Car Overheating and dealing with a shady mechanic

I have a 2001 Volkwagon Beetle that has around 140k miles on it and recently it had some trouble with overheating. I took it to a mechanic who did all the quotes and said that to fix the car, it was going to be around $750 parts and labor and when I said I can’t pay that much, he said $550 that knocked down some of the repairs.This included replacing the thermostat, valve cover, coolant outlet and breather tube (is this price too high to begin with?) He said the car would be ready in 3 days.

I go back to the mechanic on the third day and subsequently after that, he told me that it’s actually going to cost an additional $600 to get the radiator and water pump fixed. I was shocked because I asked him how did you not know this initially when giving the quote, he said they only discovered it later on. To make matters worse, the car is inmobile without getting those parts. Is this shady business practice by a mechanic to get more money out of me? If I knew it was going to be that much, I would have just thought about buying a new car and that’s what makes me mad. It almost seems like that he did the minor repairs which MAY have caused the overheating but later quoted a larger price for a bigger repair so that I have to get the car fixed, since the car can’t be driven without a radiator. I feel like something like this should have been tested and found out immediately when a car is overheated. What are my options right now since I’m in a bind and I can’t really afford that much more on this car?

Without actually seeing the car there is no way of knowing but I will say this. At 13 years of age and 140k miles it’s quite possible that multiple repairs are needed and sometimes those repairs are not obvious until the actual disassembly of things begins.
As an analogy, think of a surgeon opening someone up for a routine procedure and then discovering chaos on the innards…

Your post is a bit fuzzy to me as you state the car had some trouble with overheating and took it to the mechanic. Later in the text you state the minor repairs MAY have caused the overheating and then certain things tested and found out immediately when a car is overheated. The latter seems to infer the engine was overheated and then taken to the mechanic.
If I misread this I apologize up front. :slight_smile:

hmmm … how long would it take to replace the thermostat and the other associated parts you note which I assume the mechanic has to replace to do the thermostat job? I can’t see it taking more than 2 hours. Say 2 1/2 hours to be conservative. The thermostat would probably cost about $30, as would the housing, another $30, and the breather tube, say $20. At $100/hour the labor would be $250, and the parts total to $80. So $330 parts and labor. Yes, $550 seems a bit high, but only if that is all that was done. Did they replace the coolant too? Do other testing? Bleed the cooling system? Probably. So $550 may not be completely unreasonable.

Sorry this didn’t resolve the issue. There are more comprehensive tests that can be done to diagnose a cooling system, but your mechanic probably from his/her experience with New Beetles (which are reported by Consumer Reports to have higher than normal cooling system problems), the mechanic has probably fixed a bunch of these cars, and believed from the symptoms you reported replacing the thermostat would most likely fix the problem, and save you the expense of unnecessary tests.

The time to do the job? 3 days seems sort of on the long side, but it depends how long it took to secure the parts. The mechanic doesn’t control the schedule or inventory of the parts vendors.

Frustrating though. Pretty much all car problems are frustrating. I guess at this point your $550 is already spent, and you’ve got to decide what to do next. Maybe have a talk with the mechanic, tell him/her the most you are willing to spend, & if you spend that much, what are the odds it will fix the problem and get you back on the road. Ask if there are some tests to rule out expensive problems like a bad head gasket. If the only thing wrong is the water pump and radiator, $600 isn’t out of line for that. Esp if you have an automatic transmission and AC. Even w/out the radiator, replacing water pumps in transverse mounted engines is a time consuming job often involving removing an engine mount.

If you decide to buy a new car, be sure, before making an offer, to review the Consumer Reports Reliability Guide for your next one.

@ok4450, What happened was that actually my gf took it to a mechanic, he quoted her and fixed those things and later when she came to pick up the car as scheduled, he said the radiator and cooling system need to be replaced as well. My frustration is why not just tell her that the radiator and cooling system failed as well since it seems like to me if an engine is overheating and there seem to be a leak, this would be one of the first places to look. Am I wrong?

@GeorgeSanJose Thanks for that comment. So the car actually was smoking on the road from the engine which is why she took it to the mechanic, does that change anything in terms of looking at the radiator should have been one of the first thing that was examined? Also she’s a girl if this changes anything in terms of the interaction (I saw that he ordered parts for valve cover gasket which is $50, which doesn’t fix the overheating/leak issue more of a result of the overheating). I agree that $600 isn’t ridiculous for the radiator and the water pump, but really we could have just bought a new car instead of fixing this one. Do you think what he did here was a bit shady given that he could have communicated more?

Various shops have their own methodogy about how they do things and this is just my opinion, but when an engine has been overheated (and especially with smoking involved) there should be a few tests done to determine whether the engine itself is damaged.
That could involve a compression test, vacuum test, hydrocarbon test, and so on and all are easily done.

Owing a large bill and being quoted much more for additional cooling system repairs if there is a damaged engine involved is going to create some friction and it’s incumbent upon the shop to determine that the engine is not damaged goods before sinking a lot of customer money into a futile repair.

I’m not saying that the engine is damaged; only that the odds go way up due to overheating and this should be verified with at least reasonable certainty before ripping things apart.

This is a tough call because it would be impossible (to me anyway) to justify spending X dollars for additiona, or even prior, repairs only to be told after the work was done that the motor is on the way south.

Sorry I can’t be of more help but the potential engine issue makes it pretty sticky.


No offense to you, but why isn’t your girlfriend posting this herself?

If she were to tell the story, we would be getting firsthand information

Right now, we’re not getting the information from the source

It does seem like there was some poor communication going on

@ok4550 Thanks that was helpful, is there any recourse for the mechanic that I can take on you think or would I just have to swallow it. It’s not so much the price but the way they revealed the problem after I put in the first $500

@db4690 Sorry we’re kind of away from each other right now, I was just trying to help out since I’m going to go in tomorrow, just wanted some advice.

It’s totally possible a bad thermostat could cause steam to come out of the engine compartment. That wouldn’t necessary mean the radiator is damaged, or there’s something fatally wrong w/the water pump. Replacing the thermostat could well fix the problem.

It’s hard to say from here on the internet whether the shop who did the initial diagnosis did due diligence in considering the other issues being discussed in this thread. Overheating can be caused by a half dozen different things, and whatever the cause, can damage another half dozen things just by a single case of overheating. It depends how severe it was.

Me, I’d need to get the perspective of the first mechanic, what he was told, what inspections and tests he did, before I could form an opinion.

At this point I don’t think you really have any legal recourse unless your state laws provide some protection as to estimates, and so on.

If push came to shove and your state has no statutes regarding estimates then you may be completely out of luck; especially seeing as how the girlfriend is the middle part of this. A few words here and there, not understood or assumed, could null any legal claim.

If the car were mine, what i would want to know right now is whether or not the engine is damaged and if it’s time to fish or cut bait.

I’ve heard of this scenario:

Mechanic tells customer: “It might be the radiator cap. That costs small dollars. It might also be something worse and that could run into serious money.”

What the customer heard: “small dollars”.