Saturday, February 1, 2014

The discourtesy inspection

Aimee's muffler was making noise, so we made plans to get it fixed. In general, prying Aimee's hands off the wheel of her car to get it fixed can be hard -- she resents the loss of personal freedom. But, with gentle negotiation, and the annoyance of driving a noisy car, she was motivated and more cooperative than usual.

I made an appointment at a nearby place, but before going down there, I took a look at it myself. In general I fix most of the problems on our vehicles that can be fixed with the tools and workspace I have available, and dislike spending money on other mechanic's bills. 

After no more than a moment or two's basic diagnosis I identified the source of the muffler leak as the "flex" pipe, a woven steel joint that most modern cars have between the downpipe and the catalytic converter. It was an easy diagnosis: First thing in the morning, with the current cold atmospheric conditions, and a decent flashlight, you could actually see the exhaust gas spewing out of the hole in the flex pipe.

I can change a flex pipe and indeed did so on the old Ford Escort wagon about a year ago, but in the winter, with my workshop full of woodworking tools, no lift, and no wire spool welder, this would be more trouble than it was worth. Without the wire welder I'd have to clamp the new pipe with muffler clamps, not weld it. This was not a procedure likely to outlast the Camry, while on the Ford, it almost certainly would -- and has -- just because the Ford has less useful life in it than the Camry. 

My electric "stick" welder is too harsh a device to weld the thin sheet steel on a muffler, unless I have the whole muffler off and on the bench, where I can better control the heat.

So, the best bet would be to have someone else do this job.
Even so, it was with some trepidation that I put myself in the hands of the so-called mechanics at our local place. I'd already explained over the phone that the diagnosis was done and all I needed was the flex pipe. I'd asked them to make sure they had the flex pipe on hand, and asked them to be sure they could get the job done before close of business, since the appointment was for two in the afternoon. They said yes to all, but insisted that they would have to do their own diagnosis. That would be fine, I said, as long as they had the flex pipe on hand. But I again reiterated that all I wanted done was the flex pipe.

So I went down there and signed the form and gave them the key. And waited. And waited. The shop was completely empty, the staff nowhere in sight. There was no coffee for the coffee machine, and the waiting room coffee area was unkempt and dirty. Nothing to do but wait. After about thirty minutes, another car was finally pulled into a work bay, but this one belonged to a lady that arrived after I did. Her work got started, though. Mine didn't. 

Finally, after about forty minutes, they pulled my car into the far bay. I could just about see what was going on.

I then watched as the mechanic toured the car with a clipboard, checking just about every damn thing but the exhaust system. Then the service manager came over with the following piece of paper, taken from the clipboard. On it was detailed the so-called "courtesy inspection". 

This paper told me I supposedly needed a transmission and power steering "flush", an alignment, a throttle body clean and "bronze", a new sway bar link, a new rear bumper cover, and finally, a flex pipe for my muffler.

I hit the roof.

I told the so-called service manager that I wasn't going to pay for anything but the flex pipe, I'd already told him I wasn't going to pay for anything than the flex pipe, and could he kindly get on with the job of changing the damn flex pipe, having wasted already an hour of my time. 

He said, "but it's just the "free courtesy inspection." 

The kid was about fourteen years old and pimply. I expect that if I'd still been in the service, I'd have given him a proper British NCO's bollocking. I certainly felt like doing so.

I explained that it was not at all courteous, at least as far as I could see, and that they'd already wasted my time, and, again, could they please just do the job I'd asked them to do.

Then I went for a long walk to cool off.

Here's the offending piece of paper. Click to enlarge, and use control-plus to make yet bigger, forensically. The green highlighted areas are the extra stuff. I expect that the total of all these "repairs" and procedures, had I been foolish enough to allow them, would have been in excess of $1,000. 

I wonder how many inexperienced car owners fall for this BS. Probably enough to make it worthwhile for the franchise owners to make it an SOP. 

Even the price of the actual job, when they finally got around to doing it, was inflated.

A flex pipe could be bought at the Auto Zone down the road for less than $20. With the equipment these guys had in their shop, it would have taken me no more than half-an-hour to change it. I was charged $160. Here's the actual bill.


Finally, they charged me an extra $40 for pulling the check engine codes. I never asked them to pull the codes and indeed the check engine light wasn't even on when I took the car to the shop.

There is a stored code. I know this, because I read the codes myself whenever the check engine light comes on. There's a tiny Toyota sensor in the emissions system that senses the fuel tank pressure. This sensor is wonky, and works intermittently, goes on and off. I know all about it and have decided not to change it because a new one is $200, and the car runs fine even when the sensor is on the fritz.

So they charged me an extra forty bucks to diagnose a sensor that I already knew was bad, that I never told them to look at.

I've had enough of these clowns. It seems that every time I engage a so-called professional to do a job around here, I finish up paying through the nose and thinking at the end that I would have done things better myself. As soon as I can afford to, I'm getting a bigger workshop and a lift.

Here are some other examples:

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