By on June 20, 2012

The engine just didn’t seem right… at least that’s what they said.

“Ma’am. I think you’re going to need a full tune-up. It’s going to be $487.38.”

“But this Volvo 240 just had the work done 10,000 miles ago?”

“It’s due ma’am. Sorry.”


The lady didn’t have that type of money. So she did the one thing that a lot of folks here in Georgia do when they are out of cash and have no credit.

A title loan. $500 in cash. 12.5% interest a month, and a lien on the Volvo.

The tune-up gets done and…. “It won’t start up ma’am. You need to also get a battery, and maybe an alternator.”

At this point the lady is beyond flummoxed. She calls me, since I sold the vehicle to her nearly two years ago (she was a referral from another family member)  and I, in turn, refer her to a nearby garage.

Hood pops open. The problem is found in less than a minute.

The problem? A loose negative battery cable, a $100 tow fee, and $487.38 of pointless repairs with inferior parts.

Virtually every auto enthusiast and apathetic car owner has been ripped off at some point in their life. When did it happen to you? Or yours?

Did you feel like Falling Down?



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89 Comments on “Question Of The Day: What Was Your Biggest… Repair Ripoff?...”

  • avatar

    Nothing is worse than those who took from those least able to afford it. I’ll bet there’s a special place in hell for those people.

  • avatar

    That great 1970’s favorite for repair shops: balljoints, balljoints, balljoints!

    In my inexperience, I got talked into replacing balljoints on a two-year old Dodge D100 pickup with less than 20K miles. The trick for the shop was to rotate the suspended wheel outward (“so you can see it better”), and then crow-bar the thing up and down. Well, all wheels were designed for more leeway upon turn-in in those days, but the naive customer (myself) certainly didn’t know that…..and $300 went out the window: big bucks in those days.


  • avatar

    This is exactly why I stray far, far away from stealerships and rip-off shops. The only thing they do for me is tire mounting/balancing.

    Every time I’m at the Honda dealer for fluids or parts I hear people getting screwed. $300 for spark plug replacement on a 4 cylinder Accord that takes me 15 minutes to do on my wife’s 4 banger. $60 for new wiper inserts that take 5 minutes to throw on. $80 for a cabin air filter replacement that also takes about 5 minutes. It’s ridiculous how much they charge for simple things. The last time I was at the dealer for work, my car was under warranty and they replaced the leaking rear main seal on my Accord V6 6MT. Book labor time was something like 8 hours, so it would have been a $1000+ job . They did it in under 4 hours. That’s why I hate how dealership service departments work. I get that they have to make money with service since they make absolutely nothing on most car sales, but I’m not going to be the guy paying for their Italian tiled bathrooms.

    • 0 avatar

      Almost every shop these days works on flat rate time. Both dealerships and independents. Thats how the mechanics/technicians make their money. It doesn’t have anything to do with being a “stealership”. Most book times (Mitchell/alldata) pay a tech way more time than the OEMs own flat rate time on almost all jobs.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think you read his post carefully.

        He’s not talking about dealerships vs. independent shops not working on a flat per hour rate.

        He explicitly said that his experiences with dealerships is that they generally dramatically inflate the time it takes them to actually do the work specified, like with his leaking rear main seal on his V6 Accord, which took his stealership 4 hours to do, yet they charged 8 hours.

        I won’t get into specifics, because the list would be long, but auto stealership service departments are the pond scum of the earth. There may be exceptions to this general rule, but they are so few in number as to prove the general rule.

        Some of the “independent” chain repair shops aren’t far behind in lacking any ethical compass, whatsoever.

      • 0 avatar

        *rubs bridge of nose*
        is this the discussion we’re going to hear again? some people have been ripped off at dealerships, some people have been ripped off at independants, some people are just ignorant either way, but i still stick up for the dealers. you will stick up for the other guys. i’ve worked at both, if that has any merit, and haven’t seen a difference in ethics. i think the misconception is that dealership shops are a big faceless corporation with no care for the well being of it’s customers. from my perspective a dealer’s shop is just an independant shop that shares a property with a new car sales department.

      • 0 avatar

        The reason dealerships rip off the public with such wild abandon is the don’t care if you come back. There are too many others that will fall into the trap. Go ahead and threaten them with a lawsuit. They know you aren’t serious and if you are, they’ve got rep employees in court everyday, regardless. Probably some dudes that failed the bar exam.

        If you just come in for an oil change, and that’s all you buy, someone’s not doing their job and will be looking for a new one soon. The huge turnover rate and commission pay is another reason they don’t give a s**t.

        You may have slightly better luck at an independent chain, but look for a smallish repair shop that’s locally owned and that’s been in business for decades. Ask around.

        BTW, shops that are with the BBB, pay to be BBB members.

  • avatar

    Spent for a replacemnt CV to find out they ripped in the installation process. Went back made them do it again. Bought a Haynes repair manual and never returned to a repair shop. That was 20 years ago during college. I guess I did take away something from that time.

  • avatar

    Never been totally screwed, but back in 90, boy did Pep-Boys try.
    **”Your rack is leaking” –“What?” **”Your rack is leaking. It’s $240 to replace it.” –“Let me think about it.” **”The car is not safe, you really should not be driving it. You could be killed”
    I left (had a friend check it out–no leak), drove that ’86 Celica for another 3 or 4 years–sold it to my future brother-in-law–who drove it a few years after that. We are not dead, for all I know the car is not dead either–maybe putting around on that same “leaky” rack.

    • 0 avatar

      My Pep-Boys story, also from the 90’s, has them breaking the right rear shock mount when they were replacing the shocks on my Nissan pickup. While they paid for the genuine Nissan shock mount, they couldn’t install it since it required welding! They sent me on my way with the new shock mount in the passenger footwell…no appologies, no recommendations on where to get it installed, just telling me to have the repair shop that does the work to send them the bill! I just wanted to end the horror show, got the mount installed at the local Goodyear garage and have never been back to Pep-Boys.

  • avatar

    I still have a special grudge against a tire shop in SoCal…. during my professional school dirt poor days, I ran a set of tires down to the steel belts, literally. (Amazing how far you can drive on worn tires in a climate where it doesn’t rain most of the year!)So by this time, I wasn’t going to be going anywhere on those tires, and the shop new this, held me hostage and ripped me off on ‘balancing’ and alignment.

  • avatar

    I may have come close with a transmission shop years ago when I took in my 78 Chevy Nova to have it serviced (no real issues, but had the fluid replaced). Got some cocamine story that the torque converter had been painted by a previous shop.

    Tranny continued to run fine after that.

    A Ford dealer may or may not have done a proper wheel alignment on my 78 Ford Fairmont as the stupid car chewed up both tires on the outside treads.

    I realize now that it was partly me and the car to blame. That POS had the 200CID inline 6 which made it nose heavy so it could not corner without wanting to plow at ANY speed other than a very slow crawl. But it was also how I drove the stupid thing to begin with.

    But that was a LOOOOONNNNNG time ago now.

    When I had Hondas, and lived in Tacoma, I got lucky and found a little independent repair shop that specialized in Hondas and similar import cars like Toyotas and they had very reasonable repair rates and did excellent work.

    They replaced the timing belt and water pump in my ’88 Accord and did the CV boots on both cars after I tried, unsuccessfully to do it myself with the 2 piece boot kits (the 2 lower ones were ripped on my ’83 Civic). They appear to still be in business 20 years later. I began using them when they were still a very new business in a small shop they had built in the early 90’s.

  • avatar

    In the 80’s I worked in the parts department at a BMW dealership. One day a mechanic explained to me that even though the book said it took 8 hours to replace a motor, it really only took him 4. Lesson learned.

    But yes, I think I have been taken advantage of. No, I still can’t talk about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Book times though are supposed to protect the customer from a slow moving or inexperienced mechanic. So it took your guy 4 hrs… what if you got the guy who took 12 hrs to do it, would you want to pay him for the extra 4 hrs when the book says 8?

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, I was in the room. He was explaining to me that the hours were excessive compared to what a mechanic could really do.

      • 0 avatar
        Gardiner Westbound

        In my experience a customer can’t catch a break. If the task requires more than the book time a rationalization is invented to charge him for the actual repair time.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, having been a flat rate tech I can tell you that the guy who takes 12 hours to finish the 8-hour job doesn’t get paid for 12 hours. He eats those extra 4 hours. If a tech can do an 8 hour job in 4 hours it isn’t because the job is leniently rated. It’s usually because the tech is highly experienced at that job. I used to work with a guy at Acura who would “buy” Legend differential seals off other techs. The job paid something like 6.5 hours and this guy could do them in about 2.75. If someone else in the shop diagnosed one he’d give the guy 1.5 hours and still make money on it. I was the same way with 00-03 TL/CL transmissions. Eventhough nearly all the boxes I replaced were warrenty (and therefore worth less time) I still made money because I did literally over 100 in about 4 years.

      • 0 avatar

        I only briefly worked on flat rate at a dealership. As said here when you first start out it sucks but you learn to make it up on jobs your good at, Brakes for instance could usually be done under time even by a newbie. Some time the guys breaking the flat rate were cheating. When I worked at the dealer Ford v10’s on chassis cabs and cutaway vans had a recall on the cruise control module. The job paid 2.5 hours if i recall. The deal was most of that was access time to get one bolt. So if you took out three bolts then spun the module a little you could get the module out with out taking out the airbox etc. Then the tricky part you put it back with 3 bolts instead of 4 and bingo paid 2.5 hours for about 25 minutes.

  • avatar

    girlfriends car was overheating.

    “let’s replace the water pump” oh, that didn’t work, “well let’s replace the radiator.” Wow, still overheating, guess you should just drive around with the heater on and hope for the best!

    A thermostat costs five dollars. Never once occurred to the thieving bastards.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, it occurred to them, but they knew that she didn’t know much about cars and chose to squeeze her on repairs rather than fix what was really broken. I find that shops are particularly fond of scaring women into excessive repairs. I won’t let my wife even get an oil change anymore due to the fear-based upselling that the shops do.

    • 0 avatar

      Had a similar experience. Took my Supra to the Toyota dealership because it was overheating. After a engine block flow test, a radiator leak test, replaced water pump seals, and a week at the dealership, they finally discovered that the problem was a bad thermostat. $500 was a lot of money for a 22 year old in 1993 (the car was an ’87). Have assumed dealerships are crooked ever since.

  • avatar

    just recently actually, but it was my own fault for being lazy.

    I needed to install a new ball joint in my rear LCA to pass inspection. The part was $15, got it from Advance. i took it to the shop that did the inspection initially because they waive the reinspect fee if they do the work, and I didn’t have a press so I would have to rent one.

    They charged me $250 for what was probably a 30 minute job. I was expecting no more than $100-150, thinking probably 2 hours book labor. I felt cheated.

    It just solidified my opnion that unless it involves going further into the motor than then head, or farther into the transmission than the clutch, I’m better off doing it myself.

    • 0 avatar

      Why not just shop around with a few somewhat reputable shops? Usually I call and ask what the rate is for a particular repair, calling reputable shops near me. My only really bad experience was once when I tried to cheap out with a craigslist garage mechanic who had a maniac of a dog that bit me (had to go call up the dog’s vet and everything to check it’s vaccinations). That said I also found some guy who like…basically built a full shop inside his garage, replete with professional hydraulic lifts and did work out of his home on the cheap (guy worked as a mechanic during the day at one of the bigger shops in a different town, then did his own thing from home on the weekends for extra money). Of course with any home mechanic you’re screwed if they fuck your car up since there’s really not much recourse.

  • avatar

    Almost any “quick lube” place. I have seen the “mechanics” come into the waiting room and try to tell people that barely soiled air filters need to be changed, among other unnecessary items.

    Have been doing my own routine maintenance ever since. All of it. (I am fortunate to be an apartment dweller no longer, so I have a garage to do this in.)

    On the other hand, so few people do ANY of their own work on their house and car of any kind these days, including simple stuff like replacing wiper blades, I somehow feel they almost set themselves up for this abuse.

  • avatar

    Yeah. I still can’t talk about it. I just want to cry in the bottom of my shower.

  • avatar

    I went in for a $99 special on front disc brakes for a Civic. An hour later, I got a call saying the rotors were too thin and would have to be replaced, the total went up to $400. I said I’d pass and was told I couldn’t, it was a safety issue. I said I’d pass on everything, just put it back together and charge me for the labor – again, they had witnessed the thin rotors and couldn’t let me drive off their property due to liability issues. I paid. Maybe they were right, but I didn’t like the sales technique.

    I’ve started doing some wrenching on my own since then and have found that replacing or resurfacing rotors is very cheap and easy. If the shop wanted to charge $400 for the brake job, they shouldn’t have advertised it as $99 and then quadrupled it while holding my car hostage.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes their tactics were a bit questionable.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was running an NTW (now NTB) store, our policy was to offer a tow to anywhere within a certain radius anytime we thought that the safety of a vehicle was compromised. Often times, we would just tell them that the repair cost might not be worth it and offer the tow so they could get a second opinion or think about it.

      Most people were pretty cool about it. Some weren’t.

      But you know what – I never have to live with the thought that someone died because a vehicle left my shop in a patently unsafe condition and hit someone.

      BTW – Unsafe to us was missing parts (once had a guy put off a brake job so long that the pistons chewed threw the rotors), or parts so worn that failure is obviously imminent.

  • avatar

    $500 for the switch that doesn’t allow you to start the car if the clutch is not depressed (Darcars-maybe not a ripoff, maybe just stupid techs). $400 for brakes to pass MD inspection because the EBC slotted rotors were less than the minimum depth to pass (measured from inside the slot) and adjustment of the parking brake. One week later my car was in the trees on the side of a mountain because the parking brake slipped. Thanks Koons Ford, buncha scvbags (def ripoff, fcuk Koons Ford)

  • avatar

    On the other side of the coin, I worked at a service station out of high school. People would come in with all kinds of problems. If the owner could trouble shoot it quickly and fix it without parts, like a loose battery cable or plug wire, he wouldn’t charge the customer. He would just tell them he would appreciate if they would come to him when they needed an oil change or to to fix something more serious. I never saw him overcharge anyone. Needless to say he was a quite successful gas station operator. Thanks for the lessons Ralph.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second that. My wife was driving and the throttle linkage cable broke (not that she knew that). She was close to our local independant shop and went in for help. He brought the car in, found the broken linkage, welded it back together and charged her a nominal fee when he could easily have sent out for a replacement part and made big money. Once I learned what went down I brought him every auto problem I had until we moved away. Thanks, Mike.

  • avatar

    +1 Steve, love the Falling Down reference.

  • avatar

    The time estimates in various repair guides are based upon the time it takes an average mechanic to complete the task. A mechanic who has performed the same task numerous times can usually complete the repair in less time. Conversely, an inexperienced mechanic may require more time. There is nothing wrong with a mechanic charging the “book time” for a repair even if he completes it in less time. Experience matters.

  • avatar

    Back before I knew anything about cars, I bought a beater. PO must have just topped up the brake fluid, because after a day or so of driving, the brakes stopped working (pedal to the floor). I took it to a shop and they charged me something like $800 for pads on all 4 corners and 2 new calipers. I had to borrow money to pay for it.

    2 days later, the brakes went out again. I took it back to the same shop. Got a call about an hour later saying they needed a key for the locking lug nuts. I didn’t know it _had_ locking lug nuts. I told them that they just supposedly replaced 2 calipers, so they must have done something with the key. Their mechanic denied ever having seen the key, so I said, “How’d you get the wheels off two days ago?”

    Ultimately, they did replace the calipers (I checked), and they didn’t charge me the labor to knock the lugs off, but I’m fairly certain that they just added fluid the first time around, charge me $800 and hoped I’d never come back.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow! I’m surprised there weren’t any expletives mixed into the “How’d you get the wheels off two days ago?”

      I’m glad no one was injured in the two brake failures.

  • avatar

    This clown at NTB was just supposed to line up the front end on my Escort after a tie rod was replaced. He tells me the rear springs on the struts are broken, cracked and he’ll replace them for 440 dollars. I went back and looked at the paint peeling off the spring. He said that was the damage. I hit the spring with a wrench I found on the floor and it made a nice ring. Broken my ass. Never been back there again.

    How many unsuspecting drivers got 440 dollar strut jobs done that week?

  • avatar

    My business partner has a Dodge Magnum R/T. It shifts like a Ford AOD, and the top of the transmission dipstick tube has a cap that says ‘Dealer Service Only’ instead of a dipstick. I suggested AAMOCO on account of their advertised free transmission assessment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around when the estimate came in. They said the transmission was fine but changed the spark plugs and oil for $680. One thing they didn’t do was clean and re-oil or replace the filthy air filter.

  • avatar

    Bought a car, found out the motor was blown a week later. Called a few shops, the cheapest rebuilt/installed 302 quoted was $4,200.

    Needless to say, it went on craigslist and was sold a few days later. True story.

  • avatar

    When dealer service depts come back and tell me that the problem they diagnosed and then repaired “didn’t fix the problem” and that “apparently it has a 2nd problem” I know they’re either stupid or they think I am.

    The Ford dealer fixed my PowerStroke diesel’s relatively minor drivability problem only after their 3rd attempt and $3,000.
    “Hey, it had 3 problems…” my ass.

    They knew I was stuck because I needed the truck for work and back then, no one else in our town knew how to work on them.

    Dealer do this primarily because they’re scam artists and they also feel ‘used’ by Jimbo the backyard mechanic who has owner take their car in for a diagnosis and then take it back to Jimbo for the used part install.

    They give them the wrong diagnosis and the car’s owner has to keep bringing the car back. Jimbo loses the job and may not even get paid for his labor.

  • avatar

    I generally do my own repairs so I’ve never experienced to much pain. Two occasions sorta file under this question of the day. When I bought my 09 GT500 about a month into ownership the supercharger developed a leak and produced a high pitched whistle. It took the dealership two weeks to decide that it could be replaced under the warranty while they let me ride around in a base model Hyundai Excel.

    The second issue is the infamous 1st Gen clutch. To be fair in stop and go traffic I was able to get almost 20k before it would rev up and slow down going over hills. I replaced the flywheel, clutch and throw out assembly with all new components. Anthor two weeks in the shop ( was pissed at Ford so I went independent) and a coupla weeks in the throw out assembly began to make noise. Turns out that you have to apply a slight bit of lube to the input shaft and to the clutch assembly ( just a skim coat) otherwise it will hang up and damage the throw out assembly. Unfortunately when I got a chance to go back, they had gone out of business.

  • avatar

    Tire shops. Tire shops are the work of the devil.

    I’ve done all my own auto work since before I even had a license, so unless it’s something I simply cannot do an adequate job on myself, I never take my cars to a shop. However, mounting and balancing and alignments are just not practical for the average DIY’er.

    I’ve had great experiences with small one-man shops, but big tire shops have cost me more automotive grief than anything, by far. I’ve had shops say, “this needs tie rod ends, etc. . . “, taken the car and basically do a complete rebuild on the front end, brought it back and had the same monkey at the same shop say the exact same thing. Wouldn’t align it if I didn’t pay them to replace those tie rod ends. But it was cheaper to wear out another set of tires, and find another reliable shop than let them steal my money.

    And I can’t count how many times some over-eager tire jockey has overinflated one (or all) of my tires while setting the bead. The result is almost always a separated belt, and generally takes a few weeks to show up.

    The worst incident was a Super Shop in SLC where I stupidly bought a new set of BFG’s for my Sunbird. Not only did they overinflate the tires and break the belts, but the belts broke in such a way that it was impossible to tell exactly what happened until it was far too late. The wear patterns were beyond wierd, and the tires were completely ruined in less than 5,000 miles. The BFG’s were complete garbage anyway, but that didn’t help.

    The most frustrating shops are the Big-O’s. Since they’re independently owned, you can get everything from the most competent, best service ever, to slapstick craptastic who-gives-a-damn. The last one I dealt with is only two blocks from my house, and I made sure they knew. Pointed right to my house and said, “I live right there, so it’s not a problem for me to jet right over. . .” They did a great job on that alignment.

  • avatar

    I had one of the national tire chains sell me a four-wheel alignment with the guarantee that they’d do it again within 12 months if necessary… So I took it back a few months later when the wheels stopped all pointing in the same direction. They put it up on the rack and told me that the type of car I had couldn’t be aligned. So I demanded the money back for the alignment they sold me for an “unalignable” car, and magically they cracked the Swedish code that let them do the work.

    Haven’t been back to that National Tire Bchain since.

  • avatar

    My buddy mentioned his Camaro’s new tires and alignment. I said, cool but why the alignment? He said, “well, new tires always require an alignment…”

    Unless the tires are wearing funny, I leave it alone. I did have to do my truck’s alignment when it was new, after a 2″ leveling kit. Factory settings always have some toe, but I set mine at zero degrees with just a measuring tape. It’ll coast for a mile on level ground.

    My tires show no wear after 30K mile. It has a bit more oversteer, but manageable.

  • avatar

    I was lucky in that my high school still offered wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, etc. A couple of years after graduation, all the manual trades shop classes were eliminated, and replaced with computer lab. So how’s the “information economy” working out for all of you?

    • 0 avatar

      I enjoyed working with computers in high school, so that’s what I chose to do for a living. However, I also loved my wood shop and auto shop classes that I took in high school in the 90s. So in my spare time, I fix what I can on my cars, and fix my house up. Mostly because I’m cheap, but also because I have the knowledge to do these things due to shop classes (and common sense).

      It’s extremely sad to me that a lot of school districts have cut shop classes. How are kids going to experience the fun of doing your own oil change or making something with your own hands in wood shop? Elimination of shop classes is a very bad thing in my opinion. There are going to be massive skilled trades worker shortages as a result.

    • 0 avatar

      You think you don’t need computer skills to fix modern cars?

  • avatar

    The worst I can think of happened to my parents’ 2000 Forester in 2003, which experienced a clutch pedal that sank to the floor.

    Dealer replaced the clutch cylinder and clutch slave cylinder, filled it up and called it done. A day later I get a call from my parents saying the pedal is back on the floor. I describe to them where to find the clutch reservoir and they find it’s empty. The dealer fills it with apologies and it’s empty again a day later. Turns out the clutch hose (about $35) had a leak. Lucky for my folks it was under warranty and the dealer just ripped off Subaru for all the parts they threw at it.

  • avatar

    I got charged $2,200 to replace an adaptive headlight on my BMW 550i. Further, the service adviser told me I needed new belts at 60,000 miles stating that they were cracking. However, at 50,000 miles I had the belts replaced elsewhere.

    I am done with this dealership.

  • avatar

    Not sure if it counts as the biggest rip off but several years my wife took our Mazda Protégé’ to a local repair shop (for CV Shafts IIRC),when she came to pick it up they said they “rotated and balanced the tires ” – without her permission – and charged accordingly.
    She called them on their BS but they refused to relent or bring the car off the hoist until I called and yelled at the owner and reluctantly he waived the charges for something they were never authorized to do.
    The attitude towards her was “Well it’s already been done and there’s not a lot you can do about it now” and I learned how shady these guys are towards women, the arrogance towards her was stunning.
    I asked her to go there as they did extra vehicle inspections for the company I worked for and which I coordinated and they seemed competent enough.
    The only reason he waived the charges was me reminding him the perils of losing company business for inspections if he doesn’t change his mind.
    I moved our business to another company right after that.

  • avatar

    30K, 60K & 90K servicing. My mechanic charges me half of what a dealer pays for the same work, with probably far more attention to detail. Wifey still takes he Honda to the dealer. She insists on it. If it makes her happy, fine. It has been a good dealer so far…

    • 0 avatar

      These “flat rate” services are just an egregious ripoff. Worst encountered by me was my local Saab dealer wanting $1200 to do the 60K service on my ’00 9-5 V6t. This did NOT include the timing belt, which Saab covers for free. So basically an oil change, spark plugs, air filter, cabin filter, check the brakes, inspect this and lube that. I did it in my garage in under 2hrs with $120 in OEM parts. Crazy.

      If I had let them do the timing belt, they wanted $1000 extra to change the tensioner and idler pulleys, which are notorious for not making it to 120K on that car. Note that the extra work while you are doing the belt is <2 minutes, and the parts were less than <$150. My local Saab indy did the belt including changing the parts I supplied for $150.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    At 1,400 kilometers our Acura dealer said the oil and filter must be changed immediately else Acura will void the warranty. I later learned Acuras are delivered with special break-in oil that should remain in place for 5,000 kilometers.

    At 14,000 kilometers the dealer quoted $90 for an inspection and service. Unauthorized services superfluous to Acura’s published maintenance schedule totaling $90 unexpectedly appeared on the invoice doubling the quoted price: motor oil additive $15, transmission additive $15, gasoline additive $15, door and window gasket silicone spray $15, brake rotor polishing disk $15, seat belt retractor lubricant $15.

    I permit service agencies some billing latitude to avoid ugliness but this was clearly way over the top. The invoice was reduced $50, to $130, on complaint. The service manager sniffed, “I thought you would appreciate the extra good care we are giving your car.”

    The car has been serviced by an independent garage since.

    It’s a very nice car, but we won’t buy another Acura.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ve had an Acura TSX since 2004. It is a amazing car and we’d probably have three of them by now, except for the schizophrenic dealer. Shopping for the car was great. Salesman was helpful and atypically unshady. The car wasn’t there yet, but was part of an expected allotment. A price was agreed on and a deposit was placed. So far, so good. When the car was delivered, I wasn’t there. The person who picked up the car was taken to the finance office and worked hard, on a cash sale at a pre-agreed price with a deposit. Thousands were successfully added to the cost of the car. One big new cost was an extended warranty. A few months before the warranty was to expire, the car was in for service and it actually had its first problem. A power lock actuator was acting up, something that is quite common according to TSX forums. The dealer said they had changed computer systems and had no record of our extended warranty. We’d need to find the paperwork in our records for them to honor it, records 70 miles away(which they knew). So the car still has flaky power door locks. Ironically, since we never made a claim on the warranty we were refunded the full amount we paid for it, just missing out on 7 years of interest.

      The thing about Acura is there are only a few dealers. If one treats you badly, you might not be close to an alternative. Our closest one in Virginia is 70 miles away. The next closest? Too far by any standard. At least the car worked. For a while I had to worry about a Mini Cooper that was 70 miles from the nearest dealer. That one made the trip at least once a month.

  • avatar

    I either get my hands dirty and do it myself, or the car is under warranty. The only time I’ve had to ventured into a mechanics and ask for a quote was because I lacked the facilities to repair my car in my apartment complex, so I went into ‘Midas’ on 4th & Arbutus in Vancouver BC. I asked how much it would cost to swap in a new timing belt on my beater Dodge Aries… I was told “oh, that’ll be about eight hundred bucks or so…” They didn’t understand or appreciate it when I burst out laughing and exclaimed loudly in front of several of their customers how they were a bunch of rip off merchants and that a part that cost $15 and takes about an hour to install should not cost “eight hundred bucks or so.”
    I eventually went to Walmart, bought myself a cheap socket set and a pair of axle stands and did the whole job for a tenth of the price and got some tools of out it.

  • avatar
    Eric M

    Had a recent story, just last month. A friend took a car to a local shop. They correctly diagnosed two broken sway bar links, but added about 400 dollars in unneeded brake work. They said they measured the pads at below the wear limit and that the rotors had also worn too thin. My friend wisely was suspicious and had me take a look. The pads were actually less than half worn and all the rotors were basically at their ‘new’ thickness.

    For the broken sway bar links, they wanted about $400 to change those. I replaced them for about $60 in parts and less than two hours of amateur labor.

  • avatar

    Falling Down – awesome movie reference!

    My brother once waited while his car was aligned, and then was told soon after that it was ready. He soon realized the car had simply been moved to the ‘done’ lot, while never actually entering the garage.

    He made a stink, proving that no wrench had ever touched the tie rods, and the shop sheepishly performed the work right then.

    I once paid the Plymouth dealer $200 to change the 6 plugs in my Voyager, but I realized later that they only changed the front 3, which I could have done in 15 minutes. I was paying them to do the hard part.

    On the same vehicle, I also paid them $110 to perform a transmission fluid change. When the job was done, I asked them how the filter was. They replied that they only changed the fluid (using a dipstick pump), and that if I wanted the filter changed they’d have to charge me much more to do the job again (which of course means dropping the pan, etc.).

    I normally do all my own car work, so this was the last time I dealt with them.

    But here’s the BEST repair VALUE I ever got: The owner of a local garage once changed the Voyager’s A/C evaporator coil in one day for $500, and it was about 100 F outside when he did it. That job involves tearing apart the whole underside of the dashboard. I’ve seen others pay over $1000 for the same job.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Dealer service writers are as big or even bigger scumbags than the salespeople. Two different Ford dealers in two different states told me my brakes were unsafe and I needed all 4 brakes fixed. 1st time an independent shop in Alexandria VA, who is Ferrari certified, told me my brakes where fine. 2nd time, went to a dealer, who was recommended by independent mechanic, and the dealership told me my brakes were fine. Also, the 2nd dealer who recommended new brakes also said my rotors needed sanded and my 100k spark plugs needed replaced at 85k. They lost me on service work and I will never buy anything from them.

  • avatar

    A friend had one of those “park-it-in-a-different-place” experiences many years ago at a big department store auto shop in New Mexico. He was having them change the oil. After several “changes” he got suspicious and found that they were just moving it and claiming they had done the work. When he called them on it, they changed the oil, pouring quite a bit of it over his engine in the process. On the bright side, his Isuzu diesel pickup still lasted a long, long time.

  • avatar

    When my wife and I were starving college students (20+ years ago), her Dad bought a rotten-to-the-core ’86 Aries K car off a friend leaving the country and gave it to us as a “gift”. Thanks, “Dad” – you gifted us with a turd that required constant injections of cash (about $300/month) to keep barely roadworthy. Although many of the never ending repairs were genuine, I recall distinctly getting into it vigorously with a mechanic over his insistence that in addition to the head gasket replacement, our rolling pile of burning human feces required a complete tune-up (including oil + filter, fuel filter, air filter, accessory belts, plugs, plug wires, distributor cap, pvc valve, coolant flush, trans fluid flush, etc, etc). When I pointed out that his same shop had done ALL of those things less than 60 days prior (during a previous raping), he just shrugged and said “I have to try, you know?”. Obviously, last time I set foot in that shop.

  • avatar

    One night on the way home the Chevy died after a start and would not turn over. Click. Click and a burning smell..

    Jumpstart from AAA – still the same. Towed to XXX dealership on a Saturday eve, dropped key in slot and waited for Monday. Bad news comes on Monday, the motor is seized. At 111,000 miles with constant servicing and care. Unbelievable. New engine + labor = $6,000. Junkyard donor with 55K, $3,500. I pick the lessor, hey – I am UNEMPLOYED.

    7 days later (way too long, IMO) I get the car back. Yep the motor is different, a bit cleaner. Runs the same. I’m back in the saddle. Ask if anyone tore the old block down to find the failure, answer is no, unless you want to pay $250 an hour….

    A week later on another Saturday, car refuses to start. Click, click burning smell again. Tow to different shop. The starter was bad. Another $400 and back to seeing the USA in the Chevrolet.

    I still wonder if the original problem was the starter. Wonder . .

  • avatar

    Many years back, I borrowed my dad’s ’80 Bonneville while my ’78 Caprice was in the shop (one of many times). The Pontiac ran OK, but the Hydra-Matic shifted rather abruptly. Before returning the car to Dad, I took it to a local trans shop (on Long Island)for a fluid and filter change. They made a major show of taking it for a test drive, and then the manager of the shop took me by the shoulder and sat me down in his filthy office. The manager – about six-foot eight, size 15 shoes and size 14 IQ, put on a practiced look of anguish, like a funeral director, and recited to me in the finest Brooklyn accent: “There are grave problems festering inside your transmission!” Yes, I cracked up. I told Lurch that I appreciated his concern, but that I’d risk it, and could he please just change the fluid and filter?” To his credit, he did; the Hydra-Matic improved a little and the car remained in our family for some years after that. Without a new transmission.

  • avatar

    When I was young and stupid I paid aruond $1300 for Canadian Tire to replace the rotors and pads on my TransAm.. and about $800 to do the other axle later.

    Top notch parts are about $200 for that car,and it’s about an hour labour.

    I did win once though, the junkyard quoted me 8 hours remove/install on a replacement motor for the car(first one was a rebuild, second time i went for the replacement method), and it turned out it’s closer to 8 hours to remove, 8 hours to install.. they billed me for 8 hours. I’d give them bonus points for that, but they inflated my winter tires to 44psi, “since that’s what it says on the sidewall!”.. surprised they didn’t explode on the two hour drive home.

  • avatar

    I got lucky about 20 years ago and found an independent shop who has yet to botch a job for me. He’s probably not the cheapest shop around here (lots of ex gas stations with questionable mechanics) but he’s definitely cheaper that a dealership and has never tried to sell me something I didn’t need. Of course it helps that I am somewhat knowledgeable about cars and he knows it. I try not to tell him his business, but I never just drop it off and say “I don’t know, just fix it”.


  • avatar

    I’ve never been ripped off by a garage. Us car guys do our own work.

  • avatar

    I can tell you how a good repair experience pays off.
    I had a cracked manifold on a 5 year old Pathfinder
    that I had bought used, out of state. I took it to a nearby
    Nissan dealer and even though it wasn’t bought there
    and it was out of warranty and high mileage, the dealer
    called Nissan USA and they covered the repair. The
    next car we bought was a Nissan. Don’t ask me why
    we left Honda.

  • avatar

    Went to a Goodyear store to get an alignment after I did some front end work and replaced the sway bar links on my 1969 Dart Swinger 340.

    They couldn’t align it until they installed new sway bar links – the old ones were shot.

    I told them not to bother. When I picked up the car, I relayed the information that I had installed new ones 3 days before. They were not amused.

    A friend bought a used Subaru from a garage and it leaked oil. The shop couldn’t find the source of the leak. A friend of my friend who restored Porsches could not find the leak. Another shop could not find the source of the leak. I sat outside looking at the car after all this and thought. Deep deep thoughts. I wrote a number on a piece of paper and gave it to my friend. She took the number to an auto parts store and they gave her —the right oil filter. The wrong one was installed on her car, causing it to leak from the filter gasket.

    • 0 avatar


      That’s one I hadn’t thought of and if that WAS the case with me, it may explain why I was soon loosing 2Qts of oil every 2 weeks after an oil chance at Precision Tune last Sept. I at the time had my old 92 Ford Ranger in for an oil change as it was WAY overdue (not intentionally tho).

      Anyway, the drain bolt didn’t look to be leaking but it WAS going through oil pretty quickly though to be fair, the truck was going through oil prior to the oil change, just not as much and it was heading close to 237K miles on the clock anyway and had other issues that reared their ugly heads in January.

      But the incorrect oil filter never occurred to me.

  • avatar

    These didn’t happen to me.

    The first one was my girlfriend had a ’69 Mustang that at the age of nearly 10, was definitely on the way down. I went on a trip, and in 1979, there weren’t any easy ways to contact someone for advice, so she was basically on her own. Her dad was a wiz with a sniper rifle(He had the gory pics to prove it, he killed a LOT of Arabs in the 1948 and 1956 wars when he was a young guy, and went back for an encore as a “senior something” in 1967), but he was clueless about cars, so she went into a garage near her apartment for help when her car began running very badly. It was idling badly and would pop when she accelerated. The garage told her the engine was “trashed”. She went into panic mode, and told her dad, who In a very lucky move, told her that he would help her buy a new car and just sell the “junk” Mustang. She wound up with a super clean 1974 Nova SS that only had 12K miles on it. The Mustang got parked in front of her parent’s house. I came back and she told me what happened, and we went over to look at it. All that was wrong with it was the PCV hose had a huge crack in it. That’s it. I went ahead and replaced all the rock hard hoses under the hood. It was probably the one time her dad, who hated me, thought I did something right. Her dad and I went over to the garage where she had taken it, and he reamed the owner out for trying to “off rip” his “leettle giirel”(His accent amused me). There was something about him, even though you might not know his history, that was scary, and the owner of the garage did a lot of swallowing when the old man was in his face. The Mustang got sold for a decent price and I actually got $100 from the proceeds! I tried to refuse it, maybe thinking it would help change the old bastard’s opinion of me, but it just seemed to make him angrier at me than he already was.

    This one happened to an idiot that I knew. He was getting ready to sell his car, an “Iron Duke” powered Vega. The valve cover was leaking, as it always did. No matter how many times it was retightened, the gasket replaced, no matter what sealer was applied, even some horrible purple stuff (that would make you dizzy when you breathed the fumes) that sealed up everything I used it on, it still leaked within a month or so. The dealer told him the leak could cause a fire and it needed to be fixed immediately! He apparently forgot that I had changed the damn thing a couple of times before and he was driving it with the “dangerous leak” for well, years and thousands of miles. Of course, they found a few other “safety issues” to pad it up to $300.

  • avatar

    I had the same mechanic for ten years… I guess, at some point, he decided he wasn’t making enough money… so, he started charging double for parts, or making up “needed” repairs… I caught him… he is no longer my mechanic… all told, I figured he ripped me off for $5,000+ for unneeded and/or over-charged repairs…

  • avatar

    I have never gotten ripped off at by mechanic. I do almost all my own work (with the excpetion of serviceing the AC or fixing a transmission). When I did have to get my AC serviced I took it to a local shop that has been in buisness for 30 or so years.

  • avatar

    How about the other way around? The customer who expects you to work for almost nothing because you’re going to rip them off anyways. The customer who brings in a vehicle that “just needs a thermostat” when it turns out that the radiator is falling apart and there’s no coolant in the system. The customer who insists that you use their cut rate parts to do a first class job. The customer who expects you to diagnose their car for free so they can go to the parts store and do the job themselves.

    I could go on for a while…..

    • 0 avatar

      Or the guy who thinks that since the labor rate is 100 bucks an hour, the tech makes 75 bucks an hour whether they’re working on a car or eating lunch.

      It’s really a shame that there are so many horrible stories on here because crooked techs ruin it for all the rest of them. It’s impossible to make money on flat rate doing oil changes, tires, batteries…the stuff customers HAVE to get done. Hell, when I was a tech we got 0.2 hours (thats 12 minutes) to bring in a car, write down the owner’s radio stations, pull the battery (plus whatever else that required), get to the parts counter, get the new battery, put it back in (plus what ever that required), find the radio lock code and put it in, find the Navi code and put that in, program the owner’s stations again, drive the car through the car wash, and park it.

      If the car didn’t need an inspection or any PM that was just a big loss in your day.

      I worked with a lot of guys who got canned for being crooks and we’d rat them out as soon as we could because it hurt us all! With longer warrenty periods and less PM I’m glad I left the business, but I certainly feel for those honest techs still doin it.

  • avatar

    More money is wasted with the bogus 3,000 mile oil change than anything else. Its a small shakedown, but adding up the numbers across the entire economy, its a huge number.

  • avatar

    One good and one bad story out of 45 years of cars and (mostly) doing my own wrenching. But recently I was getting the oil changed in my Impala. The tech showed me a streak of coolant on the hood liner and said my water pump was leaking. 150,000 on the clock, I figure it’s time. Drop the car at Knapp Chevrolet in downtown Houston on Monday morning and tell the service writer to change the water pump, thermostat and all the hoses. Told him to just do it, don’t bother calling me for approval because I was in meetings and might not be able to call him back promptly. He called me anyway in a couple of hours and told me there was nothing wrong with the water pump, it was just a small leak at the hose connection to the pump. He had the free pass to charge me for the full job and didn’t do it. That’s why I keep going back to Knapp.

    1988 – wife and I are on vacation in upper NY state when the lock up sprag goes out of the torque converter on our ’84 Cressida. Call the local Toyota dealer, very busy and won’t be able to get to it for two or three days. Have the car towed to the closest AAMCO shop. Tell the manager the torque converter is out and needs replaced. Nothing else. They call me the next day, they have the tranny apart if I want to see it. I go over, the mechanic is a Harley wrench with his wallet on a chain, yadayada. Yep, the torque is bad, needs replaced. Tranny is in parts on the bench. When I asked them why they pulled the tranny apart they tell me it’s because you can’t know what other damage the failed torque converter might have done. The fact that the hydraulic pump quits when the torque fails doesn’t seem to register with them. But they’re happy to tell me that it’s all OK, no problems. Order new torque, shows up, wrong input shaft spline. Order another one, shows up, wrong flexplate pattern, order another one (by this time I think the supplier has had time to rebuild my original one) and the third try finally fits. Put the car back together, I go pick it up, ask about the warranty on the work. They tell me there is no warranty on the transmission work because they didn’t do anything. I raise hell, to no avail. My wife has to get back to New Orleans for school, so blow it off. Freaking transmission never did work right after that. Eventually, after fighting with AAMCO a couple of years I have the guys at my regular Toyota dealership put in a rebuilt A43. Drove that car 272,000 miles with zero other problems. Except for AAMCO messing up the tranny that was a perfect car. Wish I still had it sometimes.

  • avatar

    About 2 weeks ago, I took our 2008 Wrangler Unlimited in to the Chysler dealer for the sagging fender liner recall (I think they just put a few more clips in). I also asked them to diagnose a front end resonant wobble – surely just balancing of the wheels.

    Sometimes I think these recalls are just a way to get vehicles in to the service department so they can up-sell you.

    Got a call from the service desk, with a bunch of recommendations for fluid changes – both axles, transmission, transfer case. The truck only has 70,000 km on it, but I didn’t have the maintenance schedule in front of me so I didn’t know if all of this was really “due”.

    I remembered from my TJ that the transfer case can be a bear, but the axles are easy, so I okayed the transmission and transfer case fluid changes. Turns out none of it was actually due. Total bill with taxes for that stuff plus the wheel re-balancing: $655

    At least I was smart enough to say no to the engine “flushing”.

    “What is that?”

    “We flush out the entire engine – it gets rid of all of the deposits.”

    “What’s it cost?”


    “Is that on Chrysler’s maintenance schedule?”

    “No, but we really recommend it.”

    “I bet you do. No thanks”.

  • avatar

    I’ve been lurking for a while but decided to register to comment on this, as this is one of my big peeves.

    Both of the below happened a few years ago, but still pi$$ me off to this day, so much so that I will never buy a car from either of these dealers.

    First, the Honda dealer, on a Civic Wagon. It was in for a timing belt. As a precaution I had them replace the water pump…”and replace the belts while you’re at it.” When examining the bill, I questioned a line item: Labor, replace belts – 1/2 hr. I asked about the charge, when they had to put the belts back on following the timing belt replacement. “Because we put on new belts.” “What difference does it make whether they’re new belts or old? I already paid for their installation as part of the timing belt job.” “When we put on new belts, we charge for labor.” “Was a similar deduction taken from the other job?” “No.”

    After complaining to the dealership owner, and getting screamed at (literally) in front of everyone in the showroom, he finally yelled to the cashier, “G– d— it, give him his f—— half hour back.” He lost s customer for less than $20.

    The other time was for a 15k service on my new Mazda pickup. During the initial look-see (before they did anything else) they discovered a leaking head gasket, which would be replaced under warranty. When I picked up the truck I was surprised to see the full $375 charge for the 15K servicing. When I mentioned at least 3/4 of the items on the service list were done as part of reassembling the engine following the head gasket replacement, the Service Manager looked me in the eye, and said with a perfectly straight face, “Yea, but we did ’em again.” And the charge for the oil change? “We did that as part of the head gasket job, but Mazda doesn’t pay for that under the warranty.” Well, I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Even still, I only managed to get one hour labor knocked off and a few chits for future oil changes. (Any guess as to how many I used?)

    And then there was with the Sears Automotive Dept. Right after I bought 4 new tires from them the car began pulling to the right. I took it to my mechanic for an alignment, who told me the RF tire was defective. Now Sears should have exchanged the tire for a new one, and returned the defective one for a credit. Instead, they pumped up the defective tire to 45 psi so the car wouldn’t pull. When called on it the dept. manager swore it would be fine. It took the store manager to get the tire replaced.That was the last time I ever went to Sears Automotive.

  • avatar

    Every member of my family and all my friends have been instructed by me to NEVER, EVER open the hood at a gas station is offered a free ‘fluids check’ and never accept a repair estimate without calling me first.

    9 times out of 10 they are about to being ripped off and/or the repair is not worth it.

    Example: my father was quoted once US$1500 to fix a small oil leak. I told him not to do it and to keep topping up as the leak was nowhere near big (a couple of drips a day) and not in a critical part of the engine. Car was sold with the same small leak 2 years later and total expense was US$100-US$200 in extra oil to top up.

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