CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

I don't get it - help!

My daughter took her 95 Geo Prizm to a shop that offered a special on a 4 wheel alignment. We had gone to this shop before for oil changes and think it’s pretty good. They wouldn’t do the alignment, saying she had a bad wheel bearing and could fix it for an amount we couldn’t afford. We took it to another shop, recommended by a friend, for a second opinion. They fixed her muffler problem (which needed it) and then said it wasn’t the wheel bearing, it was the engine mounts. I didn’t know what to do but I said she needs her car, please fix it. So they did. It cost about the same as the other shop’s quote. When we went to pick up her car, I wanted to talk to a mechanic to find out how two different diagnoses could be made for whatever was wrong with her car. There were no mechanics available and the owner was “too busy” to talk to us. When I tried to explain to the owner’s wife who worked there that I just wanted to know the difference in what caused the car problems, she took it to mean I was disparaging of the quality of their work instead of what I wanted to know. We ended up paying for the car and taking it. She said if we had problems to bring it back. It was okay for a while. Now my daughter says the steering seems a little off. I don’t want to take it back there. I feel like I have a big G for gullible on my forehead. I want my daughter to be safe (even in her Geo Prizm). So, was I ripped off? Is there a connection between bad wheel bearings and engine mounts? How can you know? Does her car still have a bad wheel bearing? This all took place over roughly the last month or so. Any information you can give me will be much appreciated!

U said car pulled to one side. Ok, it may have needed an alignment and a wheel bearing. That is not unreasonable. So what did the shop actually fix? What does ur repair statement say they DID fix? U paid for it. U better know.

While the car may have a bad motor mount, I have never heard of that problem having any effect on how a car steers. Then again, a car with a bad wheel bearing can also steer properly.

Does the car still have a bad wheel bearing?
Yes, that is possible, and you can do some checking on your own:

Jack up the front of the car, using jack stands for additional support.
Place chocks in front and in back of the rear tires, so that the car does not roll.
Put the transmission into neutral.
Now, spin each front wheel by hand, and observe/feel whether there is any roughness or uneven feel to the rotation. Roughness and/or uneven rotation is a strong indicator of a bad bearing.

Another test is to observe whether there is a change in noise when steering to the right and to the left at highway speeds. If you get a lot of “road noise” when steering in one direction or another, that is a good indicator of a bad bearing.

Since bad motor mounts and bad wheel bearings are totally unrelated to each other, I think that you have to think about the possibility that both conditions are/were present, and–unfortunately–I think that you need to find a third mechanic in order to get an opinion on your possible problem(s).

There’s not nearly enough info known to be able to determine what is going on so I can only generalize.
A bad wheel bearing can cause an alignment problem and an 18 year old Geo could possibly need many things. As to how the motor mounts came into this I have no idea unless something has been lost in translation somewhere. Much depends on what the complaint was, how it was phrased and written down, and whether or not you were present when any discussions took place between the daughter and shop.

As to the lady becoming defensive I will say this. Shops are routinely faced with the “you touched it, you own it” scenario and become evasive not because they’ve done anything wrong. It’s because of choosing words carefully to avoid incriminating themselves or making a situation even worse.
I’m not saying that you did this; only providing a reason why the layd was defensive.

The reason the mechanics may not be available is because they’re all out to lunch or the lady does not want to dislodge a mechanic from a paying job to take part in a conversation as that means the mechanic will be spending his time with you for free.
However, if this is handled professionally, the shop owner (and possibly the mechanic) should take a few minutes and answer any questions that may exist and they should do this in a polite and courteous manner.

A bad motor mount can cause a car to pull to one side or the other when accelerating and decelerating. It will pull to one side for one case and the opposite side for the other, I.e., it might pull to the right when accelerating and left when decelerating. Not all cars do this, mainly FWD cars will different length front axles.

If it is a bad bearing, it will make a roaring noise when turning in one direction.

I don’t believe you need a 4 wheel alignment for this vehicle, that is for vehicles with independent rear suspensions. I don’t think the Prism had this, but I’m not sure.

@keith, the car does have independent rear suspension.

I had a 1995 Corolla. Same car as the Prizm. It definitely had independent rear suspension.
Rear toe is adjustable.

A ‘95 Prizm can have all kinds of worn parts and problems. My guess is the motor mounts were bad, and is still very possible you have a bad wheel bearing too. If you want your daughter to be "safe’ perhaps a much newer car is in order. Otherwise budget for some pretty pricey repairs every year to keep this old car safe for your daughter.