Car Repairs


My daughter’s car broke down. Again. I really get upset whenever this happens for a couple of reasons: it costs her money, she gets pretty flaked-out over the whole thing, and these places are just designed to screw over the average customer.

Her car died on Sunday. Of course. On her way to work. Naturally.

Fortunately, she has a towing service on her insurance, so had it towed to one of the only places open on Sunday, a Firestone. In retrospect, I probably should have told her to leave it parked until Monday and deal with it then, but it’s hard to think clearly when she’s shrieking and crying. At the same time.

I have mentioned, once or twice, that Firestone may be good for tires, but that’s about it. She’s had issues with them before.

At any rate, the car got towed, she took a cab to work; neither of her co-workers had vehicles, and none of her friends were available at midnight when she got off work, so she called another cab. Had to cab back there this morning. At least her phone got charged up overnight, ‘cause it was dying too.

The first call from Firestone informed my daughter that the labor was going to be nearly $400, and the part “might” be $200 or more. I called them myself, on Sunday afternoon, and told the mechanic that the part itself was just around $100, not “$200 or more”. You’d think that if I could look it up, so could he. Apparently not. And it was supposedly going to take four hours to put in a hose – yep, a hose. He tried to tell me that it went from front to back and wound around and had a lot of kinks. Whatever.

The next call from Firestone informed my daughter that the actual cost was going to just be $200 – including labor, and that it would be fixed today. They even said they’d bring it to her, at work, to save another cab ride. She was pretty excited – had even been considering buying another car and using one of those fly-by-night, 30% interest companies….

But wait – another call from Firestone: they’d ordered the wrong part. So it would not be fixed today and – here’s the best part – the price was now back to $400. And the Kia dealership would do it for less, but the cost of towing it there would eat up the difference, so….

In between the tears and shouting (and a little cussing), I think the car will be fixed – tomorrow maybe? And that, hopefully, she can make a couple payments on the repair cost and still drive the car. But I’m waiting to hear – surely there will be more.

The problem is not so much that my daughter does tend to over-react to certain set-backs – and she does, most definitely – but that car repair places are so willing to take advantage of almost anyone.

I think, actually, by “almost anyone” I mean women in particular, and college students as well. My daughter, being both, is at a distinct disadvantage. C’mon, we’ve all seen the mechanics at Wal-Mart, for example, standing around shooting the bull, taking a smoke break, and so forth – how long does it really take to do these jobs? Even attorneys don’t charge you for interruptions, like going to the bathroom or sending out for stamps. Or maybe they do.

Anyway, the point is that a labor charge should be pretty standard – unless of course that particular mechanic is certified in some way that benefits the customer. I’m pretty sure that Firestone guys are certified in tires, but in power steering? Not so much. Just like the Kia guys are certified in Kias – other makes, not so much.

Now, let’s look at parts: the average car has 2000 parts; in my experience, the average part costs about $200 – that’s figuring in years of new tires, replacement belts, transmission stuff, etc. That would make the cost of the average car, as a sum total of its parts, around $400,000. I don’t know too many people who drive $400K vehicles, do you?

All the same, you’d think the cost of a part would be about the same no matter where it was purchased, yes? Even accounting for the retail maxim of doubling the wholesale cost, it would seem to average out about right. Not when you’re talking about retail establishments who purchase from another retail outlet, such as Firestone ordering from Kia. But of course, most people don’t go to Firestone for work other than tires.

So, long story short, don’t expect top quality specialty service from a franchise who deals mainly with tires. But do expect to pay for it, or pay even more. Or less. It really depends on who you’re talking to, and if the one doing the ordering is both literate and knowledgeable. And don’t expect a speedy resolution, unless you’re willing to call and give them a little nudge…or two or three.

But by all means, stand up for yourself, ask questions, and write down the answer. Do your homework and you might just walk away without getting taken for a different kind of ride.

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