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

Mid-repair price increase

Long-time listener, but brand new to car ownership. Found mechanic on Mechanics Files, but he only had 2 recommendations, both from 8 years ago.



I have my parents’ 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee with <90k miles. After driving in the 3 feet of snow this winter, I noticed a noise while turning. Mechanic said that a bolt attached to the front sway bar broke off, and showed me a broken bolt parallel to the length of the car’s body. I asked how much it would cost, and he said 180 mostly for labor, without mentioning any other potential complications. And then they said they couldn’t remove the bolt without replacing the whole front sway bar, total cost 400 including the new sway bar 180. He said it wasn’t possible to get a used sway bar because it would break off while being taken off a junkyard car.



I’ve done some internet research, and it looks like people use used sway bars all the time, and something about the way he did the price increase when the work was halfway done, so I couldn’t just drive away, doesn’t sit right with me.



Was this reasonable, or do I need to find a new mechanic?

a sway bar is a simple affair for a mechanic, or even like me, a shade tree mechanic to replace. It was the bolt that broke, and I assume the sway bar got bent. Yes you can get a 'nuther one from the yards. Go to a pull it yourself place, its very much cheeper. You will do much better spending your hard earned cash on tools and a repair manual than on a shifty mechanic. Be your own new mechanic, for simple jobs like this it just aint that hard.

I’m puzzled as to why the entire sway bar needed to be replaced due to a stuck bolt, but I’ll assume that I’d agree if I actually got to see it. Unfortunately, when working on older vehicles it’s common to run into unforeseeable problems. This may be the case here.

While used sway bars are fine technically, it might not have saved you that much.

With respect to Ignoramus, sway bars can be a bear to replace without a lift. They’re often squarreled up and around exhaust and suspension components. With the axle(s) dangling and lots of room to move the bar around they can usually be unsquarreled, but lying under the car on jack stands they often cannot. I don’t think I’d want to attempt this on lost cars without a lift. Al my cussin’ would probably arouse the interest of beezlebub.

I’d be reluctant to suggest looking for a new mechaniic without actually having been there. Stuff does happen, and cannot always be foreseen.

well after all I am an ignoramus, I mean that in itself should be fair warning. anyway, Mountian Bike is right about things comming up unexpectedly. Such as a bolt or nut that strips its threads when trying to remove it. Or the need to apply heat to remove a bolt that is stuck tight. a lot of dirt can accumulate on the undercarriage etc. and this compounds rust problems in suspensions etc. Still, get the manual, even though the new Haynes is not as good as the old ones were, it will tell you how hard this job might be, and you will then be informed enough to know if you want to try it. I am more of the cheep ass dare devil type, and having had some harrowing experiences with so called pros, I prefer to do it myself now matter how complicated it might get. On the other hand, I dont drive new cars either. but a 96 is not all that new.
As for the swearing, let me tell you a story. I had a Plymoth fury 2 a long time ago and the alternator went bad. When I was trying to put the pivot bolt back in, it just would not line up. I was cursing at it with a damn it and damn it to aich ee double hockey sticks, but it would not line up. then my friend (who knew ziltch about cars, bolts or any kind of mechanical apparatus) said dont curse it, bless it. So I said god bless it, and the bolt slipped right into the hole. go figger. to this day, I say bless it, instead of curse it when I am frustrated with some problem when working on my truck or car.

Thanks reassuring me that the $420 total bill was money well-spent, or at least not poorly-spent. I do wish that I had the chance to call around and compare prices.

In retrospect, I would have been better off to take his diagnosis, drive away with just an oil change, and call around for estimates. Is that what people usually do?

Where do you live? This is an essential question. Grabbing a sway bar from a junked truck may be a trivial thing in California or somewhere like that, but if you live in the salt belt (which I’m guessing you do, given the snow and rusted bolt) it is more likely than not to turn into a nightmare of rusted bolts/frame components. Considering that a 400 total repair cost really isn’t that much in the greater scheme of things, I’ll bet there was nowhere near enough to be saved on parts cost to justify the potential headache (and increased labor costs) of messing with a used sway bar.

It sounds to me like he did alright by you, even if he might need to work on his communications skills a little (and what mechanic doesn’t?).

Thanks for your reassurance as well. As I said, I’m completely new to the car thing, but just as a regular consumer was surprised to see the cost double.

The car spent 12 of its 14 years deep in the salt belt. Here I’m in DC where the used cars are likely in better shape, but still could be pretty rusted.

No you’re not…that’s just a label you chose for yourself.

I was thinking of replacing my own rear sway bar with an upgraded one, however when I visited a model specific site I discovered that the bar needed to be swung down to untangle it from the suspension parts…the option being to remove one of the rear struts. I’m fortunate enough that I can arrange time on a lift, but I wanted to do this one at home. I lost interest. I guess I never really wanted it that badly in the first splace.