CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

How about honest repair shop experiences now?

We’ve had a long list of people who have been lied to about car repairs and I added my experiences, but frankly most of the time I have been treated very honestly and fairly by repair shops. How about some good experiences by honest shops?

One that comes to mind for me was back around 1968 when I was on my 200 mile trip back to school in my VW bug. About 100 miles out just outside of St. James, MN, my clutch wouldn’t engage. I hobbled to the nearest gas station (back when mechanics worked at gas stations), and the guy put it up on the lift. He pulled on the clutch cable and freed it, lubed it, and it worked fine. Total cost was $1 and about 15 minutes of my time. I was a kid, out of town, knew not much about cars, but was treated right when I could have been taken advantage of.

It is, of course, common to warn people away from corporate chain operations and usually with good reason. However, most of those are franchises, so - in a sense - are locally owned shops. Its just that they’re locally owned inside of a basic corporate structure. (That can, on occasion, have its upside since you can go over people’s heads if you encounter problems).

There is a chain muffler/brake chain location near me that I happily use exactly because I know them to be honest. The same 1/2 dozen guys have been working there for as long as I’ve known them (over 10 years). If I use them I normally bring some work with me and wait there while they’re working on the car. Just about every time I’m there I see them doing the exact opposite of what many of these chains do - NOT selling people stuff that they could easily sell them. For example, I once watched one of their guys talk a customer out of a coolant system flush - simply because based on their records the car wasn’t nearly due for it yet. The customer was convinced that the cooling system needed service. The shop had the records of when they had done it the year before.

I brought them a flat tire once and they plugged it for free. I was doing an axle once and couldn’t bust the nut loose (broke a 1/2" breaker bar on it - guess its time to go to 3/4"). I drove it in to them and one of their guys put it on a lift, broke the nut loose, snugged it back down to get me back home, and again they charged me nothing.

Shops are run by people. You have the honest people and the dishonest sharks who give the repair industry a bad name. When I have run into a dishonest (IMO) shop then I take my business elsewhere. Upselling is common and not necessarily dishonest, perhaps overly zealous profit taking is a better discription. In general I expect upselling from new car dealers, chain stores, and corporate owned chains like Firestone, Goodyear, and Sears.

Upselling bothers me, so I use chains for basic stuff like tires. For real work I find a real mechanic with his own shop. Over the years I’ve been taken a couple of times, but far more often my system has provided me with good honest easy to deal with shops.

My current shop did a timing belt job on my son’s '00 Camry with 88K miles in '09. Last summer of '11 the car died on the road. At 120K miles the timing belt snapped. Fortunately it is a non interference engine. My son was 3 hours away on Long Island, NY. We got a AAA tow and used a AAA referred garage and the car was repaired quickly. LI rates are high, so it was $800 for a repair than should not have been needed. Turns out the water pump from the 88K job was faulty and went bad and took out the timing belt.

Back to my regular mechanic; he apologized and checked his records and the pump came from NAPA. We tryed to get NAPA to acknowledge the bad pump, but no luck. He checked the records for my other cars and water pumps were not from NAPA on those. This is a case of simple bad luck. My mechanic did the job properly at 88K miles and the 120K redo was done properly too. Car is home again this summer at 140K and in very good shape. I still use my mechanic because I have a history with him. Although this repair went bad, I don’t see he did anything wrong that would have avoided it. He does not use NAPA water pumps anymore.

I have a couple of shops for jobs I don’t have to equipment for or the time to do (alignments, struts…etc…)

One place I use to deal with…I was in the shop waiting for my struts to be finished on my wifes Accord. This woman had her car towed there saying it needed a new fuel pump and asked how much it would cost. They quoted her a price (I forgot the number) but she commented that it was what other places had quoted. They told her not to leave yet…One of the mechanics knew about this car…and within 5 minutes had it running again…All it needed was a gas-cap. Total cost $20. They didn’t even charge her labor. They could have easily charged her for a new pump and she would have been a satisfied customer and none the wiser.

We’ve lived here long enough that I have 4 shops that provide reasonable, honest repairs. One is the place I get my tires, two are independent repair shops, and one is a quick lube place. The quick lube guys used to try to upsell me, but I take 4 cars there and I think they figured out that they could continue to get my business if they just treat me fairly.

I once broke down in the middle of the night while driving through Georgia. A truck driver stopped and suggested that I follow him down the road about 3 miles. My alternator had died and I had enough battery power to keep the engine running and the parking lights on. I followed the truck to the all night repair shop and told the mechanic my problem. My family slept while he worked on the car.

He took an alternator off of a vehicle he was selling (good old GM products) and installed it for me. He also charged the battery. When I paid him the phone lines were messed up and my credit card would not go through. He let me travel on with just a promise that he would run the card number manually the next day. I worried about that a little but the bank showed he only ran the card for the $50 that I owed him. I made it a point to always stop and fill up there everytime I traveled through that way.

I think there is a bigger picture here, and that is what goes around comes around, or do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you. I was in Naples FL with a car that would not start, bad starter motor connection and the mechanic fixed it no charge. A neighbor had a friend, pulled alternator, and battery checked, checked out OK, Then still would not start, with a wtf look, I tightened and cleaned a loose nut on the starter motor and all was good.

I have a couple: I was driving on the Turnpike when my car went berserk for about 10 seconds then lost power and died. Random lights came on on the dash, including “cruise” (which I wasn’t using), then it stalled. I tried to restart and it wouldn’t. It had to be towed back to town. I tried a new repair shop I hadn’t before and they diagnosed a computer (PCM failure) and replaced it. However, this failed to solve the problem. Eventually, after a lot of head scratching, they determined that the timing belt had jumped a few teeth. (non-interference engine) The mechanic called me up apologetic and explained the situation. The shop ate the cost of the computer replacement and I paid for the timing belt and water pump and only the labor to do them, not some insane diagnostic fee.

I also had some trouble with a flaky windshield wiper motor on a late 1970s car I had. I went to a local Dodge dealer and the head mechanic came outside, looked at my car, explained exactly what I needed to do to fix the problem, and charged me nothing. The service adviser also had some touch-up paint laying around for my older car and just gave it to me to get rid of it. These gestures were much appreciated when I was a struggling teenager. I gave the shop a lot of free PR, and they were my first choice for later repairs that I couldn’t do myself or that were too specific for a independent mechanic to do.

I have quite a few of these.

Had a '92 Camry, new to me and a warning light came on in the instrument panel and the owner’s manual indicated that the brake light is out. I was a loner in town and there was a snowstorm, but I knew the police would give tickets for stuff like this. So late afternoon, I saw this shop was open and figured paying them to give me a new lamp would be cheaper than a ticket. I pull in, ask the guy to see which bulb is out and to give me a new one. While I was in pushing on the brake, he apparently had a new bulb in his pocket, dropped it in and before I could get out of the car, told me you are done-bye. I was begging to pay him at least $10 for the bulb and his time (and stepping out in the cold snowstorm), but he said forget about it.

On another Camry (it is in my other post), two shops told me I need a new strut because tires were wearing unevenly and cupping. Went to the 3rd shop to have it done. This one was just walking distance from work, so I figured I will check them out. The owner could not believe struts are bad. He messed with the car, tested struts, test drove and finally told me the tires that came on the car (CPO used) match as far as brand etc, but the manufacturing date on the rear pair is 4 years before the front ones and that is why they are in the shape they are. So no need for struts, no $$ other than just buying tires.

I remember a shop in the smallish town I went to HS in. The story was told that the owner, and only mechanic, had a car that was just passing through town come in with a bad generator. (Yes, it was a long time ago.) He pulled the generator, replaced the brushes, reinstalled it and charged the guy $2. (Yes, it was a long time ago.) The driver practically protested. $2! I’m a tourist! You can charge me five times that! I’ll never be here again… So he gave he mechanic’s wife/bookkeeper a $5 bill and left happy.

I had an uncle who’d be 105 if he were still kicking. He lived in Washington DC. He said ALL the mechanics in DC were more crooked than the politicians. He actually drove his five year old car 1200 miles to use the above shop for an alignment and some other work, just because he knew he couldn’t trust his home town mechanics.

Another time that same uncle came to me on a pass through the area because his big Mercury Colony Park station wagon was not running right. It was a 12 year old car at the time. I stuck it on my Sun Scope (remember scopes?) and easily determined that his ignition coil was bad. A $7 part fixed the car. He’d driven those 1200 miles again because he didn’t trust the DC shops.

I mentioned my favorite alignment shop in another thread. They have saved me tons of $ over the years. The Mitsu I mentioned there was only one of dozens of cars they have worked on for me. They’ll check a car out, tell me what it needs, and let me go away and install the parts at MY cost. Then I can return for them to do the final alignment at no additional charge. They did my wife’s Escape that way after I bought it new tires a couple of weeks ago. It needed a new ball joint and (good used) spindle on one side, and a tie rod on the other. Try getting all that done for under $200 any other way.

Several years ago we were travelling through the Smokey mountains on I-40 in western NC one Saturday night when the alternator went out. I had a used alternator in the trunk and waited in a rest area until Sunday morning when I could change the alternator myself, but one of the bolts in the alternator was so tight I couldn’t get it loose with the tools I had available. I called AAA for a tow and had it towed to a AAA approved shop. The garage was closed, but the tow truck driver called in one of the mechanics on Sunday morning, he came in and changed the alternator and repaired some electrical wiring while the tow truck driver took us in his personal vehicle to a restaurant to get something to eat, left us there and about an hour later once again using his personal vehicle came back to pick us up. The mechanic worked on the car for a couple hours having to use an air chisel to break the bolt loose and if I recall correctly charged about $100. for the repair. With many shops I’d have had to wait until Monday morning to get the car repaired. With this shop I was able to get the car fixed, get home and make it to work on Monday morning. While I was waiting for my car to be repaired I saw multiple thank you cards and letters posted on a bulletin board where other travelers they had helped had sent them thanking them for similar services in emergency situations.

“He said ALL the mechanics in DC were more crooked than the politicians.”

Nobody is that crooked. Oh, OK, that was a long time ago. They perfected their crooked arts since then.

Seriously, he just didn’t find the right shops. They are an always have been in the DC area. My Mom used the Cadillac dealer we bought the car from and always had good results. I don’t ever recall her complaining about the Caddy, Chevy, or American Motors dealerships she dealt with. The shops I mentioned above (5th post) are all in the DC metro area.