Got some repairs done -- getting ripped off?

I just got some repairs done on my car, and the total bill turned out to be rather high. I was hoping perhaps some people who know better than I could have a look at my description of what was done and tell me how much this repair should have cost.

I have a 1999 Chevy Cavalier with the 2.2L engine.

The engine wasn’t running right. It turned out that one of the spark plug leads had fallen apart. I saw them pull the leads from the plugs, and on one of them, part of the lead broke off and stayed connected to the spark plug. They charged me for:

- A new set of spark plugs (MTY-GRF32P)

- A new set of spark plug leads (MTY-WS784)

- They also replaced the air filter (MTY-A3916)

- Labor

The muffler strap had broken. They charged me for:

- A new strap (ADV-36360)

- Labor

There were some electrical problems. I had one head lamp (low beam) working, no break lights, and no blinkers. Four bulbs were burned out, but upon replacing them, not everything worked, so they had to diagnose the problems. They charged me for:

- Two halogen capsule headlight bulbs (ADV-9005)

- Two halogen capsule headlight bulbs (ADV-9006)

- A new headlight/blinker switch combo unit (ADV-S2145)

- Labor

I was told that some of the wires were disintegrated. Repairing those fixed some issues with the front lights (I think the blinkers). Replacing the switch unit fixed something in the rear (I can’t recall exactly what, but I think it might have been the break lights). There were also some blown fuses. They were unable to repair the high beams.

Well, how much did you pay, and did you get the work done at a dealer or an independent shop? The prices charged will be very different depending on where you went.

And by spark plug “leads”, I’m assuming you mean plug wires? Never heard them referred to as “leads” before.

Tracking down electrical problems can consume a lot of labor. Since you didn’t say what you paid, the car was in pretty bad shape safety wise, with hardly any lights working.

At least now you can see and people can see you, your signals, and your brake lights. You are lucky you didn’t get in any accidents before getting the car fixed.

This sounds like a car that has little or no maintenance for a very long time.

Before more of us pass judgment on the situation, how about if you give us a DETAILED history of this car’s maintenance? (Hint: Please do not give us a general statement such as, “The car has been well-maintained”.)

Thanks everyone for responding. I didn’t post the total because I didn’t want to bias the answer. The parts came to $280.58. Labor came to $584.00 ($224 for the engine work, $320 for the electrical, $40 for the muffler strap). Taxes came to $58.36. Total: $922.94. This was from an independent shop.

As for maintenance, since I started grad school in August of 2005, it’s mostly just been regular oil changes (full synthetic). I haven’t had a I also got new tires last year because the old ones were slipping too much in the snow. I knew that one of the head lamps was out, but since I never use the high beams, I didn’t know about that, and I didn’t check the blinkers or break lights. I haven’t had it in for a tune-up or anything like that. I did have break pads replaced when I got the tires, on the advice of the tire shop.

I spoke with a relative about this who is a bit of a gear head, and this is what he’s suggesting: The price MAY be reasonable. But there are two problems. (1) When they discovered that it was an electrical problem in a wiring harness, they should have immediately stopped and advised me that this is something that can quickly get out of hand and cost an arm and a leg in labor just to diagnose it. Instead, what they did was ask me (because I was waiting in the shop) if it was okay to replace this part or that part (and the parts costs are not bad), without making it clear to me how much the labor was adding up. And (2) they spend a significant amount of time trying to track down what prevented the high beams from working. When they discovered roughly where the open circuit was and told me, I declined the repair because at that point, even I could tell that they would have had to basically disassemble the car to get at it. Nevertheless, they probably included at least part of that diagnostic time in the labor charge.

You can make a solid argument that I needed to have these repairs done for safety reasons. It just would have been nice to have had the opportunity to decide to do it immediately or wait until the next credit card billing cycle (meanwhile driving it only during the day).

If I’d been on the ball (hind sight is 20/20, right?), it might have occurred to ME that this being a wiring problem might make it hard to diagnose. Before going to grad school, I worked as a chip designer, so I’m aware of how difficult it can be to debug “wiring problems,” at least in THAT domain. So if I’m being unreasonable or stupid here, I’d like to know so I can learn my lesson and move on. But if they should have been more up-front about the labor costs and they weren’t, then I might be able to construct an argument to get them to knock off some of that price in order to get my future business.

Thanks again very much for helping me with this!

You got off lightly. I have often said that opening the hood and doing anything that takes a while is an automatic $950. You saved $27.08. You didn’t even use a coupon.

Offhand, I’d say the total is not out of line and this could be especially true depending on where you live.
Labor rates are generally much higher on the east and west coasts and major metro areas.
In areas like where I live (OK) the standard of living, and the costs, are generally much lower.

It seems like I heard or read something a while back that labor rates in San Francisco (one of the high rent areas) are around a couple of hundred dollars per flat rate hour.
The total can really skyrocket when that kind of money is involved.

Now that was funny right there!!

I wouldn’t dwell so much on was the charges too high or realistic, as I would why did you spend almost a thousand bucks on very minor repairs for a car that books out at roughly 3 thousand bucks. I think you should learn to replace bulbs yourself and perform minor maintenance, then you would have only had to pay for toubleshooting, probably saving yourself 800 bucks.

My main complaint was that they hadn’t warned me about how time-consuming and expensive wiring diagnosis could be. It’s unpredictable, but the should have stopped and explained that what they were about to work on was unpredictable, and they didn’t. If I had known, I might have postponed some of the work until next month.

I went back to them and explained my frustration. The price was good, but it’s hard to spend a grand unwarned like this. With almost no further discussion they agreed to refund half the bill to my credit card and give me until the middle of next month to pay the rest.