Is my mechanic full of it, or am I?

This sounds like stereotypical mechanic bullshit, but I don’t have a huge amount of experience with what to expect from them (my cars have always run ok, and if they needed repair, the cost always seemed reasonable), so I solicit your opinions.

Two and a half weeks ago I had my pickup towed to a local mechanic (recommended by family). The clutch had blown out in April and I couldn’t afford to fix it until now. It had been sitting in the driveway for 6 months, so the battery drained, and one of the wheels had locked up. That’s all I knew about it. I am not a mechanic.

The same afternoon that I had it towed, the mechanic called back with an estimate of $475-550 for repairs. It should be done Tuesday or Wednesday, he said. Wednesday comes and goes, so I call and they say that they’re waiting on a part, and why did I tell them it was a 2.3 when it was really a 3. I said I never told them one way or another. Anyway, it would be a couple more days.

Several more days pass and I hear nothing, so I call, not because I need the truck, but because I was curious as to what was taking so long. Um, still waiting on a part. Fast forward to today, I finally get a call that the truck is not quite done yet, but when it is it’s going to cost over $1,000. W’huh? So of course I raise a bit of a stink. He says, “well, I when I got this off it needed this, and then the bolt busted and it need this, but it wouldn’t work unless I put this thing on,” and so on.

The stated cost of repairs equals about half of what I paid for the truck to begin with. Had I known it would get this costly, I might not have consented to have it repaired. I realize that certain problems only reveal themselves as you work through other issues, but is it unreasonable for me to think that this guy should have notified me way before the cost of repairs reached double the estimate?

I’ll try to provide more details if needed. Dude is supposed to call me tomorrow with the total damage. He said he’d “sharpen his pencil” and see if he could shave a little off here and there, but I dunno.

$1K doesn’t sound too far off the mark, IME. I’m not sure what kind of truck you drive or how old it is, but it sounds like a compact from the size of the engine.

If the clutch was gone, you are likely also replacing or resurfacing the flywheel, replacing the throwout and may be replacing the slave sleeve. It also could have damaged the starter when it went out. I paid around $1200 last winter to have all of that done to my 2003 S-10. According to family members in the biz, I wasn’t overcharged.

I have no earthly idea how much repairing a locked wheel would cost, you’ll have to wait for Rick or GaryT or another professional mechanic to show up. They can also likely explain the charges better.

If your truck is in otherwise good mechanical shape, it beats having a(nother) car note, IMO. As usual, YMMV.

Found this site on the internets, for guesstimating repair costs:

Not sure how accurate it is, but it might be useful and giving a ballpark figure.

My personal beef would have been with the fact that he didn’t call to authorize the additional costs. The place I take my car to always calls me if the cost is going to be more than what they originally quoted me.

My car place doesn’t always call me when the estimated repair cost changes. For example, they didn’t call me when the $600 exhaust pipe replacement turned into a $40 weld-the-hole-shut job.


What the hell? If you had told them it was one, and gotten a quote based on that, and then it turned out to be the other, I can see bringing this up. Otherwise it’s ridiculous. All the correct info about the vehicle - make, model, year, engine size, etc. - is there with the vehicle, and that’s what you go by when you’re working on it. If the customer happens to be mistaken about some particular (and it does happen now and then), so what? I can see telling someone “by the way, it’s actually a '98 model, not a '97,” but asking why the customer misspoke is asinine. To me, it’s a red flag.

As to the main issue, anyone who has worked in auto repair for more than a few months has surely been introduced to the concept that people don’t like to be surprised with a price higher than that quoted. With even a modicum of professionalism, one takes pains to advise the customer as soon as possible of any increase in the repair cost. Hell, the better shops warn of foreseeable possibilities at the outset. Unfortunately, we don’t know just when they discovered the additional work was necessary, but it rather sounds like they didn’t make any effort to advise you in a timely manner. That is a breach of good customer relations and sound business practice.

A “surprise” of double the expected price is pretty damn significant. Depending on local laws, you may be in a position to pay no more than the price quoted, or a specified percentage (typically 10%) above that. Regardless of whether you want to pursue that possibility, I think you’d be justified in complaining vigorously (but politely, of course) and demanding an explanation that makes some sense.

When they are going above the estimate by that much they have to call you in Wisconsin and numerous other states. i don’t know if there is a federal law on this.

This is my point exactly. This guy claims years of experience and that “customers want their cars fixed, they don’t want to be called everytime there’s a screw loose or a gasket that needs to be replaced.” I’m thinking that at SOME POINT in between I might have gotten a call, not after all the repairs were already almost completed. I don’t dispute that these repairs were necessary (but for all I know they may not be), and I don’t want to be a bitchy customer. I think, though, that I would have rather heard that “the quote is in this range, but we won’t know until we get in there what we’re really dealing with. It might double.” Then I may not have chosen to repair the truck at all. Of course that’s lost business for him, so quote low and take your chances with customer dissatisfaction?

Illinois Automotive Repair Act

They’re supposed to give you a written estimate, which they can’t exceed by more than 10%. They can’t exceed that without getting your written or oral permission, even if there’s “Unforeseen Repairs”. So yeah, he should have called you to let you know the price had doubled. No idea what kind of remedy you have though.

If this guy really claims “years of experience” he should damn well know that anybody with a beater truck that they paid $2000 for is going to think twice before sinking $1000 into it.
In all my 20+ years of driving antime I’ve had my car repaired at over a dozen different places they’ve always, always, always gotten confirmation (either signed or verbal) that I ok’d them doing said work for said price (or at least a close ballpark figure).
Presenting a figure after the work is done is B.S. I’d tell them I’d pay the first figure they quoted you and nothing else.

The following may be my Achilles heel:

The estimate I got was by telephone. Not written. According to Madigan’s act, does that mean I’m completely SOL? I’m sure I at least have less of a leg to stand on.

You’re entitled to a written estimate, not required to get one. A estimate by phone is fine. The only problem without having a written estimate is that if it gets to a “he said/they said” situation, you don’t have proof. On the other hand, courts tend to favor consumers over auto repair facilities, so it’s not necessarily a major problem.

The original estimate was approved by you over the phone right? Not the jacked up total?

When they did call you and told you this:
Fast forward to today, I finally get a call that the truck is not quite done yet, but when it is it’s going to cost over $1,000. W’huh? So of course I raise a bit of a stink. He says, “well, I when I got this off it needed this, and then the bolt busted and it need this, but it wouldn’t work unless I put this thing on,” and so on.

did you tell them to halt the work? Or did you say “that’s more than I expected but fine”.
You may be stuck if you didn’t tell them ‘stop’ which in their ears means ‘proceed’.

That flies up to a point. Said point is far, far prior to an additional 500 in repair costs.

Yes, the original estimate was approved, not the jacked up total.

No, I did not tell them to stop. I told them that the new figure was a complete surprise to me, and that I would have expected them to call me. I also asked nicely if they could drop the price for me somewhat, since I felt mistreated as a customer. Perhaps a rather pedestrian way of dealing with the matter, but that is why I am here. No matter the outcome, ignorance will be fought.

I’d call back, raise a bigger stink, and quote the relevant law to them. For all you know, they do this all the time, and have learned to back down from customers who know their rights, while happily overcharging those who don’t.

So the guy finally calls back and says the truck is ready. I see by the invoice that he has not reduced the price at all, as we had discussed he might a few days earlier. I start to tell him that I still have a problem with the price (already he’s shaking his head and his lips are making these tight twitchy movements). I quote the relevant law and the guy practically takes my head off. I try to calmly explain that I don’t feel I was treated in accordance with the law and that I would offer to meet him halfway… “DO YOU WANT ME TO SHOW YOU THE LIST OF PARTS!!!” he starts yelling. By this time I am very taken aback, feeling fairly intimidated, but determined to say my peace. He’s steering the issue toward: “I have performed this work and put in these parts, therefore you owe me this money.” I am trying to defend my position by saying that I don’t feel like I was given a choi… “LET’S GO OUTSIDE, YELL YELL YELL, HEY MIKE, GO AND TAKE THE BATTERY OUT OF THAT THING, AND I’M GONNA CHARGE YOU $25 A DAY EVERY DAY THIS SITS IN THE LOT”

So I get the owner’s name (the guy I was dealing with was the manager) from the receptionist (who unfortunately had to hear some more complaining from me, though I suggested she not take it personally), and left, not sure what to do next.

20 minutes later I get a call from the owner. I explain the situation and again quote the relevant law. I got the feeling from both of these guys that they could give a shit about the Illinois Automotive Repair Act (thank you muldoonthief), although owner was a little more receptive. He offered to let me sell the truck to him for what I think it is worth and he could sell it for parts, or whatever. This was satisfactory to me, since that is exactly the kind of decision I might, or even probably, would have made had I known the additional work need to be done and the estimate was going to be so high.

So now I have to figure out what the thing might be worth.

After plugging in all the relevant info on Edmunds, I see that a 1993 Ford Ranger XLT standard cab pickup in “average” to “rough” condition (this is my best guess, since some reviewers don’t consider a clutch replacement a “major” repair) will sell to a private party for about $450-550. Does this sound about right?

Sounds like the best solution to me. I would have liked to have a drivable truck, but the manager was being enough of a dick that for me to get any kind of satisfaction from him, I would have had to get all legal on him, and I just don’t have the time for that. I concede that I am worse than naive in matters automotive, but I don’t think that I was giving the impression that I was trying to get something for nothing–just what I’m entitled to as a customer, which is fair warning of work that exceeds the original estimate. I mean, what if he decided that the necessary repairs were going to cost me $2000? $5000? Just because he says he did them and shows me a parts invoice I’m supposed to believe him? And it’s not just that. I actually believe he did the work, I just didn’t know about it until it was done and tallied up.

OK, I’m done now. This got way too long. Just trying to describe the situation fairly. As a final note, I’ll say my overall feeling is that I was blindsided. I did not expect to feel threatened by this employee, but I did.

This exact thing happened to a friend of mine when California first passed its auto repair / estimate law back in 1970.
Estimate was $50 Bill was $120.
Friend called BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair, the guys that license shops in CA) from the facility
They advised her to pay the bill and file a complaint.
She got a check back from the repair facility about 3 weeks later.
you can also (depending on the law in your state) pay the bill and file a small claims court action. Repair facilities have 2 strikes against them going into court, so winning isn’t that hard.

On a personal note, shops like this piss me off to no end. they make us honest guys look bad through guilt by association. They should have called you as soon as they knew. If they were just a couple of bucks over, they should have trimmed their price to make the estimate. for example I got gob smacked on Friday by an unexpected price increase on some brake parts. I trimmed the price so I would not exceed the estimate.
If you happen to talk to them again, feel free to tell them that I have been in the auto repair business for over 40 years as a technician, service writer, shop foreman, service manager, and have worked for a car company, and that in my expert opinion their actions are despicable, underhanded, and scummy. Furthermore if they are incapable of writing an estimate that is at least in the same zip code as the final bill, they should close their shop and find another line of work.

It’s funny how they can stay in business. There was another customer on the premises waiting to be helped as this guy was yelling at me. My wife said “good luck” to her as we were leaving.

FWIW, I checked the BBB website and these guys actually have a satisfactory rating. Go figure.