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You've probably seen those medical dramas on TV. Quite often they will try a bunch of things before they finally "fix" the patient. A mechanic often ends up doing about the same thing, especially if they have trouble reproducing the problem.. Do the doctors charge only for the treatment that worked? As long as it is done in good conscience as an attempt to correct an auto complaint, a repair is legitimate as long as it is done correctly, and is a legitimate and reasonable attempt to fix the complaint. Bear in mind the human body hasn't changed for thousands of years: cars change radically every few years. Especially with electronic problems a mechanic may have to replace a number of things before fixing the problem. Sometimes a computer has to be replaced: some diagnostics are read through the various onboard computers. Bad computers, bad diagnostics. Diagnostic tools and repair manual procedures can be inaccurate or ambiguous, leading a mechanic down an incorrect diagnostic "path". This can lead to replacing a part and still not fixing the complaint.
Sometimes whatever was repaired was broken, but not causing the problem complained about. Sometimes a problem is caused by more than one thing breaking.
AN EXAMPLE FROM MY SHOP
I had a car once which would die on acceleration occasionally. Most of the time it would run fine. The computer said there was a bad crank sensor. I replaced the sensor. Same problem. Checked the wires from the sensor: good conduction, tests good. Replaced computer. Same problem.
I finally fixed it: inside the frame, way under the motor, the wiring harness had rubbed against a sloppy weld on the frame. (This was a rough weld from the factory: quality control isn't what it used to be!) Every once in a while the wiring harness that contained the crank sensor wire would rub against the rough weld and ground out. This would happen on acceleration because the engine moves around slightly when you accelerate. I smoothed the weld and repaired the wiring harness. The fix took about 15 minutes. Had the owner come by and said,"Hey, can you tape up this wiring harness where it's rubbing on this sharp weld" it would have been easy.
That's the way it often is: the fix is easy, the diagnostics very hard sometimes.
The auto tire place I recommend to my customers just sells tires. No brake jobs. They will of course tell a customer if they notice their brakes are really low or their shocks look bad, but they AREN'T looking for other big profit repairs to sell !
Another misconception: mechanic shops make money off their parts. Just because you can buy a part for $10 doesn't mean the mechanic shop is robbing you by charging you $15 or even $20. A mechanic shop commonly charges double their cost on parts costing less than $50. Some mechanic shops offer a percentage of the parts profit to the mechanic. Not always, but often this leads to unnecessary parts being replaced.
Ever go to a burger joint and get a 99 cent hamburger? Pretty good deal! Amazing they can make them for that! What about that $2.25 Jumbo Drink with the NASCAR driver? Not such a good deal!
If you really want to save money, you just buy the burger and a glass of water.
You can fix your car the same way. The best example is maintenance. A good mechanic will inspect things during routine maintenance repairs. Many shops offer free inspections or very cheap oil changes to give them the opportunity to look your car over for other more profitable repairs.
"How about a Jumbo Drink with that burger?"
A good example is your air filter. It's important to change your filters! Can't say anyting bad about putting a new air filter in while you're getting an oil change, even if it doesn't quite need it yet!
Air filter at parts store: $7
Air filter at oil change place: $14.99
Labor to install filter at oil change place: $5-$10
Couldn't you have changed that filter? Did it REALLY need changing?
"And how about a nice hot apple pie for dessert?"
I had a customer whose fuel pump had failed. I told her it had failed largely because her fuel filter hadn't been changed in 150,000 miles. I replaced the pump and filter. The next week she came by my mechanic shop. She had just been to a "quick oil change" place. The service writer had told her she needed a new fuel filter, that it looked like it had been "on there for awhile". She asked him if he was sure the filter was not new. He said, no the filter was not new.
She hauled it back to me and I actually took it up on the lift and showed her the new filter. It was clean, bright, and shiny: looked just like it did when it came out of the box..
She couldn't believe the guy was doing that! This was one of the biggest auto mechanic repair chain stores in the country! Especially when she asked him if he was sure!
I wasn't surprised at all.
In any case, emission controls had not yet entered the computer age, and the only real "electronics" on a car resided in the transistor radio! Mechanics of that day often would "strip off" emission controls, saying, "You don't need that: it's just pollution junk!" This returned the car to a pre- emission control state, sometimes making it run better!
This was largely because the first emission controlled motors were the same as those designed in the 1950's. Emission controlls were just "hung on" them to meet federal pollution standards.
To be a good mechanic today requires skills not dreamed of in the 1970's. Unfortunately, many a mechanic is unable to keep up. Even if a mechanic is up to date in their knowledge, they may not have the latest equipment and information needed for your car. Just as an underqualified doctor can kill patients, an underqualified mechanic can kill your car: AND YOUR BANK ACCOUNT AT THE SAME TIME!
Check out this site! I've tried to explain every system of your car as plainly as possible. This will help you communicate better with your mechanic. If you're in the Gainesville area, come on by: Remember, we'll always "look for free!" This means we'll look under your hood, take a drive with you, and give a free estimate for either the repair needed or how much diagnostic time will be required to find out exactly what is wrong with your vehicle.
Here's a link to the US Government advice site article on choosing a good mechanic. They also have a rip off report on the really bad auto shops.
Think a mechanic shop is taking you for a ride? Maybe I can help.
Ever wish you had a friend who owned a shop? You could call him up and ask for advice. When a shop told you a bunch of stuff that made no sense, he'd call them up. Sometimes he'd tell you the shop was telling you the truth. Other times, he'd talk to the shop, and their story to you would change: for the better and cheaper. Occasionally, he'd tell you to tow your car out of there as quickly as you can: they're trying to RIP YOU OFF!!!
I spend a good deal of time answering questions people have about their cars. I do this free of charge, however many people have sent me checks in appreciation for my help. This makes me more inclined to keep answering people's questions! I also offer automotive consulting services. For a fee as low as $20 to $50 I'll "get involved" in your car repair situation. I'll talk to any mechanic shop in the world working on your car, and determine whether the shop is up to date and honest, or one of those shops who are either behind the times, or just trying to rob you! If you've "fallen among thieves", I'll find a mechanic shop in your town who will treat you right!
I also regularly testify as an expert witness in automotive legal matters. Contact me for more details..