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The World's Weirdest Explanations for Mechanical Problems

Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
As your Host, I am constantly amazed and amused by the imaginative, preposterous explanations occasionally offered to customers by their mechanics or dealerships.

While I have no idea if the explainers are just serious misinformed, pulling a fast one, or just having fun with the customer ("what WILL they believe?"), I would like to ask you to share some of the weirdest and most implausible explanations you have discovered here at Town Hall or experienced yourself.

It could be anything from "bad fuel" to explain a slipping clutch or "they all do that" to explain a horrifying screech in the brakes. And of course there are equally crazy explanations for parts delays, damage to your car, and why you "have to buy this car today!"

Here's how this discussion works:

State the problem first in reasonable detail and then the explanation and why you think it's crazy (if it's not already obvious).

Don't quote names of dealers or of Town Hall participants...just give a brief synopsis of what the problem was and how someone tried to explain it away.


  • blarg1blarg1 Member Posts: 59
    high idle in 1997 protege "you have carbon on the throttle body, and you need to use premium gasoline" next visit, same problem: "you need to replace the fuel filter, pcv valve, o2 sensor, or it could need a new computer" oh, and you need new tires we are having a sale right now...same problem at the dealer: "you need a new upper catylitic converter, costs about 1200 bucks."

    ended up cleaning fuel system, and replacing o2 sensor. out the door, $250
  • rcarbonircarboni Member Posts: 290
    When I was younger, I had a '67 GTO and was out of town when a problem occured where the right front tire went on a crazy angle, and the car was barely driveable. Not knowing more than how to tune an engine at the time, I took the car to the nearest garage I could find. The mechanic told me that a bolt had broken holding the tie-rod in place, and went on to say that these bolts were of "aircraft quality", and were extremely expensive, and that the job would cost about $200. I paid the bill, and went on my way thinking how great this car was made. Some time later back home, my regular mechanic was doing some maintenance, and asked about the work on the tie-rod. I explained the scenario, and what the other mechanic had said. He just shook his head and said, "I'd have done that job for about $50". DOH!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Well, I suppose you could put in an aircraft quality bolt if you were paranoid, but even bolts on planes don't cost THAT much!

    Ah, "sell them FEAR" is a good way to oversell a job and sound professional at the same time.

    Of course, I woudldn't put a K-Mart bolt in there either....

    Thanks, those were good ones!

  • rowlandjrowlandj Member Posts: 254
    Brand new Volvo S-80 T6. Horrible noise - several attempts to fix it, including the factory experts from Volvo Cars of North America.

    Finally they give up and throw in the towel; I get a letter that the noise was due to my "aggressive driving style". So making normal turns at normal speeds causing a brand new car to sound like a rat-trap is "agressive driving". Maybe for Volvo that's true - who knows. Talk about blaming the victim!!!!

    I dumped the piece rather than fight with them for years and being stuck driving a heap (and paying for the privelige).

  • jvirginiajvirginia Member Posts: 65
    A few years ago, I needed to replace the engine in an '88 Dodge Caravan. I contracted a shop to changeout the 'engine only' with a rebuilt engine and reuse all parts. After taking delivery of my van and test driving it for 2 days, I returned to the shop with the following followups:

    1. A/C will not engage, worked perfectly before engine replacement.
    2. Engine running hot and coolant leaking.
    3. Extreme engine vibration being felt in passenger compartment when idling and driving.

    The shops response:

    1. Freon charge is too low for pressure switch to engage compressor. Mechanic observed freon bubbling through the hoses. Replace hoses, evacuate system and recharge.
    2. Radiator has a hole in it and needs to be replaced. Repair/replace radiator and fill coolant system.
    3. It's a rebuilt engine and that's the way it runs. It won't run as smooth as the original. Engine and transmission alignment were checked and are ok.

    Cost of additional suggested repairs: $650.
    No charge for the diagnosis.

    Actual causes of problems stated:

    1. Shop broke the A/C relay (mounted on the passenger side fender near the front) during engine replacement. Hoses are perforated outer cover style for release of condensation (what the mechanic observed leaking through). I replaced the relay for $15 and A/C worked perfectly again.
    2. I pressure tested radiator and found no leaks. The electric fan motor relay (mounted next to the A/C relay) was broken during engine replacement. Coolant was overheating without the fan operating and leaking out the overflow tube at the radiator pressure release cap and draining down the side of the radiator. Made it look like there was a leak. Cost of repair: $15.
    3. All three original motor mounts had been replaced by the shop. All three replacements were torn and damaged and needed to be replaced. After replacing these, most of the vibration disappeared. Cost of repair: $150.

    After confronting the shop owner with these findings, his reply was:

    I've been an automotive engineer for 25 years,
    1. I saw the freon leaking from those hoses with my own eyes.
    2. Bring that van back in to the shop and we'll show you there's a leak in that radiator. I've seen the coolant leaking out.
    3. The mounts must have been bad on the original engine. My guys didn't cause any damage to any other parts in the vehicle.
  • jvirginiajvirginia Member Posts: 65
    My father-in-law returned his 2001 Ford Crown Victoria to the dealer with the following complaint:

    My father-in-law is a gargantuan man, standing
    5'-3" tall (sarcastic humor here). The drivers seat is a power adjusted seat. The seat needs to be placed at it's farthest 'back' position for my father-in-law to have enough leg room so his knees are not pushed against the dashboard. The passenger seat is a mechanically adjusted seat and, when placed in it's farthest 'back' position, sits almost 3" farther back from the dash then the driver's seat does. Also, when the drivers seat is moved to it's forward most position, there is less than 3" clearance between the seat back and the steering wheel creating what he has indicated as a safety concern should the switch malfunction and the seat adjust forward while driving down the highway and trap the driver against the steering wheel. My father-in-law pointed out these concerns and asked the service rep to check the alignment of the seats.

    Upon return of his car, the service report indicated:

    "Passenger seat installed incorrectly. Owner to reschedule and return vehicle for seat adjustment."
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Bubbling freon? Never saw that!

    I'm always suspicious when the "explanation" is very, very complex, weird, unusual...often the "problem" is best diagnosed by looking for the simplest things first---like the motor mounts rather than some story about how rebuilt engines behave differently.

    How do you install a passenger seat incorrectly at the factory...facing the wrong way maybe?
  • rajohnson1rajohnson1 Member Posts: 12
    A few years ago, I brought my Toyota Camry to the dealer for something (I can't remember what, but that's not important to this story). While I was there, they told me that I had an oil leak in three places and they needed to do major engine work to repair the leaks. The total would be about $1000.

    Now the real story: I had just changed the oil a day or two before, and I had spilled some oil on the engine when I refilled it with the new oil. It also dripped down the engine a bit, leaving oil residue in a few places.

    I don't know if they were so incompetent that they could not tell the difference between spilled oil and a true leak, or if they knew it wasn't a leak and figured I wouldn't know the difference. In any case, I decided then never to go back to that dealer.
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    I bought a used Saab at a Volvo dealer. When I got it home and tried to back into the driveway it jumped out of reverse. When I took it back the service manager told me I wasn't putting it into reverse properly. I politely (NOT) told him that I had driven vehicles with every kind of transmission from a "3 on the tree" to a fuller 15 speed without difficulty and suggested he fix the transmission.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Well, did you whistle and stamp your right foot as you put it in reverse? That was the problem!

    It's true the Saab gearshift is an awful mess of a thing, but still this is not rocket science....often an adjustment of the gearshift fixes that.
  • jlflemmonsjlflemmons Member Posts: 2,242
    I've posted this elswhere before, but it is still the worst I've seen. Dealer said CV joints on the Fiero were leaking. Still under warranty and like an idiot I said fix'em. When I picked up the car two days later, there is a speedometer gear on the repair ticket. When I asked about it I was told that the oil was put back into the manual tranny through the speedo gear mount, and that there was a campaign on the gear so they replaced it. Okey-Dokey. One month later I am coming off a freeway exit at 50 and downshift to third when all heck breaks loose in the transaxle. Nurse it to the dealership and lo and behold the remains of the speedo gear are ground up in the synchros and gears. Transaxle has to be removed and rebuilt. When I get the car back, it doesn't drive right. I pull back in and am told that the alignment was corrected at no charge to me and that I will just have to get used to it. Service manager shut the door in my face, got in his car and drove off. On the way home a lane change at speed on the freeway resulted in the car going into wild oscillations across two lanes and then down an exit ramp. Inspection showed that the idiot who worked on the car did not re-install the rear cradle mounts of the engine/transaxle subframe. In other words, two of the four bolts (big) that held the drive train to the main frame were left out. Oh, yeah, that next visit to the dealer was a good one! A short time later, GM jerked their franchises.
  • swimgalswimgal Member Posts: 11
    I was hearing this heavy clunk from somewhere under the hood of my 1990 Subaru Legacy. Took it to the dealer and described is as sounding like two big heavy parts were hitting each other when I stopped and then separating when I started again. Naturally the dealer didn't hear it on the test drive, but after their inspection they were able to diagnose it as follows:

    "Ma'am, your muffler is hitting your catalytic converter and both parts (the muffler and the catalytic converter) need to be replaced."

    For crying out loud. I asked the service manager how this was possible since the muffler is in the back part of the car and the catalytic converter is up front. His reply was that they were connected by a pipe (duh) and there was a gasket in a connection that was bad. "Ok, so if you replace the gasket then will the clunking stop?" "Yes." "How much does the gasket cost?" "$9.00."

    I still didn't believe his explanation as the clunk just didn't seem to be able to be generated by something of that dimension...and it wasn't coming from that area of the car. I left. Last time I ever went to the dealer.

    So that's when I discovered my awesome mechanic who used to work for Subaru but started his own shop (I wonder why)

    He heard the clunk and agreed that it sounded like two big parts that were hitting and separating. Told me that it would be difficult to identify since it happens when the car is in motion and who is going to be there under the hood when it happens. I asked him to do his best.

    Well, he called me back a couple hours later and said it was fixed. He didn't know what he did to fix it, but was charging me for the 45 minutes of labor spent tightening every nut and bolt under the hood and in the transmission.

    Thanks for saving me over a grand in repairs that were not needed!! That was 85,000 miles ago (car now has 157K) and I still have my original muffler, catalytic converter, $9 gasket and a really good mechanic.
  • jearsenaultjearsenault Member Posts: 4
    This is really more of an anectdode than a problem, but an amusing one.
    The father of a friend of mine was having trouble starting his Ford during a cold spell a few years ago.
    After having to get a service truck to boost his car three mornings in a row, he was so angry he went to the Ford dealer and traded it in on a new model.
    The first morning he went to start the new car it wouldn't start. He called the dealer and gave them an ear full.
    All that was bad enough, but to add insult to injury, the car they brought to boost him was his old car.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Now THAT hurts!
  • oldharryoldharry Member Posts: 413
    A customer came in with his Caravan that I had installed new struts on in May of 2000 last December, Said he'd been to (a discount chain) and they told him the struts were bad. On driving the van, it did indeed make a loud bang, but that stopped when I tightened the hold down on the battery the same discount store had install the week before.

  • majorthomechomajorthomecho Member Posts: 1,331
    When looking for a new car, I went to test drive a Ford Focus SE. My roommate and I drive to the dealership and the salesman gives us the keys to a Focus to test drive and puts a license plate in the back window.

    After driving a while, the Focus develops this rattle in the back end which I took to be the license plate knocking against the window. To test this out, I have my roommate remove the license plate when we get back to the dealership. The rattle is still there.

    I told the salesman and his reaction? "They all do that. Nothing to worry about."

    If the Focus had been a stronger contender, that nonchalant attitude would have killed the deal right there.
  • spokanespokane Member Posts: 514
    In driving my new '79 Pontiac it's first 100 yards across the dealer's lot, I realized that something in the rear suspension was defective. "Careful analysis" by the dealer service manager provided the report, "Nothin's wrong, it drives out real good." I removed the shocks and found one contained no fluid whatsoever; I could stroke it like a kid's popgun with a broken string. (The same car was delivered with no air filter element.)

    Same car and service manager, two weeks later. I complained of an extreme transmission fluid leak (20 miles per quart) from a location near the REAR of the trans housing. Diagnosis after the shop's inspection: "We'll have to pull the transmission to replace the FRONT seal."
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Well, that's so it won't leak when you are braking!
  • spokanespokane Member Posts: 514
    Shiftright, so you were the Pontiac Service Manager! You're right; by the time I needed to brake, it would have all leaked out anyway.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    I just made that up. Pretty good, huh?
  • spokanespokane Member Posts: 514
    Yes, sir. Very good. With that kind of "analytical ability" you would be in great demand as a service advisor in some of the shops mentioned here.
  • acuraowneracuraowner Member Posts: 57
    My father used to have a 1994 Crown Victoria. Well the windshield wipers wouldnt operate with the switch on high but worked fine when they were on low. He sent my mom to take it to ford, they charged her $103 to replace some wiper control module, yet the problem still existed. My mom brought this to their attention and their reply was "Fords dont have a high speed for the wipers, its supposed to be like that".

    The other time was with my. I took my Integra in for its 30k mile service, took about 3 hours. The service advisor came to me out on the showroom and told me all my CV joints needed replacing to the tune of $960. He also said it wasnt covered under warranty as it was a wear item. I said straight to his face "I dont think so" in a rude tone, he shut up fast and went back and hid in his office. Well 70k miles later and my CV joints still have yet to make any noise.

    Its amazing how much you can play with mechanics and service advisors by just acting like you know nothing about cars when you take it in for maintenance.

    I am just waiting for someone at the acura dealership to say "The doohicky that keeps your cupholders from falling off needs to be replaced.....Its going to cost around $4000"
  • djenningdjenning Member Posts: 2
    I have a 1998 Ford Escort ZX2 in which the manual transmission failed at 50,000miles. I called Ford directly to raise some hell, and the operator that answered the phone told me that transmissions sometimes go out if the driver has run out of fuel sometime before the failure.
This discussion has been closed.