They think I’m a sucker. A rube. An easy mark. And I need your help. Not in defending me, for I’m well aware that I’m all of these things, but in confirming my suspicions.
I’m the first to admit that I know less about cars than anyone on the planet. I know how to add washer fluid, fill ‘em with gas, and check the tire pressure.
Beyond that, anything I say or do is pure guesswork.
It’s not that I mind being car stupid. After all, I believe everyone should be completely useless at something in life. It helps the world go ’round. My being a complete dummy when it comes to car care, tools, and nutrition helps ensure the livelihood of auto mechanics, handymen, and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.
What bothers me is when mechanics know that I’m car stupid and try to swindle me. Like last week. We had taken our babe-magnet of a minivan in for inspection and walked out with a $573 repair estimate to fix the O2 sensor, replace the rear brake pads, and swap out the serpentine belt.
Seeing “O2 sensor” on the sheet was a surprise because I didn’t even know cars had the ability to sense oxygen. While it’s nice to know that I’ll be among the first to know when the earth plunges into a cataclysmic oxygen shortage, I’m actually pretty darn good at sensing oxygen myself, so I wasn’t sure this was even needed.
I was told the van couldn’t pass inspection without it so I signed off on that item even though I hadn’t a clue what was being fixed.
Opting to replace the brake pads was a no-brainer because I do prefer that my cars come to a complete stop.
But the serpentine belt was something I considered waiting on because I wasn’t even sure what it did. I asked if we could hold off on that and he closed me in only four sentences.
Him: “Sure, you can wait on the belt if you really need to.”
Me: Okay, great.
Him sensing lost revenue: “I do want to let you know that it shows a lot of wear and if that goes then you risk significant engine damage.”
Me: Seriously? Is this thing loaded with ball bearings and nails or something?
Him ignoring my question: “Buuuut I’m sure you’ll be fine for a while.”
Me: Okay, cool, we can revisit that later.
Him: “I just can’t say for how long.”
Me: Okay, fine…change it.
He may as well have just come right out and said, “Sure, you can wait on the belt if you don’t care about your family possibly careening off a cliff when the serpentine belt snaps and obliterates all functioning engine parts causing motor armageddon. I’m sure they’ll be fine. Until impact.”
Fast forward $573 later and we’re tootling around town in our spiffy van. Stopping at will. Sensing oxygen. Enjoying the benefit of serpentine. When out of nowhere our dashboard “Brake” warning light comes on.
Shuffling through the handy manual it says to get the car checked immediately because the brakes could fail. That sounded pretty important so we took it back to the mechanic.
I’m in the waiting area enjoying a 1998 Field & Stream when he comes out and explains something so absurd that I felt compelled to ask my trusted blog readers if I was being taken. So, my question to you is simple. Am I being taken?
He explained that sometimes during a brake job the calipers can get fussy. When they replaced the pads, the caliper didn’t cooperate, and it broke. The result was a streaming loss of brake fluid.
This is the part I didn’t understand. “This is normal with brake jobs but seeing how we did the work we’re going to go ahead and replace it for free. You just have to buy the part.”
After a brief pause to make sure I wasn’t wearing an “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt adorned an up arrow I asked why I should have to buy the part if they broke it.
He replied saying, “Sometimes…things just break. I did top you off with fluid though.”
I argued that I didn’t feel it was right for me to buy the $85 part and he said their offer of free labor was the best they could do in this situation. I took the van and coasted home testing the brakes all the while. We’re wondering what to do next as brake fluid pools in our driveway.
Is this for real? Do we suck it up and pay him the $85 to get our van on the road? Anywhere else I take it will charge us labor as well so we feel trapped.
Unless, of course, calipers really are fragile beasts. But if they are truly this brittle, why are they in charge of stopping a vehicle?
Are there any car peeps out there who can shed some light on this?
Understand that I’m not one to argue too long with someone who will be near our brake lines with sharp objects. After all, sometimes, things just break.