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Full-service gas stations are a thing of the past

The letter states the wiring in my 10-year-old car's dashboard has a factory flaw. A wiring problem might result in overheating and random deployment of my air bags. I am requested to bring the vehicle in for repairs.

Unfortunately, they don't have the necessary parts at this time. So I'll be getting another letter. At some point. When they get the parts. They promise.

Perfect. In the meantime, I suppose I'll just continue to drive blind as I lean as far away from the dash as possible.

Being a natural-born Pollyanna, I try to find the bright side. This could explain why the Vibe's speedometer, gas and other gauges are often plunged into darkness. Perhaps it also explains why my CD player ate five discs and died. Maybe when they get the parts to fix my airbag issues, the other issues will also be resolved.

I had assumed the lean-back position while leaving work Wednesday, and was about five miles from home when the Vibe began chugging on Interstate 5. The dash lights suddenly flashed on, revealing a bright orange dot. You know the one. It lights up when you're out of gas.

Sure, now it tells me. The dot was orange. But the air turns blue as I exhaled a string of curses that would make a drunken sailor proud.

I have never, ever, run out of gas in my life. And I do not intend to start now. Pulling off I-5, I begin bartering with the petroleum gods.

Please, please, pleeeease let my little red bomber make it to a gas station, I beg. Then I curse their mocking laughter as my engine stutters to a halt alongside the highway between Gold Hill and Rogue River.

I call Triple A, shouting to be heard over two yapping little dogs staked out on their front lawn. The slavering hounds are convinced my vehicle is a deadly threat to all that is holy.

I feel compelled to explain to the poor woman on the other end of the phone how I never, ever run out of gas.

"I can't believe I did this," I say. "It's so stupid."

No worries. Happens to the best of us. Someone will arrive in 20 minutes, she says.

As soon as we hang up, a text comes saying it will be 30 minutes. Followed by another one promising rescue in 45 minutes. Do I want to turn the text messaging off? Charges may apply, says the next one.

Happily, rescue comes ahead of my response. A monster truck rolls up bearing a driver wielding a 2-gallon container of fossil fuel. He pours the gas, waves off any card/cash offers, and I am back on the road again.

I pull into a Rogue River gas station and ask for a fill-up. Given the hit-and-miss nature of my gauges, I figure an under-the-hood check might be in order.

"Would you please check my oil and water levels?" I ask, popping the hood latch, too.

Love to, the attendant replies. But his boss now forbids such services for fear of lawsuits, he says with a sorrowful look.

The owner theorizes if a customer gets informed their oil levels are fine, and their car later blows up down the block, they could sue the station, he says.

I offer an alternate theory. Loyal customers can find another station to perform said necessities — one without an owner suffering from a delusional fear of lawsuits.

"This is just nuts," I say.

He sympathizes. Completely.

"I'd love to check your oil," he says. "But it ain't worth my job."

Forking over $10, I wish him well and say my final goodbyes. Friday morning I finish my fill-up at a Medford station.

"Can you please check the oil and water levels?" I ask, with a chipper smile.

No can do, the big-city attendant replies with a sorrowful look.

"We're not allowed to do that anymore. I'm sorry," he says, adding he doesn't know of any other stations in Medford where a driver can get a little full-service.

"Maybe you'd have better luck in Ashland," he adds, in doubtful tones.

Time to channel my inner grease monkey. Anybody got a rag for my dipstick, a flashlight for my dash, and an aspirin for my pounding head?

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.