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Mechanic rip-off - do I have any recourse?

This is a bit of a long story. The blinkers on my car stop working intermittently. I did some research (including a post on this website) and got recc’s that it might be the turn signal indicator. I called up my local mechanic and told them the blinker stopped working intermittently and I thought it was the turn signal switch. The mechanic gave me a quote on how much it would cost to replace it - parts and labor. I took it in and he fixed it - or at least I thought he did. A day later, the turn signal stopped working. There is a warranty on parts and labor. The shop says that it’s not their fault because they a) didn’t have clarification on what the problem was (they didn’t call to ask me, either) and b) their work wasn’t shoddy - it was just the wrong part.



I asked for a refund and they refused outright - stating they didn’t have my old part anymore and the work had already been done. Are they in the wrong for not giving me a refund (or even a partial refund)? The mechanic had the nerve to say that this was my fault because I seemed like I knew what was wrong with the car and he assumed I’d already had the diagnostics done. The way I see it is the mechanic is like a doctor - I think my arm is broken so the doctor investigates to see if that’s really what’s broken. He doesn’t just slap a cast on with no investigation! Any thoughts?

If you asked them to replace the turn signal switch based on the diagnosis you did then this is on you, not them.

There are a lot of things that could cause intermittent turn signals and the tracing of this problem could take an hour or it could run into days, all depending.
Would you have left the car there with an open estimate for electrical fault tracing not knowing what the final tally could be?

A prime example of why a shop should not even take a self-diagnosed problem through the shop door.

You didn’t say they asked if you wanted them to do a diagnosis, and they just replaced the parts based on your assumption. Did you tell the mechanic “I’m having problems with my turn signals not working and I’m pretty sure it’s turn signal switch” or did you say “I’m having a problem with my turn signals, I think it might be the switch, but I’m not sure, could you check for me?”

The second - I’m having a problem with my turn signals - I think it might be the switch. What do you think it would cost to figure it out?

As much as you might not like it, there is pretty much no such thing as a refund on a repair that fails to fix a problem. All there is is the next bill for the next guess at a repair. Its just one of those things that really stinks - but it is the way it is.

All you can really do is find another mechanic who will verify a diagnosis before doing anything.

This is one of a long list of reasons that I try to do pretty much all of my own repair work.

I should add that he tried to call me 2x at work (on my day off) to clarify what was wrong with the car as he tried to reproduce the problem but couldn’t. He didn’t get in touch with me so he went ahead and just replaced the switch because that’s what he thought I asked him to do.

I work in the medical field. People come to me all the time and say they think they have XYZ but I do a differential to determine what’s really going on. I guess I assumed that when I told him what I thought the problem was, he would investigate to see if that was really the problem. He told my boyfriend that he thought I’d had the problem diagnosed somewhere else.

You made a mistake. Now you want the shop to pay for it…

So you don’t think there’s anything to my arguments? :frowning:

Why he didn’t call my cell phone (the number was on the note left with the keys the night before) to clarify the problem?

Why did he change out the turn signal switch when he couldn’t actually recreate the problem? He clearly ran SOME diagnostics during the first appointment because he found that the car was well overdue for a coolant flush (to the tune of another $88). He also did some research between the first and second trips to the mechanic, because the second time he knew that it was the hazard switch that most often went bad and caused this issue in 2000-2001 Oldsmobile Aleros.

I am totally with you on this one but don’t get offended when I explain. When a customer brings his/her own diagnosis just nodd your head and don’t argue. Next put 15 minutes into the car (perhaps you eat this 15 min perhaps you don’t) and do your own diagnosis. For those that “face palm” at the thought of 15 minutes, I say you won’t get much more (if any) if this was a warranty job.

What really sold me is that you reported the mechanic tried to call you but did not make contact, then went ahead with the repair because he thought that was what you wanted. This is a plan for loosing your shirt,so to speak. No work should have been done no matter what you said in regards to a diagnosis until he spoke with you. Mechanic loses this one.

Intermittent turn signals on this kind of car (and bulb type) is usually the exposed wire contact at the bulb or the socket.

You refund the hospital bill for a wrong diagnosis?

No, of course not but a hospital doesn’t offer a warranty guaranteeing their labor and parts for 6 months or 6000 miles. If my physician offered a warranty, I’d definitely ask for a refund!

If the part he installed fails within the next 6 months or 6 thousand miles you have a warranty claim. Otherwise you have no claim at all.

Unfortunately, what you appear to have asked for isn’t very clear. This was probably a case of poor communication. You thought your hunch might give the mechanic a good place to start, and your mechanic took that to mean you didn’t want any diagnosis. In a case of miscommunication, it can be hard to place the fault on a single party.

Coincidentally, I just went through something similar last week. The headlight on my motorcycle blows a fuse when I use the high-beam. I also thought the problem might be in the switch, and I mentioned it, but I also made sure to say I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be the switch because of a problem I had with the turn signals. After riding in heavy rain, the turn signals stopped working. I disassembled the switch and dried it out with a hair dryer. That fixed the turn signal problem, and the same housing holds the high-beam switch, so I thought it was worth mentioning. The guy at the counter miscommunicated with me about when the work would be done, and he miscommunicated with me about which forms of payment they accept, so I won’t be going back to that shop, but he did understand I wanted diagnostic work, and not a part swap.

If you feel you were as clear about what you wanted as you could have possibly been, it is time to walk away from this shop and never go back. You won’t get your money back, so there is no use in arguing for a refund. I suppose, if you paid with a major credit card, you could call the credit card company and ask for a reversal of the charge, but be prepared to lose the battle if you willingly paid the bill and signed the receipt.

[b]EDIT: I just saw that:

The mechanic gave me a quote on how much it would cost to replace it - parts and labor.

This means he should have read the quote he signed and known they were going to replace the part and not do any diagnostic work. You should always read and understand a document before you sign it.[/b]

I agree.

And I have a question - you said a day later, the turn signal stopped working again. Does this mean that it WAS working when you picked it up? If so, I’d wonder if he put in a bad part, and is now trying to skip out of the warranty work to replace it again.

If the doctor misdiagnoses your cancer as a common cold, then you can sue him and get a whole lot more than a refund. If the surgeon operates on the wrong part (say, removes the good kidney leaving you with none), you can sue him and, again, get a whole lot more than a refund. Hell, if the surgeon pulls the common mechanic’s trick of accidentally leaving a tool under the hood, you can sue him and get a whole lot more than a refund. Bad analogy :wink:

I really don’t think this situation qualifies as a “rip-off” because a specific job was requested and that work was done as well as it could have been. That’s the downfall of intermittent problems, they are very difficult to diagnose properly. You did apparently ask to have the turn signal switch replaced (according to your original post, which conflicts with one of your responses later down the thread. I’m more inclined to believe the first version of the story), and they did replace it. They may have been trying to call you to discuss something unrelated, or possibly to once again verify you wanted the switch replaced. They may have then rationalized that, since you did ask for an estimate to replace the switch and authorized the work, that they should go ahead with it. Many shops would do that rather than wait for you to call back or come in and ask, “what the heck? I asked you guys to replace that switch, why didn’t you? Now I have to wait longer to get my car back!”

I tend to be very hesitant to use the term “rip-off” unless it is fully warranted. One comparison to this “rip-off” would be concerning my son. He was born with blocked tear ducts, which did not clear up on their own. His eyes would tear up and he would have tears running down his face all the time, even when he was not crying. This was accompanied by a buildup of crust around his eyes. He had to have a surgery to correct this issue when he was about one year old. Everything seemed to go well, but a couple weeks later it became apparent that the surgery did not fully correct the problem since the exact same symptoms showed up. The solution was to perform the same surgery all over again. I doubt that anything would have gotten done if I had accused the surgeon of ripping me off and not correcting the problem properly the first time, and I doubt that I or my insurance company would have gotten any of the money back from the first surgery. I do, however, have the understanding the people are humans and not everything goes perfectly the first time around, so sometimes work has to be repeated or other avenues need to be explored. I also bet that I was out more money on that surgery than you were out on that turn signal switch, even with medical insurance helping me out.

I would consider this a learning experience and never go back to that mechanic. He may not have even replaced the part. Who knows? I would think he would at least check to see if the new switch was defective.

I don’t see any recourse here. He claimed he did some work on your car and billed you for it. Unless you find that he didn’t actually replace the switch, there’s not much you can do.

I agree with the others that the shop simply replaced the part you asked them to and does not owe you a refund. Or even a free diagnosis and repair from here.

Unfortunately, your situation is a common one. And it’s exascerbated by the fact that people often get upset if the shop does other than exactly what they told the shop to do. They think the shop is trying to rip them off.

Countless times on this forum I’ve suggested to posters that they tell the shop the symptoms as best they can and let the shop do the diagnosis. Yours is an excellent illustration of the reason.

Sorry, but I think you need to write this one off as the cost of an education.

If a customer brings their car to the shop and tells us that they want a price quote to replace struts, it’s up to us to tell customer how much, not diagnose their problem. Right now I’m replacing head gaskets on a 2007 Dodge Magnum wagon. Customer brings in car and says “replace head gaskets”. Okey dokey no problem. Should I have diagnosed that one? I say no, the reason being the customer is the boss. If people want us to act like doctors, well I suppose we ought to be charging a grand an hour and guaranteeing no results.