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What to do when the cost far exceeds the estimate?

I took my car to Cottman’s Tuesday with leaking clutch fluid. I was told both the master and slave cylinder were leaking and needed to be replaced for a total of $325. They ordered the parts and I brought my car back the next day, Wednesday morning at 8. I was told the car would be ready at noon.

Around 1 p.m., having not heard from the shop, I called and found out one of the parts they ordered was wrong and it would take until Thursday to get the right one shipped from out of state. The old master came apart when they took it out and the car was inoperable until a new part could be installed. I was told the car would be ready by 2 on Thursday.

At 2 on Thursday I called and found that the wrong part was shipped from out of state and that the right part would be in Friday. They said my car would be ready at noon on Friday.

Friday morning they called to say the part came in but was much more expensive than the wrong part they’d initially quoted me. The total would now be $450 plus tax.

They left me an extra two days without a car, misquoted me, and want me to pay an extra $125 that was never mentioned at any point. Even if they had mentioned a higher price, it wouldn’t have been until after my car was disabled and I was stuck for two extra days without transportation.

Is it right to expect me to pay that extra cost after they have me in a situation where I can’t do anything about it and have no alternative other than hauling my car left inoperable away from their shop? What’s your advice?


What are the statutes in your state, regarding estimates vs. actual charges?
If a shop is held–by law–to their estimate, or if they are only allowed to exceed it by a specified percentage, that detail could be used in your favor.
So, the first thing that I would do is to research your state’s statutes.
Perhaps a phone call to the Office of Consumer Affairs would yield the correct information for you.

The second thing that I would do is to resolve to never again go to Cottman, AAMCO, Lee Myles, Mr. Transmission, or any other chain-run operation for auto repair. These chains invariably are more expensive than independent transmission shops, are known for “bait & switch” pricing, and frequently deliver poor workmanship. Some people are suckered-in by their “nationwide” warranties, but those warranties have so many weasel clauses in them that they frequently deny any responsibility for subsequent breakdowns.

Thanks! Colorado Statute says they can’t bill more than 10% over the estimate or $25 more, whichever is less.

I suggest that you print out a copy of that statute, bring it with you, and refuse to pay more than $350, before taxes are added. If they balk, pick up your cell phone and threaten to call the local constabulary.

And, please don’t forget the second point that I made in my original post!

I fully concur with VDCdriver on all points. It might be pointed out that sometimes problems do occur with parts availability and pricing. An ethical shop should be on top of this and keep you informed every step of the way with no surprises thrown into the mix.

Regarding Cottmans I might relate a short tale about one of them. Some years ago while working for Subaru a gentleman asked about a problem with his Subaru 4WD manual transmission. He did not want to bring the car in or even spend any money on an inspection and/or adjustments which I had told him would probably fix it right up very quickly.

Several weeks later the service manager called me up front (I was the shop foreman) and asked me to go take a look at a Subaru transmission at a Cottmans that was 2 miles away? WHY I asked and how does this benefit the company? It’s good PR for us he stated. Moron…

So I get to Cottmans and they have this 4WD Subaru transmission on the bench in pieces. See where this is going? Yep, the same guy who backed away from us.
The transmission complaint was jumping in and out and not moving the car at times. This is generally caused by the split mainshaft acting up due to needing the HIGH-LOW range adjusted; about a 10 minute job.

There was zilch, zero, nada, wrong with that transmission and I told them good luck on putting it back together as there are some quirks. I left stewing and wishing the worst on both parties involved with it. I have no idea if the transmission was ever reassembled or worked properly if it by chance did happen to make it back into the car in one piece.
So Cottmans ripped this guy’s transmission down into molecules all because of a simple 10 minutes worth of adjustment time.

When the shop called with the revised estimate of $450 were you given the option of declining the repair or was the repair completed?

It seems the service provided wasn’t very good. It’s hard to say who’s at fault. I’ve had problems with my auto parts store ordering a part for me, and when it gets in, it’s the wrong part. I had that happen on something as simple as an ignition rotor for a Corolla, believe it or not. I had it happen on a U-joint for my truck too. So that kind of thing is definitely possible. But from what you say this happened more than once, which makes me think either the shop doing the ordering or the parts vendor taking the ordering isn’t keeping their mind on the job. After all, they do this every day so mistakes like I (as a DIY’er) would make or an inexperienced staff employee at retail part vendor would make, professionals who do it every day would be much less likely to make. So I think you do have a valid complaint.

So what should you do? There’s no harm asking for a discount, remind them it is in their best interest to have you as a repeating customer. If they don’t agree, just pay the $450 and find another shop. Most folks here seem to get the best results from smaller independent shops that come well recommended by co-workers, friends, etc.

I’ve never heard of Cottman’s before, but I thank you for your post and can guarantee that if they ever do expand into my area I won’t become a patron.

Re: the car, confront the manager (or franchise owner, if he’s on-site) with a copy of your estimate and a copy of the state statute and tell them to adjust the price to comply with the law or you’ll file a formal complaint with your state attorney general’s office of consumer complaints (or whatever your state calls it… it should be described on the state’s website). No business wants the AG’s office checking into their affairs.

Good luck.

To inform others in your area about how this shop treated you, you might also go over to Yelp and post a review and submit a complaint to your local Better Business Bureau.

The trouble with Cottman’s is not the good mechanics but the bad mechanics. For some reason or another chain stores seem to attract people who call themselves mechanics but who have little or no training. I guess they have to fill a slot but that’s no excuse. Management is another problem area and the “merry-go-round” cycle of losing qualified people who can manage is another strike against chain stores.

Re: Chain-run operations and their employees, there was in interesting incident involving the local Jiffy Lube franchise about 6 years ago. A very alert local cop spotted headlights at the rear of the J-Lube, late at night. The cop investigated, and found two guys snorting cocaine in a car.

Who were the two guys?
The manager and one of the employees from that Jiffy Lube!
That location was actually closed for a few days–apparently until the franchise owner could locate a new manager.

In that incident with Cottmans that I related, apparently no one there had a clue. As I was going over that transmission which was scattered in pieces all over the bench the manager and 3 of their guys were gathered round me waiting to hear an explanation.
My assumption was that they were all in the dark.

The only humorous part to this was the look on their faces when I told them they had torn it all apart for no reason at all.
Another assumption was that they may never have reassembled that transmission without damage due to those miniscule bearing pins in the case which are difficult to align even if one knows about them and which can cause major damage if missed.

I always wondered if the owner of that car ever got a phone call stating the transmission was wiped out and they needed another unit… :frowning:

“I always wondered if the owner of that car ever got a phone call stating the transmission was wiped out and they needed another unit”

I’m not really a betting man, ok4450, but I would be willing to wager a cup of coffee that the hapless owner of that car was told that he needed a new transmission–despite it needing only an adjustment by a qualified mechanic.

Clearly, those clowns wouldn’t have been able to overhaul it, so that is why I theorize that they sold the guy a new transmission.

@VDCdriver, I wouldn’t bet against you on that one. The part I always wondered about was whether or not they even attempted to put it back together and the status of aligning those bearing pins on the main and countershafts.

Those pins are tiny, protrude very little, and it’s very difficult to determine if the shafts are seated on those pins in the transmission case unless great care is used. If a pin is missed and the transmission bolted together it will lock up and destroy some internals.

That’s what happened on this forum many years ago when a shop in TX botched the pins on a lady’s Subaru and ruined the transaxle. She ended up sending me some private emails on the matter and eventually sued the shop. I sent her an email with a tech explanation and some pics of the pins and problems with a Subaru transmission I had down at the time to make it clear.
Time marched on and I forgot all about that problem until a few years later I get a mail out of the blue from her thanking me for the help.

She said the shop continued to drag their feet and eventually it wound up in court with her getting a slam dunk win due to the info and pics she printed out. The shop had to refund every dime.

Cottmans is a transmission chain. Like all discount chains, they make money by hiring inexperienced employees. Cottmans is the next step up from the chain lube shops.

and cottman is now owned by aamco.

First , define the true word ‘‘estimate’’.
Next remember they had not begun working on it yet…how could they know what all might happen.

We run into that a lot.
So we update the …’‘estimate’’ prior to continuing work.
we NEVER finish the job all the way to a surprise higher final bill…never !
but there are ALWAYS unknowns to be encountered .

ken green: My trusted mechanics always come in a bit less than the estimate unless something unexpected would be discovered. In that case they would certainly contact me for authorization. So far they have just came in a bit under the estimate. The shop has been in business since 1924 and they are third generation. This is like the way you operate. Old school. I wish it was more common in everything.

What I hate is the “we fixed that extra problem we found for you”, like a headlight for $45 extra or whatever. It’s not enough to fight, but still is annoying. And I wonder if the lights are actually out. I had a shop ask me if I wanted a headlight repaired on my Subaru this week, and I declined as

  1. I haven’t noticed a light out, and I drove home today in the dark and didn’t see any light out

  2. Last time I had them replace a light, I think 6k miles ago, it took them another hour and change to get the light and install it and I wanted to go home.

Maybe Subarus blow headlights often, IDK.

What’s bad is not giving an update if the price is going to change, not if the price has to change for some reason. You never know till you get into something what’s wrong for sure.

Chain shops for anything are sketchy - I’m in IT, and Best Buy etc are the most useless computer help you can get - for a LOT of money. And they’ll never tell you the truth - if you’re in there because you have a Virus, it’ll be ~ 2hr labor for anyone to re-install your OS from scratch, but it’ll be 5-20hrs to try and “clean” the OS, and it likely won’t work. It sometimes makes it worse. But everyone wants to keep all their programs installed, and never has backups or doesn’t want to pay the labor to have the data files backed up, so they all want a “cleaning”. What a waste of money.