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Dishonest dealer, or just a better car inspection? Who to trust?

Took my 2005 Toyota Sienna XLE, which has 78,000 miles on it, to the dealer for a safety-recalled install of a new soleinoid. A free repair. Car was running perfectly when I brought it in. When the Toyota dealer called me to tell me car is ready, he also tells me the following: (1) car is leaking coolant from the water pump, (2) car is leaking oil from the upper oil pan and (3) front lower control arm bushing is torn. Cost for (1) 891.05, for (2) $1,100 for just the water pump but he recommends doing the timing belt too for $1,300 and (3) control arm repair is $1964.05. Total cost: a whopping $4155.10. I told him just to give me the car and I would take it to my own mechanic. I thought he was lying because I keep such a clean garage I would surely notice two leaking fluids on the floor.

I have a mechanic I trust about as much as you can trust any of these guys. Took the car to him and only told him I was planning to take a carload of elderly relatives on a long trip in the next two weeks… asked him to check car thoroughly and let me know if it needed any work. Also told him my dad thought that given the car’s mileage it might be time for new timing belt. Mechanic calls and tells me my car is in “fantastic shape… nothing should prevent you from having a smooth and safe drive.” Recommends doing timing belt along with water pump “fairly soon” since it is getting up to the time/mileage for such a repair. Tells me cost of such repair would be $868.00. But says this is not a repair I need to do prior to the trip.

So here’s my question… Is there some reason that the dealer/1st mechanic could have seen these other problems while he was installing the soleinoid? Or was he just conning me? My inclination is to trust my own independent mechanic when he assures me the car is safe to drive – and that he must have done a thorough job of inspecting it because it was in his financial interest to find something wrong with the car.

My husband and now my father are saying that I should have told my mechanic that another mechanic had recommended these other repairs so he could look specifically at those areas of the car. I say that would have just resulted in tipping him off when I really wanted a fresh look at the car.

I would be interested in the thoughts of knowledgeable folks about these repairs.

there are time limitations to everyone, yourself included. when someone tells you to look at a car generally, you do a visual on top, visual on bottom…and move on to cars with paying customers.

you really should have tipped your mechanic off. if he specifically looked at these items and disagreed with the first shop, then great.

at this point, you wasted your time because you still don’t know if your mechanic looked at these specific things.

you are gambling that he did/maybe he didn’t…you still don’t know.

you have to trust someone. so let him in on the secret and let him give you a good diagnosis.

in god we trust is printed on your money, it is not printed on your car…as your elderly family go careening off a cliff.

I do not think the dealer is dishonest it is just that this way they can document that they recommended the work rather than try to explain why they did not warn the owner of problems later. You would not do it but people want to blame a failure of one thing because of a completely unrelated repair of something else.

I trust the mechanic and not the dealer. However I would suggest you tell the mechanic the dealer reported the water pump was leaking and you want him to check that out and report back to you. A leaking water pump can get worse, and that can take out the timing belt and cause a breakdown if the belt breaks. This did happen to me on a V6 Toyota Camry. A couple of years later the water pump went bad again and needed replacement, the car has 170K on it now.

If the mechanic confirms a leaking pump then move up the timing belt job to the next month or two and budget for the repair. The first thing about the oil leak it to check the oil pan bolts and tighten if necessary. My V6 Camry is now leaking oil to the point some is getting on the hot exhaust and I can smell the fumes. This will need to be addressed. Older cars tend to develop leaks, but the dealers see a bit of dirt and call it a leak. I don’t think your oil leak is an issue yet, just keep an eye on your oil level and look for drops on the floor where you park.

I think you need to mention the problems to your mechanic. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the problems aren’t there, or are very small.

When should you have your timing belt done?

I don’t think there’s any way we can tell if your dealer is being dishonest unless we see the vehicle in question.

Next time, when they say something is leaking, say “Show me now while it’s on the lift.”

The timing belt interval for my wife’s 06 Sienna is 7years/90k miles whichever comes first. So you are two years overdue already.

Ed B.

I do not think the dealer is dishonest it is just that this way they can document that they recommended the work rather than try to explain why they did not warn the owner of problems later.

I have a different take on that.

I’ve had this exact same thing happen to me with my 90 Pathfinder. Many years I had to go to the dealer for an exhaust repair (they were the only ones who had the part…and I figured I would be in and out in an hour). After 40 minutes the manager comes out and hands me a list of repairs my vehicle NEEDS…totally well over $3,000.

Two of the repairs that really stood out

. Timing Belt - Their records indicated that I never took my vehicle to their shop to have my timing belt done…and based on mileage it should be attended to immediately.

Two weeks earlier I replaced the timing belt.

. Water pump needs to be replaced

Again when I did the timing belt I also replaced the water-pump along with belt tensioner and drive belts, radiator hoses and thermostat.

. Cam seals needed to be replaced.

This one really pssed me off. I asked how the heck they determined that. According to the service writer and mechanic they saw oil on one of my hoses…and the ONLY place the oil can possibly come from is the cam seals. I asked did the remove the timing belt cover (because that’s the only way to determine if the cam seals are leaking). They said no. The oil was due to a little spill when I changed the oil the day before. And I know the cam seals were fine because when I replaced the timing belt two weeks earlier the seals were fine. Second…there’s no way in hll any oil is going to leak past the timing belt cover and deposit itself where it was.

There are far too many of these repair shops (dealer or independent) who try to sell you unwanted services because they need to make a boat payment. Needless to say that when I bought my new 98 Pathfinder I drove 30 miles past that Nissan dealership to another Nissan dealership. I REFUSE to deal with a sleaze outfit like that.

Dealers are more or less out to sell every possible repair they can think up, whether your car needs it or not. Every stray drop of oil on the engine is an excuse to sell you cam seals or valve cover gaskets. It’s pretty much standard practice. Especially if you’re a woman who they think is less likely to know enought to challenge their BS. But it happens to men, too. Every time I have to go to a dealership I know they’ll tell me my car needs at least one totally bogus repair, and they always do, and I always say no thank you.

Your only recourse is to avoid dealerships at all costs, unless absolutely necessary. Your local mechanic who said the car is in good shape and doesn’t need anything…he’s the one to trust.

I think you should have told the mechanic that you had the car in for a recall and they mentioned the following items, can you take a look and see what you think? The dealer may be used to looking at things that are peculiar to that particular vehicle more than a generalist mechanic. Also may have a higher standard of what is acceptable due to servicing new cars.

If you have never had the timing belt and water pump changed, then I would schedule that job. Check the maintenance schedule for those items in your owners manual to the correct interval but I think you are overdue.

The reason your mechanic may have said that you could put it off is that your engine is a non interference engine. If the timing belt does break, it won’t destroy the engine, but it will leave you stranded as any other breakdown would. It would have to be towed to the shop for repair.

You don’t meet the mileage interval, but you are overdue on time. A timing belt is made of reinforced rubber, the rubber does deteriorate with age and when it deteriorates, the reinforcement gets weaker and the belt can fail. I would not put this off too long but you have gotten through the winter. Timing belts are more prone to breaking in very cold weather when the old rubber is most brittle, but they can break at anytime of the year.

As your mechanic to check those other things while he is doing the timing belt job. I suspect they are not needed.

Have your mechanic take another look at the items the dealer mentioned, possibly they are either needed now or just need to be watched. Do the timing belt/water pump now and have them check out the other issues. In past experience with our mechanic the items the dealer mentioned were either not needed yet or the independent could do the job for much less.

In recent years it has become impossible to bring a less than new vehicle to a dealer without their “finding” at least $4,000 worth of work to do… whether it needs it or not.

Trust your own mechanic.

Without seeing your car I have no way of knowing what is or is not needed.
A car can have leaks without leaving spots on the garage floor.

The dealer prices seem kind of high and one has to wonder if labor overlap (especially with the water pump/timing belt) has been factored in. Not factoring in labor overlap is somewhat disengenous.

There is some murkiness with your complaint also.
The dealer says coolant leak here, oil leak there, etc, etc.
Your mechanic says the car is in “great shape”. That term is kind of ambiguous and does not mean there are no leaks or that there is no control arm issue.
Your car is 10 years old. At what point is “fairly soon” for this mechanic on a job that should have been done already?

Even with a simple Recall it’s quite common to look over a car while it’s in the shop and determine if there are any needs. This is done to alert the car owner of potential problems AND to upsell work. There is nothing wrong with this as long as any needs are legitimate.

An independent can likely beat those dealer prices all across the board so that would be the route to take.

Dealers tend to look at a car and compare it with NEW condition. Any devation from that gives rise to a “suggested repair”. My Toyota dealer does this all the time. I smile and tell them I’ll bring the car in when it gets worse. There is a small amount of oil on the oil pan; I don’t know how it got there, and there is no oil on my garage floor or driveway whatsoever, and the car uses no oil between 5000 mile chnages. The dealer wants to remove and reseal the pan for $452, which will probably cause other leaks somewhere else.

A good mechanic gives you the condition as well as how critical it is and how long before you need to act.

Some year backs, my mechanic was approached by a single mom who wanted to visit her parents for Christmas. The car was a big rear drive Chev with some work needed. He explained exactly the things he HAD to do to make sure she got there and back; the rest could wait till she had more money to spend.

Over the years a great many cars have been brought to me with an estimate of repairs that were deemed critical by some shop by a customer who wanted a second opinion. When faced with that situation I felt compelled to go to the Nth degree in confirming or denying the previous shop’s opinion. More often than not the owner’s intuition was correct and the problems were unsubstantiated. And although such a situation can be intimidating for the second mechanic I personally would prefer to know what I was dealing with.

One of the reasons that I don’t use dealer shops is that they and I usually don’t see eye to eye on what my car “needs.” Their job is not to keep your car on the road reliably and safely. It is to sell services. For most any car with some age on it, there are plenty of things that can be seen as in need of attention - because they don’t sparkle in gleaming perfection like they did when they came off the lot.

Have your mechanic look at what the dealership said was wrong. You could even look at the oil pan and water pump for leakage. I’m guessing since no fluid is on your garage floor, it’s not leaking. If your mechanic finds no problems, call or email a letter to Coroorate Toyota with a complaint on this dealership.

As mentioned above, it isn’t possible to say for sure via the internet. But as a general rule I’d avoid using dealership shops for anything other than warranty work, and in certain cases drivability problems. Since the things that the dealer said needs attention are routine procedures that any inde shop that services this make could do, me, I’d use an inde shop for those repairs.

Whether these jobs need to be done at all? Well, if the water pump is leaking – and making this determination would be simple for an experienced mechanic (you may need to ask this be looked for though) – that certainly needs to be done. And it appears the timing belt is overdue and should therefore be done along with the water pump. Delaying a timing belt job that is currently due can be a very expensive gamble. The other things? Let the inde shop give you their opinion. Now’s a good time to bring out the owner’s manual and check off all the routine maintenance that is behind schedule and get that done at the inde shop too.

Edit: I should add that the dealership is probably not being dishonest. They are probably trying to offer you the best advice they can. They don’t want you breaking down some night on the freeway. If the techs notice something that needs attention during the warranty work, even if the problem may not affect your car for hundreds or thousands of miles in practice, they still have a professional responsibility to inform you and make a recommendation. It’s not their call to decide “well, it’s probably ok for a while”. They have to tell you what they find. Doing so is probably part of the rules when working for the dealership. And it’s your decision to follow their advice or not. And whether to use their shop, or another shop.

EK Hammer

To look at the water pump for leakage, you’re going to have to remove some of the timing case covers, because it’s driven by the timing belt

As for no fluid on the floor meaning it’s not leaking . . . I kind of disagree with you there

I did the timing belt on V6 Camry last year (probably the same V6 as OP’s car). When I had all the timing case covers off, it was abundantly clear the water pump was leaking, because it was completely crusty. While it’s true my water pump wasn’t gushing like Niagara Falls, it was not okay.

No fluid on the floor doesn’t necessarily mean there are no leaks. It means there aren’t any really bad leaks