What is your shop's philosophy when repair doesn't take?

Say your shop suggests replacing your car’s serpentine belt and tensioner to prevent a squeaking sound when first starting the car. You concur, and let them do the repair for $300. Later they phone you and say while the belt and tensioner indeed needed replacement, the real culprit was the alternator’s bearings. They suggest to also replace the alternator, an add’l $500 cost. What does your shop say when you tell them you believed the squealing would be fixed for a total cost of $300?


Are you speaking hypothetically, George?

Or did you indeed pay for work on your car which did not fix what you were complaining about?

You needed an alt. And got a new tensioner too. You’re a better person for it.

1 Like

I think a good shop should have found the problem to be the alternator in the first place. and then mention the belt and tensioner should also be replaced.


I have no shop but as a consumer, I would pay the $300 and if I concurred replace the alternator myself for $150 at rock. But it would be strike one for the shop.

1 Like

If the alternator is driven by the same belt/tensioner system they’re already working on, the $500 add’l to do the alternator (unless the only option is diamond studded gold) is strike three for me. Strike 1 & 2 was not spending the common-sense time to verify the issue.

But this is why I’ve been working on my own cars for so long. One of my “last straw” moments (a very long time ago) - a shop diagnosed a bad ignition coil pack on a car. (Low throttle stumbling…) They wanted something like $500+ to replace. A BRAND NEW OEM MOTORCRAFT (it was a Ford) was like $50-75. And it took about 5-10 minutes to replace it. (Right up top - unplug 4 spark plug wires, one harness wire, remove 4 tiny little bolts, off it comes - installation is reverse of removal).

I’d have swallowed $200 - fine, mark the OEM part up to $100 (100% markup) for your troubles, and charge a full hour for 5-10 mins of work. You need to cover your overhead, including paying people. I get it. But don’t gouge the living f* out of me.

And, btw, that $500 was independent of the diagnostic charge to find the problem. I paid that. (And then went home, found the damned coil pack for $50, installed it myself in 10mins and said f* y’all. I’ll figure this s* out on my own from now on).

And this was a locally owned independent shop with a good reputation around town. Just shows how important knowledge asymmetry is in an economy, I guess. So, you know…I got into learning about cars.


Some sort of goodwill would be extended by the shop in the form of labor being covered under their warranty. On the rare occasion our shop goof’s they do offer something to make it right.

Just to play devil’s advocate here…if you go see the doctor with knee pain, she prescribes a medication and the use of a brace, you pay for the office call, the meds, and the brace.

If the pain persists, you go back, she recommends a procedure at day surgery. You pay for the second office call and the procedure.

Why can doctors do that but mechanics cant?

In answer to the original question, the shop erred by stating for sure that the belt and tensioner would fix it. They should have told the customer that noise complaints are often multi-level and this was simply the first step. (There’s really more to it than just that, but that’s the simple answer.)


I can tell what my shop did when this happened. They charged us for the part we didn’t need at the time then charged us for the part we did need and did not charge for labor the second time around. They also threw in a free oil change at a later date.

Yes, just curious what the pro-shop philosophy is. As you can tell from the posts above, there’s a difference of opinion. Do pro shop owners say they guarantee to fix the symptom for no more than the original price quoted w/no disclaimers? Or do they say they’ll do the jobs listed on the work order, and include disclaimers that it may not solve the symptom?

IMO the proper way to handle this situation is the latter, guarantee the work order items for no more than the estimate, then include a disclaimer saying there’s no guarantee that will fix the symptom. In the situation above, in the interest of customer goodwill and future business, the shop should probably replace the alternator for just the part price, no labor fee for the alternator.

1 Like

I’ve had so many repairs it takes a while to remember them. I had an egr problem with my olds. The shop did all they could think of to repair it. Finally they said maybe a new egr valve would do it. They said it was only a shot and the valve was $500 at the dealer next door. I said go ahead let’s take a chance. Didn’t fix .it. I just think it was an educated guess and a mutual decision so I took full responsibility. No hard feelings.

When the car was at the dealer to replace the water pump, I had them Check the egr at the same time. They said they cleaned the passages as much as they could but to get at them all, the trans would have to come out. This was the north star. I declined and the car went to the junkyard years later with the egr light still on. Shops employ humans and humans are only human and not miracle workers. I cut them some slack.

In my similar experiences I paid for parts and they dropped labor for an incorrect diagnosis.

1 Like

Because doctors are considered to be “practicing”, but mechanics and tradesmen are expected to get it right the first time.

I am not an automotive mechanic, but rather an HVAC technician, however the scenario is still very similar. And this is precisely why I am so thorough in my diagnostic efforts to find all of the issues with the customer’s HVAC system before discussing any recommendations and costs.

It is much better to take one bite at the apple, than to say “well, I found this problem”, and “here’s the repair cost”, and then having to go back to the customer and say “whoops, now I found this problem as well” and try to get them to accept additional costs. Being thorough from the get-go increases customer satisfaction from not having costs increase while the work is in progress, and it allows me to walk away without penalty from customers who are unwilling or unable to pay the quoted costs. That becomes a problem if a technician starts work, with the customer having accepted a certain cost estimate, but now the costs are going to increase (because the technician found additional problems).

Of course, the big difference is that I am not limited to spending some short amount of time, constrained by a flat diagnostic fee. I tell the customer up front that the labor costs X amount per hour for me to check the system thoroughly. And as long as I feel the amount of time spent was reasonable, then I charge the customer accordingly. Most (reasonable) customers are willing to pay for time and expertise, so I hardly ever get any complaints or pushback.


Good comment, but I’m not sure what “practicing” means or how that work-description is different from any other occupation. A physician has different constraints b/c they are working with a living person. They can’t turn the person off to fix something, then turn them back on again.

I guess one important difference, a physician is usually working in the diagnostic and repair mode, while a building contractor is often constructing something according to a published plan. It is easier to know in advance how much constructing something according to a plan is going to cost vs diagnosing and repairing an existing construction problem.

Shops employ humans and humans are only human and not miracle workers. I cut them some slack. . .
Also you need to remember that it is humans that program computers.

Are you saying my cars are not alive?? :sob: :grin:

As far as the OP question goes, in that case I would take care of the customer…

But if a car comes in with a no crank no start issue and you diagnose it and give the customer a price, they agree to the price and you replace whatever part and it starts and at that time you find another issue, well, that can not be helped…

Say you are driving a late model Explorer and the radiator blows out (coolant leaks out as fast as you can pour it in), you tow it to a shop and they give you a price of $800 (or whatever) to fix the rad, you agree, they do the agreed work and after the work is done, they pressure test the cooling system to check for any other leaks only to find out the $3000 water pump is leaking… That is something that you could not see and had basically no way to know it was leaking… Customer pays for all repairs, you may give them a % off to help, but it is not the shops fault you had more then one issue…

1 Like

I presume you insist your customers sign the repair paperwork before you begin the repair. Does that paperwork say there may be add’l charges?

Our POS system had a place you had to click to add any charges that you clicked on in person or on the phone with the time stamp… You could also print it and have the customer sign it, but that was a case by case thing… Can’t always get a signature, when people dropped there cars off and went to work/home/golfing or where ever, not every one has a fax machine available, and especially when and after Covid hit… And yes, every now and then you get bit, part of doing business… But I was very good at reading and feeling out customers and very rarely had any issue with customers saying they didn’t agree to the work done, or the total out the door price…

Ok on my way to work and car stalled. No codes, swapped computer, and called for a tow to nearby Goodyear shop. Took a half hour or so for them to get me in. First verbal report, no signal. Second verbal, crank sensor cracked. Third verbal, balancer is coming apart but ordered one. Didn’t sign anything and was happy to get the $500 bill after about five hours waiting and on my way home. Too late to go to work.

Just to complicate my local shop checked the sensor the day before and found no problem. Maybe the batlncer wobble cracked it but I doubt it. Wife was on her way to the airport for a trip so I was on my own 30 miles from home. Luckily the farm store was within walking distance for something to do. Mechanics, love em hate em.

Once owned a 97 Honda Civic for over 400k miles from new. Late in its life the AC clutch would not engage. Turned it over to Honda and that dealership “thought” it was the compressor and recommended a replacement. I could not see spending that kind of money on a car that close to the scrap heap, so I took it from them and ran the official repair manual diagnostic sequence. Seems that in that car the operation of the AC was mediated by the computer. When I could find nothing else wrong I bought a used computer online. Swapped the computer, which was a step in the official repair manual, and the AC was back. Confronted the dealership who said they would not have charged for the compressor if it did not fix the problem. I’m sure they would have given me a car two days later, AC running, with a new compressor and computer and a $2000 bill and told me I needed it all. That original compressor went with the car to the crusher. Ordinarily I’d have some sympathy for the dealership because we all know sometimes we can only guess what’s wrong. In this case they hadn’t even followed their own diagnostic procedure to conclude that the customer could be charged for an unindicated repair. Reported the incident to Honda regional and never heard back.