Is the dealership scamming me?
July 14, 2012 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Bought my used 01 Toyota Camry from a dealership over a year and a half ago. Today they inspected the brakes and told me all pads need to be replaced + new brake fluid + powersteering fluid flush + resurfacing the rotors, and new battery. I have been taking this vehicle to same dealership for routine oil changes which include multi-point inspections, and only the battery was an issue in the past. Am I wrong to think that after just over a year and a half I shouldn't need so much work done- should I complain and write a letter, or is this to be expected with a used vehicle?

Nov 2010 I bought a 2001 Toyota Camry from a dealership. I got the 2 year warranty, which does not cover "normal wear and tear" which is what it seems like everything falls under.

This is only the second car I've owned, and the Saturn I had for several years never needed any brake work. I have been noticing that the brake pedal pushes lower, so I DO think the brakes probably need to be replaced.

I realize that I bought a USED car, and that the pads may not have been new, but do I have grounds to complain to the dealership about needing to replace the brakes already?

The dealership has also been telling me that my battery has been testing poorly for probably over a year now (each time I bring it in for an oil change), but I have had NO problems whatsoever starting it up, so I have not replaced it. Why does it keep testing bad and should I just try to get as much life out of it as I can and THEN replace it, or is that a terrible idea?

Must admit, I don't know a lot about cars, but I also don't have a lot of money, and don't want to be paying more money to this stupid dealership than I really should.

Really appreciate your help!
posted by biograd08 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
None of this sounds at all unusual. It's a 10+ year old car.

Replace the brake pads; get a portable jump-start unit and keep the battery until you have to jump it for the first time, then replace it.
posted by downing street memo at 6:36 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Generally, you can get a lot accomplished by calling corporate customer care.
posted by radioamy at 6:45 PM on July 14, 2012

You've had the car for less than two years and replaced the battery multiple times? Batteries should last a lot longer than that.

If the brakes seem softer, it's definitely possible that you need new pads etc. on an 11 year old car. Did you get any service records with the car that might tell you when the last time it had a brake job and when the power steering fluid was changed? How many miles are on the odometer?

If I were you, I'd ask a friend or relative who is knowledgeable for a recommendation for a trustworthy mechanic in your area and take it there for a second opinion.
posted by junco at 6:49 PM on July 14, 2012

Sorry, I missed the part where you explained you hadn't replaced the battery. The battery should have a sticker on it with a month and year. If its less than 4 or 5 years old i wouldn't worry about it, and there's no reason not to replace it until it fails (you should have jumper cables in the trunk and know how to use them safely, of course).
posted by junco at 6:53 PM on July 14, 2012

Depending on the mileage you could very well need to do pads and have the rotors turned ask them what the thickness is on the pads. There are usually wear sensors that start to squeal when the pad approaches the end of its useful life. That said you don't want to let the pads squeal very long or you might have to replace the rotors rather then have them resurfaced. Changing brake fluid and a power steering flush can wait although it doesn't cost that much. The battery might not fail until the weather gets cold have jumper cables and wait for it to die. There is no discount from doing all the work at once. You might want to have another place check the brakes just for peace of mind. Usually places are legit especially dealerships.
posted by pdxpogo at 6:56 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

do I have grounds to complain to the dealership about needing to replace the brakes already?

Not at all. They are wear components and there is no need or precedent for them having to renew these.

I'm really not seeing anything here that is unlikely for an 11 year old car to need replacing. Without seeing the car, knowing the mileage and general condition, there is nothing at all to suggest this is bad advice from the dealership. The brake fluid flush is certainly well worth doing - it very much doesn't last forever and retain its effectiveness.

resurfacing the rotors

Don't do this. Replace rotors, do not resurface them. It's false economy.
posted by Brockles at 6:56 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Brake pads wear out with use like tires. Replace them. Or wait until you get the eep eep eep squealing sound that indicates they need replacing and then get them done.

If the battery is bad, you can replace it with one from Sears or Costco, and any garage (including Sears) can test it if you want a second opinion. A battery to test as not up to spec due to age or wear. Running the battery all the way down is one way to age it quickly.

Given the evidence you've shared, my sense is not that you're being scammed, but dealer garages often do maintenance as soon as it might be warranted, rather that waiting and seeing.
posted by zippy at 7:00 PM on July 14, 2012

Yeah, new rotors are so cheap it's not worth turning them.

Used cars are generally sold "as-is, with no warranty". Unless it was sold as a "Premium Recertified" or whatnot, which may have come with some limited warranty for x miles, but that's typically for newer cars just off-lease, not a 12-year old car. On a 12-year old car, I would fully assume it is "as-is", period.

In a year and a half's time, unless you're driving a ton of miles, it is quite possible that the brakes are ready for replacement. Even if you'd taken it to a trusted mechanic for an evaluation before you bought it, the brakes may have been still enough in the "good" stage at that time, that it wouldn't have warranted mention. Same for the battery and power steering. It's a 12-year-old car (the '01s would have come out in 2010), which means many things (assuming 10-12,000 miles/year, so say 100k+ miles on the clock) are going to be coming due. Brakes, power steering, and potentially other things: Plugs & wires, serpentine belt, hoses, transmission flush, radiator flush, and so on.

Yeah, it sucks to have to throw money at a car, but you bought a used car. That's the tradeoff, you don't have the car payment and insurance premium of a new car, but you do have a bunch of potential expenses that can be coming up. It doesn't mean the dealership was shady or cheated you, it means this is a used car that happens to need some maintenance now. If the dealer had gone through and thoroughly rebuilt the car, it would have cost you much, much more than you paid for it as-is.

The upshot is that yeah, while it sucks to pay for a bunch of repairs all at once, if you take care of a few things now, you'll probably have a reliable car for several more years, and still no car payment. And unfortunately, yes, extended warranties are almost always useless. Better to save that money for the mechanic. :(

(For the record, I am not knocking used cars. Though I can easily afford a brand new car, I will never buy one. Let someone else eat the crazy depreciation; I just want reliable transportation, no car payment, cheap insurance!)
posted by xedrik at 7:11 PM on July 14, 2012

The best answer for this situation: get a second opinion.
posted by yclipse at 7:37 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, I will get the brakes fixed, just not at the dealership- WAY WAY too much money. Money is the main issue. I had to take out a loan to buy this car, I still owe like 5,000 on it.
My last car I owned outright, but it was stolen. FML.
Sounds like I need to scrape the piggy bank out and just suck it up.
posted by biograd08 at 7:54 PM on July 14, 2012

Re the battery question. You may want to have it checked somewhere else. Just pick a reputable tire and battery dealership, or other mechanic. If they agree that the battery tests "bad" AND you intend to keep the vehicle for any length of time, you have to weigh the "savings" from waiting until you are stranded somewhere/sometime (and it WILL be an inconvenient place and/or time if experience is any teacher). Even if you have jumper cables and can get going you will likely need to buy a new battery at that point.

So, you will have saved the loss of the use of that $X for X amount of time. You will still have to buy that new battery and you may wind up having to pay for a service call and/or to buy a battery from the nearest available source at the time, rather than being able to shop for it. Who knows what life disruption you may suffer because your car won't start.

You will probably only have to buy one more battery unless you keep the car more than five or so years. If it's bad, why wait? It's a very small upside and a potentially very unpleasant and expensive downside.
posted by uncaken at 7:58 PM on July 14, 2012

Response by poster: Should I just buy a new battery and put it in my trunk, and when the old one dies, just slap in the new one??
posted by biograd08 at 8:12 PM on July 14, 2012

Nthing the 'it's a used car, things need fixing'.

Machining the brakes can save you money, if the brakes have enough metal left on them - it's worth getting a comparison cost for replacement and machining (functionally there is nothing between them, so it boils down to cost).

Flushing the power steer fluid is a bit of a red light to me - it gets a much easier life than brake fluid, and afaik doesn't deteriorate the same way - I have never replaced this on my 9 and 13 year old cars.

Have you got a handbook for the car - it will have service intervals, what needs to be replaced when, etc. If it has been lost along the way, the dealer should be able to get you a copy. Or the net.

What sort of a climate do you live in? Cold (as in freezing or worse) starting puts the most load on batteries, so before your next winter you should check this out. Check the fluid in the battery, and top up if necessary - I use tap water, others will tell you to buy distilled water. If it hasn't let you down yet, the next cold spell will determine just how bad is your battery. In the meantime, before you start it next morning, turn on the lights (high beam), demister, etc and THEN try to start it. If it has little problem you know the battery is in pretty decent condition. If it doesn't like it, don't persist, turn off everything and wait a few minutes before starting it as usual, and then go out and buy a new battery as soon as your budget allows but before winter looms.

On preview, if you need a new battery, buy one and toss the old one - no point in spending that money just to carry a battery loose in the boot, where it can flop around and get damaged, or do damage (they are quite heavy and make a pretty lethal missile ...).
posted by GeeEmm at 8:30 PM on July 14, 2012

When you get the brakes done, find out how much the brake fluid flush is, and if it's not that bad, have it done. It's probably not a "OMG gonna fail real soon" thing or anything like that. But at 11 years it's a good idea to replace it.

Battery check - go to your nearest chain auto parts store. They'll test the battery and charging system, likely for free, in the parking lot. They'll wheel a cart out, and you won't even need to take the battery out of the car.

I don't think they're scamming you. They have set schedules they do things on per the owners manual, and the brake fluid and power steering is probably at a mileage when the manufacturer recommends replacement.

Good luck!
posted by azpenguin at 9:45 PM on July 14, 2012

Should I just buy a new battery and put it in my trunk, and when the old one dies, just slap in the new one??

Not really a good idea. You'd need to make sure it's absolutely secure and won't slide around and tip over, which would be very bad. If you've already got the battery, why not put it in? A lot of auto parts stores will install a battery purchased there for little or no charge, and will recycle your old one. They'll probably even wire-brush your cables and put a little anti-corrosion dressing on there as well. When you buy a car battery, there's usually a "core charge" tacked on; this fee is refunded on receipt of your old, dead battery. If the auto parts people install it on the spot, you don't have to worry about it.

On preview, if you need a new battery, buy one and toss the old one

Don't toss the old one, recycle it. See above. Besides, throwing car batteries in the trash is against the law in many cities.
posted by xedrik at 10:41 PM on July 14, 2012

As for who to go to for the work, I recommend checking out Car Talk's website. I found my mechanic that way, and the car repair went from the dealer telling us they shouldn't even let us drive off the lot, to our new mechanic saying, "eh, it's not that bad. Let's wait & see."
posted by China Grover at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to add to your alarm but definitely take your car to and independent mechanic. The battery "not testing well" doesn't always mean the battery is the issue. Could also be the alternator (which, despite appearances as a permanent part of the engine, seems to have been designed to be a consumable in so many cars) could be the problem. It could also be corrosion on the connectors but it seems to me they'd clean that off. Regardless, get the service maintenance interval chart from the manual, find out what's been done, and go to an independent.
posted by jdfan at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2012

I bet everyone is going to jump up and down and moan and say "oh no oh no" but fact is that -- unless your rotors are scratched to nothing -- you can throw new pads on that car without turning the rotors, without replacing the rotors. I used to turn the rotors every time I did a brake job on my pickups but I don't any more, new pads and put the thing back together, stops just fine. I would/will turn the rotors if I bought new ones because they are often so far out of true that it's ridiculous and it doesn't cost all that much to get them turned. That said, it is definitely worth it to buy the best pads that the joint has, or maybe not the most expensive but absolutely not the least expensive.

As far as the battery, the posters upthread have got it right -- Auto Zone or WalMart or who knows how many other car part chains will check that battery in the car while it's running, plus they'll be able to give you a sense of the rest of your electrical system, too; as noted above, sometimes if your battery if falling/failing it's because your alternator is gone south.

I hope you can find a good mechanic, a guy who won't hose you -- they're out there, when you do find one do not lose his number.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:50 PM on July 15, 2012

resurfacing the rotors

Don't do this. Replace rotors, do not resurface them. It's false economy.

To expand a little bit on this. When you have the rotors resurfaced, they machine off as small of a layer of metal off the surface of the rotors as they can get away with but they're still removing material from the rotor so the rotor has less mass and is less able to absorb and dissipate heat. This can cause your rotors to warp and develop bumps or ridges that will wear out your brake pads faster

The difference in cost between having rotors resurfaced and buying new rotors isn't that much and the money you save could very well get eaten up by warped rotors eating up your brake pads.

Your Camry is a heavier car than your Saturn was (at least, I'm guessing that it is since I don't know what model of Saturn you had) so it takes more force to stop it from the same speed. This means more friction which generates more heat, which wears out the brakes faster.

Replacing the brakes (rotors and pads) isn't all that hard. You may very well know someone who has done it before and would be willing to help you do it. Flushing the fluid get's a little dicier so I'd want to make sure that whoever you're doing it with really knows what they're doing before tackling that with them.

Another idea is to order the parts online and have a local shop install the parts for you. They don't typically make any money on the parts (they forward the cost they paid to you from whatever source they used), just the labor so you may be able to get it done a cheaper that way or get better components for the same cost.
posted by VTX at 8:45 AM on July 16, 2012

The dealer didn't check anything. They just wrote the list considering the car's age to sucker you into paying them. They do that to me all the time. To my mom especially (I changed her brake pads and when she went to Scion dealer to change oil she got a huge list of stuff to change, including brake pads which they didn't even look at but just wanted to get paid.

Check visually if pads are worn. You only change rotors if they are warped (the brake pedal shakes when braking) or worn out (check the thickness).
THe brake fluid should be changed since nobody does it.
The battery needs to be changed when you can tell the starter is going slower than before. It is all a car battery does - starts the car, then everything is run from alternator.
posted by AdamG8GXP at 8:05 AM on August 31, 2012

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