Last month, my car had issues such that it felt like it was going to die at idle and low speeds. My car has trained me that I shouldn’t just let these things go, because it’ll then break down on me for real when I most need it. I was going to take it to my usual auto repair place but they were full-up till the next week, so I sought out a different place that had been recommended to me by a friend. Jon was in Cinci at the time, so I called upon our friend Mark to follow me in his [shiny, new] car to the shop where I dropped my car off. I rested easy thinking all would be discovered, patched up, charged to my credit card, and done with.
The shop called me the next day and the mechanic explained he had not had any of my problems. He hadn’t been able to reproduce them at all, and my car was driving just fine. Of course it was, stupid persnickity vehicle… He had, however, in the process of going over my car, found a few other problems he thought I should take care of. One of them was that my inner tie rod end was loose. I know little about cars and even less about car mechanics, so I wrote down all the details of what the mechanic told me and wrote a big email to my dad, who has worked on our family’s cars since he’s had a family with cars on which to work, and explained what was going on. My dad was suspicious, pointing out that they were diagnosing all these new problems that had nothing to do with what I originally brought the car in for. It was also not helpful that the shop quoted me $50 for a part that looked to be $20 online. When I called them back about that, they checked the computer again and explained, oh yes, there were two similar parts listed and I needed the $20 one, that they had just misquoted me the $50 part earlier. As part of the tie rod end fix they wanted to do, a front-end alignment would be necessary. They originally quoted me $75 for that but I called my usual repair shop for their estimates on parts and service, and their alignment cost only $60. The new shop agreed to price-match and do an alignment for $60.
I went back and forth on the idea of letting the shop do my repairs or taking the car to another place for a second opinion. Jon got back in town and we went to check out my car at the shop. The mechanic pointed out my loose, bloated (as he described them) radiator hoses, then put my car up on the rack to show me the looseness of my driver’s side front wheel by shaking it vigorously from side to side. He also showed me my torn boot, which was the
$50 $20 part. The visual evidence was enough for my uncertain and untrained eye, so I told them to go on with the repairs. I picked my car up the next day and it ran fine. My total bill was $428.07 after two radiator hoses, a “tie rod end” (we’ll come back to that), a steering rack boot, various fluids, labor, alignment, and a student discount.
The Possible Scandal
My dad is kind of a stress-inducing guy. My email conversations with him got increasingly more critical with him telling me I was getting scammed, I was throwing my money away, I wouldn’t listen to sense, and that if they gave me any more “discounts” I’d eventually have to pay them only the entire cost of the car, or something like that. Basically, the dude wigs me out and I start to doubt my judgements, especially when they’re in an area where I’m not too comfortable to begin with. Nevertheless, this all happened at the beginning of November, and things had cooled off enough by the time Thanksgiving rolled around that Dad and I were on speaking terms again, so Jon and I went to visit them.
My dad worked on my car while I was home, changing my oil, replacing my timing belt, and doing other miscellaneous maintenance things. He also took some photos, shown below, of my supposedly new tie rod and boot.
He pointed out that the crusty knobby thing on the right in the first photo is decidedly not new, and through some error of communication, probably mine, that was the part he thought the shop said they replaced. While I was home, he repeatedly told me I’d been charged for a part I did not receive, and had me get under the car to point out the crusty old outer tie rod.
After my dad sent me the photos above last night, I decided I had to take some action and verify that I was either misunderstanding what part was replaced, or that the shop had indeed charged me for something I did not receive. Visions of independent third parties and small claims court danced in my head all last night, and I couldn’t get to sleep till nigh on 3 o’clock. By some small miracle, I woke up in time to go to all my classes today, dreading the idea of calling the shop to talk to them… I really dislike confrontations.
I called the shop when I got back from classes today and explained how, while my boot looked obviously new, the tie rod end did not. The guy told me that the crusty, old thing I was seeing was the outer tie rod, and what they had replaced was the inner tie rod. Apparently the inner tie rod is underneath the boot and all you can see of it are the threads coming out from the bunchy black plastic boot, shown in the second photo above. I ran this by my dad via email and it sounded okay to him. I think part of the confusion came from my receipt in which the part is listed as “tie rod end” but the labor for it is called “left inner tie rod”. But now I don’t have to worry about demanding my money back or being bitchy or getting some other shop to verify that I have not had a new tie rod put on my car recently. Sheesh.