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Get a second opinion on repairs

October 2, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

An 86-year-old widow who lives 100 miles away called the other day saying her car had developed a drip of red fluid from underneath, and wanted to know what to do. When she said the liquid washed away easily I told her it was probably radiator fluid, called coolant or antifreeze. If it had been transmission oil, (also red in color) it wouldn't wash away easily.

I suggested she take it to the new car dealership where she had recently bought the car and let them look at it. It might be only a loose hose clamp, or something else that was easy to fix. She took it in, after calling the service manager, who was a personal acquaintance from her church, and who assured her it would be taken care of.

When she got there, the service manager was away, and a different service writer took her information. After sending the car around to the shop for an inspection, she was given an estimate for $900 for a new oil pan gasket and new rear main crankshaft seal. The estimate was hand written on plain paper, not even dealership letterhead, and was signed by no-one.

Now folks, if you know anything about engines, you know that this estimate is to repair engine oil leaks. Engine oil is not red. It is black. Furthermore, if these things were leaking there would be oil stains on the concrete floor where the car is parked. There were no oil stains. No mention was made about a leaking red fluid. She was naturally very distressed when she called me with the diagnosis and estimated expense. I asked her to wait until I could check the car before having any repairs done.

We got the car here, and an examination showed a leaking radiator. There was a very slight engine oil leak, which was not worth the repair expense to fix. We put in a new radiator. That's all it needed.

The most generous thing I can say about these people is that maybe the service writer forgot to pass on that the leak was a red fluid, and the inspecting technician failed to notice the red leak. That makes them both incompetent. The leak was obvious.

The next most generous thing I can say about them is that they ignored the symptoms and went for a lucrative repair job, figuring an older lady would be an easy mark. That makes them dishonest. Actually it makes them predators, preying on unsuspecting people who try to trust them. I know it happens, and it is the reason our profession is universally mistrusted, and it burns me up. Any mechanic working for me who pulled this stunt would be fired on the spot. There is plenty of necessary work to do. We don't need to make work.

My advice is to always get a second or even third opinion. You may get two entirely different diagnoses, or even three, but there should be some agreement between parties before work is begun. Obviously nobody is immune from attack by unscrupulous people, and I wish I knew a way to get them out of this trade, but I don't. I can only advise on how to avoid them.

Speaking of car advice reminds me of a line from the psychiatrist on an episode of M.A.S.H., who said "Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice." It might not help get your car fixed, but it will frost your butt, just like a bad repair job would, and for a lot less money.



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