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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood



  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,054
    edited May 2012
    If your idealized description of the way things "should" be was correct; shops would already be doing free warranty replacements. Carrying that logic further; the shop should also compensate you for your time and trouble in maing a second trip there. But it doesn't work that way; regardless of your theories.

    I've had mechanics replace defective parts for free in the past. Heck, in one instance I know they had to have lost money on me. I had an '89 Gran Fury that was an ex-police car, and it used a lightweight starter. First time the starter failed, I had them replace it and paid for it. But, the replacement failed soon after. I lost track of how many times the replacements failed, but I think it was FOUR! I remember it having to be towed from my condo twice, once from a restaurant, and once I got lucky and after a few tries it reluctantly fired up.

    There was some shaft that kept breaking, and the shop was blaming it on the crappy rebuilds, but unfortunately, they said that was the only thing available for my car. Anyway, they replaced the starter each time, and never charged me beyond the first time.

    I always wondered, since it was just a 318, if a full-size, regular, older-style starter could have just been swapped in instead?

    I also remember, back in the late 90's, they did some brake work on my grandmother's '85 LeSabre. I forget what the issue was, but something ended up going bad and the back wheels started locking up too easily. So the fixed it, no charge.

    I haven't had anything fail twice in a long time though, so I don't know if they still operate this way, or not.

    **Edit: I had missed your earlier post about the alternators and starters. Guess my '89 Gran Fury fit that description to a tee!
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    Sure; ethical mechanics sometimes do warranty work for free; but this is not a constant, rigid policy. Mechanics are responsive to the situation. If someone walks in dripping with a sense of entitlement; I usually invite them to leave. People like that do not deserve preferential, or even kind, treatment.

    There was a wonderful sign in a garage I once visited: Prices will vary; according to the customer's attitude.

    Mechanics are PEOPLE. We take risks, and have feelings. If we are disrespected; we respond in kind. It is unfortunate that some members of the public just don't get this.
  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,425
    As you may be a standard quality of mechanic, stick with your day job and avoid going into the Sales field. ;)
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    Most shops I know will replace a defective part labor-free, but you know, if it's like a clutch disk 90 days out---that's a tough call, especially on cars like mine, with 12 hours R&R.

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  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    As a historical note; the 318s ever since the 1970s were plagued with starter issues. I had a 1971 Dodge B100 van with a 3 speed manual transmission and 318 motor; which I bought in 1982 with 38,000 original miles on it (it was previously a navy paddy wagon; complete with expanded metal screen to shield the driver from the people in the rear). I kept this van for 28 years and 130,000 additional miles; drove it to Canada and across the U.S several times, and soon got fed up with the repeated starter failures. So I analyzed what really was going on when the starter refused to function; and found that there was a relay between the ignition switch and the starter solenoid, which is called the "starter cut-off relay." This relay was the part that was preventing the starter from functioning. Whenever I replaced it; the starter would magically work again. It would then be fine for a few months; and would again refuse to crank. And a new starter cut-off relay would get it going like new every time. I never had to change the starter.

    It turned out that the stock relay was unable to switch the current drawn by the starter solenoid without its contacts burning out. I then replaced that stupid relay with a Filko constant duty 200 amp rated relay; and never had another starting problem for all the remaining years I owned that vehicle.

    All 318s had a much lighter weight starter than other brands. It was made of aluminum, and was an offset reduction gear design. The older starters would interchange with the newer ones. I initially went to a much later model starter before I finally figured out the real problem.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    That is excellent advice! I never was a salesman; and have no interest in being one. This forum is for and about Mechanics.
  • robr2robr2 BostonPosts: 8,863
    edited May 2012
    The shop did not take ownership of the part when they marked the price up; they simply charged you a service fee for obtaining the part, in addition to charging for their labor to install it.

    I will respectfully disagree. The shop got an invoice and paid for it. Technically they took ownership of the part. I had no part in the choice of part.

    As a matter of fact, I'm taking my car back to the indpendent shop to replace a drive axle and boot for the 3rd time that is defective. The manufacturer offers a 3 year warranty on the part and the shop is more than willing to hold up their end of the bargain. He made money on the part and the labor to install and is standing behind his choice of manufacturer.

    He's even willing to now go to the OEM part as I long as I pay the upcharge between his part and the OEM. He has now lost faith in that manufacturer and is letting his jobber know.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    Lots of problems with aftermarket axle kits. I'm not surprised to hear this. My buddy who owns an indie Subaru shop won't even use them anymore. Either you buy new OEM, or you let him source a used one from a wreck (which said part he disassembles and inspects, or course); otherwise, no dice, he's not doing it.

    Burned too many times.

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  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    The problem with this situation is that the parts manufacturers have passed the buck on warranty labor down the line to the mechanics who install the parts. But both mechanics and customers are trapped into buying parts of questionable reliability that they have little knowledge about and did not have a choice in selecting. We thus become pawns in the manufacturers power games.

    The fair way this could have been done is for the parts manufacturer to cover the labor costs of replacing failed parts, as well as providing a free replacement part. Sure; this would create a potential nightmare of legal hassles; but even more significantly; it would force manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the reliability of the parts they produce. Right now; manufacturers can gamble that only a certain percentage of the thousands of parts they produce will fail; and their only liability in these failures is to provide a free replacment part. So they come out smelling like a rose. Meanwhile; the mechanics and customers are stuck with the labor costs which result from the manufacturers gambling.

    Producing high quality, reliable parts costs more money and requires much greater time to test and evaluate the parts long term reliability. So manufacturers often CHOOSE to cut corners. Since the manufacturers do not bear the greatest liability of failed parts (which often is the labor cost of replacement) there is little downside to their actions.

    Some years ago; GM was slapped with the largest class action lawsuit in the history of the automotive industry; for producing a coolant formula (DexCool) which turned out to attack the silicone intake manifold gaskets in the engines they used; and then filled the cooling system with brown, muddy sludge. GM forced owners to use only this coolant; under penalty of voiding warranties.

    This caused enough damage that entire engines sometimes had to be replaced. After countless engines were damaged by this coolant, and the lawsuit was filed; GM still never admitted responsibility; but quietly agreed to a "settlement" which had a sliding scale of payments for repairs, that dropped with the age of the vehicle. Many people received less than $100 for their losses. And GM got out of even that responsibility when they declared bankruptcy.

    This is an example of what parts manufacturers will do if the responsibility for their policies and quality becomes too expensive.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    Well the mechanic has no control over that except to be observant and stop using those products which don't work.

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  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,226
    I was told this as well when I replaced the front half-shafts on my '96 Outback. I ended up buying them both from dealer stock and never had a problem afterward.

    Given what a PITA it was to replace them, though, I wasn't willing to risk a chance on it over saving $50 up front.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    I think it would make sense for the mechanic to do a chargeback to the supplier of the bad part for the labor. Wholesale the book cost perhaps, and make it contingent on returning the "core", but better for the manufacturer to cover that cost than the consumer or the mechanic. Surprised there's not some sort of allowance for that (unless the manufacturer and mechanic just figure the markup on all the parts sold will cover the labor for the parts that fail).

    Liked the relay story.
  • robr2robr2 BostonPosts: 8,863
    The fair way this could have been done is for the parts manufacturer to cover the labor costs of replacing failed parts, as well as providing a free replacement part.

    Unfortunately, there is too much potential for abuse if the manufacturer offered to do that. Besides, you are probably 2-3 levels away from the manufacturer - the logistics of getting paid would be horrendous.

    In my industry (plumbing products), we follow the same rules. The manufacturers don't pay labor to replace product in warranty. They just handle it knowing that 1% of the time, it's going to cost them money to do a fix. After a while, plumbers know which products work and don't use those that result in call backs.

    Now if the consumer supplies the part to the plumber, the labor to replace the product should should be billed to the consumer as the plumber didn't make any money on the product.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    Sometimes the mechanic doesn't make the best choices, either. For instance, if you are doing a job that requires 12 hours R&R labor---if I were doing that job, I would replace anything in there that could go wrong--the idea of re-using a throw out bearing that "looks perfectly good" on a 12 hour clutch job is crazy. Or not replacing some incredibly difficult-to-access hoses that are fully exposed during a job, because they "look okay"---also risky.

    I know customers don't like the "while we're in there" routine, but in many cases, the mechanic has to insist or, if the customer won't agree, then limit the warranty in writing-----"used throw out bearing not guaranteed".

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  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 10,701
    For instance, if you are doing a job that requires 12 hours R&R labor---if I were doing that job, I would replace anything in there that could go wrong--the idea of re-using a throw out bearing that "looks perfectly good" on a 12 hour clutch job is crazy. Or not replacing some incredibly difficult-to-access hoses that are fully exposed during a job, because they "look okay"---also risky.

    One of my BMW mechanic friends calls it the "circle of labor". That is, when you have the tranny out you might as well replace the exhaust hangers or the rear main seal(if it has over @150K miles on it), etc. He has a good eye for knowing what to replace so that you only have to do the job once.

    Mine: 1995 318ti Club Sport / 2014 M235i / 1999 Wrangler / 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica Wife's: 2016 i3 REX/2009 Cooper Clubman Son's: 2009 328i

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    edited May 2012
    here's my list for when my MINI clutch needs replacing:

    Three piece clutch kit
    New Pressure plate bolts
    New flywheel bolts
    New flywheel
    clutch disc centering tool
    New crankshaft rear seal
    New Transmission Main Shaft seal
    New release fork bushings
    New throwout bearing guide sleeve
    New clutch pivot pin
    New slave cylinder

    All OEM or MINI brand replacement parts. About $800

    does EVERY car need this much? No. But the MINI does, and I'm sure other cars would, too. Probably cars that don't have a dual-mass flywheel could do with at least a re-surfacing of the flywheel unless it is super clean.

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  • jipsterjipster Louisville, KentuckyPosts: 5,444
    dealing with mechanics... none. Hardly ever see one. I've always dealt with the service writers. They get all the questions, but have they been trained to provide the answers? Many seem knowledgeable when I've asked questions, others seem to be making stuff up, as it is easier.

    Many service writers seem to be working partly on commission, or at least that's what I've read. The upselling I've experienced has ranged from spot on... to almost fraud. I've been told my brakes of 8 months needed replaced. A air filter needed replaced, when I asked to see it... just a tad bit of dirt.

    Today I learned the value of a privately owned small shop. Dealership was at $750 for installing a fuel pump, the 2 man garage would doit for $445.

    As a consumer, it is difficult to be charged $300 for the same part you can get at Autozone, or thru the internet, for $100. The diagnostic fees of $125 are equally disturbing. If they find the problem in 4 minutes, I'm still charged the full fee. Then the full price for the repair. Better to have it based on a 15 min increments. These policies are from management to maximise profit I know... but they build mistrust. I'd rather be charged $200 an hour labor than mess with all the piddelly fees and markup.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    edited June 2012
    I totally agree with you; but the ethics which used to be the backbone of our society have become outmoded in recent years. This is why I always worked alone, and set my prices at fair rates; and decided which clients and which brands of cars I was willing to service. But most mechanics and most consumers tend to go along with the trend; whether it is buying a car with an automatic transmission, always having a dealership service their vehicle, or acepting that mechanics are being paid $20 per hour while the shop charges customers outrageously high labor rates. And so our world has gotten into its current state.

    For those who do not support this trend, it still is possible to find honest, fairly priced shops. The Car Talk people have a great website: which includes a nationwide list of mechanics, repair shops, and client reviews. I was tipped off to this great site by Karjunkie, who used to be the #1 expert on the Edmunds Answers forum (until he went elsewhere). I now regularly screen and pass selected references along to folks who write in asking for a recommendation for a good shop.

    If the hosts on this forum don't mind; I'm willing to pass along the names of the local shops I prefer to people who list their postal zip code
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,913
    In my many years in and around shops I have NEVER heard of a shop charging labor to redo a job when a part has failed. I can't even imagine a shop doing this?

    If I have a water pump replaced and it starts leaking a month later I sure wouldn't dream of paying the labor a second time.

    Some shops actually allow customers to bring in their own parts and that would be a different story.

    I know that when I ran a shop, every time I tried to save a customer money by cutting a corner such as reusing a "perfectly good looking" throwout bearing or something else, it would bite me in the rear.

    The only kind of a mechanic/technician I avoid and wouldn't hire were the "Prima Donnas". Anyone in the business will know what I'm talking about!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,895
    Oh yeah---I used to call them "poet-mechanics". superior to other men, never capable of making a mistake, and way smarter than factory engineers; also, too well-educated to change someone's oil or help taking out the trash.

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