How hard is it to find a good mechanic? As we’ve seen in the past, pretty damn hard. Now get ready for a whole ‘nother round of stories of hacks that call themselves professional mechanics.
The following stories are from readers, their names have been concealed.
You Broke It, But I’ll Give You A Good Price!
I have 2 stories and I’ll try to be brief. In 1988, I had a 1987 Porsche 930 and a slightly older 5000 CS Turbo Quattro that I bought used. I don’t know if they all were but mine was a stick. This was my Chicago winter car. So The Quattro goes in for scheduled service. No big deal. I pay and am on my way. Long after, maybe a year, I get a letter from a law firm saying their going to sue me for theft of services relating to my Porsche.
I call the guy up and he’s a total dick. He says I gave a false credit card number and have dodged phone calls and letters from the dealer. Lynch Porsche. I think they’re out of business now. Anyway, I tell him to stop being a dick and send me this bill I allegedly skipped on. So he faxes me a blurry copy of some thing has very little detail but one thing it says is a radiator flush and fill. I call him up and cheerfully inform him my Porsche is air cooled. No radiator...no water. Oops. He apologizes...but sounds uncertain I’m telling the truth. I call Lynch and they claim to know nothing about any of this. Anyway, it had been so long after the service it never occurred to me that they might be talking about the Audi. So I call the guy back and inform him of all this and dad him the paid invoice and my credit card statement. He’s bummed but goes away. I’m guessing but I suspect someone in that shop had some scheme going to pocket cash and make it look like a customer skipped. That’s not even possible as the charges have to be approved.
The next story is for the same Porsche. I hit a whomping springtime pothole and the tire just basically blew a hole in the sidewall. I have the thing towed to a tire store near me and tell them to put a tire on. I go there about 1/2 an hour later and the guy tells me I have big problems. He takes me back in the shop. The car is on a lift a few feet in the air. He grabs a front wheel and pushes on it so the wheel turns left, then right. He does this a few times and looks at me. I say so what are you showing me? He says “It’s not supposed to do that.” What I ask? “Move like that. You broke something!” I look under the car and shake all the rod ends, and try to jiggle the wheel to check the bearings. It seems fine. He repeats, “The wheel is not supposed to move like this!” as he turns the wheel simulating steering again. I tell him oh...OK....I’ll have the dealer fix that. He says he can do it better and cheaper. No I tell him.....I better have the dealer do it. I tell him to finish up with the tire and I’ll go on my way. I just couldn’t get mad at the guy because either he was the worst mechanic on earth or had the biggest pair to even try a scam like that. I had Porsche check his work and they said the new tire was fine but did need to be rebalanced. I told them the story and the service writer’s mouth was hanging open in disbelief. F’ng amazing what people try to pull.
Upsell, Even If You’re Wrong!
I was working at an dealership here in Alabama for a bit. One day I was asked by our service director to start upselling more. My response was the same that I have given to other places I have worked at: I will try to upsell what needs to be done and NOT what is still good. He then brought an inspection sheet that I filled out for a customer. This was the conversation:
“Why did you not recommend a power steering flush on this car?”
“It doesn’t need one.”
“How can you say that? You did not even inspect it.”
“I don’t need to.”
“This car has never had a steering service. And we are the only ones to have ever worked on this car. So you just magically know that this car’s power steering fluid is okay without even looking at it?”
“I’ll tell you what. I can guarantee that this car does not need a power steering flush. I would even bet you my pay for the last month.”
At this point he is salivating at the chance of not having to pay me for a month as well as making an example of me to the other techs. He calls the customer back on some BS deal with the sole purpose of having everyone in the shop gather around to witness my epic blunder. The car comes in, hood is never opened, and he gathers all the techs around. Then a 15 minute conversation entails about how we cannot skip over inspections. Blah, blah, blah.... Boss man tells everyone to gather around and look at this car’s power steering fluid. He opens the hood and looks confused for a second. That model car has electric power steering. No fluid. He realized that I had set him up and strung him along for two weeks. Was he pissed!
Never again did he try to get me to aggressively upsell. May have something to do with him getting fired for embezzlement shortly after.
I have a motto: I would rather be a honest mechanic than a rich one. It absolutely infuriates me when customers get gouged when they come in. Doing that pretty much means that when it does come time for the high dollar maintenance item, you are not going to get the job because you told them it needed a ton of work that was not necessary. And now they do not trust you. I always respected my customers.
Righty Tighty, Lefty....What Was It Again?
I had a 1985 MR2 that I rescued from the scrap heap to drive and enjoy. Needless to say, I knew every inch of that car, having worked on upgrading or repairing 90% of it. All it needed was a state inspection, which the car would have passed with flying colors. I took it to one of the national chain stores because they had a coupon in the paper. Big Mistake. I am in the waiting room and see the car go on the lift, stay up for a while, then lower down. Then it sits a while, goes back up, comes back down, goes back up, sits, comes down. The “mechanics” are concentrating on the passenger side rear, so I figure that they are confused by a mid-engine car and keep reading my 7 year old Sports Illustrated. Suddenly I see a guy fire up a torch and walk towards my new paint job. WHOA! I jump up and run past the “no customers in the garage” sign and stop the guy. WTF is he doing?!?!?It turns out that the simple act of removing a wheel to inspect the brakes was too much for the idiots in this garage. They over-torqued the nuts so bad that two of the studs snapped. 30 year old studs may be a little brittle, but I had replaced all of the studs with new ones! They were trying to replace the broken studs and not say anything, but couldn’t get the old ones out. (they tap out from the front, duh) The torch was apparently to heat them and make them expand so they would become loose, which doesn’t work in this scenario of course. Or maybe they were going to melt them out. I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to allow that to happen. I insisted on getting the proper studs instead of whatever mis-matched crap they had on hand, and went home to fetch some.I showed them how to replace wheel studs, and how to use a torque wrench, and then wanted to leave as fast as I could. But first I had to argue with the manager over the extra labor and parts charges they added for replacing the studs!!! I was about to explode, but I had been there for 5 hours instead of 1, and I just wanted to go. They relented and I was off. Or so I thought.I got maybe 300 yards when I realized something was wrong. The lug nuts on the other 3 wheels were hand-tight. They never got around to actually finishing the job. I tightened them with the spare tire wrench, and went back in. I tore the manager a new one, again, and oversaw the use of a torque wrench, again. Needless to say, the company got a letter from me, to which they replied with a $5 off my next service coupon. As if I would ever go there again!
Uh Oh, That Sounds Expensive!
Used to work at a discount tire shop in parts and service. One of our mechanics was a really old friend of mine, and considering how long he’s been a mechanic I was surprised he was working there.
Anyways this poor guy bought a Cutlass 442, beautiful shape barn find. Met the owner in our parking lot and unloaded it after paying. Figured he’d drive it home. Of course it won’t start so our service manager jumps on the chance and is telling the guy its gonna need a starter and a distributor and a tune up etc etc.
So my friend and I made a bet. He said he could have it running in under ten seconds and I believed him.
while the manager continues blabbing on reaches in, turns the distributor a couple degrees and it fires right up. Dude was so happy manager was turning beat red and we all had a good laugh.
That place was a shit hole.
When Caught In A Lie, Deny.
My fiance, girlfriend at the time, bought a new car a couple of years ago. Her 2007 Honda Fit was approaching 200k miles, and her new job required a lot of driving. She thought it would be a good time to get a new car and give the Fit to her parents.
Before she gave the Fit to her parents, she had new tires put on the car. I did my usual shopping around, including a shop my family has trusted with their cars since I was born. Naturally I trusted them, and my fiance trusted my judgement. This is where the trouble began.
When she picked up her car, she was flagged down by a guy on a Harley saying one of her back wheels was wobbling. It turns out that one of her front rims was bent, and they moved it to the back instead of informing either of us about the problem. I called them furious about them not telling me this, and they insisted on finding a new rim and discounting it for us. After sourcing the used rim, the new tire was installed, and we got the car back.
It only got worse from here. Right after getting the new tires and rim, her parents took the car for a trip to central Illinois, a good 2-1/2 hour drive from home. They called us mid-trip freaking out. It turns out half the lug nuts were either stripped or not fully torqued. The Fit has 4-lug hubs, and only 2 lug nuts were on a couple of wheels! They tried using the wrench usually used for the spare, and a few lug nuts fell apart in my future father in law’s hands.
I limped the car back to the shop explaining the problem. The shop owner is the daughter of a crazy old Greek guy, and she takes the crazy factor to a whole new, shout-filled level. I tried keeping my calm and explaining the problem, and she sent their tire guy out to inspect it. He claimed 0 responsibility and gave me a list of excuses of how it’s not their fault and that “someone else could have tampered with these wheels”. Not once did they offer to fix the problem, and I limped the car back home. I took it to another shop, where fixing their fuck-up cost an additional $300. Needless to say, I have never gone back to that shop again.
Them Ford Mustangs Can Be Pricey, Y’know.
Early 90s, I’m driving my 64 1/2 Mustang (brown and a manual, lol!). Rear brakes give a squeal, I think it’s probably time for some new shoes. I’m driving past a garage in San Francisco, so I pull in.
Owner pops it on the lift, tells me “these are those darn self-adjusting brakes. No good. You gotta replace this who brake system with the older kind.” I’m trying to keep a straight face. Sure, swap out my 1960s brake tech for 1950s stuff.
“Oh, and how much would that cost?”
He says, “around $1800.” I can’t help it, I burst out laughing. “Well, maybe if I check the parts prices, I could do it for $1500.”
I’m laughing so hard I’m gasping for breath. Mind you, this car doesn’t even have power brakes. There’s four drums, a master cylinder, and some brake lines. You could replace the whole brake system for a few hundred bucks in a couple of hours. I couldn’t even get words out. I just kept laughing uproariously as I got in the car and drove off. Got a brake job done at some little garage in the Mission, don’t recall the cost, but even with turning the drums I think it was well under two hundred bucks.
As always, if you’d like to share your experiences, feel free to send your mechanic’s (or customer’s) horror stories to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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.