Should I contest this repair?

My mom (who’s in her mid 70’s) took her 2000 Saturn LS1 to the dealer to get a simple yearly safety inspection.

When she dropped it off, they told her they’ll do the inspection and go ahead and change the oil, top off fliuds, and change the trans axle fliud. This would cost $359.80. She agreed and left the car there.

An hour later they called her at home and told her that her rack and pinion steering gear assembly was leaking…internally…and that it could not pass inspection this way. They said her she needed a new assembly.

She reluctantly agreed because they said it had to be done and her car wouldn’t pass inspection otherwise.

Here’s the part I have real trouble with. The new total was $2619.23.

I figure the most the assembly could cost is 500 bucks. That would make the labor for the steering gear $1760.00.

However on the receipt it lists the assembly at $987.97 and labor at $1178.91.

Is all this anywhere within the realm of normal and reasonable? If it is, I’ll take it as an expensive lesson for her and for me, but if if it’s definitely not, then I want to go down there and take it up with them.

How do you figure that the most it could cost would be 500 bucks?

Here’s what you do: call up another dealer and ask the price.

I am willing to guess that the price she paid isn’t unreasonable.

The key word in there is “dealer.” Keep in mind too that the car industry is in trouble & looking for $$.

I would follow Mr Josh’s advice and make a few phone calls. But I think that is absolutely loopy. What is their hourly labor rate? Even at something like $120/hr that’s 10 hours. I doubt it. And almost $1000 for the rack itself - ? I’m not buying it. Look around on the web. I’ll bet your $500 guess is on the high side (though there are probably choices between remans and new).

The price on the steering rack itself could be about right. You cannot compare a price on a rack from any local parts house against a rack provided by the dealer. Most of the parts house racks will be reman units and the dealer will likely be using a brand new Saturn OEM steering rack.
Any factory provided, new part will be much higher in price.

You might investigate the labor part of this bill. It sounds awfully high to me although if you live in a high labor rate area (say San Francisco where labor rates can be 175 bucks an hour) then it doesn’t take long to hit 1200 dollars.

Find out the shop customer pay labor charge per flat rate hour and then ask how many flat rate hours are charged for the rack replacement. Multiply the 2 and that should put you in the area.
There is no law that says a shop has to even go by the flat rate book but the vast majority stick pretty close to it. The service people at the desk should have no objections at all to explaining how this figure was arrived at if they’re honest and professional. Be polite in your dealings with them at this point.
Hope that helps.

I just guestimated 500 bucks. But later I looked online for Saturn OEM parts and actually found it for $425.00.

Either way, 425 bucks or 1000 bucks, that still leaves the labor…I am a repair technician myself (albiet not cars) and I charge $95.00/hr. I happen to know that from the time they called my mom to the time it was finished, four hours had passed. That make 4 hours maximum they spent on the job. Given their own cost for labor ($1178.91), that would make it $295.00/hr. I’m not aware of any legitimate mechanics charging 295 bucks and hour, let alone dealer service centers.

They told her it was a package price. I need to know if this is normal/reasonable…keep in mind they charged her a thousand bucks for a part that lists retail for $425.00.

What test was performed that indicated the rack “was leaking internally” How does this “internal leak” (what ever that means) cause a car to fail a State mandated safety inspection".What symptons did this leak present? Have you seen the form that fails a car for this problem.

As ok4450 said, the price that you see for something online is not going to touch the price that you pay at the dealer. That’s why I said, call another dealer and ask for the price for the rack, that’s the only way that you can be sure.

Basically, just read ok4450’s post he is dead-on.

i think you are out of luck on this. unfortunately.

this one more glaring example of the service writer manipulating an unsuspecting unknowledgeable customer. there are two key words your mom missed. dont feel bad, most every visitor to a dealership repair place misses them too.

the first word is required. this means the auto repairs are necessary to operate the car.

the second word is recommended. this means the repairs are not required, but heavily suggested. this is the way the dealership service writer keeps his guys working and busy (productive) for both their and the dealerships profit for the day, week, month, year.

i would be willing to bet your mom got the ‘recommend’ push, and was not able to distinguish between the two. sorry, but by her verbally OKing the repair, it is a done deal. the reason i feel it was the “recommended” ‘push’ is that it is a un proven diagnosis. the other issue is the threat of ‘not passing’ inspection. the car was already inspected. when was it due? this sounds suspiciously like subterfuge to me. sneaky. underhanded. devious. hmmmm welcome to the world of dealerships. wonder why no one trusts car dealers!?

you must realize that the hourly charge is NOT the amount of hours required to do the repair, but a ‘book’ value of hours which are allotted by the manufacturer for the repair. if the mechanic got the repair done sooner, he made more money per hour. but if it took him longer, then he gets hosed for the repair. over all it works out, but it sure doesn’t feel that way to you does it! just to let you know, if the repair has to go back to the shop, because of an installation issue, or other problems, the mechanic gets no more money. it is considered to be on the original hours that he was paid to do the job.

Contact your state inspection board. State exactly what they did, “an internal test” was performed and would not pass inspection. See how they respond to you.

I hate to admit it but I find dealers now are just more apt to change things that most independent mechanics use common sense and take the wait/see approach. I use a dealer occasionally since repairs/maintenance are free with coupons that are a kickback from a credit card($500/year). However recently they stated I need a $550 rear bushing twice over now but another mechanic said no. I have to take the car elsewhere to get it inspected.

She reluctantly agreed because they said it had to be done and her car wouldn’t pass inspection otherwise.

Unless the above was a lie, it is a little too late to complain. The car’s owner agreed to the repair and the price.

Likely she should not have brought the car to the dealer to start with, but that was her choice and a choice many people make.

I’m REALLY glad that my state (NJ) uses state-operated facilities to perform vehicle inspections, rather than sending everyone to private garages for this purpose. The conflict of interests inherent in having someone who does repairs making the decision of whether your car needs to be repaired in order to pass a state inspection has apparently escaped “the powers that be” in most states.

While the inspection system in NJ is far from perfect (and to some extent is too cursory), the fact remains that the person(s) making the decision about whether your car passes the inspection have no vested financial interest in the decision.

Yes, I realize that in today’s economic climate, there is no possibility of states building their own inspection stations where none currently exist, but “back in the day” when these state inspection systems were devised, it just seems that someone should have realized the inherent conflict of interest involved in having private garages make the “pass or no-pass” decision since they stand to profit from the “no-pass” decisions.

Was Mom Given An Accurate Estimate That She Agreed To When They Called?

My state requires an estimate prior to any work and the shop cannot exceed it by over 10%. When there in person, the estimate has to be given in writing and autorized by the customer. I’m not sure what happens when autorized by phone, but it could be up to a judge in small claims court to decide a “he said, she said”. Some shops have quite the reputation at the old court house. Sometimes just the threat that they’re headed there leads to a settlement.

If Mom gave them the go ahead for an extra couple thousand, then things get a lot tougher.

Remember the TV show “People’s Court”? “When you are unhappy with a dealing with some one, TAKE THEM TO COURT!” (This isn’t an exact quote,but, so what?).
Get all of your prices charged, industry normal charges, people’s names, etc., and, TAKE THEM TO COURT. This would be under the purview of a “small claims court”, in which the standard of proof is that your mom’s argument persuades the judge more favorably than the dealer’s representative.
If you do take the dealer to court, your mom has a chance to recover some of the overcharge, maybe all of the charge for the power steering rack, if the dealer can’t persuade the judge that replacing the rack was even necessary. If you (mom) doesn’t take them to court, that guarantees that your mom will lose.
It might take some months for the case to get to the court, so take a lot of notes for you and mom to refresh your memories from time to time. Especially, get name, and descriptions, of people you have dealt with (and, are dealing with) at the dealer, a second mechanic, etc. Memory fades.
Courts are made for people who get ripped off, whether they “agreed” to the ripping off, or not.

You can do some research and try to contest it, but I would not get my hopes up.

I understand why it costs more to get things done at dealers, and I understand flat rates (I used to earn my living wrenching on cars), but this does sound fishy. Dealers will use rebuilt parts in some cases if they can guarantee them (1 yr is standard).

An internal leak that will cause it to fail inspection? Unless the car had gotten progressively harder to steer and you Mother had not noticed because the change was gradual, this sets off my bogus alert. Ask her if the car is easier to steer now than it was before, especially first thing in the morning when she starts it.

Also, if you can get a ‘sight unseen’ cost quote from another shop, that will tell you the number of hours that the book allocates for labor for this job.

I would call the dealer and make an appointment with the service manager. Meet with the manager and voice your concerns, ask for the old parts, and ask how they determined that the rack was leaking internally. Take a friend who can be a witness later on, if necessary. Then express your concerns and ask if they’ll do anything to refund part of the bill. If not, leave and call around for estimates for the same work, asking each tech how they would determine the internal leaking. Only after you’ve determined whether or not this fix was necessary and over-billed can you then query “what should I do about it?” My opinion is that she was taken advantage of, but I . . . like you at this point, can’t back it up (yet). Rocketman

Sorry . . . one more thing. The original $360 is pretty pricey for just an oil & filter change, transmission fluid change, fluid top-off and safety inspection. Once the car is up on the rack you can spin off the oil filter and drain the motor oil in 5 minutes. I don’t know about the transmission fluid in this car, but any car I’ve ever changed tranny fluid or gear oil wasn’t major surgery either. That leaves the safety inspection . . . and any experienced mechanic can knock through this (while the fluids are draining) in less than an hour. I check my own vehicles in less than that every time I do an oil change. My point is . . . this place is pricey to begin with . . . don’t you think? I’d guess their shop rate is going to be pretty high. What part of the country is this, if you don’t mind me asking? Rocketman

After they told you this problem would cause your car to fail a inspection (more likely “we won’t pass your car unless”) did they say you could not drive the car away for a second opinion?

You are responding (once) to the money side of the problem, I am asking about the validity of the test and the rules of the test.

And, as I said in an earlier post, the inherent conflict of interests here makes any diagnosis related to state inspection suspect.

Since the OP states they are a repair tech, although not of the auto variety, then why isn’t the OP taking care of Mom’s car for free and bypassing any and all other shops?

While I agree that on the surface 359 sounds high for the oil change, etc it may not be out of line depending. If one figures .5 an hour on an oil change, 1 hour on trans fluid with a high flat rate labor charge, pricier synthetic oil, factory oil filter, inspection fee (?), along with taxes, enviro fees, shop supply charge, it could hit that total.

While I agree that on the surface there may be a oonflict about an inspection station performing repairs, that is the way the law works and until the law is changed the customer has to live with it.

OK phased out their inspection program (I was a state inspector) a few years back and the way it worked was like this.
A customer may bring in a car that needs a few things repaired in order to pass. Once the car is brought into the shop for the inspection and the process was started it was against the law to stop that process and pretend it never started. The inspection must be completed, the owner advised of any problems, and the customer was then given the option of having the inspection stations doing the repairs or they could leave with a rejection notice that gave them 10 days to either do the repairs themselves or have it done elsewhere.

There was no wiggle room on this. It was the law and since the threat of license revocation, fines, or jail time was present a shop had to adhere to the process.
The law stated that all problems must be written up and the car owner informed then and there.
(And JMHO, but I’m glad the inspection program was phased out in OK. It was a farce. The main purpose of the program was not vehicle safety; it was to pad the state trooper’s retirement fund.)

I don’t know what test was performed if any. I should also mention that in my state, a safety inspection usually just entails checking the headlights, turn signals, brake lights, tires, and a simple exterior visual inspection. There’s no way any normal gas station or shop would have internally checked the rack and pinion assembly.