As you may know, my 11 year old car is dying and I’ve been unsure whether to spend up to $2,500 fixing Moose, or let him fade away. The service dealer said I would have to spend around $1,200-$1,500 to replace the entire exhaust system below, which is around 35% of the total value of my car! That just doesn’t seem right.
As any frugal person would do, I got a second opinion. The auto service industry is even more shady than the insurance industry and I wanted to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t being ripped off by the dealer before spending any more. Besides, we all know that getting your car fixed at the dealer when you’re not under warranty is seldom the cheapest, and often the most expensive way to go.
ALMOST GOT ME FOR BIG BUCKS
When I first moved out to San Francisco, I lived right next to a auto mechanic shop. The owner’s name was Fred and we just started seeing each other everyday and chatting. Over the course of 10 years, I’ve had him service and fix 7 different cars. Furthermore, I’ve referred around 12 guys to his shop since he’s done such a good job.
Fred is so honest, that he’s told me on many different occasions not to fix the current problem at hand because it doesn’t really matter. So long as everything works and safety is not compromised, fixing random things that cost a high price as a percentage of the car was not worth it. He was very frank and never wanted me to spend more than I had to.
I brought Moose over to Fred and explained to him the slight engine leak and the rattle where the muffler is. He immediately jacked up the car and pointed out that my muffler was fine. Instead, what had rusted away was the bolt holding my heat guard that was above my muffler! As a result, every time the car moved, the heat guard would grate against the muffler and cause a rattling noise.
“So the muffler is absolutely fine?“, I asked.
“Yes, no problem at all. Let me replace your heat guard with a new one. Its easy to weld on“, Fred responded.
“How much?” I asked.
“Does $40 dollars sound good to you?“ Fred asked.
“Hmmmmm… did he really mean to say $400 and not $40? Does a bear poop in the woods?”, I thought to myself. “Absolutely!“, I blurted out. With the dealer saying I would have to spend up to $1,500 to fix the entire exhaust system, $40 was a dream come true!
I was absolutely ecstatic! I then asked Fred to take a look at the engine leak, and he basically said my top valve was leaking a little and to just check the engine oil once a month and make sure there’s enough oil. He recommended not trying to fix it because he would have to take off all the parts above the engine to get to the valve. “Save your money!” he said. “Just buy a couple quarts of engine oil, top it off every other month and you’ll be fine!”
I then asked Fred if he could see anything else wrong with Moose. He did mention my brake pads have about 30% left on them and that he recommends changing my front rotors and pads, and my rear pads before the winter. Because Moose is heavier up front with the engine and all, replacing the rotors in addition to the pads is a good idea. I haven’t changed my brakes and rotors in 4 years, and the previous owner already had one year on the existing brakes so it was about time.
ALWAYS GET A SECOND OPINION
Servicing your car at the dealer is always an absolute rip off. In San Francisco, labor is always around $100/hour vs. non-dealer auto mechanics at $50 hour. I drove out of Fred’s shop with a handsome bill of $75 to change my oil and fix my heat guard. If I had done stuff at the dealer, not only would I have paid $1,200-$1,500, they would have probably also found more stuff to work on. They always do that. You go in for an oil change, and they print you out a 25 item list of things to do. It’s nuts!
The value of a trustworthy auto mechanic is worth as much as a trustworthy doctor. In other words, the value is almost priceless because what you want is peace of mind that you aren’t getting ripped off or given the wrong diagnosis. Getting ripped off is horrible, and something mechanics have a reputation of doing since we common people don’t know much about cars.
The main tips for getting a trustworthy auto mechanic and not getting scammed are:
1) Do your research on the issue online first and make it sound like you know what you are talking about
2) Be courteous and straight forward. Once they sense fear and/or rudeness, it’s all over. They will make it a mission to gaug you like a Roman sport. Even bringing them a piece of candy or a cookie will save you hundreds if not thousands.
3) Offer to refer a lot of new clients their way. If they know you are well-connected, there is no way they are going to screw you. They also love free advertising, so if you have a blog, then you’re really golden!
I always tell anybody in the service industry that if they do a good job, I will refer them to all my friends. I’ve done this with my mortgage guy, and I’ve done it with Fred the auto mechanic. It always works, and you should always do it. Repeat business is what it’s all about, especially during times of economic turbulence. The value of a customer is not just that one visit. It is the value of all his subsequent visits plus all his friends he’s referred so that your business is always humming along!
I was mentally prepared to spend $1,500 to fix Moose, but instead, spent $40, with the might-as-well $35 oil change since I was there. That’s a huge win in my book. As a result of this incredible savings, the only thing I have left to spend is ~$600 for new brakes. Not a bad idea with snowboarding season in Tahoe coming up. So I guess I’ve answered my question on what to do with Moose. I’m keeping him for as long as possible! If anybody needs a good auto mechanic in San Francisco, please shoot me an e-mail!
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