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2003 VW Beetle: repair cost questions

I’m in Central Jersey.

Looking for anyone knowledgeable about price averages for two repairs:

Spark plugs

Engine cleaning

I have been taking my VW to the local dealer for maintenance, but they are ripping me right off, and the work is shoddy. Both times I’ve gone for servicing I was overcharged and in the aftermath of taking the car back, warning lights showed up on my instrument panel.

First time, it was the brake light, AFTER they had replaced the brakes. Turns out there was almost no brake fluid, because they’d forgotten/neglected to put any in.

Now, the oil light is beeping in my car, once again rendering the car unsafe to drive. This is after an oil change (which cost an outrageous $70–to compare, the Nissan dealership where my husband takes his Murano charges about $30 and change). The oil level is fine, the oil filter is tight (or I’d be leaking oil all over the place). There is a chance I might have sludge build-up in the engine, which might necessitate a cleaning. I hesitate to allow the dealership to perform this service because they will almost certainly bilk me again, and I’m as likely to leave with more problems in the car than I went in with.

So…what is a rough, ball-park rate for an engine cleaning? What about spark plugs, which the dealer claims will need replacing at my 40,000 mile servicing (right now the car has about 37,500 miles on it)? The dealer is quoting $500 for spark plugs. I don’t even want to speculate how much they’d charge to clean my engine (when it is just as likely they CAUSED the problem in the first place–my oil light was not blinking and beeping before I had the car serviced).

It is not nessesary to get your work done at the dealer. Years ago it would invalidate your warranty to go elsewhere to get work done on your car. That was changed in the early 90s and now you can take your car anywhere. Plugs could need replaced at 40K and if it is recommended for your car I would do it just to keep your warranty in good standing. This should cost around $120 to $230 depending on how your plugs are mounted and if they replace the cables. I change my oil in about 30 minutes on my Toyota Matrix and that is taking my time doing it. at $60 a shop hour plus $15 in filter and oil that would be a max of $45 and I can’t get oil and filters at wholesale. In short you are being cheated and need a good independent machanic. I would let them know why you are leaving however maybe you can help someone else in the future.

“There is a chance I might have sludge build-up in the engine, which might necessitate a cleaning.”

Maybe someone here can define ‘engine cleaning’. I’ve not heard that term, but I’m not an auto mechanic.

Isn’t ‘sludge build-up’ something that could be eliminated by regular oil changes?

Joe, by “cleaning” she’s referring to a chemical flushing of the vehicle’s lubrication system (oil system).

To the OP, if the oil level is good and it isn’t spewing oil, and if your description of the horrendous sloppiness of their work is accurate, they may have installed the wrong oil filter. I wouldn’t drive it like this until you get someone to check it out. Driving an engine with no oil pressure is certain death to the engine.

Thanks for the responses.

I took the car back to the dealer only because they had just serviced the car. Now they are coming back to me with a whole list of “essential” repairs that cost close to $1,000, and none of them have anything to do with the oil filter or anything oil related. Rather, the major “needed” repairs are to the coolant system. The VW guy had the nerve to ask me if I was absolutely sure it was the OIL light, and not the coolant light, that came on. I suppose being female renders me incapable of telling the difference between an oil light and a coolant light. The other clue that the guy is full of it is that three weeks ago he was so urgent about me replacing my spark plugs, and this time around, no mention of spark plugs needing replacement.

I’m taking my car to an independent mechanic this week with the list of “essential” repairs VW says I need. I have a strong feeling the independent guy is going to tell me that half of it is not, in fact, needed at all, and the other half is probably worth doing and that he can do the work for a third or even half the cost.

First, I would compare the list of recommended repairs/services to the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual and see if they are valid. Keep in mind that some items may have a time and mileage indicator, whichever comes first, and time may be rationale behind some of the recommendations. If the items are validated by the owner’s manual maintenance schedule, then I would get a price from the independent mechanic for those items only.

I would also verify my coolant level, too, since there seems to be an unusual interest in it. In the future, I would also play the “helpless female, no mechanical knowledge–I must consult with my husband before I do anything” card to get out of the shop. There have been occasions when my wife and daughter have used this to avoid additional high pressure sales in the past. Don’t let anyone force you into a decision you don’t want to make at that time.