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"Ma'am, if you didn't have a vagina, these repairs would cost you considerably less."
January 14, 2008 11:55 PM   Subscribe

[Automotive-Repair-Filter]: I dropped off my car at the dealership for it's scheduled maintenance and to have some loudness checked out. Now I'm being told that despite wheel-bearings being the noise-culprit, my car needs $1000+ worth of repairs. Am I getting shafted?

After weeks (I know, I know) of my car growing louder and louder while driving at speeds greater than 40 mph, I finally dropped it off at the dealer to have the problem diagnosed (I know that going to a dealer is probably more expensive than a good mechanic will be. I only chose the dealer as my parents had given me the remaining balance on their Dealer Gift Card to use for payment). I dropped off my car - a 2001 Ford Focus Wagon - noting that my car grew increasingly louder at highway speeds, and that I needed the scheduled 75,000 maintenance.

Upon inspection, the service department representative called me and ran down a list of things that the mechanic felt needed repairing. They are (and seriously, I have no idea what half of this means):
    1. A bad 2nd-4th cervo-piston inside the transmission that is to blame for making pick-up on highways problematic. 2. Replacement of the FFA solenoid. (??!?!?) 3. Both license-plate lights are burnt out (making night-driving illegal), and thus require replacement. 4. Adjustment/Replacement of existing wheel-bearings (this is the cause of the dreadful noise). 5. Installation of new “pan seals” (I think?), which he described as “washers inside the transmission.”
As an added bonus (read:WIN!), my car could stand for:
    6. Two (2) new rear-tires + alignment. Yay! 7. New wiper-blades (which I will buy and install myself, thank-you-very-much!) 8. A brake-flush. (Said it wasn’t necessary, but “recommended.”) 9. A power-steering flush. (Again, not necessary, but “recommended.”)
At the time of this posting, the rep. has given me a preliminary estimate of $890, which includes:

• the cost of the diagnosis ($100)
• transmission work ($605)
• my initial 75,000 mi. scheduled maintenance ($185)

but which does not include the cost of:

• wheel-bearings
• new tires
• new wiper-blades
• a brake-flush
• a power-steering flush
• replacement of bulbs
• all labor required therein

I am bottoming out on my loans as it is (thanks, university administration!), so paying this amount (a) seems like a joke, and (b) leaves me feeling apprehensive about putting food in my mouth for the next 3 months. For the diagnosis, transmission work, and 75k scheduled maintenance, does the amount of $890 seem reasonable? Am I being ripped-off? What is a reasonable price for this type of work? I live in Southern California, and the dealership is located in Costa Mesa, if this matters at all.

I would appreciate all input, as I will be speaking with the rep. sometime in the following day, and would like to go into the discussion equipped with the knowledge of whether I’m being taken for a ride, or if the amount appears reasonable. I will update this post with the additional estimates for the remaining work for which I have yet to receive the estimated amounts.

Please forgive the sarcastic tone of my post. I am feeling a little burnt by the feeling that I am being given a run for my money, and am not wholly trusting of dealerships that tend to exploit my automotive ignorance.
posted by numinous to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If your transmission really is having problems, those prices are realistic.
posted by krisjohn at 12:05 AM on January 15, 2008

I don't know about reasonable, but those prices are about what I've been quoted for similar problems on an American car of similar vintage. You may not like it (and I certainly can't blame you) but those prices are probably about what you'd be quoted anywhere.
posted by lekvar at 12:18 AM on January 15, 2008

You're getting shafted. The dealerships in Orange County always leave me feeling fleeced. There's little doubt your car needs serious work, but you can get a better quote elsewhere. If it drives I recommend trying out these options:

The Midas down in Laguna Beach on PCH has been recommended by multiple people to me. They are known for their honest assements.

Somewhat less honest, but still capable and with "decent" prices is the Pep Boys on Bristol and Baker near the Urban Outfitter. We've taken three different vehicles there and felt like the work was done competently, although the customer service is a frustratingly slow. Good luck!
posted by dendrite at 12:22 AM on January 15, 2008

You can get a second opinion but that's what transmission work runs for. For the other stuff, here's some advice.

Bulbs are cheap and easy to replace and will cost a fraction to do it yourself. Look up your car's manual and see what kind of bulbs you need. Go on ebay motors and pick them up for ~2$ a pair (even headlights, although shipping will run about $9; still a deal though). Replace it youself (you won't need more than a screwdriver). In my case dealer charged $27 to replace single headlight bulb. I paid $10 for a brighter than average pair on ebay. works great!

Get your tires from Costco (borrow a card if you aren't a member). Those are the cheapest tires you'll get.

Good luck with the rest. I feel your pain (as a student with imminent car troubles).
posted by special-k at 12:23 AM on January 15, 2008

The prices are believable but being a dealer, they'll be padded a bit to a lot, e.g. charging $100 for a quote is very rude.

Are you having trouble with the transmission on the highway? If not, you can probably wait a bit on that; ask a real mechanic (NOT the dealer) whether there is risk of further damage. Get a quote on the wheel bearings and have just those and the 75,000 service done.

The flushes and bulb replacements are them fishing for money.

Since it's not in warranty, you can get the 75,000 service done cheaper elsewhere. You should find out exactly what it involves; make sure you at least get new oil, oil filter and air filter and have the coolant and battery levels checked but quite possibly there's a bunch of other crap in there like new spark plugs which you can outright ignore without risk to your car.
posted by polyglot at 12:57 AM on January 15, 2008

Loudness and no power beyond 40 MPH sound like transmission issues. My ex-husband and his family were magnets for cars that did this. All their vehicles were automatic transmissons (that were Fords and Jeeps) and they could never "feel" when the issues started. By the time they noticed, they had the transmissions rebuilt and/or replaced. My ex-husband's Ford Probe ('89) went through two transmissions before it was determined that a bad sensor and/or computer caused the perfectly-functional tranny to shift at inappropriate times.

Or--you might have tire/wheel/suspension troubles causing the noise. Tire rotation and/replacement on a schedule helps. As I line out below, if you and your car are not obligated to go to the dealership, shop around for estimates.

As others have pointed out, there are things you can simply solve yourself. I don't know if you have a chain like O'Reilly, Advance Auto, NAPA, or Auto Zone in your area. Those stores will replace wiper blades for you. For really easy things like bulbs, fuses, basic maintenance, and even more "advanced" shade-tree-mechanic parts replacement (like if you want to know why tab A requires gidget Z to work, or the names of the parts under the hood or elsewhere) BUY A MANUAL.)

--Keep a record of service, check your fluids, check your tires...basic stuff
--Is your car under warranty or does it have a service contract with the dealership?
--Are there any recalls for your vehicle's parts?
--In my experience, elder generations feel loyalty toward the company or dealership. Loyalty is noble, but it doesn't mean a damned thing in dealerships or car companies these days. Whatever a dealership tells you (before or after you purchase or repair something) GET IT IN WRITING with a list of guarantees and warranties.
--Unless you risk voiding warranties (and haven't any applicable recall issues), do not get your vehicle serviced at a dealer garage.
--If you can, establish a service schedule with a friend-recommended non-dealer garage. Seek reports and Better Business Bureau evaluations for local garages.
--Aftermarket (not made or provided by the original manufacturer) and rebuilt parts are your friends, when you can find and buy them.
--In some instances, junked vehicles supply parts.
posted by bonobo at 1:51 AM on January 15, 2008

You say that highway pick-up is problematic, or could it just seem that way because of the noise? Take care of the bearings and other safety/legal issues first. With the noise resolved you might be in a better position to determine if you have a pick-up problem.

Brake and ps flush - what does the service manual say? If not listed as recommended service items then skip it.
posted by Kevin S at 3:26 AM on January 15, 2008

My dad ran his own shop for many years, and that's not entirely out of the range I would expect from working there. However, a Focus is a money pit. We have one, and honestly, whatever you've saved on the sticker, you make up in stuff like this. I'm sorry.

I would find a shop that is locally owned, or at least not a dealer, and get a second opinion on anything that is not to do with safety/legality, just to be sure the prices are in line with your area. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:43 AM on January 15, 2008

Put it on craigslist for Blue Book - Estimate - $100.

Buy a Toyota.

Especially if you're a student with low cash reserves. Even if it's strictly cheaper to do the repairs; if you don't have the cash you don't have the cash. I'd pick up an older toyota with ~100k miles and save the excess you got from the Ford for expenses.
posted by Skorgu at 5:27 AM on January 15, 2008

You are certainly not getting shafted. Dealer prices are always higher than non-affiliated workshops - you pay for the specialised training that factory supported workshops insist on. It doesn't necessarily get you a better job done, but that is why the cost is slightly higher. IT does, however, reduce the chances of them using substandard parts (ie non factory) in the repair, and less chance of them screwing it up through not being familiar with it. Transmission work especially often requires special tools and procedures.

I'd get the transmission stuff done (especially as you say you can feel it) and the service done at the Ford place. I would get quotes from somewhere else to do the wheel bearing work (it's not difficult work at all).

I would also take the wheel alignment, new tyres, wiper blades, bulbs and the rest to somewhere else, too. I'd do the bulbs and blades yourself (buy a Haynes manual if you aren't sure) and just shop around for the rest. These jobs simply aren't complicated enough to need a dealer to do them. I'd leave the brake fluid and PAS flush until you are more wealthy. They are, as said, advised but not essential unless you have a problem with either of them. Both are something that a very mildly competent mechanic can do (even at home) anyway.

If your transmission goes, it will be a big cost and potentially problematic as it will almost guaranteed leave you stranded somewhere other than your drive... Tyres are ok for a bit longer unless there is no tread at all, so everything else except the wheel bearings can be staggered over the next few months to allow you to afford it easier.

Don't sell. That's daft advice. You'll never sell a car with noisy wheel bearings...
posted by Brockles at 6:41 AM on January 15, 2008

In addition to causing the dreadful noise, the wheel bearings are the things you can least afford to ignore. Failure to do so could result in a locked wheel while driving, or worse, a scenario in which the wheel falls off entirely. This link does a decent job of explaining their function. Please, for your own safety, get those addressed before driving much further.

As for the price, I agree with those who say the cost is reasonable if it's a transmission problem, however dealers do tend to be more expensive. They're also something of a safety blanket because the chances are greater that they'll have a good familiarity wiith your type of vehicle, as opposed to the average auto repair shop which services a variety (but, by the same token the average Joe shop could have a Ford expert... who knows?)

Anyway, here is the Mechanics Files page from the Car Talk website (NPR program about car repair.) It allows users/listeners to rate & recommend mechanics in their area. There are sure to be a bunch in your neck of the woods, and you can specify make/model, etc...

Lastly, here is the Scheduled Maintenance Guide for your vehicle. I have a similar model car (2002 Ford Focus Sedan) which I'm bringing into the dealer (specifically the dealer because he has to address a recall issue - otherwise, I'd bring it to my mechanic) for 60,000 mile service tomorrow and I follow this guide to the letter. At a quick glance, I don't see much about a brake and power steering flush, so you can probably do without, especially since they're not required (I might wait until I got a break job done, for example.)

Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 6:49 AM on January 15, 2008

The Get Rich Slowly blog writer (who is also active here on MeFi, I think) had two posts on this subject recently, coincidentally involving a Ford Focus. The comments on the posts had a lot of really good information about how to find a mechanic, etc. Link, link.

The summary: independent mechanics are generally cheaper; cut your losses by getting only the absolutely needed work done at the dealer; you are driving a car with a dubious reliability record; learning to do basic things (like change lightbulbs and wipers) can save you real money.

(As an aside, the employees at the NAPA auto parts stores where I live always offer to change your wiper blades for you, so even if you don't want to do it yourself, you don't need to pay dealer prices for the work, either.)
posted by Forktine at 7:06 AM on January 15, 2008

Based on my experience with my Focus- when you get your brake pads/shoes replaced you will have to get the brake flush anyway. If you are planning on doing the brakes anytime soon you may want to wait until then for it.

When I had some needed repairs recently, I pushed the mechanic to classify them - "Which things could cause my horrible flaming death?" I did those right away and prioritized the others by how soon they might cause Much Worse Damage.
posted by oblique red at 7:19 AM on January 15, 2008

Based on my experience with my Focus- when you get your brake pads/shoes replaced you will have to get the brake flush anyway. If you are planning on doing the brakes anytime soon you may want to wait until then for it.

Hmmm. Replacing brake fluid is a requirement/recommendation purely to do with the age of the fluid. It is entirely independent of when your brakes wear out. The only sign of poor fluid is a spongy pedal, but as the decline is so gradual, it is hard to spot for most people that don't drive lots of different cars/lots of the same type of car.

On a 6 year old car, you'll certainly get away with it for a while as a reasonably low risk 'when I get the money' job.
posted by Brockles at 7:29 AM on January 15, 2008

Ditto Skorgu!

Cut your losses. Spend that same repair bill on a used Honda or Toyota and you're set!
posted by thilmony at 7:36 AM on January 15, 2008

my parents had given me the remaining balance on their Dealer Gift Card to use for payment

A lot of posters seemed to have missed this bit in your original post. If it's a gift card, it can't very easily be spent on anything but repairs, and if it covers the cost of repairs then why not use it?

I don't think you are getting shafted. Check withe the Better Business Bureau or its equivalent to see if there have been complaints about the dealer , get what work you can done, do the easy bits (bulbs, tires, Wipers) yourself if the gift card doesn't cover the cost and drive in piece with one stop shopping.
posted by Neiltupper at 8:13 AM on January 15, 2008

The Get Rich Slowly blog writer (who is also active here on MeFi, I think)

Indeed I am! (At least when I have time, which isn't as much as it used to be.)

My Focus had the same wheel-bearing issue a couple years ago. Exact same. It cost $375 to have that repaired along with the heater.

Forktine's right: those posts at GRS contain a lot of good info in the reader comments. I wish I'd read them before forking out $1250 for this recent batch of repairs. The Focus is also notorious for having ignition issues. Beware of that.
posted by jdroth at 8:54 AM on January 15, 2008

Get your tires from Costco (borrow a card if you aren't a member). Those are the cheapest tires you'll get.

I'm a big Costco-tire believer as well, as they are an example of something you don't see much in life - a hidden benefit rather than hidden cost with their road hazard warranty [pdf]. I wouldn't pay extra for it but since they're a pretty good deal to begin with it's a nice perk.

As far as your situation, I don't discount the fact that there's some preying on women in the car repair world, but I'd suggest you consider strongly this fact of life for all genders:

When you ask the barber, s/he will tell you "yes, you do need a haircut."

One of the most important things to find in a mechanic is someone who will have an honest conversation with you about your goals in fixing a car. Some people want perfection, bumper to bumper. Some cheapskates like me just want the thing to keep running and not drop too much water on our heads when it rains.

Given that you're in a financially tight situation, don't feel at all reluctant to tell them "I simply can't afford to do all that work now. Let's talk about what I HAVE to do in order to keep this running, be safe, and not do further damage." If they can't or won't have that conversation with you then you should go elsewhere.

Some things you want to do because they impact your safety. If you had a brake issue, for example, or a wheel bearing where, eventually, the wheel & tire would simply stop being a contiguous part of your car.

Some things you want to do because they simply ought to be done while you're doing something else. Your item Installation of new “pan seals” (I think?), which he described as “washers inside the transmission.” might be one of those, since if you have to take a piece off to get to the transmission to do work you're already doing, you should fix or pre-emptively replace some things along the way rather than pay to re-do the same parts of the labor down the road.

Personally I think it's a crock of shit to be asked to pay separately to replace gaskets you're removing in the course of another repair, but it's not uncommon. You shouldn't feel at all reluctant to suggest to a mechanic "if you're removing that anyway, I think you should just charge me for the part and replace that as part of job X." The worst they can do is say no, the best is agree and just make their money on the part markup. Maybe they meet you in the middle. Never hurts to ask.

Things like the "further damage" issue I only have an example - Hondas, of which I have owned several over the years, have a common issue with a failing constant velocity joint. When it starts to go bad you get this CLICK CLICK CLICK when you're turning and accelerating in any way. It's an annoying problem, but once it starts to go bad you're pretty much on the hook for the same repair after one month as you are after 12 months. The point at which it would become a safety issue is after it gets so advanced that you get that noise even going straight.

So in a case like that, it's going to cost you $500 to repair today, or $500 to repair in Jan 2009. The difference is that annoying clicking. I'm the kind of guy who will turn the radio up louder to postpone spending $500. My mechanic knows this, and when we talk about these kind of things he says "you're going to want to fix this eventually." He still makes me aware of it because he's not in business to make conversation and eventually I'm going to fix stuff like that. Maybe. But I don't get bothered that he makes me aware of an issue and you shouldn't be bothered by the dealership providing you a laundry list of things to fix.

Just ask them to justify them and help you prioritize. If they won't do that, THEN be annoyed, and vote with your dollar by going elsewhere. The Cartalk guys have a mechanic finder on their website that you can start with, assuming nobody here has a SoCal suggestion.
posted by phearlez at 9:26 AM on January 15, 2008

Don't go buy a fucking Toyota. I don't know why Hondas and Toyotas are so blindly recommended here, as if everything they make is bulletproof. They're not. My sister's 2001 Civic blew its tranny twice--once at 40,000 miles, and again at just over 85,000. My father's 2002 Acura TL needed a new transmission at 45,000 miles. I would run like hell from any late-90s/early-00s Honda with an automatic transmission. My mother's Toyota Sienna had issues with oil sludging, a common problem with that V6 engine (also shared with the Camry and other popular Toyota products...)

You'd get a couple thousand bucks for that Focus, and that would buy you a mid-90s Camry or Corolla with 150,000 miles. Trading a 2001 anything for something that old is a big mistake.

For the record, I drive a Volkswagen. The Focus is a fine car; in fact, I like the way they handle over the VWs. The Focus is about as reliable as a VW, which is to say, they do require a bit of extra maintenance and repair. But they're a hell of a lot more fun to drive than some snore-fest Toyota. Keep the Focus.

Real advice: Find a good local mechanic. As mentioned above, the Car Talk site is a good place to start.
posted by bhayes82 at 10:22 AM on January 15, 2008

Personally I think it's a crock of shit to be asked to pay separately to replace gaskets you're removing in the course of another repair, but it's not uncommon. You shouldn't feel at all reluctant to suggest to a mechanic "if you're removing that anyway, I think you should just charge me for the part and replace that as part of job X."

But that's what they do. If they are replacing 'x', they charge you for all the gaskets and the like involved in getting to 'x', replacing it and putting everything back together. They charge you for parts and the time taken to complete the work. The don't charge (as you imply) the labour for replacing 'x' plus an additional labour for replacing 'gasket for 'x'' on top. They just charge you for the gasket. Labour and parts are separated.

If they do that, they're crooks. Standard is to pay for components replaced, and time involved in one, complete, repair.
posted by Brockles at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2008

While I'm inclined to agree with you philosophically, Brockles, there are often gaskets that can be re-used along the way, and I have dealt with otherwise good and trustworthy mechanics that will quote separately the cost of replacing rather than reusing gaskets along the way.

Presumably the dealership will follow the manf instructions to the T, which usually mandate replacing all gaskets, but who knows? Numinous is not going to harm her chances of being treated as a discriminating customer by asking questions and getting explanations.

The reality in this case is probably not as cut and dried as a re-used gasked, but for the sake of making my already long answer marginally shorter I was simplifying it. Here, that transmission seal thing may or may not be intelligently priced to reflect that they may have already dropped the transmission. Perhaps that's not in the "line of fire" but they're quoting an ACE estimate that includes the time to pull apart the already disassembled transmission, meaning a compromise is reasonable to ask for.
posted by phearlez at 11:49 AM on January 15, 2008

None of this info is Ford-specific, but my suggestions:

- Replace the license plate bulbs yourself, along with the wipers.

- Defer the flushes if money is tight. (I haven't heard of power steering flushes. The argument for brake flushes is usually that it can help prevent replacing an ABS-equipped master cylinder, which can be very expensive.) A lot of shops are pushing flushes to make extra money; I'd check the manufacturer's recommendations. (Coolant system flushes are definitely recommended at certain times, but others may not be.)

- Ask if the rear tires and alignment can wait, if that will help the financial situation. Are they giving you an early warning, or are the "wear bars" gone and the cords showing through, in which case you've been running on borrowed time?

- Do all the rest.

Personally, I'm extremely leery of transmission shops, and I'd feel better with the dealer. That's not to say there aren't any shops that are good, but transmissions are complex.

Labor prices vary considerably throughout the US, making comparisons between diffeent regions difficult. I recently heard of it ranging from about $50 to $145 an hour (yes, that much) depending on location. Naturally for you, the highest end was in California.

I don't know why Hondas and Toyotas are so blindly recommended here

Shh, not so loud with the heresy ...
posted by pmurray63 at 10:58 PM on January 15, 2008


First, let me thank you all for your suggestions. I am still speaking with the dealer (whose attitude toward me, incidentally, changed drastically from amiable to contemptuous after I mentioned I would be calling around for other estimates), and may try to negotiate down the cost of the most imperative repairs once I get more estimates from some different garages.

The dealer quoted me $500 for the wheel bearing replacement alone (other garages have quoted me at $388, total cost, for parts and labor). This frustrates me to no end, especially as there was a FREAKING RECALL on these very wheel bearings a few years ago, which were replaced and covered by Ford. The replacement wheel bearings have suffered the fate for which the original bearings were replaced: they are corroded and therefore cause a safety risk.

My ESP (Extended Service Plan - for which I paid $895) expired last year. However, I believe that corrosion to the wheel bearings does not fall under "normal wear and tear," especially as the aforementioned wheel bearings were a replacement due to a previous recall. When I asked the dealer about this, and whether the replacement wheel bearings were covered by an extension to the pre-existing warranty, he replied that they were covered for "1 year or 12,000 miles, which ever comes first." Thus, they are no longer covered by the warranty extension.

So, I must ask another question: is it usual for the wheel bearings of an automobile (which has had a 7 year/75,000 lifespan) to corrode and malfunction TWICE during that same period? Based on answers from my friends and family, the answer is a resounding "No." Is there some sort of consumer advocacy group (I've already thought of the BBB,, and Consumer Affairs) that I might contact to put pressure on the Ford Company to cover this repair? My Owners Manual mentions something about the Ford Dispute Settlement Board. This brings up yet another slew of questions: I am seriously fuming. I live in Southern California, and commute between my university and working on the weekends. My car is crucial to my time management, and by extension, the fulfillment of my obligations and responsibilities. Anyone who lives in Southern California can empathize.

At any rate, I am sending you all delicious good karma cookies for your help thus far. I look forward to more of your suggestions, and I will update again with new information as the situation progresses. Go Team MeFi!
posted by numinous at 3:38 PM on January 16, 2008

So, I must ask another question: is it usual for the wheel bearings of an automobile (which has had a 7 year/75,000 lifespan) to corrode and malfunction TWICE during that same period?

Absolutely not. But $388 is not a lot of money for the amount of fuss you'd have to cause to get anywhere, in my opinion. I am one of the most stubborn arses I know, and I'd not even fight it. I've seen much more fundamental issues on fully warranted cars get thrown back in the customers faces with much better arguments from the customer than you have. They simply don't care enough (Ford, that is) about owners of 7 year old cars.

However, 12,000 miles could easily be argued as 'an acceptable minimum' in a court, which is where you'll have to go to get anywhere, even if it's "rubbish" as a life expectancy in the real world.

The dealer quoted me $500 for the wheel bearing replacement alone (other garages have quoted me at $388, total cost, for parts and labor).

Dealer labour rates and parts will nearly always be higher than a non-affiliated garage. It's just going to be like that. That's why people (including me) only suggest Dealership work for things they are likely to be better equipped for.

I am still speaking with the dealer (whose attitude toward me, incidentally, changed drastically from amiable to contemptuous after I mentioned I would be calling around for other estimates),

Then tell him to shove it up his backside, take the work elsewhere. Even to another, less convenient dealership. Why give money to someone that has no manners?

• How would I even go about doing this? Where do I start?
• Even though my warranty and ESP (Extended Service Plan) has expired, I believe that Ford is responsible for the wheel bearings, as this is a manufacturing defect. How do I go about communicating this to the Ford Company?<>

The car is out of every warranty you can name under the sun. Seriously, I don't think you will get anywhere at all. Ford will argue it is the bearing manufacturer's fault, but will not give you any slack on a 7 year old car, I'd almost guarantee it. You'll get nowhere without legal action or enough luck that you'll be better of buying a lottery ticket. Your anger over this is much more focussed than any response you will likely get. $388 is simply not that much money for that much anger. Just take it to the non-dealership and vow never to go back to Mr Grumpy Pants.

Even if you do the work first, you will never see any money. If you get it done at a non-Ford Dealership, they will DEFINITELY not do anything. They'll blame non standard servicing and cast doubt on the 'non factory trained personnel' inspecting the bearings.

How much you need this car is what is making you angry, and it is distorting your opinion of how much money a great long (possibly legal) argument is worth to you in a time/payback fashion. Let it go, and just hate the Ford Service guy. It's bile well spent.

posted by Brockles at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2008

is it usual for the wheel bearings of an automobile (which has had a 7 year/75,000 lifespan) to corrode and malfunction TWICE during that same period?

This is why I suggested cutting your losses and going for reliability over straight book 'value.' Cars that break tend to break consistently. My friend has a Subaru, and I'm the biggest Subaru whore on the planet so I'm predisposed to be generous, but this car is cursed. Something isn't right in the transmission and so he's gone through three (under warranty) clutches in ~12k miles, no dealers can figure it out. Another friend's BMW has persistent electrical faults that, again, nobody can quite put their finger on. Yet dozens of other cars of all makes have run for hundreds of thousands of miles without ever seeing the inside of a garage except for oil changes.

Cars aren't investments, don't think of them (purely) in terms of money. They're tools, and the only criteria you should judge them on is how effective they are at doing what you need them to do. I read a long-term review of some SUV or other that just ate steering fluid pumps. It went through three of them in six months, under warranty, and none of the dealers could find the root cause. Now that didn't cost any money (warranty replacements) so on the balance sheet that looks fine. If one of those steering pumps had failed on your way to a test, the financial sense of it wouldn't be much consolation.

My suggestion: depending on your cash levels either sell it as is or fix it and sell it. Go shopping for a used, profoundly unsexy Japanese car with some small cosmetic damage, a dent here, maybe some scuffed paint. Get a good mechanic to go over any prospective car with a fine toothed comb looking for frame damage, a poorly rebuilt frame can kill you in an accident.
posted by Skorgu at 7:58 AM on January 17, 2008

My suggestion: depending on your cash levels either sell it as is or fix it and sell it. Go shopping for a used, profoundly unsexy Japanese car

But it is a lottery. A car can be repeatedly unreliable from a faulty component, not faulty design. There is no magic car make that guarantees total reliability.

Granted, I'd put a Ford fairly low down the list of 'likely to fit that particular hat' but buying a car of a certain origin or make doesn't at all guarantee cheap running costs. Especially when you have a car that is faulty already. You can't sell a damaged car or one that has issues for as much. So you will have to buy a cheaper alternative, which increases your long term potential for issues.

This is actually a fairly minor repair bill that covers a lot of things. The answer isn't necessarily to throw in the towel and give up on it. Maybe it is just 'don't buy one of these next time', but it certainly isn't 'give up immediately' You could easily lose the amount of this bill in the swap of cars and then you just end up with an unknown car. Sometimes it is 'better the devil you know' until a more sensible and convenient time to change.
posted by Brockles at 8:08 AM on January 17, 2008

Well you're never going to get total reliability (unless you want to drive around in a Unimog or something). But you can do a lot better than an already-troubled Focus that's for sure. Of course it depends on thousands of specifics that we don't really have but I don't really see that sticking with a proven-unreliable car is a good plan for someone with limited cash reserves. Especially if you're willing to sacrifice some cosmetics for reliability.

Granted it depends on the timescales, if you're going to be having better cashflow in the near future it doesn't make that much of a difference, it's just a temporary hit either in repairs or transaction costs. If the situation is going to be longer term (years), you start running into the diminishing returns horizon where you're just throwing good money after bad.

A solid, reliable car shouldn't cost a lot of money. Guessing at most of the values, kbb has a 2001 Focus Wagon going for between $5,000 and $6,225. I'd at least go looking in the local used-car market with $4-5k as your rough budget.
posted by Skorgu at 10:37 AM on January 17, 2008

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