Why do you assume you're going to be ripped off? Some mechanics think they're looking out for your wallet by cutting corners or ignoring small things that won't be noticed right now. Others have your long-term best interest at heart and want to take care of anything that might turn into a bigger and more expensive problem later. Some give you the choice of what they should take care of now and what you want to put off until later.
All three of these mechanics are hated by their customers. The first one gets blamed for everything that goes wrong with the vehicle for the rest of its life simply because he touched it and "should have known that part was going to fail". The second one usually bases his decisions on past experience and he knows making you spend a little extra now will pay off in the future by costing you less in the long run. The third one is called "condescending" because he wants you to make a decision about things you don't understand, and aren't expected to. Just like accountants, chiropractors, carpenters, and politicians, mechanics speak their own language, and when it comes to discussing a car with its owner, they have very poor communication skills. As a former automotive instructor, I was asked about once per week to examine someone's car repair bill, and about 95 percent of the time those people left satisfied in the knowledge they weren't ripped off once someone took the time to explain everything in detail. Keep in mind almost all people in repair shops are paid by the hour. If a customer wants to pay for their time, I'm sure they would be happy to sit there all day and go into as much detail as you'd like. Dealerships have service advisers whose job it is to take what they thought they heard from the mechanic, and translate into what they think you'll understand. Those people almost always were never mechanics so you can be sure things are going to get messed up. That isn't fraud or incompetence. I'd call it whatever you would call it in any other profession.
You've already gone further than most people by providing some good observations and details. You wouldn't believe how many people don't understand that we're not psychic, and we don't automatically know what we're supposed to be looking for or fixing unless we're given all those details.
Instead, we get more information from a mechanic than we do from our doctors, but we hold mechanics to WAY much higher standards. Just let a mechanic make a mistake and anyone who will listen is going to hear about it. Let a doctor not find the right diagnosis the first time, we run to a different one who has to start all over from the beginning. No one whines and snivels about that first doctor.
I always told my students that I was their advocate, not their adversary. You need to approach your mechanic the same way. If you already know something about cars, that will help a lot once they know they don't have to "dumb down" their explanations to make them understandable. That's where things get lost in translation. Suspicious people assume that means the mechanic is lying or trying to hide something. Overly-trusting people can get taken advantage of by unscrupulous people, but that doesn't apply to just mechanics.
I'll never defend any dishonest employee in any profession, but if you go in with the attitude that the mechanic is your adversary, you need to find a different one who has earned your trust.
I do agree with your assessment of the four-wheel-drive issue. All four tires need to be able to rotate at different speeds, obviously for turning tight corners, but also just for going around gradual curves in the road. Locking the system in four-wheel-drive forces the tires to go the same speed, and that puts added strain on the drive line. It also puts forces on the tires that try to force them turn at speeds they don't want to, and that promotes loss of traction. If you lose traction on wet roads, it's due to hydroplaning. The goal of the tires is to stick to the road for directional control. Locking the system in four-wheel-drive doesn't promote steering control, it detracts from it.
The same is true on snow and ice. Four-wheel-drive doesn't help you steer. It helps you keep going when two tires don't have enough traction and they want to spin. With all four tires pulling, you're much more likely to not spin, and a spinning tire, whether on snow, water or dry roads, doesn't have traction, and therefore doesn't have directional control.
Maybe your tires aren't spinning, but my head is! To address your real question, once the Check Engine light turned on, there is going to be a diagnostic fault code stored in the Engine Computer. It is important when that happens to not disconnect the battery or let it run dead until those codes are read and recorded, otherwise that valuable information will be lost. You might have to drive the vehicle again for days until the problem acts up and sets the code again. Ask your mechanic to write the exact code numbers down on the repair order or a separate piece of paper for you. There are well over two thousand potential fault codes and some of them get real specific. Some leave a lot open to interpretation. It's important to understand, for you and from the mechanic's perspective, that fault codes never say to replace a part or that one is defective. They only indicate the circuit or system that needs further diagnosis, or the unacceptable operating condition. When a sensor or other part is referenced in a fault code, it is actually only the cause of that code about half of the time. First the mechanic has to rule out wiring problems, or he has to perform tests on that part to verify it is defective. You don't want an inexperienced mechanic who just throws random parts at a problem. That is the most expensive and least effective way to diagnose a problem, and it introduces a lot of new variables that can mask the original problem and make it harder to figure out.
Understand too that altering the ride height on any vehicle is real bad news. I was the suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership for ten years, and I had their blessings and approval to refuse to work on any raised truck or lowered car because they understood the legal ramifications and didn't want to risk becoming a party to any lawsuits. I'm not referring to parts breaking. I'm referring to the other guy running a red light and causing a crash. Any lawyer or insurance investigator will convince a jury that you were partly at fault for the crash because you were less able to avoid it, and they will be right. Two inches doesn't sound like a lot, but it has caused reduced braking ability, reduced steering response, definitely reduced directional stability, and increased drive line wear and vibration from the increased drive shaft angles. You'll never find lift or lowering kits offered by any car manufacturer unless it is strictly for racing or 100 percent off-road use. Those companies that do make these kits have all kinds of disclaimers that they're never to be driven on regular roads. They know they're going to be used on street-driven vehicles, but they think those disclaimers shield them from liability. You can see for yourself there's a lot of vehicles on the road with altered ride height. Given that car sales and marketing is so extremely competitive, you can be sure the manufacturers would offer these alterations as optional equipment to gain a little market share, but they know they can't without reducing safety. Their lawyers would have a collective aneurism if they were approached with such a marketing proposal.
I can go into a lot more detail if you want me to, but it isn't going to do anything to address the question you have tonight. I don't know how a transfer case switch found its way into the discussion. If you got that from the first mechanic, he may have gotten that from the fault code description or from some preliminary diagnosis. There isn't a real lot in the transfer case or either axle that is monitored by the computers, so there aren't too many related diagnostic fault codes. When you get the exact code numbers, you can go here:
if you want to see the description, but again, remember they don't ever tell you to replace something. As for the leak, find out from the mechanic exactly what is leaking and what he proposes for the remedy. There was a problem with the mid '90s Dakotas where the axle seals on the front differential would seep a little and cause minor wetness in those two areas, but it was never bad enough to cause spots on the ground. New seals never seemed to solve it so we told people to ignore it. We would check the fluid level when asked to, but rarely found the need to add any. If you have something similar, an experienced mechanic may suggest you ignore it too. A conscientious, but inexperienced mechanic who hasn't seen that before may recommend replacing the seals. This is where you'd want to get a second opinion, even from a different mechanic in the same shop, to possibly avoid one of those repairs that are expensive with little benefit or value.
Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 AT 9:53 PM