09 April 2007

My friend said ...

One of the easiest ways to annoy me at work is to bring a car in and say "my friend said (whatever) is wrong with my car". I know I've bitched about this before but I'm too lazy to dig it up.

Case in point today, guy comes into the shop, says he needs an inspection but the 'check engine' light is on. His friend tells him it's the oxygen sensor. I asked him if his friend was a mechanic. He said no, but his friend has a 'code reader' and that's what it said the car needed. He "wasn't gonna pay for extra stuff he didn't need in order to get a sticker."

Now, it's my first instinct to tell a guy like this to get the fuck out and bother some other shop, but NY state law says I can't refuse to inspect a car. As regular readers know, I've had enough problems with the state in the last few months to push the issue.

I tell him "nothing personal, but being that I've been in the business for 35 years, maybe I should pull the codes and see for myself."

His reply: "I'm not paying extra for that."

"Fine," I say. I don't charge for scanning a computer but most shops do, at least $40, some $75. I go to the phone and call my parts guy and ask him what an oxygen sensor costs for the car. $110 each. I tell him to hold on and turn to the customer. "It's $110 for the part and $85 to install. You'll need 2 of 'em."

"So much? Why two?"

"Because the car has 2 of them and you don't want me to scan the computer. How do I know which one is bad?"

He looks at me and gets it that he's wasting my time. I tell the parts guy I'll call him back.

"How much to scan it?" He asks me.

"Nothing," and I plug the scanner in. Gives me back a 'system lean' code. "It's not either of the oxygen sensors," I tell him. I pop the hood, take out a can of brake kleen (alcohol based), and start the engine.

"How do you know? What are you doing?" He gets worried when I start spraying the shit all over the engine. Let's just say that, using this method, if a car has bad spark plug wires, you'll know it quick enough.

"I'm saving you $400," I say as the engine rpm goes up. I spray again and get the light to get a better look at what I'm spraying. As I thought, he had a shitty vacuum hose. I cut a piece from the roll, replace it, clear the code and tell him to drive the car for 2 hours and come back. He comes back, no 'check engine' light on, and he gets his inspection sticker. Cost: $10 for the hose, $37 for the inspection. I probably have a regular customer now.

Look, I realize a lot of people think mechanics are crooks. There are a lot of 'em out there, a lot of guys who don't know what they're doing, and there are a lot of guys who'll sell you what you insist on, even though you don't need it. I realize auto repairs are expensive and you don't want to spend more than you have to.

That said, walking into a shop and telling the mechanic what your buddy says is wrong with the car is not gonna get you on the mechanic's good side. You see, the good ones, like me, have as much schooling as a masters degree candidate and equating what your idiot friend knows with my expertise is downright insulting. Assuming I'm gonna rip you off, and making it known, is too. And, regardless of what your friend knows, if I wanted to rip you off, you wouldn't know it.

By all means, ask questions. Any mechanic worth a damn will answer any questions you want until you have a full understanding of what is wrong, what you'll need to fix it, and how much it will cost. There should be no surprises when you come to pick up your car. If you can say that about your mechanic, stick with him and don't break his balls. There's enough legitimate work out there to pay the bills without my having to rip anyone off.

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