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Under new management?

I’m hoping someone here can give me a little advice.

Recently, I found that the shop I have been going to for years has a new mechanic. The old mechanic was a man of few words who did what I asked and who, I felt, kept my car running well. The new mechanic is a very talkative gentleman who has little positive to say about the previous mechanic. In fact, he spent the half hour it took for me to pick up my car this last time telling me all the repairs that the previous mechanic had done were overpriced and substandard.

I listened politely, but the longer he talked and the longer he bashed the previous mechanic, the more I began to feel that this new mechanic was the one who was being less than truthful.

I had asked him to do my brakes and check if the previous mechanic had changed the timing belt when he had changed the head gasket several months before (the old mechanic hadn’t put it on his bill, though why would you put a bad belt back on after such a repair?). The new mechanic charged me nearly $400 to do these things. He showed me my old rotors and assured me that, while they weren’t warped or thin, they weren’t turnable. I now had new rotors on my car. He also showed me the timing belt that he had changed, assuring me that the previous mechanic hadn’t done it.

The question I have for you mechanical folks is this; how worn would a timing belt on a 2000 Subaru Forester be? The belt I held in my hand (and should have kept!) felt practically brand new. The rubber was pliable and not at all stiff, like a new belt, although the timing marks were worn off. Did I just pay to replace a part that didn’t need replacing? Do you think the mechanic who is doing the badmouthing is simply projecting and is really the one I have to watch? $400 for front disks and a timing belt? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

$400 for both parts and labor for both the timing belt and the front rotors is actually a very decent price. The one thing that bothers me is that there is no mention of replacing the water pump, serpentine belt, and all belt tensioners. A complete job of replacing the timing belt should include all of these items.

If the previous mechanic did not replace the timing belt on a 10 year old Forester, and then the the new mechanic did not replace the water pump, serpentine belt, and belt tensioners when he replaced the timing belt, then I think that neither of your mechanics is as thorough as they need to be.

Is it possible that you have encouraged your mechanics to cut costs to the bone, and that they skimp on necessary maintenance in order to please you with their bill?

Timing belts usually look perfect right up until the moment they break. If the belt on your car was original it needed to be replaced regardless of how it looked or felt. You replace timing belts based on mileage and/or time, not on how they look.

The head gasket repair would have (should have) been the perfect opportunity to install a new timing belt. Why reuse the old belt when everything is already apart? You’d only save a few dollars (the cost of the belt itself) becaue the labor is already included in the head gasket repair.

Unless you ask the original mechanic you’ll probably never know for sure whether he replaced the belt or not.

$400 for new front brakes and a timing belt is not excessive. Not by a long shot. I’d be happy to pay that for a timing belt replacement alone, if done correctly.

I agree with VDCdriver regarding things like the water pump, tensioners, etc. Saving money by not replacing these components in conjunction with a new timing belt is false economy.

The fact that you think $400 is a lot of money for these services suggests you may have encouraged the mechanic to cut things to the bone. Is that, possibly, the case?

I’d be worried about the way the new mechanic is trashing the old one. If the new mechanic is any good at all, he shouldn’t be worried about the old mechanic.

Subarus don’t take kindly to scrimping on maintenance, and if that’s what the mechanic is doing it will cost you more in the long run.

Maybe it’s time to shop for a new mechanic. I’d look for one who specializes in Subaru, or at least has substantial experience with them.

Thank you both for that good info. And to answer your questions, I live in a very depressed area of the Appalachians. $400 is a lot compared to what other mechanics have quoted, though they were not Subaru mechanics. These guys are the Subaru guys in the area.

You give me peace of mind about the belt. I’ve done a lot of the repairs on this car and have had Subarus for many years, (I had replaced the other belts already) but I usually leave the big stuff to the professionals. And I have never skimped on this car’s maintenance. It was neglected under its former owner, but I have spent what I saved on price fixing all the issues that owner created.

And mcparadise confirms my suspicions about the new mechanic - if he was so good himself, why trash the other guy? Not sure if I’ll find another place around that focuses on subarus, but you’encouraged me to start looking.

“$400 for both parts and labor for both the timing belt and the front rotors is actually a very decent price.”

Yeah. Too decent. I suspect he claimed to do the job but didn’t. Why? Because we already caught him in a fudge about the rotors. If they’re not warped you don’t need to turn them. And if they’re not thin, you don’t need to replace them. So he’s already done unnecessary work. If he’s going to have that mentality he’s certainly not going to tear down to the timing belt and replace it for less than 400 bucks.

Whenever a timing belt is changed on time, unless there is a problem, like a tensioner or pulley out of alignment, the old belt will look brand new. Inspecting a belt in these circumstances is usually pretty worthless.

Personally, I would not trust the new talkative mechanic. I am speculating, but I think the chances are high you just paid for an unnecessary timing belt job.

Thanks for replying, shadowfax.

For this region, that price was on the upper end, though the only other purely Subaru place I checked was the dealership (who was, of course, higher).

While the disks weren’t warped, they had ‘checks’ in them, as in places where it looked like the pads were getting hung up and the car no longer braked smoothly. I had thought the new mechanic would turn them if they could have been turned, but I am not unhappy that they were replaced. The original owner of the car (it’s had three that I know of) was not kind to the vehicle and I’ve had to fix many issues of his neglect (or ignorance).

My suspicion of the new mechanic was caused initially by his exuberant dissing of his predicessor, but you bring up many points that I had not considered. I hadn’t been giving the previous mechanic’s work more than a cursory glance, having gained some trust in him, but I’m definitely going to check this current guy’s work.

Another thing I now remember he said is that he claimed my old mechanic had put a used catalytic converter on this car (the first repair I had to do on this car). Now, I’ve replaced CC’s on several Subarus and I SAW this one after the previous mechanic installed it. It was definitely new. I don’t know what this guy’s game is.

The 400 dollar price sounds very low to me; suspiciously low. Hopefully the repairs were done as stated. However, if this mechanic did not replace the water pump and belt tensioners at the same time then he has made a glaring mistake.
As to the belt itself, it can be impossible to look at a belt and determine if it’s good or not and while I would tend to agree that a new belt with a head gasket is a great idea it’s not technically part of the job.

As to his attitude and yucking it up at the expense of your old mechanic, this is not that rare a phenomenom. There are a number of techs who like to play the Oneupmanship game with other mechanics by bashing everything the other guys have done. Ego problem, effort to make the customer believe they’re dealing with the best, etc., etc. could be reasons behind this attitude.

There’s nothing wrong with pointing out a mistake or omission by another mechanic or shop but it’s been my experience that the guys who do this excessively are the ones who should be watched.
Based on what you’ve related here I think you should view this new guy with some suspicion.

Thanks OK and Whitey - I’ve not replaced a timing belt before and so didn’t know what to look for. I’m grateful for the information.

As for the price, I’m living in Appalachia and prices around here are far less than I’ve seen in more metropolitan areas. That said, the local dealership’s quote for the same repair was $600+ which was why I went with this guy.

As for the mechanic’s honesty, you’re both confirming what my gut was saying. If he’d only pointed a few things out, I’d probably not have been suspicious, but his ‘yucking it up’ was getting to the point of being uncomfortable. He also claimed something that I flatly knew was not true about the car’s catalytic converter. I’m definitely going to look for someone else to work on this car.

I would like to add that people who badmouth their competition usually do so because they aren’t capable of touting why they are better (maybe because they don’t have the communication skills, or maybe because there is nothing to tout). If all the guy can do is badmouth the other guy, it makes me think there is nothing positive about him that can be accentuated, so the only way to prop himself up is to put someone else down. This is a prime example of why many shops don’t let the mechanics talk directly to the customers.

You can be the world’s best mechanic, but if you run your own shop, and you aren’t good at customer service, you should hire someone who is.

Personally, I avoid people who slam their competition and their predecessors. Some may be reputable but in my dealings most were not… Just my 2 cents. And worth every penny.

Time will tell if it is you who are a bad customer or if the new mechanic is a bad mechanic/shop owner as these things have a natural way of sorting themselves out. You post is obviously biased against the new “talkative” mechanic.

The decision to use a mechanic should be made before the work is done, not after while you a sitting on the front porch and stewing over the bill.

To actually ask one mechanic to check to see if the previous mechanic did what he said and then still have reservations about both mechanics simply sets my head spinning, how can a man please this type of customer?

It makes no sense to bash someone you have been using for years and been happy with. I would have been praising the man if it had been me. Shot himself in the foot as far as I’m concerned. Find a new mechanic.

If the guy were a true professional he would refrain from any badmouthing at all. If he thinks there was a problem with a previous repair then politely point it out and be done with it.

If one went to the doctor and had to listen to the doc going on for 30 minutes about all of the docs being quacks one would probably head for the door promptly. At least I would.

Even at the new car dealer level it’s quite common to have a few techs there who delight in badmouthing, second-guessing, and generally accusing every other tech, shop, and dealership of being the mechanical equivalent of the 3 Stooges.

I’ve worked for 5 dealers over the years (none still around except one) and had to put up with people like that at every single one of them. In every instance those doing the mouthing off were found to not be as mechanically competent as their alligator mouths would lead you to believe.

Considering I was not made aware of the staff changes until after the repair was done, it would have been difficult for me to make the decision to use him or not ahead of time. I dropped the car off after hours as has been my custom for years and didn’t speak directly to the mechanic until I picked the car up.

Yes, I am biased. I liked the previous mechanic and he had, as far as I could ever tell, always done a good job on my car. I would have prefered a more professional demeaner from this suprise new mechanic, but I made my judgement based on the response I got. And I asked this mechanic to check the timing belt because I couldn’t ask the guy I had intended to ask, the old mechanic, the one who didn’t record whether he replaced the belt on the bill, because he wasn’t there anymore.

Realistically, the only defense I could and did offer was that I’d never had trouble with the repairs the old mechanic had done. I was a little surprised and taken aback by the new mechanic’s claims, but I had little to judge their validity by other than my gut instinct.

Exactly! If he’d have responded that way, I’d probably never have questioned his comments. Thank you for responding.

The car side has been covered properly. This is mostly a question for Dr. Phil. This new guy has some inferiority complex and can not deal with it.

Generally speaking, when someone starts bad mouthing another person in front of me, I know he/she is going to do the same about me with the next person who walks in. I tend to stay away from these people, I am just a simple guy, want to take care of business and move on.

That sounds like good advice. I’ve called a few other shops around and though there’s nobody else close that specializes in Subaru, several say they do work on them. I’ll just have to try them out.

I still don’t get it, you had the guy you don’t trust check out the work from the guy you did trust, why did you expect the guy you did not trust (and made it clear he did not like the guy you did trust) to make a fair report?