Mechanic took 6 weeks to fix my car and is charging me 5400. Should I authorize the charges based on my story below?

Tiny
NPACE1569
  • MEMBER
  • 2003 SUBARU WRX
  • 2.0L
  • 4 CYL
  • TURBO
  • AWD
  • MANUAL
  • 160,000 MILES
I originally picked a random mechanic based on good online reviews from yelp. Brought my car to him and as instructed gave him a list of visible things I knew needed fixing. The list entailed: address check engine light, fix wipers, look at left rear door (was hard to close), fix a few bulbs, inspect car (inspection had expired), and a few other minor details. I expected to spend about 1000.

So a week goes by and I call for an update. He still hasn't gotten to my car.

Another week or two goes by. "Ok, Nick, I addressed all the problems on your list, you also need new brakes, some front axel work, and new tires". "Fine I say, if I need all that to pass the inspection". "What about the check engine light?" "Well it went off and then back on, something to do with emissions or possibly a catalytic convertor, I'm going to give it a full tune up and see what happens!"

Another week or two goes by. "Hi Kevin, it's Nick, how did we make out?" "Great, did the tune up and the check engine light is staying off." "But I took it for a test drive and the clutch kept slipping, I recommend replacing that."

Another week or two goes by. I call him for an update. "Your car is ready, and it's running perfect!" "How much is the bill (I'm expecting to pay between 2000-3000)?" "Your looking at about 52-5400!" I almost swerved off the side of the road after hearing that!

There is no doubt in my mind that the car isn't running perfect. However, I felt a little misguided through this process. There was a severe lack of communication, explanation, and no firm authorization. He basically put out his hand, I grabbed on as he led. I trusted him completely. I asked him after the fact, "If you knew this much work had to be put into the car would you have still fixed it? "Of course, you'll get another couple years out of it". "When you came to me this car was worth about 1200, now it's worth about 7000". I find that hard to believe since the KBB value is between 4500 and 5500. The car is still at his lot. I haven't paid him yet. I am undecided as what to do. My concern is that the car may forsee another major repair soon (turbo, header, catalytic convertor) and why put so much money into an old car when I can lease a brand new one for under 500/month.

Please give me your best input and advice. I can show you his invoice and answer any questions you may need. I'm undecided as to what to do and what I'm obligated to do.
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Friday, June 26th, 2015 AT 7:21 PM

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Tiny
ED-WEEZY21
  • EXPERT
I agree with the severe lack of communication on both ends. He explained some repairs in detail but others such as "tune up" he didn't. Tune up is a generic term for replacing maintenance items but if he was planning on replacing all of the coil pack at $150 each, that should've been elaborated more. But also on your end, you should've been asking way more questions especially on how much each repair was and how much parts and labor are respectively. I work at a dealership and when my service writers call customers, they always tell them the prices beforehand so the customer doesn't have a heart attack when they come to get their car. You almost enabled him to keep racking up the bill. Im not taking away the fact that everything he repaired probably needed to be repaired, but when you don't ask the questions and just keep giving him the go ahead, he's going to keep looking for more problems to sell to you. Unfortunately for you, at this point, the repairs are all done already and the bill is finalized. You're going to need to pay the bill (maybe work out some kind of payment plan with the owner) or the shop is going to keep the vehicle. The shop will not release the vehicle to you unless you pay. My dealership currently has a few cars in our back lot collecting dust due to lack of payment from the customers. We keep the cars and after a certain period of time has passed, we can put a mechanics lean on it and the vehicle basically becomes ours to sell. My last piece of advice is to sit down with the owner and have a friendly conversation about the price. You would be surprised how many shops will work with you on the price especially when its that much. They can most likely reduce prices on parts because parts are always marked up for profit. Best of luck to you on whatever happens.
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Friday, June 26th, 2015 AT 8:34 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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There are a number of things that jumped out but I can only share what would have happened in my state, Wisconsin. First of all, we don't have politician-required inspections. We leave that to responsible car owners and the mechanics where they take their cars for normal maintenance.

The biggest problem here is you never requested nor received an estimate before authorizing the repairs. This can be difficult for the repair shop because they have to charge for their time to come up with an estimate, and it's often hard to know what it is going to take to solve a problem until it is diagnosed and practically fixed. At that point, if you decline a repair, it may already be three quarters done. This is especially true with Check Engine lights. More on that later.

Here in Wisconsin there are three places to initial or sign on the written repair order. The first choice is "You want a written estimate". You'll be told or you will request the amount of time that can be spent coming up with that estimate. It could be an approximate cost they give you at no charge. An example of that would be "how much to install four new tires". They may charge you for a half hour labor to read the diagnostic fault codes and prepare a plan to diagnose that problem. Regardless, the shop will usually have a policy as to how much to charge for the estimate and how much time to spend on it. The mechanic gets paid according to that plan too. If he is allowed to look at your car for thirty minutes, and he actually spends 45 minutes on it, he knows he is working part of that time for free on your behalf.

The second option is "Proceed with the repairs, but only up to the authorized amount". You fill in that amount based on the shop's recommendation or after any information they provide to you is considered. This is the most common option chosen because it protects the car owner and the shop. If the mechanic finds he is going to need more time, or if he finds more parts are needed than expected, someone from the shop must contact you for authorization to keep going. One problem with this is if they can't reach you right away, your car is torn apart on the hoist and that shop space can't be used to start on the next car. The other problem is there are a lot of jobs where we can't know everything that's needed until we get deep into the job. Brake work is a good example. In the course of doing a typical brake pad replacement we may find the rotors are under the published legal minimum thickness and must be replaced. This happens all the time but those rotors aren't included in the estimate. We really hate having to call to tell you more parts are needed. It's frustrating for owners too.

To avoid this hassle, a lot of shops provide estimates that already include most of these unknowns. There's another two problems with doing this. First, that $200.00 brake job could end up costing $400.00 if it is found rotors are worn too far and rubber flex hoses are dry-rotted and in danger of rupturing during a panic stop. That shop may give you an estimate for $450.00 to be safe. You go to a second shop for a second opinion, and they give you an estimate for $250.00 for the simple brake job you originally requested. Which shop are you going to have do the work?

The second shop may also find those other parts are needed. Now, the updated estimate is $500.00. All of a sudden that lower estimate isn't such a good value.

The second problem is if the first mechanic finds out your old rotors are okay, and the hoses don't appear to be deteriorated, your final bill will be $200.00. That's $200.00 less than you were expecting to pay. While we think we're going to give you a nice surprise, most people get angry. Either they think we cut corners leaving them with a less-than-acceptable job, or they're upset because they had money set aside for this repair that they could have spent somewhere else. Believe it or not, we get fewer angry customers when the bills are higher than expected because they figure they got something for that extra cost. Also, thanks to the few bad apples, just like in any other profession, people assume every mechanic and every shop owner is out to rip them off, then when they're faced with a conscientious shop trying to do something nice for them, they're distrustful and assume the worst.

The last option is "I want it fixed regardless of cost". Shop owners dread this one because they know that no matter how well they try to keep the costs down for you, you're going to complain. This one gives the mechanic the right to fix other things that you may not even be aware are needed. We very often run into major safety issues related to steering and suspension parts that owners don't know about, or they've been ignoring the obvious clunks and rattles. There are some cars out there we call "killer cars" because it is so common for them to have steering parts that break leading to loss of control and crashes. We want to make your car safe for the other people coming toward you on the highway, and this unlimited budget lets us do that without having to stop and calculate costs or having to wait for your approval. The downside is you get presented with a bill for things you weren't expecting, and may not be able to afford right now.

Also with option three, you're going to get the feeling that as long as you have your wallet open, they're going to keep on finding things wrong. Reputable shops are very busy and they have a backlog of appointments. They don't need to look for unneeded work.

The next concern is the parts removed from your car belong to you, and as such, we either put them back inside your car, hopefully in a bag to keep the car clean, or we leave them in the shop so you can inspect them. The exception is when an old part has a "core" value. "Cores" are returned to the parts store just like empty pop bottles are returned to be cleaned and reused. Water pumps, generators, and rack and pinion steering gears are common examples of parts that must be returned for the core charge. You are not charged for a core charge unless you want to keep the old part. The shop pays the core charge when they order your new part, then they get that refunded days later when the old part is turned in.

A lot of mechanics just throw old light bulbs away because you will have instant proof the problem was fixed by the lights working now that weren't before. Still, most shop owners don't approve of the practice of throwing parts away. When I had parts that were too dirty to place inside a customer's car, I usually saved them for about two weeks. Every once in a while someone would come back after having a discussion with their friend who was very knowledgeable about cars, (sarcasm), and had convinced them I was disreputable or dishonest. By still having the old parts, I could show them why it was unsafe, worn to the point of causing excessive tire wear, or some other reason it was in their best interest to get that part off their car. Mechanics usually have very poor communication skills, but it's unfair to interpret that an attempt to defraud. When I've been asked to intervene on a customer's behalf, 99 percent of them were not only satisfied, they were appreciative of what their mechanic had done, ... Once it was explained in terms most of us understand.

I'm not a legal expert, but my guess is if someone from the shop called, said you needed a repair or service, and you gave them permission to go ahead, you are obligated to pay for that. Surely you would ask how much it was going to cost, so as those phone calls kept adding up, you would have an idea of what to expect for a total.

Next, I have never used online reviews, and they don't hold water with me. A crabby customer is usually at least partially at fault for their own dissatisfaction, mainly due to unreasonable expectations, and they are likely to exaggerate to give their opinion more value. A customer who is just slightly less than completely satisfied isn't going to waste their valuable time playing on the computer. A satisfied customer got exactly what they were expecting to get, both in terms of cost and respect, so why would they want to tell the world they got what they expected? It's the really glowing reviews you have to be suspicious of. I just assume those were posted by employees and their friends.

The next problem is:

"Well it went off and then back on, something to do with emissions or possibly a catalytic convertor, I'm going to give it a full tune up and see what happens!"

Right there I would have said, "don't bother; I'm taking it to another shop". Now, you have to keep in mind you will rarely get a phone call from the actual mechanic. In fact, most shops don't even allow that. You're going to get a call from a "service adviser" or "service writer". That person was usually never a mechanic, but they have very good communication skills. Their job is to translate what they think they heard from the mechanic into something they think you will understand. You know things are going to get mixed up but that is not an intent to defraud or be dishonest. Very often, when customers would sneak back to talk with me directly at the dealership, the story they repeated didn't sound like what I had just told the service adviser. Most of the time I showed them they were going to be getting much more from me than they were told or were expecting.

That can work both ways too. When speaking directly with a customer, they often shared important clues or observations that the service adviser had neglected to include on the repair order or when talking with me. Even if you still think service advisers are not your advocate in this story, they have no reason to make my job more difficult by intentionally withholding those details.

To get back to that comment about the tune-up, the proper approach to your Check Engine light is to read and record the diagnostic fault codes. That is just the first step though. Contrary to what most people believe, those codes do not tell the mechanic to replace a part. They never do, even when a part is referenced in that code. Fault codes only indicate the circuit or system that needs further diagnosis, or the unacceptable operating condition. The generic tune-up is pretty much a thing of the past, but spark plugs and other parts still wear and must be replaced. The thing is, there is no fault code that says to do a tune-up. While that may be what's needed, that comment tells me the mechanic is guessing. Once the fault code has been read, the cause needs to be diagnosed, then repaired. If it is found the cause would have been addressed as part of a normal tune-up, AND the car is due for that service, THEN it is appropriate to sell you that tune-up.

There are well over 2,000 potential diagnostic fault codes just for things related to the Engine Computer. Only about half of them refer to things that could adversely affect emissions. Those are the codes that turn on the Check Engine light. About half of those fault codes are solved with things we used to associate with a tune-up. That means doing a tune-up, at best, might have a 25 percent chance of solving the reason the Check Engine light is on. Those aren't very good odds for a guess. You want to work with a mechanic who says he is going to diagnose the cause of the problem, then explain what is needed, and help you decide which is best if there are multiple approaches to solving it.

My next concern is why all these discoveries came at different times. I can understand not seeing a clutch problem until after the other repairs were completed and the car was being test-driven, but you should have noticed that problem too. I've run into a lot of drivers who never learned the basics of recognizing when their car was showing signs of developing a major problem, and they just kept on driving. I think some people wouldn't stop if the car was on fire or a wheel fell off. Well, actually I know of that happening, and I just couldn't convince the kid that the wheel shouldn't be wobbling back and forth! The issue is, when the mechanic say your list of concerns, that should have told him an in-depth inspections was in order before calculating an estimate. That goes back to how we hate having to call you every time we find something else. A basic steering and suspension, and exhaust system inspection just takes a few minutes. A more in-depth steering system and brake system inspection may take a half hour. That one should be done every two or three years on your car anyway, depending on how many city and highway miles you drive. It should be done at least once per year on some car models.

Some of what you described, like burned-out light bulbs, should be taken care of right away. Same with the Check Engine light. Ignoring that can easily make a minor problem turn into a very expensive one very quickly. The large number of this type of things suggests you ignored your car's maintenance for a long time. That means you're paying now for all the repairs at once that you would normally have spread out over the last few months or years. That is not what we normally see in out shops, and could be why the mechanic kept on finding more things wrong at different times. The best way to approach this, if it happens again, is to have the mechanic prioritize all of the needed repairs and services. At the top of the list will be safety concerns related to brakes and steering. Preventive things may be included too. For example, a relatively inexpensive problem that could lead to expensive engine damage should be taken care of right away. Worn-out tires are a safety issue, but minor abnormal wear related to the need for an alignment can be put off until later. Replacing the engine coolant should be done every two years due to the important additives that wear out, but nothing serious is going to happen if you wait with that for a month or two.

Do not use repair costs when calculating the car's value. I ran into this too with tvs years ago. A broken tv might be worth $75.00 on trade for a new one, but if you stuck another $75.00 into it to repair it, that same tv, now working, might be worth $100.00 on trade. When you use books and charts to determine the value of a car, that assumes everything is working. You would deduct from that value for everything that needs to be repaired, but you wouldn't deduct the same amount as those repairs would cost. Cost of repairs and reduced value of the car are related, but not directly.

If I understand correctly, the repairs have been completed, so you can be expected to pay for them, just like you're expected to pay for a meal at a restaurant. If the food was terrible, you have to complain right away. If you eat all of it, then complain, it's too late. You'll have to pay for it. Your last recourse at the restaurant is to not leave a tip. At the repair shop you might be able to negotiate on the charges. You'll have better luck at that if you can find something on the bill that you never were told about or wasn't needed. The best I can suggest for this is to ask to speak with the shop owner when you come to pick up the car. If you call ahead or threaten to return later, that gives them time to build up their defenses and strengthen their arguments. During this meeting you also might come away surprised to learn of all the things that were done that you may have not even been charged for.

At this meeting you my also learn there are things the shop owner was not aware of. This is where employees are sent packing to look for a job somewhere else. Try to work it so this meeting takes place close to closing time so work on other customers cars doesn't come to a halt if the mechanic has to be called in. I worked for a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership where taking care of repeat customers were their main business. They knew when they weren't treated right, and bringing that to the dealership owners attention got at least one person fired in the ten years I was there.

When you find a shop that treats you right, stick with them. At your first visit tell the person you're looking for a shop to develop a long-lasting relationship with. They will go out of their way to make you happy if they think you'll be coming back. Friends and coworkers are the best source of referrals. A busy shop means it has many repeat customers or a very good reputation. Remember too that only about one percent of mechanics and shop owners are outright dishonest, just like doctors, accountants, and people who answer questions on the internet! The majority of customer dissatisfaction is related in large part to poor communication, not dishonesty.
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Friday, June 26th, 2015 AT 10:14 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Hi Mr. Weezy. Didn't mean to butt into your conversation. I was typing for over two and a half hours. Funny how we both said basically the same thing. You just did it more efficiently.
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Friday, June 26th, 2015 AT 10:18 PM
Tiny
ED-WEEZY21
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Yes mine was quick and straight to the point but yours was very thought out and I agreed with everything you said.
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Saturday, June 27th, 2015 AT 1:25 PM
Tiny
NPACE1569
  • MEMBER
Thank you very much for your extremely in depth, well thought out, well executed, unbiased, experienced statement. It will be helpful in formulating my decision on how to proceed with my matter. Be well and keep on rocking!
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Sunday, June 28th, 2015 AT 4:59 AM
Tiny
ED-WEEZY21
  • EXPERT
We both wish you the best in your current situation. Let us know how you make it. Best of luck to you!
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Sunday, June 28th, 2015 AT 5:38 AM

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