AutoMD.com estimates that American consumers are overpaying by more than $20 Billion on auto repairs. The investigation not only revealed repair shops giving overblown estimates, but also multiple instances of shops recommending unnecessary work.
Nothing chaps my ass more then being ripped off. Ripping my sister off who fits the typical female stereotype who doesn’t know the difference between a spark plug wire and where the windshield washer fluid goes, really chaps my ass. I’ve never had a bad experience when it comes to automotive repairs because knock on wood, I haven’t had a car that has ever required the maintenance one needs after a certain age. I have dealt with typical maintenance not covered under warranty that most shops still try to up sale you on though. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I use my mom voice when telling them exactly what it is that they be will repairing on my car or the fact that I know what I talking about, no one has ever had the nerve to try an rip me off…yet.
A little over a month ago my younger sister, who religiously takes her car in to have the oil changed and tires rotated at a respectable Jacksonville dealer, gave her the once over, and then proceeded to give her a list of things that needed to be replaced immediately as if there were going to cause major consequences. One must admire a service adviser for simply doing their job but no one sticks it to you quite like a dealer when it comes to the cost of repairs. Not exactly being automotive savvy but experiencing a little bit of sticker shock as a poor college student, she took the list, paid for her oil change and proceeded to call our father who said “I think not”.
Let’s break it down what the dealer’s quoted $2000 bill was going to cover:
- Windshield wipers
- Transmission service
- Spark plugs and wires
- Water pump
- Timing belt
The water pump and timing belt, really? Generally, when the the timing belt is replaced you must remove the water pump. It just makes sense at that time to replace them both. My sister bought her car with an extended warranty that heaven forbid, her car overheat or the timing belt break while she was driving down the road causing any major issues, a simple deductible would in fact cover the repairs and replacement. If the engine happened to seize up due to these issues, well then a new engine would be placed in the car for the same deductible. My father, who has owned more than his fair share of automobiles since he started driving in 1975, wasn’t too worried about the water pump or the timing belt so he prioritized the important items on the list. My sister only paid $5000 for the car less than two years ago, dumping $2000 in it now really wasn’t an option or even worth it. At that time she had bought the car it had just gone under a full service including new brakes and tires. The car receiving a clean bill of health from that Dodge dealer all less than 20,000 miles ago too.
My father took 20 minutes out of his day to walk into an automobile supply store where he purchased the windshield wiper blades, quality spark plugs, and transmission service kit, for less than $40. A mechanic and family friend for years was not able to accommodate my sister’s schedule so my father made a quick call to another shop that he had visited on and off for years as he knew the owners. A simple conversation over what repairs were needed and that 75% of the parts had already been purchased, came to a verbal agreement of no more than $100 for labor and miscellaneous parts. Had my father been able to take the time off from work, he would have done all of this himself with a few simple tools. A socket wrench (to fit both the plugs and for the transmission), a ratchet, and a feeler gauge used to set the gap on the plugs. But time being of the essence and not really having a location to put a car on ramps to complete the transmission service, my sister did what a majority of automobile owners do, she took it to have it done.
When my sister dropped her car off, she was given a 4 hour window for all of the repairs to be completed. At the fifth hour, the mechanic called to inform her that both her rear wheel cylinders were leaking and he would not be able to legally let her drive the car away from his shop with such a safety issue. My sister would have to pay for a tow truck and sign a release form in order to get her car back. Feeling pressured and concerned, she agreed without even consulting my father. So how would you even know if there was in fact a problem with the wheel cylinders? The obvious would be that your brake pedal would be soft and require being pushed all the way to the floor, your brake fluid light would come on because there was in fact a leak, and brake fluid would be noticeable on your rear wheels. My sister had experienced NONE of these issues.
At the eighth hour, my sister finally went to pick her car up. $299 later, she reluctantly swiped her card thinking of all the pb & jelly sandwiches she would have to consume for the next month in order to receive her keys back. Not once receiving an invoice stating exactly what had been done or the cost of the parts in order to complete the repair, she was handed a measly statement from the credit card machine stating the amount, date and shop name. There was no offering to view the old parts. Once hitting the road, she called my father to tell him the good news. Needless to say, my family has a tendency to have a bit of a short fuse when it comes to situations like these. No one likes to be taken advantage of and my father had purposely sent my sister there because he was comfortable with the amount quoted and he trusted the shop!
My father immediately came to my house where my sister was to investigate these so-called repairs. The first thing he checked was the spark plugs, she had been charged $10 per plug to change them and guess what? They were the same nasty old spark plugs that had been in there that morning. My father had purchased Autolites that are black, the silver ones from who knows how long ago sat in their place. Had my father had the tools, the entire process to change 4 spark plugs would have taken 15-20 minutes. The transmission was overfilled and we had to get a turkey baster to remove the excess. When he checked the brake fluid, it was dirty. What color is dirty brake fluid? It appears black. New fluid is the color of weak tea. The fact that her car was filthy and there were no hand prints on the rear tires from them being removed along with nothing shiny and new poking out to see it was obvious that the repair on the wheel cylinders had not been made. When my sister told him she didn’t even get an invoice or any old parts back, as one would say, he blew his stack.
With a phone call, the mechanic tried to justify his $10 per spark plug charge and that he had switched them, the fee for cleaning the transmission pan with a can of carb cleaner, that his dinky shop specifically had the wheel cylinders for that exact model car in stock, the entire tube of RTV to seal the transmission pan was justified much like the can of brake cleaner but hey! No charge to bleed the brakes because it wasn’t needed! There is no way you can get out of bleeding the brakes (which means to get all of the air out of the system once new fluid has been placed in the lines) – you have to do it. There was no charge, nor getting out of it because it had not been done. Had it not been 15 minutes from closing or a 45 minute drive away, I can assure you that my father would have been more than willing to settle this face to face as a few choice words over the phone really were not getting his point across as to what he thought about that days events. There was no explanation as to where the parts were, why the spark plugs had not been replaced or any negotiation on the services.
After an hour of ranting about the entire situation, being mad was not solving the issue so my sister got even. She called her bank and explained the situation who stated that since it was a pending transaction to call back once it had posted and they would assist her. That Tuesday, she called her bank back and since the previous person she had spoke to made excellent notes on her account, the charge was refunded and in return paper work was being sent for her to take the car to another repair shop to validate that in fact none of these repairs had been made. When she did in fact take the car for a second opinion recently, the spark plugs and wheel cylinders had not been replaced. No big surprise there. Luckily Visa stays true to it’s word. Unfortunately, not everyone is this lucky at finding such quick resolution in situations like these.
So what can you do to avoid this happening to you?
First, know exactly what needs to be repaired on your car. Second, shop around; don’t settle for one answer. AutoMd has a neat tool that allows you to estimate what you can expect to pay for repairs. Third, always get a written estimate with an agreed charge. Fourth, once you have decided on the shop, be firm with what services are going to be performed on your car – do not let any shop force you into repairs that you did not request. At this time negotiate a price based on what you have found. Fifth, if additional parts are bought during the repair make sure they provide you with proof and that you always receive all of the old parts back. Yes, you will just end up throwing them away but you will see in fact that the repairs had been made on what you were charged for. And lastly, if for some reason you feel as if you did not receive quality service or that repairs made were not to your liking, do not pay or leave the shop until you feel comfortable. You have the right to refuse any service. If you still do not feel comfortable in searching for a repair shop alone or taking your car in for service, take someone with you to reaffirm what you are requesting that is more knowledgeable.
The bitter taste left from a bad automotive repair experience is not one that will soon go away.