Let's face it: most of us aren't qualified to wrench on our automobiles. That's why the usual course of action is to recruit a trusted mechanic to take care of our car's oily bits. However, some mechanics are less than scrupulous and are borderline full-on scam artists. Here are some of the most insane stories we've heard.
The following stories are from readers, their names have been concealed.
I had a 1998 Eclipse Spyder. Roughly 68k miles on the clock. First I'll give a bit of its history in its final days. Engine blew once at about 45k miles, didn't think it was going to be covered under warranty, so I took it to a shop. The next day the shop got broken into, my car got stripped. Wheels, tires, radio, top was cut, side skirts crushed by cinder blocks, bumper damaged, etc, etc, etc.
Shop's insurance ended up covering it, all is well. A local dealer said yeah, engine is under warranty we'll even tow it from the current shop. Fast forward 13k miles. NYE…road trip to visit my GF. Driving along the interstate in January and the car suddenly overheats. I pull off, and she's done for. Iron block/aluminum head. Insurance would only pay to have the car towed to the closest dealer. I figured, ok car was just fixed 13k miles ago by another dealer, this dealer should be able to work with me as well.
I get a call a couple days later saying head gasket blew because I sucked water into the engine. I scratched my head and asked "How can I suck water into the engine, at 80 mph, on an interstate highway, in January, in Indiana?" The reply was "well we found liquid in the cylinders and it will be $3,000 to replace the head, or $600 for you to come pick it up."
I said I'll just come pick it up, I can't afford $3k. On the way to pick it up, the service techs took several items off of the car. Taillights (replaced with cracked ones), speakers, valve cover, and a few other things. And said "there's six of us here and one of you, we'll produce evidence that will show you did it if you try to claim our involvement."
Dealer went out of business about 5 year later after they finally got caught doing other customers the same way.
I had a 98 Catera that I loved (don't judge me!), but it was leaking coolant from somewhere that I couldn't find. Took it to Midas ( I know..I know) as they were within walking distance and I figured it would be there for a bit. After 3 hours of 'diagnosing' it, the guy comes out and tell me "Yeah, it's running a bit rough, your carb is shot to hell. We're going to need to replace it."
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I told him that that wasn't even the reason I was in there and "That's weird. The last engine I helped rebuild with fuel injection didn't even have a carburetor. Golly, if you found one Id guess it would have to come out." Yeah, words were said that day. Words I never knew that I knew.
Six months later it finally decided to leak so much coolant all at once that it went blooey. Maybe I should have had him replace my carbs. ;)
I never went to another mechanic, period, after watching Pep Boys peeling out in my Camaro trying to get it off the lift with the exhaust hung up. The V-band flange was cracked in half, exhaust suddenly way, way louder than when I pulled in. They refused to admit fault, several levels up the phone-call chain.
I said fuck it and have since taught myself how to fix every single thing I've had break for the next 15 years.
I had a 2001 VW Jetta 1.8T that the oil pan decided to get a fist sized hole and nuke itself with a quickness. I took it to a shop with decent reviews, a clean yet busy shop that focused specifically on German autos. I was quoted for a new motor, new T3\4 turbo, Revo Tuned and matching ECU for the new block, all the good shit to get back up and running faster than before. Total was about $6000.
I put $3,000 in his hands right there, and STUPIDLY got a title loan to cover the rest. A week goes by and they haven't pulled it into the shop. 2 weeks, same thing. By the 3rd week, I called and asked when they would start. That day they pulled it into the shop and confirmed that the turbo and long block was shot, which I already knew. Week 4, the car is in the shop, no updates. that continued for another month.
I drive up to the shop one day and knock on the door, since I'm getting no return calls. Door is closed, no lights or cars but mine. I knock on the Big Ass Truck shop next door, and they tell me that they haven't been there in days.
Fast Forward three days. Inside the shop, every tool and bolt is gone, except for the 4 post in the back corner. the 2 post lifts, and the compressor lines, everything else is gone. I call the owner, no answer. I go to the shop next door and ask what the hell happened. turns out they were leaking money faster than my car lost its oil, and went out of business. I finally reach the owner and he states that they are bankrupt, and that the money I put on my repair is gone, I'll have to file a lien with the bankruptcy court on their business or something. I immediately call a paralegal buddy, who tells me that since they are an LLC, there's nothing I can do other than a lien. I call the shop owner back and get all the info I need to file a lien.
I wake up the next day to go to the shop and get my car towed home until I find a place that can fix it for me. I get to the shop, and to my surprise, the car is gone. I call the Police, and my car was towed by the company I got the title loan from (I was current on my payments, mind you.) I call the title loan company and ask why I've been towed. they say that the owner of the shop called them and said I had never paid them for the work they did, and that I had no intention of paying them, so to come tow the car as the shop was bankrupt and they needed it gone. Interestingly, My car was parked back in a corner, in gear, doors locked, e-brake on, wheel full left, knowing that it would be impossible to tow unless they had keys to the car. I got a hold of the tow company who said I needed to come up with $600 and drive down to San Antonio to get it. They refused to tow it back. I ended up going carless for 6 months as I payed off the Jetta, and I never got a single penny from the shop who took my cash and got my car towed.
So, how much for a new motor in a Jetta? $6,000 and a Jetta. Oh, and all you get is a title for a car you'll never see again.
The worst experience was me interning at a Lexus dealer. Unfortunately the mechanic could have avoided this and well I learn something for sure.
Starts off, old Lexus LS430.. pretty beat up already on the body and interior, wont start for some strange reason. Jump ahead on things he looked into, he made a wire connection that would bypass and jump the starter regardless of safety. That didn't turn out so well.
(Quick run down on the location of said car being worked on. This deal stores winter tires for customers, and his bay/lift is the lift next to the tires that get swapped then taken to storage)
So when the mechanic jumped the starter, the car shot into reverse. As the mechanic goes running around the car and lift to get to the drivers door, the door catches as he opens it... The tires. When this happen it blocked the mechanic out from getting in, bent the door back past the stopping point of being fully open. At this time the car is still in reverse and heading directly at a Glass garage door. (I was in front of the car and lucked out it wasn't in drive) So the service tech manager comes springing from his office as he hears everyone yelling. He jumps into the car and goes to put it in park. (The car was already in park) He hits the brakes and comes to a stop no lie, within a hair from the garage door which would have blown out and went everywhere.
Come to find out the shifter linkage was bent and while in Park was actually in Reverse. So this shitty car just got a new door, fender and fresh paint while it probably should have gone to auction and picked up by some teenager for $7k at best.
My lesson learned, put the damn car up on the lift if you are going to jump start a car and by pass safety that's keeping you from starting the car in the first place. Had they put this car not even a foot off the ground, the tires would have just spun and that's it. CRAZY DAY!
This will be a more-or-less regular feature of ours, so feel free to send your mechanic's (or customer's) horror stories to email@example.com!
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class , a graffiti-bombed Lexus , and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.