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

How to confront dishonest mechanic

I had my 2000 Subaru Outback in for its 90,000 mile tune-up on 7/31/11. As part of the service, they wrote on the work order “…replace coolant, brake fluid.” They also told me that I needed to change my front brakes.

The next weekend, I replaced my brakes, and flushed my brake lines and got filthy brake fluid. In the picture, you can see the “7-day-old” brake fluid in the bottle, and the new brake fluid in the plastic tube.

How do I confront the mechanic about the fact he charged me for something that wasn’t done? What do I do if he won’t acknowledge that he tried to cheat me? There isn’t much money on the line, but my blood is boiling.

P.S. Please ignore the hat…it was really hot, and I don’t have a garage to stay out of the sun.

I’ve seen much darker brake fluid than that from my own cars.

Depending on the condition of the brake fluid before, that color may actually be an improvement. The odds that they charged you for a service and deliberately (or even accidentally) did not perform it are incredibly slim because the vast majority of mechanics know that is the stupidest short-term investment they can make because it will quickly put them out of business. They probably finished their flush, then a week of driving probably dislodged a bunch of crap from the inside of your calipers, ABS unit, lines, etc. that could not be removed by the flush. This would not be surprising on a 12 year old car. As far as how to confront your mechanic about this, you will get best results by being civil about the matter. Tell them you had a brake fluid flush done late last month and noticed that the brake fluid is still quite dirty. Odds are, they will want to see it, and upon seeing it, odds are they will want to try to make it right. I have had to deal with this before as a professional, and would usually offer to flush the system again to try to get better results. I would then show the customer the improved results, and they would usually be pleased with the way the situation was handled. As I said, the odds of this being a case of dishonesty is very slim. It’s much more likely a result of the remaining contaminants in your brake system being suspended in and dirtying up your new fluid. Due to the age of the car and the present condition of the brake fluid, I would never expect the fluid to look like new in the master cylinder unless you replaced everything in your brake system, from the master cylinder cap to the calipers and wheel cylinders, and everything in between.

I’m in agreement with the others. The fluid can be flushed but it will never be pristine clean.

The brake fluid looks normal to me also. You are just under the impression that the brake fluid should be clear but that’s the problem…it will be discolored.

The brake fluid in my 2011 Outback looks pretty much like the brake fluid that you flushed from your brake system. In fact, my brake fluid looked almost as dark as yours when the car was delivered from the factory, 11 months ago. Truthfully, I have never seen colorless brake fluid.

Honestly, I would have informed the customer before they picked up the car that I had in fact flushed the brake fluid in the car, but because of how dirty it was from previously not being maintained in the car’s history, it will probably get mucky looking pretty quickly, and if he wanted, I would be more than happy to perform another brake flush a couple weeks later after the gunk had broke free, and changed the color of the fluid.

I have to say this whenever I work on anyone’s hydraulic clutch on Ducati motorcycles, because it gets quite dark in a short period of time, even on a brand new bike, right from the dealer.

They can easily see the initial color change from when they brought the bike in to me because its right on their handlebar, and how clean it is after the change. If a car owner doesn’t pop the hook and see their brake reservoir after the work was done until several weeks later, this situation might come up.

Hence the reason why its always better to go over the work you performed with the client when they come to pick it up, and show them the work was done, if feasible.

BC.

The fluid in the tube looks much clearer primarily bacause you’re looking through 3 inches of fluid in the bottle and probably 1/4" of fluid in the tube. The phenominon is normal for translucent fluids.

The fluid in the bottle looks pretty new to me. Pour some new fluid in the bottle and it’ll look like the picture. Brake fluid is not clear, it’s translucent.

“Replace” is not equal to flush and fill. A turkey baster will remove the fluid in the master cylinder reservoir. Doing so and then refilling equals replacing the fluid. If the brake fluid is replaced and the bleeders opened at each oil change the fluid will likely remain clean enough and dry enough to avoid damage. Moisture settles in the calipers and wheel cylinders where it turns the fluid to paste, corrodes the bores and destroys the rubber.

The fluid in the jar is amber, like new brake fluid, maybe not ABSOLUTELY as pristine, but no reason to think they didn’t do the work, IMO.

Thanks for the feedback guys. I guess I was wrong to expect week old brake fluid to look pretty much new. I’m a total newb to working on my own car, so I’m still figuring out how it all works.

As part of the same visit, they replaced the belt to my power steering pump. The car made a squealing noise when I started it, which I found out was an improperly tensioned belt.

At the same time, the power steering pump began making a loud moaning noise, whether I was turning the wheel or not. I found the fix to the problem online at http://allwheeldriveauto.com/why-is-the-power-steering-making-noise-on-my-subaru-outback/

I fixed it in about 5 minutes, then bled the power steering system. Should I inform the mechanics about this or just let sleeping dogs lie?

You are not letting sleeping dogs lie if you go somewhere else for your automotive work. You need not “confront” anyone. Not that it’s best but it works for many of us who vote with our pocketbook.

I think it serves no purpose to confront a mechanic - dishonest or otherwise - with what you think may be evidence of their dishonesty or incompetency - partcularly if the evidence is less than rock solid. Many folks immediately go into defend mode with this sort of tactic and at that point, learning stops.

As tempting and as satisfying as it may seem, better just to move on.

In my experience, people who confront others over an issue like this have at least a 50% probability of being wrong. Just think how stupid you would feel if you began a confrontation and were then proven to be wrong. As others have said, if you have lost faith in this shop, just take your business elsewhere.

Nice hat, by the way. NOT!

I often wear a hat like that.
I never did, but after seeing a few extended family members get precancerous moles removed, it became a no-brainer.