Friday, February 01, 2008

PPS on Cast Away

Today is another beautiful day in Waterloo, Ontario! Streets are full with snowmud, wind is blowing from the east, and my car is in the repair shop so I have ample opportunity to enjoy the sight of slowly melting snowflakes on my glasses. I've just been told the reason why the horn doesn't work is that some electric device with an impressive name has a broken circuit. The device can not be fixed, just be replaced. The part is $500, plus an estimated $200 service. Besides this it turns out that the whole brake system needs to be replaced (I didn't dare to ask for a price), and that nobody has a clue what to do about the driver's seat adjustment that doesn't work. Oh, and the remote control to open the door which is broken is not 'an original Honda part' and btw one that isn't manufactured anymore (? am I supposed to believe that ?), so it can't be fixed at all (but ductape so far works quite well). Further, they will need to replace at least 2 tires for reasons that eluded my shocked ears. I suggested they keep the steering wheel and replace the rest, it might be easier.

Update 5pm: I just picked up the car. The guy who presented the bill got annoyed because I dared to ask for details. He obviously didn't know what the files said that he was waving around with and 'Rob has already left'. He got more annoyed when I told him an explanation he'd just given me didn't make sense. It didn't improve his mood that his colleague confirmed what he just told me was indeed wrong. Neither did it help that I pointed out from the four problems that I came in for they didn't fix a single one. They did however cause a new one: the mechanic lost the remote control and as a result I can't lock the car. Summa summarum I paid $ 350 for nothing than new trouble, and the knowledge that I've been driving around more than a year with the driver's airbag not working. Should you live in Waterloo, Ontario, I'd give the local Honda dealer a stunning zero stars.

Update Feb. 2nd: I dug out the spare remote from the bottom of an (still not unpacked) moving box. Since the battery was dead and I couldn't even open the tiny screws I went into the next hardware store - on a Saturday afternoon it was full with men in their late fifties investigating scarily looking tools that I have no clue what they possibly could be good for (or why one would spend a Saturday afternoon with them). I replaced the battery, but was stupid enough to drop one of the tiny screws which vanished somewhere under the passenger's seat. Without much hope to ever see it again, I crawled under the seat where I found (among several empty coke bottles and a textbook I had missed for a while) the other remote. While I was already crawling on the floor I fixed the driver's seat adjustment. Turned out all it took was half a meter of wire. That means the next time Stefan comes for a visit, I can get drunk and he has to drive ;-)


  1. Hi Bee,

    As you noticed, this garage is taking advantage of you. I would say "no thank you" and go elsewhere. It's still possible to find a reasonable mechanic who actually likes fixing things.

    Some think its best go to a dealership with experience and parts for your brand of car. But the garage in back tends to have the same ethics as the guys out front selling. (Same boss.)

    Best, Kris

  2. Hi Kris,

    Thanks for the feedback. This is also what I thought. I've told them not to replace anything for now that doesn't desperately need to be replaced and want to go see some other place. I've had a similar problem with a Honda dealer with my previous car who insisted a part could only be replaced, but it turned out it could actually be fixed for half the price. Otoh, the brakes are a real problem that I have to think about (I estimate it will easily be more than $1000). Best,


  3. Hi Bee,

    Brakes are not one of those jobs that requires taking half the car apart. Even replacing them, I don't think it should cost $1000. Is it too late to get another estimate?


  4. Hi Kris:

    No, as I said, I told them not to do anything major and said I'd think about it an get back to them (well, maybe I won't). The thing with the brakes is that apparently the previous owner replaced the standard set with some other parts (some kind of 'sport brakes' whatever that means), that were however not installed perfectly and don't work too great with the Honda parts and will, so they say, wreck other parts if not re-replaced by more appropriate ones.

    I am not in the mood to just believe that as I suspect it might be they just can't fix the non-Honda parts, so I want to go somewhere else before I buy that story. Also, I will need to have an unpleasant conversation with the car dealer where I bought the car, it seems I should have known that (or he should have). Best,


  5. Dear Bee,

    You're in Canada. Do you have a friendly Sikh garage owner around - Canadian or immigrant from India? You might try an estimate from such a place.


    PS- by garage I mean car repair shop.

  6. 1) Get the parts' descriptions, get prices from Google, ream the bastard a wide one.

    2) Buy German or Japanese. A US-made car is crap. Deeetroit is full of... diversity!

    3) Folks in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin buy junker used cars for the winter, then toss the salt-corroded remains when the snow melts in June.

    4) No sunspots so far this cycle. Is this another Maunder Minimum? Tell Ottawa you are a First American and demand your free snowmobile and high-powered rifle. (Fuel ethanol is terrible at low temps - way too little vapor pressure and too high a viscosity).

  7. I just want to say that, in my experience, some dealership mechanics are honest, even if they are expensive (and others are both incompetent and dishonest). So in this case, contrary to kris krogh's advice, theory doesn't help with the classification problem: the matter has to be decided by experiment. Your recent experiment seems to have fairly conclusively classified the dealership in question.

    If only experiments weren't so expensive.

  8. Dear Bee,

    that reminds me of the last time I've brought my Twingo to a Renault dealer - the guy told me that he had repairs to do for 1.200 Euro, and suggested that I buy a new car... In the end, a really good mechanic with a small workshop in the neighbourhood did the same (which was necessary to do, including also the brakes) for half the prize...

    Best, Stefan

  9. Hi Anonymous:

    Indeed, I have made very good experience with my Ford dealer in Germany.

    Hi Uncle:

    I've been driving a Honda previously and that car was, despite its age, of very little annoyance. Even the car I am driving right now doesn't actually have any major bugs, meaning the important parts seem to work just fine (otherwise I'd consider selling it in time). I'd have preferred buying an older car but the one I have now was the only option at this time - cars with manual transmission are rare around here at the used car dealers. Best,


  10. Dear Arun:

    Good idea actually. The gas station where I usually go seems to be run by an Indian family. Not sure whether they do repairs, but could give it a try.

    Dear Stefan:

    The most important part of a car is the radio ;-) As Andi liked to point out, you need loud music to drown the car's more worrisome sounds.



  11. Hi Bee, see Rita (if she still works there) and ask her about a mechanic - she recommended one to me 4 years ago that turned out to be alright. I think it was called something like "busy corner"? and was close to PI, east just off of Erb Rd (Allen and Moore?) if I remember right. Dealerships are notoriously expensive and I would not go to one unless I absolutely had to. A full brake service including replacement pads and rotors/drums should not cost more than $600.

  12. Hi Bee,

    $350 just to check the car out? I guess it's necessary now to ask for an estimate of how much the estimate will cost. To be safe, one could also ask for an estimate of the estimate of the estimate...

    My experience is that, if you take the receipt back to the boss and ask him to explain it in detail, it's good for a partial refund.

    Condolences, Kris

  13. :-) Well, they did 'something' after all. They 'diagnosed' the bugs. (Though they kept saying things like it is 'probably' this and that. When I asked what exactly means 'probably' in the given context, they looked at me as if I was a completely hopeless case). Oh, and they put on the wheel caps that had been lying around in my trunk since I bought the car (I never bothered to put them on). Best,


  14. Oh. As far as brakes go, a brake shop is another possibility. Again, an independent shop might give you better service than a big name place.

  15. Hi Bee,

    “the four problems that I came in for they didn't fix a single one………I paid $ 350 for nothing than new trouble, and the knowledge that I've been driving around more than a year with the driver's airbag not working”
    This certainly sounds like a nightmare. It’s one of those times you would hope when you awake none of it happened. I have never been charged such an amount without anything actually done. I would take his directly to Honda (head office). I would also mention the air bag issue as this could have some recall or hidden warrant issue connected with it. You might also check out the site called Honda Problems . Bottom line is no simple look see should cost $350.00.



  16. Hi Phil,

    Thanks, I hadn't heard of that airbag issue before, this is good to know though my car is a Civic not an Accord so don't know whether it is relevant. When I was in the store it was like 5 minutes to 5 on a Friday afternoon, and the only thing the guy kept repeating was I should come back on Monday when X and Y would be there. I didn't see any point in talking to him and besides this, I actually wanted to switch into weekend mode as well. Either way, it could have been worse I guess, at least the car is still driving ;-) And the guy who drove the shuttle to drop me off was really nice. Best,


  17. I wonder what's up with the brakes. The only time I've seen friends with "fix it now" brake problems was when they didn't put new brake pads in soon enough and wore down the rotors, but I can't imagine a physicist doing that.

    Just to swap the pads is an easy job even in cold wet weather. I knew a prof. who ran a physics lab. When he interviewed potential grad students, he asked them if they worked on their car. If they said they didn't, he wouldn't let them into his lab.

  18. Hi Bee,

    “And the guy who drove the shuttle to drop me off was really nice.”

    For $350.00 it should have been a limo with complimentary champagne :-

    You certainly demonstrate you have more patients and understanding then I would be able to muster in similar circumstances. I hope your Cartesian described fellows have some explanation that is more satisfactory. This was the day when the snow job was supposed to be restricted to the weather. You’re correct of course that you shouldn’t let it spoil the weekend.



  19. What happened to B is a classic case of auto-repair scam:

    1) asking for additional frivolous repairs
    transmission..w/o examination (as B pointed out, the red flag was when they mistakenly thought it was an automatic)

    2) outrageous charges
    $500 for a black box to fix horn, $200 install?? (ARE YOU KIDDING ME)

    3) screwups & sloppy work
    lost remote, "fuzzy logic" explantations to customers (conning)

    The above symptoms are illustrated in the auto-repair scam reported locally in Los Angeles (2003-2006):

    "Is your Mechanic Cheating?" (Jiffy Lube Scam Caught on Tape)

    ==========transcript below

    "Undercover Investigation something that affects every all of us at one time or another: Getting Your Car Repaired
    this time Joel Grover has uncovered a new scheme
    that's never been caught on tape, until now. Joel is here tonight now with the latest on his 3 month investigation

    "Imagine going to get your car repaired, paying for it, & then finding out..THE WORK WAS NEVER EVEN DONE!
    [ what did B get for $350??!! no repairs & a lost remote ]
    With the help of insiders we've uncovered an apparent scheme at some repair shops that are part of a nationwide chain with 30 million customers a year"
    [ auto-dealer repairs are notorious for high prices & shoddy work ]

    "20, 40, 60 80 100..300 bucks!"
    [ B paid $350 for zilch..& on top of that..a LOST remote!? ]
    "We shelled out a lot of repair shops across town"

    "Well, were the repairs we paid for REALLY DONE?
    Listen to this former insider"

    Q: Does this happen to customers a lot?
    A: Everyday

    "recommends MORE REPAIRS [ sales tactic known as "bumping" ] changing the fuel-filter, we pay up..but they DIDN'T CHANGE THE FUEL FILTER"

    Q: Why didn't they change the fuel filter?
    A: It's so easy for them to get away with it, & why go through the trouble of doing it?"
    [ Paradox of Auto-Repair: "Opportunity Makes the Thief"..customer drops off car, isn't monitoring repair, so..screw'em! ]

    "You charged us Hard-Earned money for a repair..THAT YOU NEVER DID"

    "But 1st, watch what happens when we take our other test-car to this Jiffy Lube in Canoga Park"

    "A manager named Anthony recommends a top of the line Transmission flush
    ..a machine called T-Tech, which they're supposed to connect to the transmission lines to suck out the fluid. But, we noticed no one ever touched the machine, & our hiddent cameras
    but they charged us for the anyway"
    [ Note that "transmission" is a typical target for frivoulous charges, as B experienced. B, I'm willing to bet that they DIDN'T DO ANY DIAGNOSTICS to find the horn issue, i.e. they probably just decided to replace the black box ($500 w/$200 install..WHAT!?) I had a horn issue with my was just a LOOSE WIRE..fixed in 15 minutes ]

    It happened to us AGAIN in Glendale, & in Sherman Oaks, & in Burbank,
    we got stiffed 5 out of 9 Jiffy Lubes we tested..& NO ONE WOULD EXPLAIN WHY

    Q: You charged us for a transmission service that you never did. WHY?
    A: Sir, you have to talk to our District Manager

    "So, we tracked down the District Manager Steven Ayou..WHO DENIED HIS IDENTITY...& the Distric Manager was lying to us"
    [ "Lying is a Company Policy" ]

    "Now, they wouldn't speak to us on camera, but in a statement they told us

    '..Take KNBC's allegations seriously..will investigate this matter fully & take appropriate prevent further occurrences'

    they promised to REFUND US ALL THE MONEY for all those repairs that were never done.
    [ B, you need to get your $$ back PLUS a new remote ]

    Pt 2

    Insider: In my opinion they're committing a crime. They're selling you something knowing they're not going to change it
    [ Consumer Fraud. Breach of Contract. B, check the contract you signed. (unfortunately, you don't have video proof from hidden cameras like KNBC) You should at least recover the lost remote (they owe you a new one). ]

    Jiffy Lube spokesperson:
    "This footage you're showing me makes me furious..this is wrong & it needs to be addressed"

    "That was Jiffy Lube spokesperson 3 YEAR AGO"
    [ WTF??!! ]

    "Jiffy lube promised us to conduct additional training to prevent more violations of their policies."

    Insider: The training's a joke.
    "Part of that training is learning how to spot an undercover Channel 4 customer"
    [ this proves that the corruption extends up the Corporate ladder, not just franchises ]

    Insider: Instead of telling us not to do these things, they're telling us how to AVOID GETTING CAUGHT DOING IT"

    Insider: The problem come from up top
    [ Cheating is a Company Policy ]
    "Our insider pushes employees to meet certain sell $66 worth of extra services per car. These targets are known as budgets"

    Insider: If you do not meet the budgets consistently they're going to find somebody else that can, so your job is on the line
    [ "Cheat, or you will lose your job" ]
    "The only way they will meet their quota is to sell as many services as possible"

    Insider: They don't have time to perform each & every single service that they sell
    [ B, that "line" (lie) you got about the "sport brakes interfering with genuine Honda parts" is BOGUS. ]

    "Which is why they wouldn't talk to us..even the district manager ducked our questions"
    [ B, sounds like when you asked them questions he got annoyed. Also he gave the excuse that X & Y weren't around.."ducking" ]

    Pt 3
    "In this email, Jiffy Lube is tell me they're taking agressive steps to stop the fraud we uncovered"
    [ closed down stores, retraining, installing video cameras (to monitor employees) ]
    "Also gone is the District Manager Steven Ayou"

    This is now the THIRD TIME since 2003 that Jiffy Lube told us it was cleaning up its act
    [ Either extremely poor management of franchises or it's corporate policy of corruption. ]

    "Life is 20% what happens you [ scam ], 80% how you respond to it [ solution ]"
    -- a wise man once said

    Sorry about the lengthy transcript, but the parallels with your case are strikingly similar. It seems to be a general disease among automotive repair shops: it's designed to prey on the automotive-challenged customer. The above "sting operation" gives clues on how to find a solution to your problem.

    " don't need a lawyer, all you have to do is GO TO THE MEDIA. You think they wouldn't take a shot at these people [ repair shop ] for ratings?"
    -- my lawyer friend, HS classmate

    Which is the whole purpose of the KNBC sting operation. Blogs are a way of delivering news, so you're already on your way.

    Get emails of management, no way they will suffer a PR disaster. You should get your money back & new remote.

  20. Dear Arun:

    Yeah, I've read that before. I do indeed appreciate that they encourage their employees not to make their days 24 hours full of stress. Though it's not actually leaving on the BB that is the problem but that people expect fast answers, over night, at weekends etc, so I think the cause is elsewhere. As an aside, I use the BB as a cellphone and don't like to turn it off at night, given that most of my friends and relatives live in a different time zone. The BB actually makes my life easier because I can literally carry around all the information in my emails (handy esp. when on travel) in my pockets, plus I don't have to turn on the laptop to check email (well, if I turn on the laptop I usually start checking somewhat more than the emails...). I've come to like that thing. Though as a cellphone it's not the most handy device one can press to the ear. Best,


  21. I went thru all 427 comments in that Youtube video, & found some jewels.

    "This has nothing to do with laziness. It's about corporate pressure to increase the average "ticket sales numbers" and to get the maximum numbers of cars through. Which leads to complete fraud. I worked in the industry and had to deal with others' scumbaggery and fraud."
    -- Nickdfresh

    This sounds frighteningly like the broken system in Academia, Re: "Publish or Perish syndrome". "Welcome to the Machine"..the machine places pressure on Quantity..therefore Quality suffers. The thread on "Not Even Wrong" blog about plagiarized papers (cheating) is no different. It's a society-wide malaise.

    "After the repairs are made, demand a walk-around again. Make him show you the new parts replaced.
    If you can't see the parts cause its under this or that, make them show you the old parts.

    IT IS REQUIRED BY LAW, that they show you the old parts.

    -my 2cents worth"
    -- thatonetom

    Good point. Need to get "proof" their work. Do some "peer review".

    "Something to discuss during the off season.

    With the advancement of technology, do you think it has become harder for things that happen in the NASCAR world to be swept under the rug? Fans with video cameras, cellular phone cameras and video, Internet, youtube, etc.

    With everything that is happening now, it is harder for incidents on the track, in the garage and away from the track to be kept quiet now, in my opinion.

    -- Jason Stix Buckley, NASCAR forum

    B, the leverage you have is to expose this clear case of incompetence/malice over media (Youtube, your blog, Internet forums)

    "I went for my Honda oil change at dealer, they called and told me I also needed brakes i said no. I took it to my old mechanic he told me i could go another 6 months."
    -- sweetsugarnuts

    common tactic.

    "Did you ask the dealer what the thickness on the pads and rotors were? Or if the rotors were warped? Do you know what Honda's recommended minimum thickness is? There are ways to protect yourself just by asking a few questions. Don't just say "yeah right" to the dealer."
    -- reggiebrown37

    It's mentioned in many consumer websites, to be *prepared* a little auto-savvy.

    "Here's a few tips:
    -Whatever they recommend, ask why and make sure you understand it specifically for your automobile's make.

    -Clearly go over WHICH parts, and HOW MANY parts are getting replaced, and how much. TWICE

    -Ask the mechanic to do a walk-around your car and point out what's getting replaced.

    -STICK to ONE mechanic. REFUSE to talk to ANY OTHER mechanics cause they WILL tell you different things. "
    -- thatonetom

    "The devil is in the details" as the saying goes.

    "And another thing: don't trust dealerships either. They can be just as corrupt as Jippy Lube. I speak from experience as there are some repair that have been beyond me. If you must go to them eye everything they tell you with suspicion. Remember, they are not your friend your wallet is."

    YOU are one in control..because you control the $$.

    "If you go to a service place, take a friend who knows something about cars. I usually go to all the places with my girlfriend and other friends who are not car saavy. And if I ever go which is rare, I do all my own mostly. I sit and watch right outside the bay the whole time. But the guys I do go to I trust, we have a good relationship."
    -- Clutchrider7

    I hate to say it, but I've been ripped off myself on big jobs. I can do most repairs myself, but my recent transmission rebuild was a NIGHTMARE. Never got done right.


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