing about no heroics, etc.), so I decided to do one via a website I found and that site also had a Will-preparation program, so I did them both, found witnesses to sign, etc., and voila, those things were done in a flash!

  • Pingback: Links – 10/30 « Jeff Lail