By on October 19, 2012

“Have it Your Way” was a popular TV ad campaign some years ago. While it seemed to work for the world of fast-food burgers, it certainly wasn’t universally applicable in others.

Like in the world of Auto Repair, for instance.

Maybe especially in planet Los Angeles, home of what I call “The Hollywood Effect”: that insidious and seemingly all-pervasive spirit-force which motivates people to jettison logical and rational thinking, and instead concoct and attempt implementation of a personally acceptable “reality” for any potentially unpleasant circumstance.

Like a costly repair scenario involving their personal motor vehicle, for instance.

Granted, I don’t like to spend money unnecessarily; and I will explore other possibilities before accepting any unpleasant circumstance that comes my way. But when all else is explored, and it looks like “God Has Come” truly, I will either give it up and turn it loose, or bite the bullet, man-up, and take care of the situation. Call it perfecting the “craft” of sanity, if you will.

If all of my customers rolled by that standard, not only would my life experience not be the richer for it, but you wouldn’t be reading this particular entry, either.

Here are a couple examples of not completely irrational responses to the aforementioned repair scenarios.

A customer approaches with an underhood noise that turns out to be a water pump bearing failure. I would show them that the pump had indeed failed this way by grabbing the pump pulley and shaking it from side to side. Often, their initial response to this would be asking if I couldn’t just “tighten-up” the bearing quickly, and get them on down the road.

If the customer were informed that their car’s MacPherson Strut damper had failed due to loss of damper oil, they would of course request that I just add some oil to it, so it would work a little while longer.

If they understood that their vehicle’s timing belt had failed because the drive teeth were sheared-off, they’d ask if I couldn’t just get some replacement teeth for it.

Often, any of these kinds of statements would be preceded by “I’m no mechanic, but…”

Indeed. And it would completely explain the nature of their request—which was totally understandable, from my point of view.

Usually, after a little additional explanation about the impossibility of their request, they would listen to reason, and either “fish or cut bait”.

Sometimes, though, they would persist in their line of “reasoning”, maybe even adding that a shop down the street would be willing to fulfill their request—and for next to NOTHING, on top of that! What were they doing standing in my shop, then, I’d say?

Sometimes, though, this “ Hollywood effect” would shift in motivation from that of fantasy, to that of “future shock”. I’d get a customer who felt their backs were against the proverbial “wall”, and they neither had the funds to repair their car properly, nor did they have any other viable alternative to their impending transportation dilemma.

One such memorable occasion involved what certainly appeared like a borderline-homeless person and their somewhat tattered Mustang II.

He pulled up to my open door and parked, as I was working just inside at the back of a vehicle in my repair bay.

I soon realized that I had been in more danger by such close proximity than I had imagined.

He requested that I change the front brake pads, and informed me that he had the replacement set with him; and showed me the almost equally tattered box that apparently housed the new pads.

I told him I had to move his car over, so I could back the vehicle I had just been working on out of the bay in order to pull his in.

He seemed a little uneasy, but handed me the keys.

As soon as I got in the car, started it and covered the brake in order to select reverse gear, not only did I understand his uneasiness, but I also fully appreciated how precarious my earlier position between the back of the vehicle I had in my bay and the front of his approaching vehicle had been. There was virtually NO brake pedal!

I didn’t even bother moving the little ‘stang; opting instead to shut the engine off and lift the hood. As I was doing this, I asked him about the nonexistent brake pedal.

He said that that was not a problem to be concerned with, and reiterated that he just wanted the brake pads changed, only.

I told him that, it was a concern of mine, if I was going to work on his car. I asked him if I could check a couple of other things before we proceeded with even having a repair order written up. He reluctantly approved.

When I lifted hood, I focused attention on the master cylinder, firstly to check if the lack of brake pedal was related to fluid loss. Before I could get even that far, I was greeted by a brake booster hose that had been removed from the booster and plugged with the threaded end of a spark plug! Add one brake booster to the pre-estimate.

The master cylinder was plenty full of fluid, suggesting an internal failure of the cylinder. Add a master cylinder to the pre-estimate.

I checked the preliminary condition of the brake rotors by visually inspecting through the openings in the styled-steel wheels. Not surprisingly, there was major evidence of metal-to-metal contact—and not from the pads that were presently installed!. Add two brake rotors to the pre-estimate.

The customer didn’t appear to be impressed by any of this, but instead restated his original request!

I informed him that if I did what he wanted, the already beleaguered braking system would likely provide even LESS stopping power than it had at present. Besides that, fulfilling his request would not only be unprofessional, but also in fact, be illegal by State standards!

He said he wouldn’t hold me accountable for any of that.

I told him I appreciated his word, but there was just no way his request was going to fly without a complete inspection of his braking system, and all necessary repairs being performed.

He thanked me and drove away.

Wonder if he ever got it “His Way”…

As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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56 Comments on “Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: “You Want Me To Do WHAT?”—Customers Seeking Partner In Pushing What’s Possible (Or Prudent)...”


  • avatar
    raded

    What’s always confused me is the people that deem a $400/month car payment acceptable but a $150 repair to be unreasonably expensive. I’m always a little scared of the road worthiness of some of the cars I see on the road, especially when they’re doing 85 in the left lane.

    That said, my 1995 Buick Regal’s brakes were so bad at the end of it’s life that I would have to plan ahead for downhill stretches. Often times I’d roll the windows down to assist with the stopping process. And I would do 85 in the left lane.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Not sure what year you came from, time traveler, but a $150 “repair” is less than two hours of the mechanic’s time around here. They can hit that just thinking about looking at your car.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        i think because people have the impression that a $400 payment on a new car is paying for an ‘investment’ while a $150 repair is something that shouldnt be happening at all…

    • 0 avatar

      They paid for the car already…like any appliance, it is supposed to last forever.

    • 0 avatar
      jthorner

      You can hardly say hello to a tech around here for $150. Local shops charge between $110 and $150 per flat rate book hour to do mechanical work on a car. New timing belt? Figure on around 1 kilobuck.

      Rotors, pads and flush on all four wheels … at least 1/2 a kilobuck.

      Repair bills are measured in quanta of $1,000.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Oftentimes while motorcycling I’ll hear the godawfullest noises coming from vehicles in adjoining lanes and wonder how the owners could be driving something that obviously has something seriously wrong. Then I speed up or change lanes so I don’t get any on me if they were to go into complete failure in another second.

  • avatar
    d524zoom-zoom

    I enjoy your articles each week thank you. Having said that they always remind how blessed I am to no longer be a service advisor at a new car dealership. But some of my “best ones” would come from one of the local tire stores asking “what usually goes wrong on a 2002 Protege when it blah blahs (insert complaint here)….?” or “what part do you usually replace on a (insert car here) ……when it’s doing…?” Priceless.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    As always , your well written posts open the memory floodgates….

    In the late 1970′s one of my long time Motocycle friends bought a new Yamaha , two years later as we began a day long ride , I heard the front wheel bearing howling and told him I couldn’t ride with him like that , I’d replace he bearing free if he bought the new ones , he said fine and rode off .

    THREE YEARS LATER I got a 03:00 call from the Emergency Room after it finally locked up as he was riding home drunk on the I-210 freeway with his Lady following him in her car ~ she had the memorable experiance of watching him do an 85 + MPH faceplant just before the Moto cartwheeled on top of him and his tatty old jacket & jeans split leaving him skiddng along the cement under his Moto whilst nekkid as a jaybird .

    I took photos of him with his left eye hanging out of it’s socket and general overall looks like a Wes Craven Movie extra .

    He still cannot close his left eye to sleep…..

    Ignorance is bliss , stupid cannot be fixed .

    Nate

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A guy up the street took his landcruiser in for overheating and requested a new thermostat be installed that didn’t let the engine get so damn hot.

    Blown head gasket was the real cause but he would hear none of it. Just put a 160 in place of the 198 thermostat and it will be fine.
    So they did and he torqued the engine a week later. Some people are so stubborn.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      The headgasket is such a common problem for the Land Cruiser 80s, if that’s what your neighbor had. The shop should have refused the work because there are some customers not worth taking.

      I’ve noticed that the number of cars that appear to need repair just by sound alone has risen through this recessionary period. Like the motorcyclists above, there are some cars I steer clear of in my sedan! If some of these people had just done the routine maintenance on the cheap, some of them wouldn’t be in the expensive situation they’re in.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “If some of these people had just done the routine maintenance on the cheap, some of them wouldn’t be in the expensive situation they’re in.”

        This is a fundamental life-lesson that applies to everything, not just cars.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        And the flip side story was the coworker who took her car in b/c the heater wouldn’t work and they told her that her engine was toast. Her description told me that she probably only needed a thermostat but she came home with a new car payment that she couldn’t afford on $8 per hour.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I’ve seen a lot of this in 40 years of scrambling under cars. My neighbor is a part time car dealer (flipper) who has just proudly showed me the very clean BMW735iL he scored for $200 . The seller had told him it keeps splitting the top hose. He asked if I had a hose he could use to replace the split one .. No,I said so he had to fork out for a new one which also split. So he has removed the thermostat and it allegedly runs fine now without splitting the top hose.
    Those who have spent any sort of time on any water cooled engines will know that the chances of blown head gasket are on the money but he will not hear of that because without the thermostat it’s running like a new car….he says.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Your car’s engine and transmission are minor subsystems; if they fail, your car becomes inert. Your steering, suspension and brakes are what keep it from becoming a hurtling battering ram; they should always be kept in top condition, the better to provide control when the minor systems fail. I have never begrudged a mechanic’s demonstration of what service I needed in the steering and stopping department, especially when they illustrate examples with worn versus new replacement parts.

    Now there’s an idea for a current era reality show; fit poorly kept automobiles with data sensors and dashboard cameras, the better to immortalize those moments when the court of physical science delivers its verdict with no appeals.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      That would be a show I would love to watch.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Half of the cars get to the boneyard on original struts. That pretty much says it all. Unless the car is rendered inoperative, some folks just won’t spend an extra penny on anything. I, too avoid the bouncy cars and the ones with bald tires. When I was in Maine this summer, I was surprised at how many cars had poor tires or scored brake rotors…

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        But that’s more a testament to the high quality of struts than it is to people’s poor maintenance. I’ve driven a car (Panther in fact) with good OEM struts at over 200,000 miles, but some cars end up in the yard well before then due to transmission or other problems.

      • 0 avatar
        SaulTigh

        Since I bought my Lincoln last year, my 1996 Grand Marquis has mostly been a garage queen. However, I took the GM down to Texas last weekend to meet my wife and left in pouring rain that persisted for at least 200 miles. The Merc is riding on a matched set of Goodyear Assurance Fuel Maxes with just a few thousand miles on them. I was able to go 65-70 mph without so much as a shimmy from the car, yet witnessed three hydroplane, multi-car accidents on I-40 in Oklahoma. Tires matter, and I think the average person is more inclined to cheap out in that area than any other. Just go to Walmart and start looking at people’s tires and you’ll cry.

      • 0 avatar
        markholli

        @SaulTigh

        In 2008 I hit black ice and went into a guard rail in my 1999 Accord with old and bald tires. Totalled the car, but I walked away without a scratch. You would think I had learned my lesson…

        Well…I didn’t yet. In 2010 I hit black ice again in my wife’s 2001 Pathfinder on crappy tires with low tread. Did a barrel roll. Totalled the car, but I walked away with a bruised up head. My wife was not so lucky; she now has a metal plate and screws between her c5 and c6 vertebrae.

        I’m an idiot, but at least I’ve finally learned my lesson. I will never ride on cheap or bald tires again.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        markholli,

        Black ice is the great equilizer. It doesn’t matter what type of tires or the condition they are in. If you drive on black ice and try to change direction or brake, you will either slide or spin. It’s just physics – conservation of momentum.
        Studded tires are the only thing that may alter the outcome.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Felix…

        …and even then, sometime all studded tires do is turn your wheels into ice skates. And besides, they are illegal in many states, because the chew up the asphalt when roads are dry. Expensive winter tires with sticky, ice-specific compounds that actually grip ice are best…but…

        …the only really good solution to iced-over roads i know is just plain don’t go out…

        ——–

  • avatar
    MBella

    This is the world we live in. What I love is the people that will pay for a full detail, but ignore their almost metal to metal brakes or suspensions that are about to fall apart.

    I’ve had the pleasure on working with the other extreme this week though, and I salute the owner of that vehicle. An ’04 C240 coupe with a manual. The cheapest Mercedes Benz offered recently. The car just spent some time in the middle east and the sand damaged many things. The owner approved most of the things I quoted. When they get their car back they will be surprised that their car was detailed for free because we appreciated their very good business, and want to keep customers like this coming back.

    • 0 avatar
      naterator

      My indie is really pretty reasonable on big things, breaks even on synthetic oil changes, but then wants $200+ to change the cabin air filter or $1200 for ball joints. Always good for a laugh when the service advisor tells me what these DIY-type repair are going to cost…he always seems to just kind of trail off.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Air filter, sure (unless it’s buried-in-the-dash-because-the-designer-was-a-sadist).

        But most of us? Don’t consider ball-joint replacement a “DIY-type” repair in quite the same league…

        (I was amused, though, at the Toyota dealership that wanted to charge me an hour and a half, I think, at $100/hr., to replace the airflow sensor in my truck.

        Seeing as how it took me half an hour, rounding up, to remove and replace it, as it’s just the top half of the airbox, and the easiest “major part replacement” ever.)

      • 0 avatar
        chrishs2000

        A big LOL on lower ball joints being mentioned next to an air filter for DIY’able.

        On some vehicles, you can do them on the vehicle and it’s not such a big deal, but definitely requires some skill and precision.

        Of course, on my double wishbone Honda, you have to take the knucle off if you don’t have a lift and air tools. I understand why the dealer charges $800 to replace both – it took me 2 full days of work, although I also ended up replacing literally every other wear item in the front end besides the struts.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    Several years ago, a good friend of mine had a reasonably clean and straight ’83 Honda Accord hatchback. One day while riding with her I heard a horrible grinding noise from the right rear, which I immediately recognized as a bad wheel bearing.

    I asked her how long she had had that noise. She said “what noise?”. I pointed it out to her and she finally understood. At that point she just laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and said that she was so used to driving piles of junk that when they start making funny noises, she just mentally tunes it out.

    Her older sister did something even worse. The sister inherited a clean, fully loaded ’88 Toyota Camry XLE from her late grandfather. It ran great until she blew a heater hose. A $10 hose became a $3000 engine job because she didn’t have the good sense to pull over and stop when the temp gauge went into the red and steam started pouring out from under the hood, saying she “just wanted to make it home”

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      These stories are driving me to notions of buying a new car next time. For the second time in my life. Still driving it too. The ignorance of the average consumer is staggering considering the total cost of the casual attitude they seem to have when approaching such expensive things such as home and transportation.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A friend of mine’s wife did something just as stupid recently. She has a GMC Envoy, one of the first ones built, and it’s been rock solid vehicle from day one, a battery, a water pump at 100K, and that’s about it. It had 175K on it, used no oil, etc. She took it to the dealer for service and they forgot to put any oil in it! When she got in it to go home, the oil light comes on, and she ignored it and drove the 5 miles back to their house. Somehow, it waited until it got onto their street before it made any real noise. It locked up as she pulled into their driveway. Their oldest kid was outside working on his car and walked up to her and said, “Sounds like your engine locked up!”. Mom said, “The oil light came on right when I started it up, does that have anything to do with it?”. He had to laugh, and said, “Mom, dad is going to ream you over this one!”. And he did. He must have told her if the oil light ever comes on, shut it off and check the oil and call a two truck if the oil is full, if it’s empty, put some oil in it a hundred times over the years! The dealer screwed up here, but the wife killed it. They found a really good motor in a wrecking yard with 45K on it, and had it put in and the Envoy is back on the road, and the wife will never be allowed to forget about the oil light and what it means. What it meant for her was no trip to Montreal this year(They have gone every year since they were married 25 years ago).

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The dealer FORGOT to put oil in the SUV after a service and they still made the customer pay the full cost of fixing it? Dealer personnel would have had to turn the vehicle on when they removed it from the service bay.

      Personally, I’d be on their case a lot more than my wife’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Searcher

        I’m sure the dealers “out” was Continued Operation. If she had turned it off when she noticed the light and informed the dealer at that point they would have been on the hook for any damages. Instead she drove it with the warning light on until it seized and there’s no reason they should be responsible for that.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Instead she drove it with the warning light on until it seized and there’s no reason they should be responsible for that.”
        _____________________
        I can see where that MIGHT be the case, but I’m not so sure. I have a feeling things like this very rarely make it to court so there isn’t a lot of case law examples. There may be some state-by-state differences as well.

        Trying to think up a proper analogy is difficult because most things don’t have warning lights. I’d be interested to see what a lawyer has to say about a situation like this though.
        _____________________
        I searched around last night for people that had similar things happen. I found a handful of stories where a vehicle was not filled with oil by a dealer/service center and then driven (sometimes as much as 15 miles) with the oil light on. Usually these owners only stop their car when it starts making bad noises.

        The posts on legal forums were about 60/40 split between “it’s the dealer’s fault” and “it’s your fault for driving with the light on”. Posts made to car forums were pretty much 100% “dealer’s fault”.

        However, in every post I could find, the dealer/mechanic gave SOMETHING to the vehicle’s owner. This ranged anywhere from an engine rebuild, to engine replacement, to a specially written additional engine warranty. I never saw anything where the service center claimed driving the car off the lot negated their liability and told the damaged party that it was all their problem.

        Hopefully, nrd515 will chime in with some additional info.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      A 50/50 split on the repair cost would be appropriate. Both parties should pay equally for their part in the stupidity.

      It’s pretty simple: red means stop!

    • 0 avatar
      cugrad

      Something similar happened to a friend of mine in college. She took it to Walmart for an oil change (small college town) and they didn’t put oil in it. Engine seized a few days later. This was a ten year old Corolla at the time with about well over 100k miles and they bought her a completely new engine straight from and installed by Toyota. Gave her absolutely no grief. They sent an inspector, he looked at it and said “yep we screwed up and we’ll make it right.” About the only time Walmart has ever impressed me with customer service.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        When you take your car to a quick lube or dealer for an oil change, you should absolutely check the dipstick level after and do a visual on the oil filter and drain plug if you can’t physically check that they’re tightened yourself.

        It kind of defeats the purpose, but when jobs require repetitive mindless labor without any kind of QC, problems absolutely have to happen.

    • 0 avatar
      jthorner

      I wouldn’t put any blame on the wife for this. The dealer is the one who caused the problem, and I’m sure the woman didn’t pull the car out of the service bay herself, so the dealer employee who did should have seen the warning light. She deserved an extra week in Montreal, and should think about being married to someone less overbearing :).

  • avatar
    manbridge

    At my old job our shop owner would rarely refuse work. If it wheels, tracks, or any other motive means and the customer signed the explicit work order, we HAD to work on it. I truly hated this policy.

    We once went to court over a XJ6 which burst into flames shortly after leaving our shop. Nothing happened as we only replaced the rear shocks and never opened the hood where the fire developed. Clearly written work order helped save the day here.

    My other favorite was a friendly Saab 900 owner who, when told that his cylinder head was about as flat as a potato chip, decided to have us modify the work order to say that no warranty was needed and had us send the head out to be milled. Machine shop said head was too warped. Owner says mill it as flat as you can. After install even with all possible timing removed and premium gas it pinged like a can of gravel was being dragged around the engine. Owner blew it up 2 weeks later. But he was still friendly after this. Again a clearly worded work order kept his expectations in check. I suppose some folks like learning things the hard/expensive way.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    For the “love” of “God,” TTAC, give this writer a hand. He has some good “content” to share but is in desperate “NEED” of an “editor.”

  • avatar
    roger628

    http://www.allpar.com/dealers/independent.html

    You guys want to read some dillies, check out this series. Links on bottom right of page.

  • avatar

    I was at a boatyard a while back. I asked one of the mechanics how he ended up working on boats….

    His reply was great. “I used to fix cars for a living, but found out that boat owners didn’t ask you for credit AFTER you repaired the boat”.

  • avatar
    tooloud10

    Gosh, I wonder if any of this was brought on by the wrenches themselves that try to sell you a $1200 exhaust system when all you actually need is a clamp…or a “high mileage” synthetic oil service for grandma’s Buick…or the $200 cabin air filters…or a “tune-up” on a car with million mile spark plugs…etc.

    I’m just sure that people decided to become guarded and untrusting of auto mechanics all on their own with no help from the industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Searcher

      Probably not in the case cited in the article. When I started as a mechanic I was going to be the proverbial White Knight and not be what reputation said mechanics were. It didn’t take long to learn that there’s a significant minority of customers that are working to scam the shops and they cry long and loud about how they are the ones being gored. One of the giveaways is when somebody shows up out of the blue and wants just this thing and only this thing done. For example when a customer shows up at a transmission shop with a high mileage car who’s never been there and the car has never had any trans service whatsoever wanting only a fluid and filter change while stating repeatedly it works fine, he wants the work “just because it’s time”. Such a customer gets antsy, or won’t allow it, when the properly suspicious shop wants to test drive it first. What tends to happen, if the so-called customer doesn’t leave first, is the trans proves to have various issues which the customer had planned to blame on the shop doing the fluid and filter service in order to get the rebuild free.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      @tooloud10:

      Yep.

      It’s hilarious reading all these “woe is me for I was a near victim or victim of a car owner” stories from the noble & honorable profession that is the professional auto mechanic.

      Based on personal experience and those experiences relayed to me by credible people, I don’t think it would be even slightly unfair to rate the average mechanic just above primordial ooze on the evolutionary scale of ethos & pathos, or, stated alternatively, just above auto salespersons.

      If you don’t know a significant degree about a particular problem you’re experiencing (which may represent 5% of the motoring public), lube up liberally before your visit to your average friendly neighborhood “auto technician.”

      There are notable exceptions to the pervasive criminality in the occupation, and they’re notable precisely because they’re in the plurality (if not minority).

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      Hit the nail on the head. The majority of the mechanics I have dealt with are condescending, mostly inept and have very haphazard approaches to root cause analysis which is compounded by the fact they are also astoundingly dogmatic.

      Moreover there is a culture of deliberate obfuscation amongst mechanics in the way they treat their customers particularly females.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    It just baffles me how often I’ll see cars with only one headlight, warped paint (but a fancy spoiler), a littered interior, or sagging suspension.

    Just a few days back I was going down an unstriped country highway, one lane going my way and one lane going the other. There must’ve been at least one nut who was going down that road with just one headlight working.

    But, the most common threat of neglect I’ll see are cars doughnut wheels going passed their intended speed, or cars with just plain bad tires in general.

    Maybe a week ago I so I remember seeing some sort of Japanese car with 2 or 3 flopping flats, why is it that its always Hondas and Toyotas that’re neglected?

  • avatar
    Doug

    Regarding black ice & bald tires, ice is ice and the condition of the tires has no effect. Studded tires help but are easily overwhelmed at highway speeds. Tooling home once at 80mph on what looked like a clean road (hence the term “black ice”), the rear of my VW felt odd. Tapped the brakes (pre ABS), and watched my speedometer needle bounce off the 0mph stop. Slowed to 40mph and watched 4 cars pinwheel of the road. My tires had plenty of tread.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I recently had to take my Mazda to the repair shop for overheating.

    It was back in September, early Sept at that, so it was still quite warm out, helping my Mom move that week when after I’d dropped off some stuff at Value Village and was on my way back to her new place when I noted steam shooting out of the left side of my hood, them more steam emanating from the front as well.

    I was going nearby her old place, so pulled in there, her housemate was there getting a load, so I popped the hood, hearing whistling as the steam subsided (after shutting off the car). There was coolant ALL OVER the place, once the steaming had subsided enough, I was able to pop off the overflow bottle cap, there was still some coolant in it, but not a whole lot. I saw steam coming from the top radiator hose still, in short little spurts, so got a pail from the garage, splashed some water on things to rinse off the antifreeze as much as possible, and decided to get it to the repair shop, Precision Tune. I knew where there was one, and that it’d be close by.

    On my way there, remembered to checked the temp gauge, it was nearly pegged in the hot, so I turned on the heat, the gauge went back to normal, more or less, and got it to the garage. My first clue was the AC stopped running cold suddenly, then saw the steam.

    Had them check out the cooling system for leaks (possibly a blown hose?). It checked out fine, no issues there, so the next step was to check the thermostat, then if that checked out fine, the head gasket may be the issue.

    Fortunately, we didn’t get past the thermostat as it had stuck, never giving me any indication as usually when they go, the car will idle up and down once started, and mine never did any of that.

    So far, it’s been hunky dory after that repair, but dayum, almost $300 for both repairs (each roughly $145 each).

    Now, normally, I would not rely on Precision Tune for everything, but this one seemed to be reasonably honest on many things, though I did overhear him try to sell a customer a fuel injection cleaning kit for her Taurus (mid to late 90′s if I recall), which left me a bit suspicious on that one, along with some other things he was recommending for her car.

    I think part of it was, I was honest enough to know that it might be the head gasket, but hoped it was something less than that, and had the good sense to say, check out the cooling system to ensure it hadn’t blown anything first. However, the owner of the shop kept saying, you’re the boss to anything I said, which I wasn’t totally sure of, but in the end, the repair was done, and done right and so far, no problems since then.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Two ways to go through life.

    1) Screw anyone you can to make/save a quick buck.

    2) Maintain as much honesty and integrity as possible.

    BOTH ways contain car owners and service techs.

  • avatar

    I figure there are two types of customers.

    Type A has a new-ish car. They have a hard enough time making their loan payments on it, and they are surprised it would even break in the first place. If they had taken a smart approach, they would have a cheaper car and would be doing pro-active maintenance. But they have an expensive car that just gouges them when something finally does go wrong (at least they feel that way).

    Type B has some form of beater. The mechanic is interested in fixing the problem, but the driver is interested in the overall value proposition. A mechanic will not bat an eye at a $1000 repair on a $2000 car. The customer is wondering if it’s worth getting a new car. If the mechanic can just do a cheap band-aid fix and extract the last ounce of value from that beater, the driver wins.

    Add some healthy ignorance of car technology, and the mechanic’s life is explained.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Funny you shoukd mention these Customers .

      I , being a Journeyman Mechanic , don’t break a sweat at putting a $5K + engine into my battered old 1984 Mercedes Diesel Coupe , it still needs paint etc. but I like it so who cares .

      OTOH , one of my Foster boys is doing *SO* well , instead of waiting for him to graute High School , we decided to buy his car now , I headed off to a favorite junkyard and bought a cherry 91 Toyota Camry for $1,200 , ice cold air , no one ever smoked in it so the original cloth seats are pristine etc.

      I know bupkis about Toyotas made after 1972 so I thought it having a 2.5 L. V-6 was nice .

      WRONG ! it turns out these blow head gaskets like mad and are $pendy buggers to fix ~ this one had 171,000 miles so I opped for a used Japanese 2.0L takeout , now began the fun : I know a nice _Honest_ Japanese Shop & took it there for installation of the new/used engine , the owner was certain I’d abandon the car for to much $ going into an old car but I persevered and it is done , it’s very nice indeed and in repairs I’m past $4K now….. YEEK ! . it’ll be his collage car too it seems .

      I’m not arguing that many ‘ Mechanics ‘ are crooks as I’ve worked for crooked shops & Dealers , there’s just two sides to every story .

      BTW : this is the very short story of this car , I figured you’d all be bored with the awful details .

      -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “Type B has some form of beater. The mechanic is interested in fixing the problem, but the driver is interested in the overall value proposition. A mechanic will not bat an eye at a $1000 repair on a $2000 car. The customer is wondering if it’s worth getting a new car. If the mechanic can just do a cheap band-aid fix and extract the last ounce of value from that beater, the driver wins.”

      I never understand this attitude of some beater-owners. I’ve had multiple Ford vehicles bought for about $4K used, including that Panther vehicle I mentioned above, last for years on $500/year maintenance or maybe $1000/year in heavier mileage years. Never worried about driving them 700 miles in one day in college because they were regularly maintained. It was almost always worth it to fix the car for routine stuff that breaks after running any car past 150K, and in the case of the Panther, 200K miles.

      “Type A has a new-ish car. They have a hard enough time making their loan payments on it, and they are surprised it would even break in the first place. If they had taken a smart approach, they would have a cheaper car and would be doing pro-active maintenance. But they have an expensive car that just gouges them when something finally does go wrong (at least they feel that way).”

      Given what I read on this forum, I suspect this might be the attitude of a lot of German car owners. It seems like people on TTAC are always complaining about the exorbitant cost of fixing a German car, when really it’s the exorbitant cost of fixing a poorly-maintained German car. Certainly if you read 3-Series/M3 forums, you will notice that there are plenty of youngish drivers who have a difficult time making payments and can’t afford maintenance, insurance, gas, etc.

      If you can’t afford maintenance and the other external costs of driving, you can’t afford that car, plain and simple. Just find every thread where someone’s “brother” turns off the traction/stability control and then hoons the car into a curb/tree to see an example. Sometimes it ends with the OP lashing out at the forum about how they’re just jealous that he got to own an M3 at age XX.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Or the folks who could afford the car but not the massive stereo and pie plate wheels plus tires – but buys them anyhow. When something doesn’t fit or rubs or wears collateral parts out prematurely they use a BFH to “alter” the car so it’ll fit. When it all goes to pieces b/c the shiny stuff was meant to be shiny and not really last or maintain the durability of the vehicle – then the vehicle brand is at fault, not the owner.

        Or like at a car forum that attracted it’s share of the Fats and Furious crowd – they spend-spend-spend-spend – and change everything at the drop of a hat. Here I’m budgeting for life’s requirements and to save a little cash and there are people places like that who buy 3 or 4 or 5 different sets of wheels over a year or two’s time. Only to sell the whole thing and start over with something else. Boggles my mind. The cash they lay out as opposed to investing in a house or a college education or simply putting in the bank… ;)

        Can’t figure out if these folks are putting it on a credit card, Mom and Dad is paying for it all, or they are selling drugs. Of course everything might be a little different now, it’s been a a few years since I looked in on parts of the web like those. It was before the crash/recession that I used to read those websites.

        I grew up with a different crowd – the ones that got to go to college but who needed to watch their nickels and dimes to accomplish it without $150K worth of student debt.

        But then again – I worked my way through college – military plus all the typical college jobs.


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