Mechanic etiquette


A few days ago, the engine oil light in my car came on and I decided it was time for my car to visit a mechanic. Since my usual mechanic’s on vacation for a few weeks and I was afraid my car was having major oil issues, I decided to try out a different shop in town who has some decent reviews. I dropped off the car, asking for an oil change and for them to find out why the light came on. Got a call a few hours later, saying they need to change the “oil switch” - labor and part would run to $50, on top of the oil change of $45. Fine, no problem. Got another call an hour later recommending I get my spark plugs replaced because they’re really old. After asking some questions, I decided to tell them to go ahead since the repairs for the oil light didn’t come out to as much $$ as I expected. Another hour or so later, I get another call, saying they just test-drove the car and the engine oil light is STILL coming on and they have to do further repairs!!

Obviously, I felt quite deceived since I had assumed they recommended the additional sparkplug repairs only after they actually fixed the original problem. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. When I explained to them why I felt this was unfair, the owner got very defensive and angrily claimed he never tried to ‘mislead’ me and he only changed the spark plugs because ‘I asked him to.’ I’m not saying this mechanic was necessarily dishonest but it just seems like if I bring the car in for a problem, they should fix it before trying to get me to spend more money on other things. Am I wrong to assume such a thing?

Have other folks run into this similar problem? How have you dealt with it? Would love to hear some thoughts/opinions on how to deal with situations like this in the future… Thanks.


Don?t worry, your interpretation of the situation is correct. The rule in almost any shop is ?one phone call?- you get the big picture as much as possible and then call the customer. It?s an imperfect world, of course, and there could be more legitimate calls, but in this case they: 1.Seem to have shot from the hip

and assumed you had a bad oil sender (oil switch) instead of testing your oil pressure with an oil pressure gauge. 2.violated a cardinal rule and didn?t verify that the original problem was solved; and in the meantime tried to sell you unrelated work! You really should get your game face on and call and ask them

exactly what testing they did to come to the conclusion you needed an oil switch. Post back and run it by us. If they flip- let?em. Don?t let it phase you. Also ask why they didn?t go with the one phone call scenario. It?s not carved in stone but it?s just common sense. Where I work if say, I?m doing an oil change

and I notice their state inspection is close to expiration, I?ve related this to the service writer who always says to just do the inspection anyway so they only have to call the customer once. If the customer declines the inspection we would then just charge them for the oil change. If the customer authorizes the inspection

we?re ready with the big picture. I wasn?t there when they checked out your car so I could be wrong on some of this but this place has the earmarks of a poorly run shop. Maybe you should get as much info as you can from this shop as to what they found and then return to your normal shop if he?s back from

vacation. To find a mechanic click here:; then near the green wrench click on ?Mechanics Files?. Ask for the old parts back now or in the future. It keeps some places honest. Please post back


They weren’t trying to mislead you but they aren’t familiar with how to solve problems and they didn’t have the tools to check for oil pressure. Just like a doctor’s office; sometimes the patients have to provide the competence. Sometimes the bowel guy who previously found a tumor doesn’t find the latest cancer that you were referred to him for, but you know you have it somewhere, and doesn’t say that you need an internist or whatever and leaves you to figure out that you start again at square one. He just says that it’s not in his area. It’s a longer story than that of course but auto mechanics run from the clever to the clod. You have to be the practical one who doesn’t get sidetracked. Then you have to find out if their fix was a fix or a wrong guess. The mechanic shouldn’t be too lazy to at least see if they fixed the problem before making other recommendations. It’s tough when the customer has to be so defensive but some shops are the inexperienced owner looking for more work for their untrained staff. So, when they go off recommending other unrelated work, you can say “we’ll see how you did with the oil pressure first.” That’s not so good to say, so how about “money is a little tight right now so I’ll have to wait on that one.” So always test drive the first repair when the other one is not really needed. What I’ve said isn’t an absolute thing but if you don’t know the place, a good defensive strategy may be your only hope. I had a transmission shop trying to have me pay for tearing the transmission down to find the broken planetary gearset which is half the work of a transmission rebuild, $900. Then on top of that, he wanted me to pay another $900 for a rebuild. The car was an old Tempo so I told him to just fix the planetary gearset. I saved $900 and the car ran with no more transmission problems until I sold it when it had served its purpose (rusted out). If the jerk would have offered the rebuild for $300 more, (an easy hour of work) I would have agreed to it. Parts would have been $60 more. A rebuild at the time and the new gearset would have cost the same. I knew he was trying for too much money. If the transmission had failed, I would have been able to get my wife to get rid of the car. I would have been happy with that too.


If this oil light you’re referring to is the red one then some damage has been done when that comes on. Are you checking the oil level on a regular basis? Did you stop immediately and check the oil level or continue driving with the light coming on? If the sending unit for the oil light is not at fault then you have some serious problems.
An oil change is not going to cure a problem like this.

Normally when an oil light comes on the usual procedure is to run an oil pressure test. Since the cost of doing the test could be more than the cost of the sending unit the sender is often replaced and it’s a matter of seeing what happens then.

Since the oil light is still coming on after sender replacement then the next step (should have been step 1 IMHO) would be to perform an oil pressure test and brace yourself for some bad news.
Might not hurt to let us know what kind of vehicle and how many miles on it also.


Thanks everyone, for your comments! It’s good to know that I’m not being overly sensitive about the situation and I think I’ll have to agree with pleasedodgevan that a defensive strategy might be a better move in the future (I like the policy of asking for the old parts…will definitely adopt that one). I guess I’ve been spoiled by my usual mechanic, who’s very down-to-earth and never trying to get more $$ out of me than necessary. Just need to realize not every shop is run like that.

Karl, I actually did try to confront the owner over the phone about it and let’s just say it was a very unpleasant experience. I basically knew that they probably had already replaced the sparkplugs so it wasn’t even that I was expecting my money back. I guess I just wanted to let them know that it was unfair for them to sell me additional repairs without verifying the first issue got fixed. Honestly, if he had just said “You’re right. I’m sorry I misled you” I probably wouldn’t even be posting on this board now. But basically, the owner got very defensive and at various points, told me “Fine! So why don’t you just come take the car back??? Either that, or let me go back to doing my job!” When I asked why they changed the oil switch, his reply was “It was my guess that’s what’s wrong and sometimes my guesses are wrong! What can I do?” He then said that tomorrow, he’ll actually check the oil pressure and let me know what’s wrong. Unfortunately, I’m going out of town tomorrow so I won’t be able to post back with what he wants to do with the car, but if it’s anything major, I might just decline and take my car back to my old mechanic, even if it means I have to tow it over if the oil pressure problem isn’t fixed.

ok4450, my car is a 92 Acura Integra with about 110,000 miles on it – a pretty old car but good enough for me to drive around the city. When the light came on, I was about 2 blocks away from my neighborhood so I parked my car on the street once I got there. I checked the oil level the next day and it looked fine - although admittedly, I’m way overdue for an oil change. I also didn’t use it that day, which I used to do some research on mechanics in town. When I called this mechanic, they surprisingly told me that I should just drive the car into the shop (when all the research I did on the web suggested that I should get it towed in case the engine wasn’t getting enough oil). But since I myself am no car expert, I figure I would trust them on it. Maybe I was a bit too trusting in this case… I’m really expecting bad news when (if?) they finally figure out what’s wrong.


As for the plugs, how long had they been in there? You may also be past due for plug wires. When was the last time YOU checked the oil level? How over due was that oil change? How many miles?


Joe has a point, littleblue. You said you?re way overdue for an oil change and apparently the spark plugs are overdue to be replaced. You should refer to your owner?s manual to determine when and what maintenance should be done to your car. If you don?t have one, you could just about call or go to a

Honda/Acura dealer and ask for the info. They might photocopy it for you. Or go to a big bookstore like Border?s to the magazine section and sit down with a copy of Hemming?s Motor News. Find the section

called ?Automotive literature? or something close to that and you can order a used owner?s manual. The relative trickle of money spent on maintenance is nothing compared to the KNOCKOUT punch your bank account will receive when an engine or transmission goes. Good luck and let us know what pans out.
206-721-3077, 888-380-9277 (Acura literature warehouse)

Hope the above helps. Also they supposedly have ?92 3 door and 4-door Integra owner?s manuals available here:

Voss Motors, Inc. ? 4850 37th Ave. South ? Seattle, WA 98118 USA
telephone: +1-206-721-3077 ? email:


Sorry for the lack of response as I’ve been out of town the past few days. But first off, thank you to everyone for your thoughts and comments! I don’t remember exactly how many miles I was overdue for the oil change, but time-wise, my last one was about a year ago. And checking over my maintenance records, it looks like the sparkplugs were replaced about 11,000 miles ago. One of the guys at the shop told me sparkplugs last about 12000 miles, so it’s probably time to replace them anyway. I guess what I had a problem with was the fact that they didn’t confirm they fixed the oil light problem before asking me to replace the sparkplugs.

To let you all know how the story ends, when I got back from my trip, I went to pick up my car. Since replacing the oil switch didn’t end up fixing the problem, they put the old one back in (which I didn’t expect them to do). They checked the oil pressure and it seemed normal, so their conclusion was that it’s an electrical issue and they recommend just letting it be, ignoring the oil light, and be on my way. Otherwise, they said it would be a ‘search’ mission, for which they would charge on a per hour basis. They also did the oil change (as I requested) and replaced the sparkplugs. All in all, everything came out to $100 - much cheaper than I expected. I guess when I looked at the bill, they ended up not charging me for the oil pressure test and the labor for putting in and taking out the oil switch. Maybe I should have given them the benefit of the doubt afterall…


Something is still unclear to me. Are we talking about a red oil light (with the little oil can on it), a yellow low oil level lamp, or what?

Spark plugs normally last more than 12k miles although they should never be left in for extended periods such as 100k miles IMHO. The only way the spark plugs should be failing at 12k miles is if there is another problem that is contributing to their failure; engine performance problem, oil burning, etc. If the vehicle appeared to be running fine then I don’t buy the 12k miles replacement bit.

Guess this brings some doubt back, huh?