Sputtering 1994 Corolla

I?ll apologize in advance for the rambling, venting nature of this post, but I need some help. I have a question about an automatic 1994 Toyota Corolla.

Two nights ago as I was coming home, the battery light comes on. The dashboard lights dim and the radio goes off, and I?m thinking the battery is about to go dead. I was about 5 minutes from home and decided to park immediately and deal with the problem in the morning since it was about midnight. I live in Chicago close to the lake, so parking is terrible but I luckily I find a spot. When I shift the car into reverse to parallel park, it just dies. This sucks?a lot. But I call AAA and they send a tow guy. A jump doesn?t help and I figure it?s the alternator. My normal mechanic is closed at this hour and they don?t have an accessible lot, so the tow guy suggested a mechanic he normally works with. At this point, I?m thinking I?m about to get scammed.

The next day I call to check on the car and am told that, indeed, the alternator is blown. I need to replace that and the battery. Rather than go with my regular mechanic, I just agree to let this guy fix it. This price quote feels a little high, but the hassle of having the car towed to my regular mechanic doesn?t worth it. Now here?s where I need some advice.

I go to pick up the car today. The mechanic tells me that everything is a go. He then casually mentions that the exhaust system needs about $450 worth of work. I haven?t noticed anything wrong with the car (other than the alternator issue of course). It?s been driving fine. I mean, it?s an old car with over 200,000 miles, so it?s not like a dream car or anything. But when I pull off the lot the car is driving really funny. When I stop there?s a lot of sputtering and when I accelerate the car makes this ?chug, chug, chug? noise like it is struggling to build momentum. Once I build up some speed everything is fine. But when I slow down or come to a stop, the sputtering and rattling starts again. I got this car about 2 years ago from my mom, and it?s never been quiet but this sputtering and shaking is new. None of this was a problem before the alternator was replaced.

I called the guy as soon as I got home and explained what was going on. His first question was, ?Was it doing that before?? I, of course, told him that it didn?t. I?m taking it back in on Monday. Here?s my question: Should I just assume this is a case of ?when it rains, it pours? and something else has gone wrong with the car? Or is it possible that the mechanic did something in replacing the alternator? Or is this ?new? exhaust issue to blame?

This is super frustrating as I?m a very poor Ph.D. student who can ill afford to spend another $450 on a 15 year old car with 200K miles. But I need the car to complete interviews and stuff for school. I?m just feeling like I?m about to get hosed by this mechanic and I?m wondering what I can do to not seem like the car idiot that I am.

Any thoughts?

The alternator problem has NOTHING to do with the exhaust system. You are being scammed. It started with the tow truck driver.

Take the car to your regular mechanic and let him/her figure it out. Stay away from the place the tow truck driver sent you to. Don’t go back there under any circumstances.

Go to your regular mechanic, even if you have to pay twice.