A Rant Against Repair Shops

August 8, 2008

Both of my sons are older than this guy. Now I don’t normally practice “ageism”, but I was annoyed. He was insulting my intelligence and I wanted him to know it wasn’t respectful.

“Four hundred dollars to change my transmission fluid?”. I was appalled.

“Well sir, you obviously haven’t had it done in this kind of car before. It takes a special kind of fluid. You probably take your cars to places like Aamco, don’t you.” The way he said it was akin to telling a parent “you let your kids play with razor blades, don’t you.”

“What does that fluid have in it…gold?” I thought I was being funny.

Annoyed, he glanced at me out of the side of his eyes: “In fact, sir, we call it Liquid Gold. Sir, if you don’t want to do it today that’s fine. But we are giving you a break on the price. Because you are having your 30,000 mile check done we are cutting $100 off the cost. Or you could take it to….Aamco.” As he said it, all three guys in the service department did a chuckle as they kept looking down at whatever they were pretending to do.

I left there humiliated. They didn’t have to do that, but I think they have this insatiable need to feel morally superior to someone.

There was a day when many people could work on their cars. I guess it is partly our fault that we can’t any longer. We wanted better gas mileage so the fuel mixture levels became computerized. We wanted better electrical systems, so they became computerized. We wanted to brake more efficiently, so the braking systems became computerized so we could stop on ball bearings if we wanted to. We wanted MP3 players and Bluetooth gas caps and the like, so they all became computerized. The problem is, the computer won’t talk to my laptop. It will only communicate with mechanics.

All sarcasm aside, I am really getting tired of how I am treated by repair shops. I know several of you who read this are involved in the industry, so I welcome your comments. There are four things that mechanics do that really pick my scabs that are still healing from the last time.

1. The “Umbrage Pin” approach: About a half hour after dropping off my car to have new windshield wipers replaced (I could have done them myself, but the car wouldn’t let me…it gave a “reboot your wipers” command and the radio stopped working; I think), the shop will phone up and say something complicated and mechanical like “Sir, did you know that your left umbrage pin is worn and is about to break, causing the rear half of your car to explode on the freeway, creating a traffic jam and multi-car pileup that your insurance won’t cover and your ancestors to 8 generations will be paying off? We can fix it, but it means dropping the gas tank and rotating your tires. So I figure since you’re already getting your wipers done we can knock a $100 off and just do it for $1400. What do you think?” As I then enter the decision process with him, he adds more mechanical sounding words and keeps asking me impossible questions to make me feel even more like a moron. What really bugs me is that they want to sell me so hard on the procedure that they paint the future as bleak if I don’t get the work done. I thought daytime dramas were emotional. They have nothing on these guys.

2. Painful Looks: If I happen to be in the shop when I turn them down, they give a pained look like I refused to sign for a blood transfusion for my wife. I imagine some day there will be an Automobile Protection Agency that these mechanics will be able to call to report the serious neglect that I am inflicting on my car. Perhaps they’re getting a little too attached to a hunk of metal. For instance, they tell you that if you love your car, you will change your oil every 3,000 miles. But everyone in the industry that doesn’t fix cars will tell you that is a bunch of “umbrage pin” hooey. Here is a quote from a bulletin for the Transportation Safety Board:

Needing to change your car’s oil at 3,000 miles is a myth. Many cars today can go longer without affecting engine wear. Automakers are regularly recommending oil changes at 5,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 miles based on driving conditions.

The same is true of the 70,000 mile limit on a drive belt, the 25,000 mile limit on Radiator fluid and many other benchmarks. Unfortunately, the advice we don’t adhere to is the most important: Rotating your tires. That hardly costs anything at all and most tire places will do it for free if you bought tires from them. But mechanic guys, stop making my refusal of your offer to replace every part on my car such an ordeal. I understand that you are probably paid a bonus for everything I get done on top of the base level, but you are the reason we all fear going into the shop with our cars.

3. Really stop pulling our legs: Don’t lie to us just because you think someone doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Recently, I took my car to Pep Boys for new tires and they made a huge hullabaloo about the condition of my brake rotors. They had ventured into dangerous territory, because I actually know how to replace those and I know exactly what it sounds like when they are worn or failing. He told me that they had no allowance left to turn. I asked him what the minimum allowance was for that car’s rotors (the smallest width they could be ground down to) and he told me a figure. I told him I would phone him back in a moment. I looked it up my car’s minimum rotor allowances on the Internet and he was wrong by about 50%. I called him back and told him I was coming down with my own caliper to measure it. He then told me he had my car mixed up with another vehicle of the same model. Shame on him. How many little old ladies and high school seniors and busy businessmen has he worked that one on? I get disgusted by people trying to trick me, but don’t they realize they have lost my business forever when they try to do that?

4. Admit when you make a mistake: I can tell you that the repair business really does work like all the rest. Word of mouth is your best advertising. If you make a mistake and refuse to stand behind it, that person will tell dozens of other people. The $300 you save costs you tens of thousands, believe me. My mother took her car into a repair center to get the oil changed. They stripped the oil pain bolt and it leaked continually. Eventually, they had to re-tap the oil pan and they refused to pay for it. Mom worked for a very large company and was the secretary to the president. He made sure that everyone heard about what they did. I know it cost them a fortune in the long run on a job that would have only cost them labor. On the flip side, I have met mechanics that bend over to help you and keep your business. I had a Ford Aerostar back in the early 90s (yes, I know all the jokes and warnings thank you very much). The transmission went on it while the Church youth group was using it. I had it hauled into the dealer in that town. There was a recall on that transmission for the year before mine and the year after, but it didn’t apply to my particular year. And Ford wouldn’t fix it under warranty even though I was only 1,000 miles out. So I paid $2,200 to have it fixed. Then, five weeks later, it went again. I took it into my favorite shop, to a guy I really trusted. He said that the dealer who had installed it had not properly prepared the part on the engine that the transmission connects to. The dealer said it was a faulty transmission part. Long story made shorter, both dealer and manufacturer refused to fix it. I was stuck putting in another transmission for what would have cost me $2,200. But, and here is my point, my mechanic felt bad for me and never charged me a cent in labor. And, he made sure that all his friends knew the manufacturer of the rebuilt transmission didn’t stand behind their part. Because of his action, the manufacturer did send me a check for $500. I made sure all my friends in that town knew about that shop. I probably brought him $100,000 in work over the next five years (after all, I lead a church of 600 at the time).

Rant done. Maybe you have other things that mechanics have done that bothers you. Let me hear about them.



  1. What really gets to me is that shops can inflate their labor costs so much. There is no way that it costs them $100 per hour for anything. Even if you add in the employee’s wage, the shop manager’s wage, the cost of the space and the insurance, it still leaves them with a major profit. At my expense. Good rant Mike, and I doubt many people will disagree with this.

  2. I’m not sure that the labor costs are inflated. The insurance that these shops have to carry because of lawsuits is astronomical. As with healthcare, auto care has become expensive because of lawsuits. Reform to the system which allows egregious and frivolous lawsuits is long overdue. The U.S. is one of the only western countries that hasn’t done it yet. Canada has seen over a 50% drop in insurance rates for auto mechanical shops because of reform to lawsuit provisions.

  3. I hope the budget continues to fund BEAR, Bureau of Electronic and Automotive Repair.

  4. SacPine…good point. It is amazing how we often de-fund programs that protect us the most…like browning out Sacramento Fire depts.

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