Dealer rip off?

my wife recently brought our 2009 ford flex to the local ford dealer for service. the passenger side airbag light would not go off. while she was there, she asked about the driver’s side heated seat (which no longer worked).

the airbag issue was a wiring harness issue that they replaced under warranty.

the heated seat was not covered, but they told us the part would be $300 installed. we decided to have them fix that too, so after several weeks of waiting for parts, my wife dropped off the car and picked it up later that day.

here’s the problem. the heated seat part they replaced (controller module) did not fix it. they said that when they connected to the computer the module would not communicate, so they replaced it. however, that was not the problem. when the new module was installed, and they could then communicate with it, the module indicated that the seat heater itself was bad, and that would be another $500 to replace that.

heated seats are not worth $800 to us. the dealer says that now that they have installed the module, they cannot remove/return it.

i say BS. they made an incomplete diagnosis. if i (or my wife) had been aware that the total cost of the heated seat repair would be so high, we would have just suffered with cooler than optimum posteriors.

all the dealer has offered us is about $50 off the bill.

what can i do? the dealer has been pretty good so far, but this is the first real repair we have brought the car to them for (its just been oil changes and scheduled service up till now)

I would write a lengthy, but polite, letter to the service manager. Explain you are long time repeat customer (hopefully, you are), and if they don’t make this right by refunding your money in full, you will take your business elsewhere. The last time I did that, they mailed me a check for the full amount.

Losing a few hundred dollars is smarter than losing your business permanently. Take advantage of that logic. Tell them you paid them to solve your problem, not throw parts at the problem.

I agree with Whitey, but be prepared to be told to pound sand. The whole reason I learned how to wrench on cars is because I got tired of paying mechanics (both independent and dealership) to throw parts at problems without ever actually finding the problem. None of them ever even gave me $50 back.

On the one hand I understand mechanics not guaranteeing repairs - it is possible to replace one bad part, and then to have another bad part show up that couldn’t be diagnosed before because the first bad part prevented the second one from being able to work.

On the other, I find it tantamount to criminal the way some mechanics just throw random parts at a problem and want you to pay the bill for their lack of diagnostic skills.

Without seeing the shop manual for your Flex, I can’t tell whether they followed proper diagnostic procedure here, but it seems odd to me that there wouldn’t be some sort of basic “Will the seat heater turn on if I hook this test module up to it” test that would isolate the control module as the bad part, and would at the same time tell you if the heater works.

I dunno. To replace the heater requires the upholstery shop to take the seat cover off and put it on again so maybe that price is not way off, but seems to me one of the first things they would check would be continuity in the heating element itself. Can’t that simply be done with a meter? So was the module bad too or just an extra part now? I understand they cannot return the module but if they just put the old one back in, now they’ll have one in stock to use for the next one that has a bad element instead.

yes, that was my point. they should have been able to put a meter on the element connector itself and seen if it was good or not. its a seriously lazy diagnosis to say "module’s not talkin, let’s replace the module and see what happens"
i don’t think the price is out of line with the effort (but i personally think stuff that can burn out, should be easily replaceable)

The reason they replaced the wiring harness for the air bag for free was because it was a safety issue.

The inoperative heated seat is a luxury issue. They probably connected a scanner to the vehicle to check for body control codes and found that the Body Contol Module was defective which controls the heated seats. So, before they can figure out why the heated seat wasn’t working the BCM had to be replaced because that could have been the reason why the heated seat wasn’t working. Once the BCM was replaced then they were able to determine that heating element in the seat had failed because the BCM was communicating.

I don’t see how they did anything wrong.

The problem is, once an electrical component is removed from its’ package and installed it’s no longer returnable.


I have to ask what is the benefit of running the heated seat control through a computer. It seems that manufacturers are making simple circuits into Rube Goldberg contraptions by add a computer.

To err is human, but to really screw things up, use a computer.

I also can’t fault the dealer on this. Many repair issues on modern cars do not have clear-cut answers at best and some can be downright nightmarish to sort out at worst.
In fact, even some factory service manuals will state that if tests show Part X to be good no matter how many times it’s tested then to replace it and hope.

It also could be that a failed seat heater may have taken the module with it. That kind of thing is not uncommon at all with any make of car or system and could be thought of as a line of dominos with each one affecting the next in line.

Now that the BCM is replaced, maybe you can replace the seat heater yourself. I think you could do it over a weekend. Are you up for it? The part is probably about $100 and the labor around $200 in you quote. It should involve removing 4 bolts and disconnecting a couple of electrical harnesses.

I think there are 2 ways to look at this.

One is that the dealer did an incomplete or improper diagnosis. If/when they told you that the control module would fix this then I might fault them for not stating that there may be other issues with your seat heater. The service adviser should have said to you: “Our testing showed a failed body control module. We need to replace this part for $XXX and then continue our diagnosis and testing to determine if there are any other faults with your seat heating system.”

The second way to look at it is that the dealer did nothing wrong. They didn’t short out your control module or break your seat heater element. There would be no reason to expect that the mechanic would check your seat heater without being directed to by some fault code or live data stream that indicated that’s where the problem lies. Could have been a switch, relay, fuse, wiring connector, etc.

It’s not a lazy diagnosis to say “This control module is not talking, let’s replace it.” If a control module is powered and grounded and connected to the data bus and not communicating, it gets replaced before anything else is done. You always start with the basics.

It depends on what the dealer wrote in their estimate. If they wrote that they were going to replace the module, you’re technically out of luck since that’s the contract you signed.

If they indicated they were going to diagnose and fix the problem, they didn’t succeed. If that is the case, you paid them to fix the problem, not to take a gamble on what the problem might be.

It would be their risk, not yours.

I agree with Whitey’s idea but I would cc the Ford Regional Manager and everyone higher in the chain of command.

Also, I would not threaten them that you will take your business elsewhere. I would stick to the facts without placing the blame on them (they can figure that out) and mention that you have been a good customer and are unhappy with this particular service.

The strategy can work. My brother had a problem similar to yours and got good results using the above method.

It’s worth a try.

Good luck.

well, i got the invoice right here. they did not replace the bcm. they replaced the 'module - seat heater control’
the part was $102.88 plus labor and shop charges totaling $256.54 out the door.

my point is: i’m relying on the dealer expertise to correctly diagnose the problem. if i could shell out the $200 for the manual i would (though at these prices it would pay for itself pretty quick). so they would have access to the wiring diagram, and from there they should know the resistance of the heater unit (most diagrams i’ve seen, have the resistance of heating elements listed. but lets say for just a moment, that its not on the diagram. but it has a 30A fuse on the relay. typically systems are fused at 120% of max load. so we call upon the spirit of ohm, and see that v=ir so r=v/i. 0.830A= 24A so 12/24=0.5 ohms. bingo! put the meter on the leads, and see if it says something close to 0.5, if its infinite then its bad, if its 0 its bad, something in between then its going bad. i don’t see this as being that hard.

i wanted this info up front. something like: ‘the obd on the bcm is no comm with the shc. we can replace the shc and see if that works but if not then we will also have to replace the shu and the some other sht.’

what transpired:

wife- please give me a quote for fixing the seat heater
service manager- we ran a diagnostic and it will cost you ~$300 to fix it.
wife- OK order the parts and fix it.

you know what happened after that.


You sound like you know a few things

You also sound like you don’t trust the dealership mechanics

Why didn’t you try to diagnose it yourself in the first place?

@nfisheremti I agree with you.

From a business standpoint, if you (customer) ask for an estimate, it’s their responsibility to tell you what it might cost or give you a range or even to tell you they’re not sure and need to evaluate first.

If they’re confident they know the cost and they give an estimate without caveats, you have every right to hold them to the estimate. Obviously their confidence was unfounded. This would make me question their knowledge base and/or business practices. Either they were ignorant to the possibility that it would cost more or they figured that if they had to do more work, they would deal with your frustration when they broke the news to you. Either way, I wouldn’t feel to good about working with them.

If it is worth the $500 to you, why not send a letter. I agree with Joe Guy. State the facts. Don’t blame. Tell them you’re unhappy with this service experience.

Like Joe Guy says, you weren’t paying them to gamble on what the problem might be, unless of course they tell you this up front and make you aware of the possible range of the cost. They are supposed to be the experts and it’s their responsibility to inform you of the all relevant issues up front. Not your responsibility to absorb their incorrect assessments, unless of course they call you, tell you of the mistake and tell you how much additional it’s going to cost if you want to move forward.

I guess this is a pretty common problem people who own cars have, where the estimated cost to fix the problem doesn’t match up with the actual cost. It’s understandable this will happen from time to time, as the shop hasn’t even looked at anything on the car when they give you the estimate. They just go by what you tell them the symptoms are, and by their experience what the most likely scenerio is. And sometimes it turns out – this is totally understanable – to be more complicated than that. And the cost to repair then is then higher than the estimate.

What can you do about it? Well, besides a good-faith negotiation between the two parties driven by that you want the car fixed and the shop wants repeat business and a good reputation, besides that, probably not much can be done in this case.

In the future, first thing is to find the best shop in town. Usually that will be an inde. Ask friends and co-workers for recommendation who they use. Second, if you have a dollar limit on a fix, tell the shop in advance. Tell them “look, this is all I have to spend”. The shop should be able to work w/you once they understand you have a limit. See if you can negotiate a fix-it deal where the the maximum out of pocket cost to you is set and agreed to by both you and the shop ahead of time. You might not end up with a perfect fix, but if they know in advance about your spending limit, they should be able to come up at least with a work-a-round until you have the budget to get the better fix.

It still boils down to many automotive problems are not a black and white issue in spite of the perception they may be. One thing often does lead to another.

As to everything being etched in stone in the electrical analysis the OP gave; it often doesn’t work that way either.

There was a time when car mechanics had to know how to fix and repair CARS…Now they are expected to bring a failed heated leather seat back to life…Sorry, but that’s not in any mechanics job description…Hundreds of dollars worth of control modules and computers make reasonable repairs impossible.Here is a solution for $15…

@db4690 i would, except i lack the time and the proper wiring diagrams. initially we brought the car in for the airbag issue, and asked about the seat heater issue. given what seemed like a reasonable (and accurate) quote, we had them proceed. now, its a matter of cleaning up the mess

I dunno, I guess sometimes you just take your licks. Its no ones fault. I’ve got a $500 EGR valve on my Olds Northstar engine that didn’t do the job either. Took it to my normal guy and after diagnosis said they think it might be the valve but couldn’t say for sure. It was my option to try it for $500. Didn’t take care of the EGR code. Later on the dealer took a shot at it and fixed it for a few days. Next step was to clean out the passages which would require taking the transmission out to get to them. No thanks. Car still has EGR code and a new EGR. Put a total of 63 miles on it last year so no big deal. Everyone tried but no cuppy doll. I don’t use seat heaters even in Minnesota. With leather you really don’t need them but at least you are farther to a cure than before. Another $500 will take care of it, or do it yourself-but pulling the upholstery is no small task to do it right, and if there are seat airbags-another issue.

I respect that some want to let the shop off the hook. Electrical systems are complicated or you can’t always know in advance what it will take to complete the fix, etc.

nfisheremti is the only one that can really say whether it was an honest mistake or carelessness.

I’m personally not willing to let a mechanic off the hook because it requires them to learn about and understand electrical systems. I’m also not willing to let the mechanic off the hook because some problems are complex and therefore estimates are often provisional.

If a mechanic or shop doesn’t understand the electrical system, he or she shouldn’t be doing the repairs.

Likewise, if a mechanic can’t tell his customer that he’s not sure, that the $300 estimate may be considerable more depending on what he finds, and that the $300 is non-refundable because the part cannot be return, he shouldn’t be in business.

The solution is really easier than you think. Instead of saying, “It’s the seat heater controller”, say “Our initial assessment is that it’s probably the seat heater controller. This would cost $300. If it’s not the controller, the cost could be considerably more. It’s important to know that if we replace the controller, this money is not refundable. We will let you know in such situation how much additional you can expect.”

You then have a conversation with customer. They have a better opportunity to understand and proceed or not proceed with more accurate information. nfisheremti may then ask, “What else could be wrong? How much would this cost?” With this information he’s given the opportunity to make an educated choice, not a choice based on misguided confidence.

If the shop does this, we could avoid this entire issue. And the shop would have repeat business and good reviews.

This is the reason mechanics often have the reputation they have. They don’t appreciate that customer service is essential to successful business.