I always knew that it can be tough to get your car fixed by a reputable mechanic without any problems. I hadn’t realized it could get “bring a gun with you” bad.
These are your worst stories of getting ripped off and screwed buying cars, shipping cars, and getting cars repaired. There are many, many more stories of woe from shady Craigslist scammers and stealerships and crooked shops that basically abduct cars that didn’t make it into this article. To see all the stories, check out all the responses to our original call for submissions right here.
[Welcome back to Countersteer, where we ask you to tell us your greatest stories of success and failure, then we pull the very best of them to share with the rest of the world.]
Let’s start with the worst, shall we? I wish this was the only story where the cops went after the wrong guy, but it’s not. This is just the most blatantly terrible.
How do you mistake a Prelude for a Corvette, especially when you’re the cops? Great detective work here.
In 1997ish I’m driving to work at ~0200 (call center life yo) in a white 91 Prelude when a white C4 Vette blows past me somewhere in the triple digits and ducks off a left exit. Didn’t think much on it. A couple minutes later the highway patrol screams up on my rear all lit up. Pull over wondering WTF is going on. Loud speaker tells me to stay in the car.
Within another 5 minutes a ton of additional cruisers pull up and fan across the interstate. Get directions to leave the car, lay down, hands back, etc. all at gun point. Roughly taken to the edge of the shoulder where I’m plopped on my ass for questions. Apparently they’d been chasing me for 15 plus minutes at over 100 mph and I’d flipped my lights out trying to evade when in reality I’d been on that stretch of the highway for <10 minutes just trundling along at 60 since I wasn’t really in a hurry to get to work. While all the questioning is going on some other dudes are tearing up my carpet and pulling off my door cards. Eventually (like 2 hours later and after asking the same questions 5200 times) they’ve contacted my boss and reviewed a gas receipt (I’d literally just finished getting gas when the chase began) they realize that they had the wrong car. Take the handcuffs off, and start to file away. No apology and I’m stuck on the edge of I35 in the middle of the night by myself with my car in pieces. Drive to a 7-11 to use a payphone to chat with the boss who tells me not to come in since I’m over stressed and pissed off which just pisses me off more because that’s a 20% pay loss for the week.
It was not a good morning.
Not all of these horror stories are, uh, horrible. Some end up sweet. I was surprised how many people got screwed so bad that they went ahead and learned how to turn a wrench themselves.
Time to bare my automotive shame: I once paid $175 to a shop to install a battery (including the battery, but nonetheless). I got into cars essentially as a result of not wanting to be taken advantage of like that again.
Here’s how you get inspired to learn to work on your own car.
My ‘98 Camry seized a water pump bearing back in the days, shredded the timing belt.
5sfe motors are non-interference engines. The mechanic was all up in his “Let’s get you a new head but if the pistons are damaged we’ll get a new motor” conceptual performance art piece of shady fuckery so I went on the Toyota Nation forums to rant about my misfortune and everyone was unanimous : You either pull your car out of that garage or fight it out.
I fought it out and got charged only for a pump and belt.
That’s definitely the worst. Having to school a certified mechanic on engines was the tipping point of my eagerness to learn how to wrench on my own shit.
I don’t know how many stories got sent in where a mechanic or dealer said that a car needed some hugely complicated failure when all it really needed was a simple, painfully affordable fix. I still can’t believe the one where they wanted $3,000 for a new battery, basically.
A clunk sound in the front my VW Passat. Mechanic said motor mounts and transmission mounts and charged me $700 and the noise was not fixed.
Took it to another mechanic and found out my A/C metal hose was off the broken bracket and was hitting the front grill during acceleration and sudden stop. He used a zip tie and no charge.
Circa 2000/2001, I drove a 1997 Dodge Dakota and it decided it didn’t feel like idling anymore. The truck would start, and immediately die... unless you kept one foot on the gas to keep it from switching over to idle. I was doing an internship thing on Hilton Head Island, but was going to school in Ohio and didn’t know any local mechanics so I took the truck to a Dodge dealership in Bluffton.
The dealership was exceptionally polite, and after inspecting the truck gave me an itemized list of the repairs required. A new head gasket was the only item I can recall now, but it was a long list totaling at least $3000!
So... I asked around the office, got the name of a local shop and took it there for a second opinion. The local shop was basically a barn with a mess of junkers out front, but he listened to my description, asked... “is it a dodge truck?” (yep), and said “when the battery can’t hold a charge anymore, it screws up the computer and it won’t hold idle. You need a new battery.” $50 and ten minutes and the truck was back to normal.
I later learned the locals have a (possibly justifiable) hatred of out of state tourists. The population of Hilton Head Island triples or something like that during holidays and summers. There was no chance I was going to get an honest answer with Ohio plates on my truck without a local connection.
This one is kind of the opposite; the mechanic was sure the car needed just a simple fix, but it turned out the real problem was a lot worse.
A few years ago my dad’s Toyota Matrix started making a strange grinding/groaning noise when it moved. It’s a manual and the shifts were getting harder to make, so we were pretty sure it was something in the transmission. He took it to the dealership and they claimed it was “tire noise” (to be fair, the tires were pretty worn out, but I have never once in my life heard a tire make a metal on metal grind). He brought it straight home from the dealership and had me take it for a spin around the neighborhood to see if I could diagnose it. Two blocks later, the shifter is getting really hard to move and soon enough it won’t go into any gear. I get out and start to push. Half a block towards home the transmission locks up and the car refuses to budge. This was 10 miles after the dealership said the car just needed some new tires. We call a tow truck and they tow it back to the dealership. Tire noise my pasty asshole.
It took them almost three weeks to get a new transmission from Toyota and install it.
Okay, let’s just get all of the worst dealership stories out of the way. There were a couple on people getting their interest rates gouged and getting ripped off on monthly payments, but these two were standouts.
Shadiest finance department ever? This is why people hate dealers.
Once, long long ago, I was buying my second car from a dealer lot on a lovely Saturday and everything was just going swimmingly. We found an 03 or 04 CR-V with 95k on the odometer selling for $7-8k if I remember correctly. We financed it through the dealership, signed the papers, and were informed that their finance department was only open on week days so the deal would be finalized on Monday. We took the new car home happy that we had just got a good deal on a car that we liked.
Fast-forward to Monday and we get a call from the dealership saying we need to bring the car back. Turns out, their finance department won’t finance a car with more than 80k miles, “but wait!” they say, “We can put you in a CR-V that’s 2 years newer AND has less miles for the same monthly payment!” Nevermind that it cost $10k more. Unfortunately they had us by the balls. My wife needed a car and couldn’t go without one for even a day (and of course she stubbornly needed it to be a CR-V), so we caved.
Now since that happened, we’ve pieced together what happened. The 80k requirement for financing is pretty much standard across the board and in fact the dealership’s financing department had been enforcing that requirement for years prior to that. The dealership knew damn-well that the financing wouldn’t go through on that first car. They knew that by letting us fill out the paperwork anyways and drive it around for a couple days anyways, we (read: my wife) would develop an attachment to that car. And they were hoping that they could get us on the hook for a more expensive car with the whole “but it’s the same payment” argument.
This one is just insane. “Have you raced a motorcycle before?” What the shit?
Bought a Golf GTI brand new in 2013, about 4000kms in, gear box decided to seize in 2nd. Had it towed to the dealer to figure out what’s up. Not even 5 minutes in the waiting area, a mechanic came over and told me that my clutch has been completely burned and the entire clutch assembly including flywheel had to be replaced. And since it is driver error, there will be no warranty work, it has to come out of my own pocket. Now, this is obviously puzzling to me, how could the mechanic figure out the root cause of the problem without even looking at my car? Let alone knowing its driver error? And the following conversation got interesting:
Me: How could you know without even looking at the car? I can see my car out of the window in the parking lot, no one has gone to look at it yet.
Mechanic: Oh, when you are in this business as long as I have son, you just sort of know.
Me: How do you know its driver error then?
Mechanic: Do you know how to drive a manual sir?
Me: well yeah, I have been driving manual all my life.
Mechanic: Well, sir, have you raced motorcycle before?
Me: No, why does that matter?
Mechanic: You really don’t know how to drive manual until you race motorcycles.
Since it’s a leased car, I had no choice but to get the repair work done at the dealer. Had to pony up 2.4k for the job including clutch and flywheel. And on the worksheet, clearly marked under notes section: “customer admits not knowing how to drive manual”.
About a week later, got a call from the dealer telling me the car is fixed. I was greeted by the same mechanic and he proudly told me that upon further inspections, the flywheel didn’t need replacement and he just saved me 600 bucks! He looked at me with a smirk as if I should be impressed. Ugh…
Suspecting that none of the problems I got quoted for are true, I requested to keep the replaced parts and send it to VW Canada to get it investigated and reimbursed under warranty. Lone and behold, there was no damage to the components, everything is in working order. The true cause was air pockets in the clutch lines preventing proper operation. There have been multiple cases reported, and VW Canada is well aware of the manufacturing defects.
And now, some more stories on what goes wrong when you leave your car in the hands of complete idiots. The first one is a good one to make you wary of any auto importer. They’re not all bad! But this one sure was.
Imported this incredibly rare Diesel BJ42 with zebra seats. Fantastic condition. Made it all the way to the port of Baltimore from Austrailia. Car hauler dude decided to take a left halfway up. Said he couldn’t drive RHD.
The hauler didn’t tell me about any of this. Blamed the port saying they picked it up with a forklift and crunched it. Got this pic from the port.
The hauler had no insurance and disappeared. He sent a valid insurance card good for the next 6 months but he stopped paying his premium 2 months prior.
Suing him would have cost too much plus he couldn’t afford insurance so how would I get paid anyway. I went through a transport broker so got my hauling fee back but was out about $4k in damage.
I got his TWIC card pulled from the Feds. Hopefully karma will F him in the rump soon.
This is why I HATE auto transporters.
Here’s a good story of a three-year-old auto mechanic, in a way.
“My sunroof’s jumped it’s track and the motor is disconnected.”
“It’s a sealed unit. We have to replace the whole thing for $1,500.”
“Yeah, it’s SoCal. It won’t rain, I’ll leave it until payday.”
...couple of months later, in for a service...
“Our records mentioned you were looking for a new sunroof, previously. Do you want us to add that?”
“No, thanks. My three year old nephew was playing in the car and pulled it back into its track. It’s fine now. You should hire him, teach your mechanics a few things.”
And this one is an solid cautionary tale for when you try to get an old car fixed. hearing the words “your clutch didn’t fit, but we made it work” sends a chill down my spine.
In the world of Minis, when bought used, knowing what part your car needs is nigh impossible to be sure of unless you can take it out, measure it and compare/contrast it to other parts. And it’s that last compare/contrast bit that usually can’t be done, since most parts come from out of the country.
I had a mechanic that supposedly worked on Minis his whole life. I took my car to his shop for years, and I can’t think of a single thing he did on my car that was done right (only realized after finding a good mechanic).
And keep in mind, if I ever had to bring my car in and I brought parts with me, this was ALWAYS said: “You know I’m still not 100% sure of the year of my car, but I did bring what more-than-likely would be the parts needed. If not, let me know, I’ll try to get the right parts as soon as possible.”
So I went to replace my clutch, brought what I though was the right clutch, and I receive this call a WEEK later:
“Hey man, your car should be ready in a few hours. Your clutch didn’t fit, but we made it work.”
I was already livid that they took so long, so I got the car and drove off. And, since the car seemed fine, I didn’t really think about what was said on the phone, until later...
After leaving Cars and Coffee a few weeks later, the worst sound I’ve ever heard came from the engine bay, and the car came to a screeching halt.
So, it ends up they over torqued the clutch into the crank, because it was sitting loose. Also, the whole thing was 10mm too small, so they “centered it” by placing two hammered washers between the crank bolt and the crank. (5th Gen Mini A+ series engines got pretty much everything uprated, and up until this point, I thought I had a 3rd Gen A series engine.) They destroyed my crank and weakened the center of my clutch.
This, in turn, broke the center of the clutch, bent my flywheel, broke my starter motor, cracked the bell housing and, on top of that, that over torqued bolt ruined my crank, so I also had to replace the crank.
At least now that gave me a reason to do a full rebuild on my car, since the engine had to come out anyhow. But, fuck, who does something like that? It just scares me that people trust their fucking E-Types and MGB’s with this guy.
And the most completely unreal stories were from ones where the shop in question straight up disappeared. Again, I wish this was the only story where this happened, but there were a whole handful of them.
Thankfully, it was the only story where firearms were involved.
I bought an 82 K20 from a local artist for $600. The truck was an old forestry truck, and had a factory lift, a long bed, and a sweet rumble. It ran when I bought it- For about 2 miles. After a few weeks of fiddling, i got it back on the road. One night, almost home (thankfully) the engine made a sound like a thousand ball bearings falling down some metal steps, and ended itself. Turns out the previous owner had forgotten the gasket between the air cleaner and the carb, and the thing had been sucking AZ silt for the last decade. The cylinders were proper borked.
I brought it to a local shop (one I had used before) who sourced me a 5.7 out of 92 camaro, and told me it would take a week to rebuild the motor and swap it. 3 days later, his shop got broken into, so he shut down to make changes in the staff (inside job). Because of the shut down, he was a few days late making his lease, and his shop was locked up, my truck still inside.
It took a month to get the truck and motor out, and he promised he would finish the job at his place. He didn’t tell me where his place was, but we felt bad for the guy and said okay.
9 months passed, and we hadn’t heard word one of our truck. He didn’t answer our calls, and his website and facebook went down. We finally reported the vehicle stolen. The police officer that showed up said that it being a super common truck in the area, that we were basically out of luck. Then I told him it was camoflage, with “Section 8 Psycho” spray painted on the side, and he said “I know where that truck is!”
I showed up with a flatbed and a pistol on my hip, and requested my truck back. I still feel bad for the guy- Wasn’t his fault in the beginning, but I wanted my damned truck back.
I din’t feel so good once I got it home- All 4 33" tires were flat and dry rotted from sitting. The differentials were locked, the transmission was full of silt. The engine he sourced and rebuilt? It was actually just repainted. I pulled the valve covers off, and the thing was full of filth. I still have the motor (I’m going to rebuild it myself this time, do it right) but I sold the truck for scrap. Still miss that beast.
And that, I think, is the worst of it. If you’ve ever been screwed even worse than this, let your story be heard below.