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Reputable Mechanics -- Separating Fact from Fiction

Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 11,025
How does the "crooked" stereotype of mechanics affect your perception of your technician? Does a high repair bill automatically make you suspicious that you're being ripped off?

As with any type of business, it's likely that there are far more honest and competent mechanics than crooks, but how do you figure out who's telling the truth? Let's use this forum (suggested by 0patience) to discuss how to talk to your mechanic, why certain repairs or parts are recommended with your best interest in mind, and what advice is pure hogwash.

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    If I may interject a thought right off....thank you.....

    There is a basic conflict of interest between a modern mechanic and a modern car owner, that being that the mechanic wants to 'fix it right" so that he doesn't get a comeback or have to do a dreadful job over again; the owner wants to "save money" (naturally) and can't always see why you have to replace the clutch disk AND resurface the flywheel (looks fine to ME!) and rebuild the clutch slave cylinder (WHY? it's working!) and put in a new pilot bushing (do we HAVE to?) and a new throw out bearing AND use the part from the factory and not the one from Mel's Discount Internet

    Modern car owners have to come to grips with the reality that car repair has become expensive custom work done by specialists. You don't argue with your dentist but you will with your mechanic, right?

    On the customer's side, the main problem is not dishonesty but incompetence, and it is very hard to judge.

    Licensing is for the most part voluntary. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but technically a 16 year old boy could open up a repair shop and fix your brakes, I mean legally speaking, if he got a business license, he could do that. Right or ???

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  • driftracerdriftracer Posts: 2,692
    all 8 specialty areas in my ASE exam without ever taking a formal course - I borrowed the books, studied a few evenings over a month, and tested.

    Granted, I've been around cars all my life and always have avoided hanging out with the shadetree guys who "don't mess with them computerized vehicles", but to pass these exams with a year and a half at WyoTech says a lot.

    I really respect the folks who have passed these tests AND possess several years of experience applying what they've certified on, though.
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    so if I have klunking from the driveline or the left rear suspension, and I've checked on what is back there and what repairs and diag trees are involved, I like to think I have some insight into whether the tech telling me I need a new alternator and floor mats is sober or not.

    if there's a broken bolt on the spring mount, and they want to sell me a rebuilt differential instead, I now know what the reputation of the shop should be.

    not that I'm putting out a line of heavy repair manuals next month on or anything, but if a repair procedure starts with, "build frame under vehicle chassis; remove driveline; remove welded rear frame members," it's also reasonable to assume that I don't want to pay that bill myself or play shade-tree with it.
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    Ok, I asked for this topic.
    Mainly because there has been alot of bad press for mechanics lately.

    A certain TV show had a segment last night on oil change places, but inferred that these were service centers.

    Some folks complain about their repair costs without understanding what the repairs or costs are. Why they should use certain name brands/OEM parts over aftermarket is one such thing. A book on the internet goes to state that folks can easily go with aftermarket parts for everything, when in reality, some aftermarket parts are known to cause greater problems than they help.

    My hopes are to help educate folks as to why certain repairs are so much, why certain things should be OEM parts and why you shouldn't believe everything you read about how the mechanic is out to steal your money.

    The mechanic is only the person working on your vehicle, he/she does not decide the costs of the parts or labor. They only fix the vehicles. Blaming them is like blaming a ticket taker for a bad movie.

    Some folks will have you believe that by reading a book, you will be able to tell if your mechanic is trying to rip you off. The only way you can protect yourself is to learn about your vehicle, which is why we are here.

    I have seen several people who were able to get things taken care of, because they educated themselves and learned here, what to ask and how to ask it.
    So, how can we help you learn?
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    You are correct. Anyone with a shingle (and money), can open a shop.

    In this day and age, the systems on vehicles are combined, so you may come in for a trans problem and the mechanic may tell you that you need an intake gasket. He is NOT trying to rip you off. He is in fact trying to repair the problem.

    There is alot of incompetence out there, there is no question about it, but there are also alot of quality shops out there, that do honest, quality work.
  • When any one I know needs car work I always tell them to get a reference, don't just trust to luck that the place your going to is honest. Not that repair shops are any more crooked then any other business, its just that its real easy to fool someone on car repairs. Any kind of business is out to make money and with all the overhead a repair shop has, tools,employees,taxes,licenseing fees,insurance, rent,heating, etc., well when a business owner starts to get pinched he might try to make more on a job then is warrented. Stick to a place your family and friends trust and always mention that to shop owner. Myself, when I go for car inspections, I know theres not much money in it for the shop so I give him a tip, and for that small fee I've gotten a place I can pretty much trust.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    Sometimes a shop owner can't win. I can remember, every time I tried to save a customer a few dollars, it would come back and bite me.

    That throwout bearing that looked and felt just fine, decides to start squealing two weeks later.

    Then there were the people..." It never did that before you worked on it"

    Nevermind, we changed a water pump and now the transmission is leaking.

    It's not easy trying to do a good job while keeping costs down at the same time!
  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 11,025
    When you're faced with a big repair estimate, is it reasonable to seek a 2nd (or 3rd) opinion? I always do with medical issues - if it's costly or painful, I want to make sure I'm hearing that I need it from more than one source. Is that insulting, even if I plan to return to the first shop to get the work done if needed?


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  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    Hi Kirstie,
    Yes, it is absolutely reasonable.
    Anytime you are faced with a large estimate, there is nothing wrong with getting a second estimate. Be aware that you will most likely have to pay the diagnostic charge and sometimes a tow bill.

    If the mechanic is insulted, then you may want to explain to him/her, that it is alot of money, more than you can afford and you need to be certain of the problem. If they are still insulted, then you may want to find another mechanic anyway.

    As you stated, you would get a second opinion from a doctor, why not from a mechanic?

    2 occasions where I would definitely get a second opinion, are when it is extremely high and when it doesn't sound or sit right with you.

    I have seen alot of head gaskets replaced when the culprit was the intake gasket. Several of them had come to me for a second opinion and I informed them as to what I would recommend.
    Since I was unable to get to the job, I recommended that they take the info back to the original shop and ask that they confirm that it isn't the intake gaskets, as that engine happened to have a history of the problem. I supplied them the TSB regarding the problem and the shop did the work and the customer and the shop ended up happy.

    The shop was unaware of the TSB and after talking with them, they agreed to do some more diagnosis and found that the intake was indeed the problem.
    They were willing to work with the customer and information provided by a third party, so they ended up with a customer who now trusts them to do the right thing.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    Here's something to chew on Opatience.

    I was working on my "new" used car at a friends' dealership over the weekend. The place was shut down and quiet so it was rather pleasant. i took my time, removing and re-masting an electric antenna and replacing the engine compartment insulation. Two rather tedious jobs .

    When I was done, both jobs looked great and worked great. The engine hood was free of all old adhesive, and there wasn't a speck of dirt on the engine. All the pieces fit well and were trimmed neatly. the antenna worked perfectly and I put in a new fender seal to make sure it wouldn't leak water (like it did last time).

    My friend said to me "you know, you could never work here, because you spend too much time on the job. I could never bill for this amount of labor"

    Of course he was probably right, and I said "You could in a restoration shop, but not in a front line repair shop, that's true".

    So this is also an issue. The mechanic has to balance pride in his work with the reality of apportioning his time properly.

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  • driftracerdriftracer Posts: 2,692
    I've had to argue with folks over is "book" time vs actual time.

    Made up scenario: the alternator, or another electrical component is failing on your 3 year old Malibu, and you take it to a shop or dealership for repair. The technician tests the electrical system, starting with the battery, then goes to the starter, then the alternator, finding the alternator is doing the voltage tango.

    The alternator is replaced and you're charged $125 for the alternator plus 1.5 hours for labor, even though the entire job was done in 45 minutes.

    I've had people blow a gasket on this, and admittedly, it does take explaining.

    Chilton's and Mitchell's, let's say, allow 1.5 hours for the electrical system test and alternator replacement.

    The guy working on your Malibu is an ASE-certified Master Tech with 15 years of Chevrolet experience. That's why he got it done so quickly. That's also why he deserves the time the book says. His experience is to his, and your, advantage. He can do 1/2 again as much work as the other guys in the shop, earning more money than them, and also increasing profits for the shop.

    On the other hand, a beginner takes 2 hours to diagnose the problem, and only after confirming his theory with the shop foreman does he start on the alternator swap. A grand total of 4.5 hours is taken to repair the car. You're charged $125 for the alternator and 1.5 hours for labor, just like with the Master Tech. The young tech is at a disadvantage, and probably should be working under a mentor, but the customer certainly shouldn't be charged any differently becaue the job took 4 times longer.

    Just a thought to pass on, since many customers never look at a Chilton's guide and may not know what's fair - especially if they're trying to compare actual time worked to book time charged.
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    I agree with you Mr Shiftright.

    But on the other hand, I know several mechanics who are very meticulous with their work and get paid flat rate and do quite well.
    Their work is high quality and I have them do alot of the overload work I have.

    It is a tough balance to do a quality job and quickly, especially when you have a shop owner or service manager breathing down your neck.

    In most of the shops I deal with, there are mechanics that have certain "specialty" areas that they excel in and can easily beat some book times, then other areas, where they can match the book times and finally areas that they struggle in that they may take quite some time past the book times. So, in essence, it all averages out.

    The thing for the customer is to see if the tech is adept in their vehicle and problem.

    More often than not, the young tech is paid hourly (fairly low wage), until he reaches a certain point. Then if he can't keep up, he loses out. The shop still pays him what the master tech got on the same job, even though it took him 3 times as long.

    Great Discussion!! :)
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    RE: Flat rate----an expert should be paid for what he knows, not just what he "does".d

    RE: A "good shop".

    You know how I judge a "good shop"? It's not the guy who brags he is "a perfectionist". In fact, I'm a bit wary of expressions of invincibility. It's like the guy who insists he is "honest" and you should "trust him".

    A good shop to me is one that STANDS BEHIND their work, even when something they do screws up (it happens).

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  • driftracerdriftracer Posts: 2,692
    I know that!

    Most of my techs have had one or two apprentices under them, usually paying the apprentice and hour flat rate from the master techs flat rate hourly pay.

    It works out pretty good when the apprentice and the master tech diagnose a problem together, or just pass judgement, like on a brake job - the apprentice is then left to do the repair, with help if needed, and the master tech can do his own work.

    I had a 15 year guy in Oregon with 2 apprentices, and they averaged over 200 flat rate hours a week - times were good for all.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    Will decline jobs they know they aren't proficent at. Instead, they will point the customer in the right direction, referring them to a shop they know can do the job better than they can.

    I once had a shop BUTCHER my SU carbs on an old MG I owned. Otherwise, a great shop, but he really didn't know what he was doing.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    Sometimes work is hard to pass up though. The problem with SU carbs isn't that they are complex but rather that they are simple. They look like a piece of cake to fix. The shop sees "foreign car, simple problem" and gets GREEN EYES. But if you do one of the simple things wrong, it is so vital to the function that the device will hardly work at all. Sort of like leaving the strings out of a tennis racket. Once you fully understand what all 3 moving parts in an SU carb actually do, it's not a problem. A classic case of "knowledge is power".

    I really admire a shop that takes in "all comers". That must require a great deal of expertise and some guts.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    Providing they are up to the task and have the right equipment.

    Then there are the shopss that only take on the "gravy" jobs. When things get difficult or they get over their head they tell the customers to take it to a dealer or something.

    In the case of my SU carbs, after that shop screwed them up, they told me that SU carbs were just junk etc. and tried to sell me some kind of conversion to a different carburator.

    a friend steered me to a different shop who had no trouble at all fixing my "junk" carburators and I had no more trouble!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    Oh, yes, switch to Webers for $1,000, and get maybe 3% more power at 5500 rpm and worse gas mileage. Great advice!


    I suppose it is possible to get good work out of a filthy hole of a shop but somehow I can't help but judge what is going to possibly happen to me by what I see when I look around. I don't expect a spotless place (sometimes that is also a bad sign, as there are shops that are "all show and no go") but when I see pieces of someone else's car all over the floor or bench, or parts being put back on a car that are uncleaned, I suspect a lack of pride in the work and this bothers me.

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  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    RE: Clean shops.

    Mr Shiftright hit on an excellent point.
    Some shops are filthy, which sometimes indicates either a lack of pride or swamped to no end. Either way, usually isn't helpful for you.
    Other shops are so spotless, it looks like nothing has ever been worked on.
    Which means either they have a couple lot guys who clean and manicure the lawn or they have way too much time and the mechanics are doing the cleaning. Either way, you have to wonder how they afford to pay for all that.

    Remember that first impressions should not sway your judgement.
    As Mr Shiftright pointed out, the cleanliness of the parts that are being put on are very important. While some parts that are being re-installed may not be absolutely spotless clean, they should be pretty clean, not oil soaked or greasy. If you see filthy parts being installed, you may want to head to another shop.
  • q45manq45man Posts: 416
    A half dozen of your year range and model sitting [dead and cannablized] in the grave yard of the shop may be a good indication......that the shop you have chosen is reawakening the dead.

    You see this all the time in specialty shops.

    We have 6 blown 90-92 Q45 that we paid $500-$900 for the parts for our customers who can't afford dealer new parts prices.

    No porters here the 4 techs and service writer take turns cleaning the Johns.
  • jlflemmonsjlflemmons Posts: 2,242
    Dad was a service manager for an award winning GM service dept. He had several "general mechanics" and a few who were amazing in a specialty. The "miracle workers" were top notch bumper to bumper, but it wasn't unusual for a car to come in that another dealer just couldn't figure out. One mech in particular was an auto transmission geru. He wouldn't be the fastest, but when he finished an overhaul you had a tranny that 1) wouldn't be coming back, 2)was better than the day it left the factory, and 3)was going to get more referral business than all the ads money could buy. Another guy could do stuff with carbs that was baffling. When he finished an overhaul, idles were smooth, starts on first crank, gas mileage where it should be, etc. In fact, Wayne had a standing annual vacation time during Speed Week at the salt flats where he was in demand from the racers. These were guys I grew up around. Might not have wanted some of them dating my sister, but I sure would want them making sure her car was safe and right.

    Oh, and the shop was scrubbed floor and all every Saturday morning. My first job. 12 stalls, took 3.5 hours, paid $2.

  • q45manq45man Posts: 416
    Many good technicans eventually and periodically get fed up with dealers [going to independents]only returning when they need retraining on models [especially BMW, MB, Audi, Infiniti, Lexus] as independents don't have access to factory schools or training modules.

    The problem is with piece work and the differences in hours paid for warranty vs, customer paid.......Ford has some of the widest descrepencies.

    There are 25,000 technicans jobs open at dealerships in US everyday, unfortunately 24,000 technicans just keep swaping around and dealers take what they can get.

    It really can't be about quality work under these conditions.
  • jwfbeanjwfbean Posts: 5

    We have a 1995 Saturn SL-1. It had a security system that would disallow the car from starting unless you pressed a special button first. We always found this security system to be annoying.

    We took a the car in for regular maintenance to a new mechanic. As part of the work order, we requested that the security system be removed. We picked the car up from the mechanic on Friday and did not drive it again until Monday.

    On Monday, my wife noticed the battery light was on. By Thursday, the car was dead. We arranged AAA to tow it back to the mechanic. Miles driven from Friday to Thursday: 87.

    The mechanic examined it and has concluded that the alternator is shot. Their technician disavows any responsibility for the problem, although on my end it seems entirely too coincidental that a mere few days after they remove a security system that was tied into the electrical system of the car, the alternator is completely dead.

    I could definitely use some help separating fact from fiction here. Is there anything we can do to prove that the mechanic was at fault? Or are we supposed to accept their explanation that it's just a coincidence?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    " It never did that before you worked on it"

    Any shop owner has heard these words before.

    It's easy to assume that the problem was caused by the removal of the security system and it's possible that it was.

    Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not?

    Is it a high mileage car? It's not uncommon for an alternator to fail around the 80-100,00 mile mark.

    I do question why your wife would drive it for FOUR days with the battery light on! I'm surprised it didn't quit sooner!
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastPosts: 1,616
    I agree with Isell.
    It is what we call a sinceyou problem.
    Since you worked on it, it started this problem.

    And I whole heartedly agree with the comment about why would she drive it for days with the light on.

    If the light wasn't on when you picked it up, then I would say the it WASN'T a problem with the work done. If it had been a problem with the work done, then the light would have been on right away.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    I wonder what she would have done if it was the oil light?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    I've also responded to this in another topic as the poster double-posted.

    Since the charge light was not on when the car left the shop, it's the owner's responsibility.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,600
    If a careless mechanic accidently smoked the alternator and blew a diode it would have killed it immediately I would think and not later.
  • alcanalcan Posts: 2,550
    Now for the good news..... Saturn alternator failure because of oil contamination from an external head gasket oil leak is as common as bellybuttons with the SL1 engine. The car's due for a head gasket replacement if that was the cause.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,578
    And please do NOT shoot the messenger!

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