Mechanic rip-off - do I have any recourse?

I didn’t sign the quote - it was over the phone. Nothing was presented to me in writing.

Thanks to everyone for your opinions. I especially appreciate the opinions of mechanics and shop-owner types. It’s good to know that whenever I go to a mechanic I need to describe what’s happening and let the shop go from there. They can tell me what they think the problem is, I can get a written estimate or quote, and decide to use that mechanic or go to someone else. Next time, I’ll have to make sure I’m crystal clear as to what I’m asking and make sure the mechanic understands. Oh - finding another mechanic is going to be a royal pain!

In my profession, when someone comes to me and says they have XYZ problem, I don’t simply treat that problem. I confirm that’s what’s actually going on THEN fix the problem (if possible). I think my expectations and the mechanics were different because our professional approaches are so different. I incorrectly assumed that if I said “fix my head gasket” the shop would confirm that it was actually my head gasket that was broken. If it was, they’d fix it; if not, they’d tell me the real problem and fix that. In my profession, I can’t just go based on what my client says because they’re frequently incorrect. I would think that a mechanic would be used to customers not knowing what was really wrong. It’s probably in the mechanic’s best interest to fix whatever the customer says b/c the customer will keep bringing the car back (and spending money) until the issue is fixed.

Here’s why you are right. A mechanic should never begin a repair based on the diagnosis of the patient. The mechanic has the knowledge, experience and tools to establish the best course of repair. The mechanic should, like a doctor, focus on the problem at hand and do the best to fix the problem.

Fair enough, but he did give you a verbal quote to replace the switch, rather than give you a quote for diagnostic work, right? Why didn’t that raise a red flag? Perhaps it will next time.

For anyone who is paying attention, the headlight fuse blew again, but I wasn’t using the high beam, so I was wrong to attribute that to the cause. I have side-lined the bike until I can get back home to pull the repair manual and check out the wiring diagram. Other than the switch, the only thing I have messed with recently, other than the fuse, is the headlight housing, so that is where I will start.

I realize I’m somewhat late to the party, but I feel obliged to opine.

Comparing your profession (medicine) to auto mechanics has one flaw: despite the fact that both professions “fix broke stuff,” they are built around two different ideologies: paternalism vs. customer sovereignty.

In medicine, the model is “paternalistic medicine.” A customer (patient) simply can’t come in, lay his money on the table, and say “I want (angioplasty/a third eye/a Vicodin script/whatever).” The patient describes the symptoms, and the doctor decides the proper course of action. In fact, my experience has been MDs are rather chilly to patient suggestion as to the proper course of treatment.

On the other hand, auto repair is run via the (more traditional) “customer sovereignty” model (“rule 1: the customer is always right; rule 2: if the customer really is wrong…refer to rule 1.”) If you tell a mechanic, specifically, “I want (a new turn signal/a supercharger/my muffler bearings rotated),” that’s typically what you get.

As someone who happens to resent paternalism (spending my time/money on a treatment protocol someone else perceives as being most likely to produce a desired result), customer sovereignty is refreshing. However, with power comes responsibility: don’t request a specific action until you have ascertained such action is necessary.

Meanjoe has summarized things very well, IMHO.

If nothing else, I hope that the OP has learned to avoid mentioning a diagnosis to his/her mechanic unless he/she is prepared to pay for the results of that diagnosis, be it right or wrong.

I am going to ask a question, Did the shop charge you a diagnosis fee? If not and they went with your diagnosis what can you expect. It was common knowledge at the chevy olds dealer I worked at that almost all aleros needed a hazard flasher switch at some point. If you went in there and requested to have your turn signal switch replaced and they did it, its done, they did what they they were told to do.

If they would have tried to charge you one hour of shop labor rate to diagnose it would they have been ripping you off? This case here is part of the reason I left the automotive repair field.

“In medicine, the model is “paternalistic medicine.” A customer (patient) simply can’t come in, lay his money on the table, and say “I want (angioplasty/a third eye/a Vicodin script/whatever).””

Well its not supposed to work that way, but its happened before with the right doctor and the right amount of money, Lol… Look at Elvis, and Michael Jackson…

When a customer wants a quote on a repair, I usually ask them if I can verify the problem first.

When they give me the" I’m sure this is the problem look" I usually don’t take the conversation any further and perform the repair.

Oldsmobile and BMW’s have turn signal problems via the hazard switch, although this switch is seldom, if ever used. This is the first thing I activate on any vehicle with turn signal problems.

Knowing or knowing the methods of diagnosing a problem come with time and experience. Mechanics who work at a shop that services every type of vehicle are at a disdvantage because they seldom see a random repeat problem.

Shops that invest in internet shop diagnostic services have a better ability to fix vehicles.

And that’s what’s wrong with our society. Everybody wants to sue everybody.

When I go to a mechanic with a problem, even if I have an idea of what the problem is, I just describe the symptoms and say “Will you take a look at it?”. If they call back and explain to me that a part needs to be replaced that is totally different than what I thought, then we talk about possible causes. I agree with the other posters on here who have said that this was a problem of miscommunication. Unfortunately, both people made mistakes, and I don’t think it’s going to work out for the OP to get his money back (nor do I think it should).

If the doctor amputates my good leg, leaving me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I think I’m entitled to compensation for that. If he leaves a scalpel in me which perforates my bowels and forces me to use a colostomy bag from now on, I think I’m entitled to compensation for that as well.

 If it's any consolation, I do think the combo turn signal/high-beam switch is a common failure point, and even if it was a misdiagnosis chances are good you would have had it wear out sooner or later anyway.  It went on my 2000 Buick Regal at about 120,000 miles, the headlights winked out (when I tried to switch from high to low beams) then after a bit of jiggling they stuck in the high beam position.  Luckily there was no other traffic on the road to blind.

You’re wrong. Mechanics too often have to try to determine the difference between customers’ theories as to what is wrong with their cars and actual directions as to what part(s) to replace or repair. In your case, you wanted a part replaced and it was replaced, or else it would not have worked even for one day. The part you paid to have to replaced failed because something else caused the failure.
But you never gave the car over for diagnosis. You told the mechanic what to replace. Your call. You don’t get to ask for a refund.

Until you or someone you love is the victim of medical malpractice. Then all societal concerns go out the nearest window.

Several years ago, I had an intermittent failure, something in the evap system on my 2002 Sienna. Sometimes it would fail several times a day, then it would run for weeks, once even several months, without failing. And, the exact codes varied. I think 0442 and 0446 with another one at times. So, any professional mechanics here who think if I bring it into your shop and tell you to diagnose it, you could find the problem when it happens not to be failing? How many weeks should I pay you $80 an hour to diagnose it? No, I will get the car back, with a significant bill to pay, and No Trouble Found.

Intermittents are the worst problems to diagnose. I know, because I worked for 31 years as a diagnostic technician on civilian and military electronics, costing up to $250,000 for one box you can carry in one hand. That electronics mostly had circuitry similar in concept to the OBD-II function. That is, perform self-test on the equipment and report failures. Diagnosing was the same idea. The code did not tell you what was wrong. It let you know which test failed, and the software listing told you what circuit the test checked. The actual problem could be anything which could cause that test to fail in the manner stated. You still had to find the exact cause with a variety of measurements and tests, of course. When I saw the shop manual on my car, and read what OBD=II was doing, I thought, “Neat! I know what this is doing.”

I kept a log book of codes and dates of failures on this evap problem. I posted here, and kept updating it as I learned new information. I Googled and learned how it worked, in general that test applies a slight vacuum to the tank, then measures it over time, to make sure it doesn’t go away too fast. If it does, it calls a failure. And, on some makes, it will do it only under certain warm-up and temperature conditions.

I went visually through all the hoses, and other things suggested. I changed the gas cap twice.

Finally, after a long time, six months or a year, I forget, a man on the now DOA Sienna Club reported he had had the same problem. He had two Sienna’s and swapped parts between them. The problem followed the canister assembly, so of course he had it replaced. He said there seems to be some self-actuating valves on there. That certainly correlated with an intermittent of this type, so I felt I had enough information to fork out my money on a fix.

I took my car to the Toyota dealer and told them I had troubleshot it at great length, and was confident it was the canister assembly.

Instead of a major ego burst, putting the stupid customer in his stupid place, or handing him the tools and tell him to do it himself, as one person here once said he’d do if a stupid customer actually thought he knew what the problem was, they told me I’d have to sign a form which freed them from any liability if that part did not fix the problem. I think that is a much more professional approach than what some here have indicated they would do, and it also informs the customer he is responsible for his own diagnosis. My life was spent in making such decisions; the only difference was in this case it was my money involved, not the government’s.

I signed it; they replaced it, and it has been a number of years now with no further failures.

I may be wrong, but I suspect if I had taken this car to one of you who are so confident, that you would have looked it over, charged me diagnostic time, and replaced the gas cap again, for the third time with a large bill, right?

I am aware most customers who think they know what their problem is, don’t have my background in electronics. But, I do think you should find out what the person’s background is, before you insult him. And, I think a professional mechanic should have a warranty waiver form like the dealer used. It is the professional way to do it.

By the way, I do agree this man deserves not a cent refund. He told them what to do. If they did it, he pays, period. Just as I would have been my bucks if the canister was not bad on my car. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.