2004 Toyota Corolla



February, 21, 2013 AT 3:24 PM

I got a couple of new tires put on my car. They said that the right rear hub assembly needs to be replaced (bearing and seals). I asked how long it would last. He didn't know for sure. "What will happen if it just goes completely bad?" He said it could break and I could have a wobbly wheel. It wouldn't go flying off the car or anything, he said. I wasn't sure if he was full of it or not, so I held off. They wanted to charge me $180 just for the part. I called a parts store and found it for $73! I almost always buy parts from the store if I can, unless it's something cheap and I just want the convenience. Anyway, does this sound like something I should genuinely be concerned about? He also said the front rotors had grooves in them, as do the front brake pads, which is causing the noise I hear. "Are the brakes bad?" "No, it's just going to be annoying until you get it replaced." He said someone probably forgot to "turn" the rotors (smooth them down or something during a brake job) and now there is no way to get the grooves out - something like that. I figured as long as it's safe, I'll just deal with some occasional noise. He wanted to charge me over $230 for that, which included new pads. Does that explanation sound legitimate? Anyway, I'm not going to pay for it if it's not compromising the safety. If I sell it down the road, that's another matter. As far as the first thing - the hub assembly, I figured I would buy the part cheap at a store to save myself $100 and have somebody put it on IF they think it's necessary. Of course, if I ask them to look at it and tell me, of course they're going to say I need it. I've had many experiences with mechanics trying to sell me stuff I don't need. Let me know what you think. Thank you!


2 Answers



February, 21, 2013 AT 4:39 PM

You're suffering from what costs you the most money in the long run and results in the least maintained car. Do you take your own food to a restaurant and ask them to cook it for you? Do you whine and snivel when food there costs more than in a grocery store? Why do you suppose all parts cost more at a repair shop? It is not uncommon for new parts to fail; that's why they need to come with a warranty. When you supply the parts, you WILL pay for the labor a second time if one needs to be replaced. Your mechanic is betting the parts won't fail but if they do, he is going to eat the additional labor costs. That is part of the cost of doing business. You are trying to save a few pennies and betting you won't have to spend a lot of dollars later. That is common among people who don't understand what you're getting for your money and who don't have a clue how businesses are run and the huge costs they incur doing that business.

As for "unneeded parts", mechanics have your best interest at heart. You need to look at them as your advocate, not your adversary. They do not want you sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. What possible reason would they have for that?

If you are that unknowledgeable about your car and that distrusting of the advice you were given from a professional, instead of assuming he's trying to sell you unneeded parts, get a second opinion, but do it the intelligent way. If you go to a second shop and say someone tried to sell you a wheel bearing, an unscrupulous person will do everything possible to say there's no need and the first guy was lying. Now that this new guy has your confidence, he can try to sell you anything. An honest mechanic, which most are, may double-check the bearing, verify it needs to be replaced, and neglect to check anything else. That also doesn't do you a good service.

Instead, just tell the second mechanic to inspect the steering and suspension systems because you're hearing a noise in the rear or feeling something unusual. DO NOT TELL HIM what someone else found because that can inadvertently limit the scope of his investigation. If he also comes up with a bad bearing, you owe the first guy an apology.

There is a published legal minimum thickness that brake rotors can be machined to when truing them up during routine brake service, and there is usually a slightly thinner thickness they can be allowed to wear to after that service. No professional will risk sitting in a courtroom due to cutting them undersize. Also, replacement brake rotors that typically cost $100.00 in the 1980s cost about 15 to 30 bucks today. Given the cost in labor time, expensive cutting bits that wear out quickly, and the machinery needed to resurface rotors, most shops today just install new rotors. You get a better finished product with proper braking action for just a few dollars more. It sounds like you're willing to forgo safety and comfort to save a few dollars. Lawyers and insurance investigators love to find undersize brake rotors, worn tires, loud stereos, and especially altered ride height. They WILL convince a jury that you were partly at fault for the crash when the other guy ran the red light because you were less able to avoid the crash, and they will be right.

You are perfectly welcome to buy your own parts, but then install them yourself. If you get the wrong part for your application, make a second trip to the parts store. That won't cost you anything if you walk there. You'll need to buy any special tools needed for this job. Your mechanic is not charging you for the use of his tools he has had to buy over the years. There are a lot of things you can do wrong to damage a new part. You'll have to do the job over again but think of all the money you will have saved. Trouble is you won't be able to blame it on your mechanic. We read here every day about the things do-it-yourselfers do to cause problems. Most of us are more than willing to help people who take responsibility for their screw-ups, and I especially love helping people who want to learn about their cars. In this case there isn't enough time left in my life to explain all the hardships mechanics and shop owners go through to make your car safe, and because of that lack of knowledge, you have no appreciation yet for what you're getting for your money. That is more common among people who do not work in the trades. I ran into many other teachers I used to work with who had no clue what it takes to be a business owner or work in a business. With time and an open mind, I can correct that.



February, 22, 2013 AT 4:52 AM

I forgot to mention too that what you described for needed brake service does not sound like it's a safety issue. All brake rotors on all car brands and models develop grooves from small rocks getting stuck in the pads. That is the reason we always machine them, or replace them, during a routine brake job. The brake linings wear unevenly too to match those grooves so there is still 100 percent contact and good braking ability. Those grooves will all be cut away when the rotors are machined, and that's when they can become too thin to legally leave on the car. I'm not clear on what your mechanic found but those grooves by themselves will not cause noise, a pulsing brake pedal, or any other problem. No one will even know they exist unless they look at them closely. You need an immediate inspection if you suddenly hear grinding noises when applying the brakes. In some cases the noise can be caused by nothing more than the pads running on a ridge of rust. That can be ignored safely but the only way to know that's all it is and not something serious is to have them inspected.

Wheel bearings typically will make a howling or whining sound that is often described as sounding like an airplane engine. Front bearings do that WAY more often than rear ones. Noises usually start long before the bearing gets so worn that it allows the wheel to tip in and out on top excessively. The looseness in your bearing right now could have been there for many months and may not get much worse for many more months, if ever. That is a judgement call that I can't make because I didn't actually see how much looseness there is. If you haven't noticed any handling problem or unusual noises, I would tentatively suggest you drive it as is but pay close attention to any changes that might signal a developing problem. How's that for dancing around without saying anything, just like a politician? All wheel bearings have some looseness but it's usually too little to feel. If yours feels the same six months from now, you can probably relax and ignore it.

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