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Repair in Latvia? Objective Man Advice Needed

Okay. Long story short, we are bringing our 99 Corolla, 170k miles, with us to Germany. Among its issues are brakes (they hum a bit), and transmission (according to a Les Schwab guy who drove the car to check the alignment).

My husband wants to take this car to Germany, and whenever he gets his license (military), drive it to Latvia for repair, where he says it will be cheaper.

I want to do the repairs now. My concerns are Russian mafia cheapo replacement parts, what if it breaks down in Germany on the way to Latvia, etc.

He is afraid repairs are going to cost us a thousand or more here in the U.S. and we’ve already replaced tires and struts.

Your opinions, please.

Sincere thanks to you both for your sacrifices to serve our country. We’re indebted to you.

I’ve never been to Latvia. However I’d be inclined want it repaired before taking it there. The parts will probably be the same Chinese or Korean parts that you’d get here, but our infrastructure (cell phones, tow trucks, etc.) should it break down on the way to repair is probably better. Besides, if they in Latvia have a tendency to take advantage of military personnel he wouldn’t have to deal with it so soon.

What exactly did the man say was wrong with the Tranny?

What makes him think the repairs are going to be cheaper in Latvia? (why not Poland, Lithuania or Belorus for that matter?) If nothing else, the cost of the fuel to drive the thing all the way to Latvia will probably eat up any savings (although visiting the Les Schwab probably isn’t quite as fun as visiting Latvia).

I’m sure any mechanic in the world can handle the brakes and alignment, but I’d be worried about the transmission. It could be that the Euro-spec Corolla uses a wildly different transmission and the cost of importing parts might be expensive.

Totally agree with Mountainbike. Latvian mechanics may never have seen a Corolla. The parts may be bogus counterfits form China or Taiwan, and not have the quality or fit. They also will not have the diagnostic gear to properly analyze a Corolla.

Agree that US citizens abroad are the most subject to ripoffs, especially government employees who are reluctant to raise a stink.

Having lived abroad, my advice would be so seek out a good independent mechanic in the US and get EVERYTHING fixed or replaced. THAT WILL BE THE MOST ECONOMICAL I assure you.

I’m still puzzled why you to take a Corolla to Germany, unless you want to sell it there. The emission and safety equipment is different, and although you get a miltary exemption, you still may need to have it fixed at some time in the future.

Please tell your husband he is an impractical dreamer; the cost of even going to Latvia from Germany will be high and has to be added to any repair. Latvia is also not a great holiday destination… At least repairs in Germany, should they become necessary will be done by competent mechanics.

In summary, for a 3 year posting in Germany, if you fix everything in the US, you will likley have virtually no work other than oil changes and the like. Military personnel don’t drive as much as hardpressed US commuters.

Thanks for replying so quickly!

I forget what the man said about the transmission. Something like, there is a tiny little key loose / missing. Something there are several of. That was his guess. He is not a mechanic, and they don’t do engine/Tranny repairs at Les Schwab. It was just his advice in general to a repeat customer, not an official diagnostic.

As for Latvia- it’s a very small country and I think they do have towing infrastructure there. Anyway, given its size we would be doing most of the driving in Germany and countries on the way like Lithuania. Of course we might have to go through Kaliningrad… and get Russian visas… but the point is, you think we could probably get comparable parts and service?

Wow, this is an active forum. Thanks, Jack.

We’re not going to Belarus! :wink: Seriously though, Poland is an option, too. I don’t know why he chose Latvia. Maybe he knows someone there. Hmmmm.


Good point about the European transmission.

You never told us if this car has an automatic transmission or a manual trans.
If it is an automatic, DO NOT plan to have it repaired in any of the former Soviet republics, simply because automatic transmissions are absolutely not found in those regions except on some very expensive models. If they have Corollas there (and I am fairly sure that they do), they will ALL have manual transmissions.

Automatic transmissions on small cars are rare in all areas of Europe.
In the former Eastern Bloc, they are non-existent.

Do you really want someone working on your automatic transmission to be someone who has never done that type of repair work previously?

If it needs simple repairs, do it here, it’s not worth the trouble there.

If it needs complex repairs, either do it here (they may not be able to do it there), or sell it here and buy a car in Germany that has good service there.

Neither option involves a trip to Latvia.

Don’t even think of getting comparable service anywhere East of Germany. Towing is a well developed skill there since cars from Eastern Europe are notoriously unreliable. If you drive to Lithuania, your car better be fully inspected and prepared.

As a maintenance professional, my experience has been that Eastern Europe is not strong on diagnostic skills, especially on a car they probably have never seen before.

If you plan to do a lot of driving in Eastern Europe I would not take the Corolla, but buy a very basic used Volkswagen in Germany. At least they are familiar with those now.

If you’ve travelled by car in Mexico you’ll have some idea what Eastern Europe is like, only much less developed.

I hope I’m getting through to you that traveling in Eastern Europe is no picnic if you have car trouble.

Hubby may know someone who was deployed to Northeastern Germany and took their car to Latvia for repairs. Without knowing at least one successful customer, I would not do it. And you have to go through Poland and Estonia to get to Latvia; Belarus is just east of Estonia and about as fat as Riga. If you aren’t deployed in Northeastern Germany, I can’t imagine why it would make sense to go to Latvia.

“Do you really want someone working on your automatic transmission to be someone who has never done that type of repair work previously?”

Well, I don’t, no, but my husband does, apparently!

Thanks everyone for your replies. This has been helpful. I’m always the one who wants to spend more money (in this case, for quality repairs) and I wonder if I’m not just lazy. Your input on specific problems we might encounter was especially appreciated.

But, you have still not told us whether this is a manual transmission or an automatic transmission!

As I said in my earlier post, while some Corollas can be found in that area of the world, an automatic transmission Corolla is unheard of.

Lack of experience with automatics on the part of Latvian (or Estonian, or Lithuanian, or Russian, or…) mechanics equals definite problems for anyone expecting good-quality repair work. And then, after you have driven back to Germany, if the car acts up, are you really going to drive (or have the car towed) all the way back to Latvia?

I don’t think that you can afford to save this much money.

Looking at the map, you can never achieve cost savings by driving to Latvia and getting the repairs done there. I doubt that you can drive to Poland and break even, either. Repair in the US, and plan your holiday to Latvia, without worry. Alternatives may include paying a mechanically inclined friend or acquaintance to do the work in a craft shop, or find a good German mechanic if you don’t want to use AAFES. I do remember seeing plenty of Toyota dealers in Germany when I was last there in 2004, so parts availability should not be an issue. All of these options are cheaper than a trip to Poland or Latvia.

Hope you enjoy your tour in Germany; we certainly did.

You’ve gotten lots of good advice here, but the one thing that bothers me about the thread is that your husband was not the one asking. If he’s adamant that he wants to get it repaired there, and it sounds like he is, then remember that in the end it’s only a car…and an older one at that. In the end it isn’t worth creating friction in your marriage.

Depending on where you are stationed, it can be a fair drive to Latvia. If you are in the Ramstein/Kaiserslautern area, it’s about 850 miles. That’s about equivalent to driving from Salt Lake City to Tijuana or Raleigh-Durham to Quebec city for the privilege of dealing with a mechanic speaking in his second or third language.

I wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense unless you have other reasons for wanting to visit Latvia.

Google gets a lot of hits for Toyota Corollas in Riga, so you probably can get it fixed there. While manual transmissions are more popular in Europe than here, it’s certainly likely that you can find a mechanic there who understands automatics. But whether parts will have to be special ordered is an issue. Takes time.

Whether the work will be substantially cheaper is a function of the exchange rate, how much of the job is labor, whether skilled labor really is cheaper, and sales taxes on parts. I think you might want to research that stuff. Be aware that the world’s economies have been in a state of flux and things may change rapidly. An exchange rate that looks favorable today can be much less favorable by the time you really set out for Riga.

Good luck.

Well, no, what I’m asking this group is, should I back down, or is it reasonable to insist on repairs in the United States (we both think German labor will be more expensive). I’m not going to start a big fight over it.

We have an automatic transmission, but there are automatics in Europe. We used to live in Eastern Europe and there were plenty of automatics. I have used my feminine wiles to convince him to get the first tune-up here.

I think it is prudent and reasonable to insist the repairs be done in the US. That way you are sending the car to Europe in the best possible condition. Since you have 170K miles on it, you may be facing repairs in the future, anyway. Minimizing those inconvenient repairs by doing the work now makes the most sense to me.

Whether you should back down or insist on having the repairs done here depends entirely on the dynamics of your marriage. We can tell you wbout the repairs themselves, and some of us who’ve traveled there can tell you about the possible pitfalls of waiting, but none of us can tell you whether you should back down or insist.

What I can tell you is it’s only a car. If it’ll cause undue marital stress, remember that when making your decision. And if you back down and then the decision to get the work done there turns out to be a mistake, be supportive rather than saying “I told you so”. He’ll know he goofed. No need to tell him.

Deployment is stressful enough. Assess the real importance of the decsion in the bigger scheme of things. IMHO it’s relatively minor.