A mechanic says I need tie rods, gave weird estimate

  • V6
  • 137,000 MILES
Went to get an alignment, he said he cannot do it because I need tie rods. He took me into the back where my car was lifted. He wiggled the tire back and forth and said that should not happen and my tires are going to fall off soon. He gave me this estimate http://imgur.com/a/fbkqR It looks weird to be because it says Qty 1.8 and Qty 1.2, is that normal? Do I need all those tie rods? Thank you.
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Thursday, April 13th, 2017 AT 3:31 PM

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The numbers you are questioning are the number of hours the jobs are supposed to take an experienced mechanic. It is apparent the shop is using the standard "flat rate" guide. Those list every procedure, by car model and year, with the allotted time so every shop quotes you the same fair cost for labor. The only variable is the shop's hourly labor rate. Items to charge extra for are spelled out, as well as times to deduct when two procedures are related and can be done at the same time.

A suspension and alignment specialist such as myself will usually beat these times thanks to advanced training, investing in specialty tools, and experience. You still pay the same amount, but the mechanic can earn more per day by being able to move on to the next car sooner. The shop may also involve more than one person on parts of the job. That will get your car done faster too so you don't have to wait so long.

A less-experienced mechanic will usually take longer than the allotted times, but he gets paid for the job, not the actual number of hours. That means he earns less per day than his hourly rate. It is in his interest to gain more experience or buy better tools. Even though the job will take longer than the specified time, you do not pay more. This is similar to getting a haircut. You pay fourteen bucks, regardless if it takes the barber ten minutes or an hour. It is in everyone's interest for the mechanic, or the barber, to work efficiently. The checks and balances for the mechanic is if he rushes and makes a mistake, he has to correct that mistake for no additional pay. He loses from doing the job over for free, and he loses again by not being able to work on his next appointment. You lose because you are angry that you have to come back a second time.

It appears they are using the same "price" column for parts prices and for labor charges. That is somewhat confusing. It adds to the fact that most mechanics can tell volumes about a car problem to another mechanic with as little as three words, but we have very poor communication skills when talking with car owners. That is not meant to defraud, but it is part of the reason we have such a poor reputation. A lot gets lost in translation. Too bad we are held to much higher standards than are doctors.

Ninety dollars is the going rate for a four-wheel alignment. That involves using a $25,000.00 alignment computer, a specialty hoist, and the need to update the computer every year, which is also very expensive. Some shops charge more, but then they include the cost of any needed shims or other alignment aids.

One hundred dollars per hour is also the typical labor charge except for smaller shops that do not have the experienced people to justify that charge. I used to hand out a two-page list to my students of all the things shop owners have to pay for, and all the government regulations they have to comply with. After reading that list, you would not be able to figure out how they can afford to stay in business with charging so little.

If this is only an estimate for the intended repairs, understand they may need to charge extra for those alignment shims, when needed, or other small parts. Some shops bill out every tiny nut and bolt so they can keep their hourly labor rate lower. The laws vary in every state, but here in Wisconsin, you must sign one of three places on the repair order just before the work is started. The first one says you want an estimate before any work is done. We do not like that because how can we give you an estimate if we do not diagnose the problem first? This is best used when you come in with a specific service in mind, such as installing new tires.

The third choice says you do not want an estimate; just fix the problem, regardless of cost. We do not like that either because it always leads to an angry customer who thinks we did more than was needed. This is best used for corporate accounts like hospitals and other businesses.

The second choice says to do the repairs, but only up to a specific cost that you write in. That amount is based on the previous estimate. For anything over that, usually due to additional things the mechanic found during the service, you must give your verbal consent to those things. It is permissible to exceed the specified amount by ten percent for small items that were required, additional fluids, sales tax, and things like that. Sometimes parts aren't needed that were included in the estimate, so the final bill can be lower than expected. Some people even complain about that because they think we did not do a proper or thorough job.

If you do not feel comfortable with the shop or their estimate, get another estimate from a different shop, but do not tell that second person about the first estimate. If they know you just came from a competitor they do not get along with, they may give you an artificially-low estimate at first, then "find" additional things after the job is started. Also, their mechanic doing the inspection might be more conscientious, thorough, experienced, or more concerned with reducing future problems than the mechanic at the first shop. He may include additional things in the estimate that are known problem-causers for your car model. He would rather have you spend another fifty bucks today than to have another problem a few months from now. Of course, over time he will earn the reputation of being more expensive, but in the long run, you may save time and money thanks to him having your best interest at heart.

My job, as the mechanic, used to be to look at each car and determine what I could do to make it the safest or most reliable for my customer, and to make the customer the most satisfied as possible. It was up to my service writer to show the customer why every charge was a good value. It was never our job to argue with a car owner, but at times the discussion descended to that level when safety items are involved.

Tie rod ends are definitely a safety item. Ford owners know very well that a separated tie rod end will send you into a ditch or into oncoming traffic. They have a real lot of problems with worn steering and suspension parts. Toyota does not have that many problems, but at the miles you listed, worn parts can be expected on any car brand or model. Fortunately you have a conscientious mechanic who refused to align your car until the repairs are done. There is no way the wheels can stay in proper alignment with worn parts, and it would be dishonest to take your money for an alignment when he knows you will not be getting the results you paid for.
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Thursday, April 13th, 2017 AT 4:53 PM

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