2000 Honda Civic clutch replacement

  • 2000 HONDA CIVIC
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • 112 MILES
My clutch had started to slip recently and I took it to a local shop and had it replaced. Four days later (today) it failed. That is revving in each gear with little power, grinding in reverse. I got a tow and left at the shop. How should I approach my conversation with the mechanics? Failing in a few days seems like negligence. I would especially like to know what I should do if they tell me there is more that much be done to fix the clutch. Thanks for any thoughts/advice.
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Sunday, March 15th, 2015 AT 5:58 PM

2 Replies

First of all, you were right to take it back to the same shop. The mechanic deserves the right to check his work and correct any mistakes. One thing to be aware of though is we hold mechanics to much higher standards than doctors are held to. If a doctor doesn't diagnose an illness right the first time, we keep going back for more tests, or we just run to a different doctor. No one has ever asked for a refund for the doctor's services if we got unsatisfactory results.

That sure isn't the case with mechanics. We expect them to diagnose the problem and fix it right the first time, and if they don't, we're more than happy to share our experiences with everyone we meet.

I will never defend a dishonest mechanic or tv repairman, (my other career), but with today's cars there are so many things built in that make a proper diagnosis the first time very difficult. I've been sharing some of those things here to help people understand why one mechanic proposes to repair your car one way, and you get a different diagnosis and repair plan somewhere else. Neither one may be an attempt to defraud, and both might lead to a proper, safe, and legal repair.

In this case I doubt there was negligence, but if the mechanic made a mistake, remember that you have too, and we all look for someone else to blame. Most shops bill their labor charges according to a "flat rate" book. That book spells out a number of hours a specific procedure should take on your car model and year, and it includes small tenth-of-hour amounts to add for increased difficulty, like when an optional AC compressor has to be removed, or subtract when a single step might be listed twice but only has to be done once. This way every shop will quote the same number of hours. The only variable is their hourly labor charge.

Suppose your clutch job was listed at 6.0 hours. If the mechanic is inexperienced and takes 8.0 hours, he is going to be paid for 6.0 hours and that is what you will pay. If he is very experienced, knows exactly which tools to grab and which bolts do and don't have to be removed, he works efficiently, and has invested in a lot of specialty tools and advanced training classes, he might get the job done in 4.0 hours. You will still be charged for 6.0 hours. The mechanic can start on the next job sooner. That's how he can earn more money per day.

This would the same as saying you're going to earn ten bucks for cutting your neighbor's lawn. If you use a scissors, you can expect to be there all week, but a scissors doesn't cost you very much. If you invest in a push mower, you might get the job done so quickly that you can do two lawns in one day. That's a big increase in what you earn, but you're still only charging ten bucks per job.

If you use some of your profits to buy a riding lawn mower, you might get five lawns done per day. If you really want to stretch it, invest in some goats to cut the lawn, and you can just sit back and watch them do the work for you. Of course, just as with any other employees, you have to meet all of their needs first before you even think about taking home a paycheck for yourself. You also have to worry that they'll do a proper job. There's a lot of headaches associated with having employees, and you deserve to be compensated for that.

Before I get too far off track, flat rate has its checks and balances too, and this applies to your car. If a mechanic works so fast that he overlooks something or makes a mistake, he has to work on that car again, but he doesn't get paid again, and you don't get charged again. The only drawback is you have to take the time to bring the car back, and you wouldn't believe how much some people whine and squeal like a little school girl about that. The mechanic loses because, lets say he has to do your entire clutch job over and it takes him another 5.0 hours. Lets say 6.0 hours because he is also going to spend time trying to figure out what went wrong and if it was his fault. That is 6.0 hours that he is not earning anything. Who else do you know who works for free? He loses a second time because someone else is going to have to work on his next scheduled car, so now he has lost 12.0 hours of productivity and pay. His shop owner loses because he is losing at least 6.0 hours of income, and if they were fully-booked and back-logged, he's losing 12.0 hours of income plus all the shop's resources.

I was fortunate at the very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership I worked at that no one ever told me I was working too slowly because they knew I had very few comebacks or complaints. It is especially hard to please everyone in one of my specialties, suspension and alignment. I DID have a couple of vehicles that took more than two or three visits before I figured out the problem, and I had one electrical problem, (my other specialty) that took nine visits before I figured out what someone else had modified, and luckily all of those owners were very understanding.

This sad story brings me to another point of great value. No one expects you to be happy that your car developed a problem again, but please understand that no mechanic is going intentionally do something to force you to come back. (We leave that to the manufacturers. Are you listening, GM)? Also, regardless of the cause now, the mechanic is going to be working for free, so he is going to be stressed out as well as apologetic. He is now going to try to do whatever it takes to make you happy because he knows that's in the best interest of the shop owner, and therefore in his best interest.

The list of possible outcomes includes:
1. The mechanic forgot to tighten some bolts, over-tightened them and some later snapped, he installed a part the wrong way, or something like that.
2. One of the new parts failed because it wasn't built correctly.
3. The current problem has absolutely nothing to do with the original problem from four days ago.
4. The current problem is the same as you had four days ago because there is an underlying cause that hasn't been discovered yet.

I won't even get into number five, intentional sabotage, because that is not in anyone's best interest.

1. Unintentional mistakes are going to happen to every one of us. If a mechanic has nine complaining customers out of ten, and you're that tenth customer, you're going to think he's the best mechanic you ever found. More commonly, a good mechanic might have one complaint out of ten customers. If you're that one, you're going to be angry and spread the word about his incompetence. He might have just found out his wife's cancer has spread, his six-year-old kid was suspended from school for pointing his finger at a friend and teasing "bang", or there's a problem with one of his previous jobs, but the car hasn't come back yet and he's imagining all the worst possible outcomes.

It's also for us to become distracted by things like having to drop everything and go help push a car into the shop, or being called to the service desk to share information directly with a customer. When we get back to the job, we can easily forget to tighten a bolt or double-check an adjustment.

2. In the words of one very good corporate trainer, "we not only sell you new parts, we sell them to you pre-broken"! She was referring to a part Chrysler was buying from GM that had a very high failure rate. This can happen with original manufacturer-supplied parts just as easily as with aftermarket parts. In many cases those aftermarket parts address a common shortcoming of the original parts so they're better.

The good news is some of the national auto parts chain stores have started reimbursing the shops when one of their parts is at fault. Even when they don't, the shop owner understands the mechanic did nothing wrong, so he deserves to be paid for the second repair, but he also knows it is not YOUR fault either so it's not proper to charge you for the second repair. This is where some of the shop's profits go. Also, this is the source of a lot of anger when a customer wants to supply their own new or used parts to try to save a few bucks. If a customer-supplied part fails, they can rightfully expect to have to pay again for the complete repair. That second repair wold have been paid for by the little profit the shop made on the parts.

This would be like bringing your own food to a restaurant and asking them to cook it for you. If the steak is full of too much fat, you wouldn't expect them to cook you a different one.

3. This is the hardest one to convince customers of when it's true, and the first thing people think is the mechanic is lying to save face or the shop is trying to get out of providing free service. This blame-shifting almost always comes back to bite the offender in the butt, so when I read about it, I look first for reasons the mechanic believes he is right but could unintentionally and unknowingly be wrong. This happens most often to inexperienced mechanics and those who never had any formal training. One thing I always feared was a customer going to a different shop because my service adviser refused to take responsibility for my recent work and that it might be my fault. Who do you think I want to discover my mistake, me or some other mechanic at a different shop? You're going to remember that I did something wrong, my shop wouldn't stand behind my work, and someone better had to fix my mistake.

When this truly is an entirely different problem, you can be expected to pay for the diagnosis and repair, although most shops will try to do something to help you out. Try to get that kind of consideration at a hospital. You won't get a discount for setting your broken left arm just because you were charged full price for setting your right arm last week!

Think of the starting system in your car. It hasn't been over-complicated yet with ridiculous, unnecessary multiple computers like on newer cars, but there still are over a dozen parts that have to work properly for the starter to crank the engine. Perhaps last week the relay became defective and that was replaced. Today it doesn't start again so you assume the mechanic did something wrong. As it turns out, now the starter is bad and has to be replaced. Neither part is a common failure item, and no one would have any reason to suspect one of them was about to fail just because the first one went bad. No one did anything wrong. It was just a sad coincidence.

4. My best example of this is the customer who comes in because one of his tires blew out. For the sake of my sad story and to illustrate my point, he drove it on the flat tire slowly to a salvage yard and bought a used wheel to replace the one that was damaged by driving on it. From there the car was towed to a repair shop to have the wheel and a new tire installed. The problem is the people at the salvage yard kept the old wheel for the scrap metal, and they offered to pay to get rid of the old tire. The new tire is installed and the customer buzzes off into the sunset.

That's not the end of the story. A month later that new tire blows out. Obviously it was defective, or the mechanic did something wrong when mounting it. Well, this time the car goes straight to the shop, and the mechanic gets to see the flat tire and "read" the wear patterns. It's chewed off on the edge because the car is severely out-of-alignment. (That was a real big problem with 1980's Ford Escorts and Tempos. They came from the factory with unbelievably bad front-wheel alignment that could not be corrected, but the cars rode smoothly. That's all the manufacturer cared about. Tires lasted 15,000 miles if you were lucky). If I had ever intentionally adjusted the alignment like that on any other car, I'd deserve to be fired.

It's the duty of the mechanic to inspect the steering and suspension systems to determine why the tire wore like it did, and to explain to the customer what caused the failure and why there was no apparent need to look for that at his last visit. There was no old tire to read, so no reason to suspect anything other than a simple blowout. Most owners are pretty reasonable, especially when you show them how badly the tire was wearing.

This is a case of an underlying cause that needed to be found and corrected. It took a second failure to indicate the need to do so. We'll see a dozen flat tires in a month that do not have an underlying problem with the car, so it's normal to not look further unless something comes to our attention to say otherwise.

For your car, please be understanding and polite with the people who will be trying to help you. Screaming customers and those with unreasonable demands can not expect to get the same level of cooperation as those who understand even half of the things I covered here. If you are lucky, all needed parts and all labor will be covered by the shop. If there's no more problems after that, consider another visit to drop off a box of cookies. Chocolate chip is preferred! At my dealership, we were getting donuts and cookies usually once or twice per week from happy customers.

In the unlikely event you did something to cause the new damage, no parts or labor will be covered by the shop. I doubt they're going to accuse you of dragging a big trailer or trying to pull out tree stumps with your car.

In the middle you may be told of that underlying cause that was overlooked the first time. This gets to be a little tricky. The mechanic didn't do anything wrong with the clutch installation so he will be paid again. You didn't do anything wrong so you won't be charged again, but only for what you already paid for. You CAN be expected to pay for additional parts that should have been installed the last time. This is where we talk about "business practices". According to a national, high-level trainer, Hyundai, Toyota, and Chrysler are on the top of the list for "customer-friendly business practices". That doesn't refer to fit and finish, reliability, value, or things like that. It refers to the dealerships' culture of taking care of customers ahead of profits, and is promoted by the manufacturers. Honda is also near the top of that list. Independent shops are as varied as their owners. Privately-owned shops almost always do a better job than the franchise chain shops, particularly the muffler shops. The issue here is those parts you should have paid for earlier, but the mechanic overlooked them. Shops that have high regard for ethical business practices will often "eat" those parts. In other words, they will install them but not charge you for them. Some might charge you their actual cost for those parts with no markup. Try to get that at any other retail store. Some might ask you to pay half the cost of those additional parts and they'll pay the other half. How this is handled will vary at each shop, but the last thing I'm going to share is a common saying we had at the dealership. "It takes more dollars to advertise for one new customer than it takes to keep ten current customers happy and coming back". We need customers and we're in competition for your business. It is in the shop's best interest to keep you happy. It's just a matter of where to draw the line. If they have to pay for a part for your car, and you're grateful, your word-of-mouth advertising is much more valuable than the cost of that part.
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Sunday, March 15th, 2015 AT 8:29 PM
Thanks very much for the detailed reply! Your response helps me appreciate what this may look like from the other side (the repair shop's) side of these encounters. It seems that understanding and giving the mechanic the chance to make it right is the best next step. From the customer side, of course, it is upsetting to pay a thousand dollars and still end up on the side of the road a few days later. I am a person who has maintained my car the best I can to avoid unexpected crises and so it is a bit scary to find myself stranded anyway.

That said, your "big picture" perspective helps me appreciate that there is little advantage to most shops to mess up and have to put in additional hours for free to correct the problem. The best outcome, in any event, will come from assuming everybody wins if it is a successful fix this second time, rather than assuming that the repair shop will benefit in some way from bringing me back in four days after the initial repair. Your response makes clear that this is very unlikely.

Thanks again for the response. You argue for the kind of understanding I think people on both sides of a service encounter need to try to have more often. I'll let you know how this resolves.
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Sunday, March 15th, 2015 AT 11:03 PM

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