Should You Pay a Mechanic Who Screwed Up?


There is a world of difference between a mechanic who intentionally deceives a customer and one who screws up on a repair job. Fixing cars is not always easy. Sometimes it seems almost impossible. Errors can be made and situations can develop. These developments can lead to serious consequences. A faulty repair can lead to a car accident or fire, which can result in death or injury. Auto repair is serious business. Hopefully this will never be the case, but the other serious consequences of a faulty repair are expense and inconvenience.

Who should foot the bill for a mechanic’s screwup?

People, by nature, have a difficult time accepting responsibility for a mistake. And in the case of your repair facility, a mechanic or his boss might try to cover up an error, especially if it will cost him money or his reputation. If something is broken by accident during a repair, the first inclination of the mechanic is to repair it without even mentioning it to his boss or to the owner of the vehicle. If this repair requires an extensive amount of work or an expensive replacement part, the repair establishment might try to shift the blame on the vehicle or the driver. This could be done by using ploys or terms that are unfamiliar to the owner of the vehicle, or using explanations that would be hard to refute since the customer doesn’t understand them.

Screwed Mechanic Should You Pay a Mechanic Who Screwed Up?

If you find yourself in this type of situation and you feel uncomfortable or suspicious, do not accept responsibility for it. Instead write down all the details, including the parts that are affected, and tell your shop you will need to get back to them on it. Then do some research. Call other shops and discuss the situation with them and see if they give you the same explanation that your shop has. Look on the Internet or in a repair manual for more information, or you can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) to see if other owners with the same model car have complained about the same problem. Look in the “Defect Investigations” database. If at all possible, ask another mechanic to evaluate the situation for you by coming to see your car and asking the right questions.

Taking control of a situation that is questionable is not always an easy task for a consumer, but it can be done. Consumers can use ploys and tactics also. I think that one of the most powerful tools a consumer can use is his or her mouth. Knowing when to use it is crucial. Winning a one-on-one conversation or argument with a person who knows more than you about your own car is difficult. First of all, arm yourself with as much information as possible, but try not to delve into the technical aspects of it. The mechanic will have the edge over you. Instead, choose a time when his shop is busy with work and with customers. The workload may be enough for them to concede instead of argue, and their concerns for losing other customers that overhear your complaints will be overwhelming. Two popular phrases that most consumers use are, “It was not like that when I left it” and “Ever since you fixed my car.” These infer that something was intentionally or accidentally done to their car, resulting in a new problem. These phrases go a long way, and the burden of proof is now on the shop to prove otherwise.

A perfect example of a misconceived screw up happened recently at my shop. First-time customers, husband and wife, complained of a leaking water pump. They said they had been adding water to (heir radiator for the past three months because of the leak. They also had been adding large doses of motor oil and power steering fluid. After checking over the vehicle, I informed them that in fact they were correct about the leaking water pump and that it needed to be replaced. The power steering fluid was leaking from the rack and pinion and also needed replacement. The motor oil leak, I told them, could only be determined after I washed off the engine and let it run on the lift, because everything under the engine was covered in oil. They authorized the replacement of only the water pump and told me they intended to get rid of the car soon.

I replaced the water pump and filled the system with fresh antifreeze. I allowed the engine to run for thirty minutes, checking to make sure that the coolant was flowing normally and that the electric fans were kicking in properly. I then pressure-tested the cooling system to check for leaks. I topped off the antifreeze and closed the radiator with a new radiator cap. I then let the car run for another fifteen minutes before I released it to the wife.

About a half hour later she called me and informed me that the car had overheated and that she was stuck. I drove to where she was disabled to find that her radiator hose had a small hole in it and her antifreeze had gushed out. I purchased a new hose and replaced it on the spot. I topped off the antifreeze and started the engine. It started right up but it had an engine knock. I slowly drove it back to my shop, where it died. The engine was blown. I called the customers to inform them of the situation. They took the bad news quite well but were certain that the car had overheated because the water pump was defective or installed improperly. They felt, and rightfully so, that the car drove into my shop, but now after the repair, the engine blew.

What happened here? What was the reason the engine overheated after she left? The culprit was the thermostat. It closed and remained shut after she left, preventing the coolant from circulating through the radiator. This caused the engine to overheat. But why did the engine blow so quickly?

Screwed Mechanic 1 Should You Pay a Mechanic Who Screwed Up?

In another conversation with the owners they told me a few interesting facts. First, because the water pump had been leaking for three months, the vehicle had overheated a number of times previously. Second, the engine had an oil leak. I was told that when they “heard the engine knocking they knew they had to add oil.” This clicked with the fact that I had to add two and a half quarts of oil to the engine when they first brought the car into the shop.

The bottom line: This engine had been subjected to numerous overheats and oil starvations. It was on its last leg before I replaced the water pump, and that last overheating due to the faulty thermostat was the final nail in the coffin.

After I explained this to my customers, they then understood the whole picture. My initial fear was that they thought I was either out for their money or that we had done something wrong that ruined their engine. They were first-time customers and this was no way to start a relationship.

In the end we shook hands and we agreed to split the bill on the water pump. The end.

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