Legit? Or crappy mechanic?
August 29, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Should I be responsible for auto mechanic snapping my wheel studs?

So I took my vehicle in for inspection. They called me a few hours later to say "one of the wheel lugs is really tight, the mechanic wants to try to force it off but it may snap the stud. They said the last people who worked on it must have put em back on too tight. They asked if they should proceed, and I didnt really have anything else to say but yes. So of course, they snapped the stud.

I didnt really care too much at this point. They said it needed new rotors and brakepads, so I picked up my car and found some good parts and brought it back yesterday for them to do the work.

They call me this morning, saying once again they're having trouble getting off a lugnut, and ask if they should proceed. I remind them that they had this SAME problem the last time when they broke a stud, and they said the last one was due to overtightening... so why is this one overtightened by your own people? To this, he responds that sometimes they just get tight and stick, and then when you try to break em off sometimes the stud breaks. It was 7:30am, I really had no other choice so said whatever, do it.

So I call them back after lunch today, expecting to be able to pick up my car. Seems the other stud also broke, and they weren't able to find replacements at their normal source and so were getting new ones from the dealer.

I'm startin to get pissed at this garage. This all started because I bought a Groupon for a car inspection... stupid I know. I felt like that first lug may have just been trying to squeeze some labor $$'s out of me. Now this, after I source my own parts and bring it back in for work, and they're breaking more studs and charging me for it. Not only that, I have no idea what the "dealer price" for these parts will be, but probably more than I was initially quoted.

So this is looking to cost me at least an extra $50 on top of the inspection/brake/rotor work. I feel like its due to their incompetence, I've used De-Locker compound, propane torch, hammer, etc. to get a lug unstuck in the past and I've never broken one. I feel like this is a careless mech with an impact wrench trying to pad my bill by actively causing damage. Does the fact that they called and asked my permission to proceed in both cases mean I'm shit outta luck? At least I can still rip em apart on Google and Yelp, but I'd much rather just not pay for the damage and be able to leave happily.
posted by el_yucateco to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I guess you have two options: You can assume that they are trying to screw you and treat them poorly, or you can assume they are honest individuals and the studs did, in fact, break and pay them for their skills and labor.

Truth be told, I doubt that you would be able to determine the truth one way or the other unless someone confesses (which is pretty unlikely) to a conspiracy to bilk you out of $50,.

And, yes, you authorized them to attempt to remove the studs after they warned you they were stuck and might break, I don't think you have any recourse.

posted by HuronBob at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2012

I feel like anytime during the conversation on the phone it would have been a good idea to say, "Well, am I responsible for the stud if it breaks?"

There is always negotiating room with mechanics but you need to do it before they do any work. At this point I'd say you could make an easy deal with them at the counter for you to be responsible for the stud parts and them not billing any labor they try to charge you associated with the studs.

If they don't fly with that then chalk this one up to a cheap lesson in discussing and dealing with mechanics.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2012

I could be wrong and/or mistaken because I don't know your location or your car's make/model/year but $50 for replacing 2 borked studs seems a bit high. I seem to remember having 2 or 3 fixed (my mistake, I broke three before I realized I was doing the complete opposite of 'righty-tighty' and snapping them right off) for <>
Maybe other people here can chime in on that aspect? Might provide some insight anyway...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2012

<> should be <$10
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2012

So I'm slightly unclear but my opinion would be that the first one would be on you. I mean they called and asked and it needed to get off either way.

It sounds like the second time the over tightening was on a bolt they had attached? In that case they should eat the second.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2012

It sounds like someone's cross-threading the nuts on the studs without realizing it. Most likely they're just putting them on with an air impact wrench without first threading them by hand. If that's the case, the stud was already destroyed even before your mechanic broke it off trying to free the stuck nut.

Unless your mechanics were the ones who put the tires on last, it's very unlikely that they have any responsibility for breaking the studs.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:54 AM on August 29, 2012

They're idiots, but you can't really say it to their faces.

Discuss this in depth with these people as to why you shouldn't be charged. Tell them flat out, they eat the cost this time, or you won't be bringing your vehicle back, AND you'll let all your friends, relatives, and acquaintances know about the issues, and you'll do negative internet reviews as well. Heck, you could even put up posters with your story. They may tell you to stick it, in which case, before you leave, in a polite, controlled, and truthful manner, let the guy standing in line next to you, or pulling in behind you, know exactly why you won't be back. Then follow through on what you told 'em. Come back and post the name of these buggers here--it'll be a good start to letting the world know what jerks they are.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:55 AM on August 29, 2012

And yeah, there's no way it costs that amount to fix studs.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:56 AM on August 29, 2012

One broken stud is a weird occurrence, and I wouldn't hold it against them. I would expect them to pay for it, though, unless there was a really good explanation. No excuse for breaking three studs, tho. None.

PB Blast and let 'em soak for a half hour, or use a blow-torch on the lugnut to loosen the threads. I've had to use a loooong breaker bar to loosen lugnuts put on by an air wrench, and that didn't break the stud.

They were lazy and used an impact wrench, knowing full well it would damage your car... easier to call you and tell you they were going to rip you off than remember where they left the torch, I guess.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2012

These guys are clearly inept. The problem with dealing with inept folks is that they may very honestly not know or understand how they effed up.

They called and asked to continue with them each time. So ask them how they went about dealing with the sticky lugs. When they don't mention using a torch, hammer with a chunk of brass or whatever, let them know their error and that you don't expect to pay for the additional parts & labor. They may continue to fight and that's when you ask them if they know what the torque specs are for your cars lugs and if they used them. They didn't, but you can google them up and show them.

Typically I would let a 50 dollar fight go, but I think you might teach these guys something and not pay for their screw up.

Good luck!

(FWIW, you should google up your car to see if there are any manufacturer defects or problems that other owners are having. One might be frozen lugs, ya never know.)
posted by snsranch at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2012

How old is your car? Wheel studs lead a harsh life. They are exposed to high heat, corrosive salt, plain water that rusts them and cowboy wheel jocks that tend to hammer away at them with an impact driver whenever the wheels are off. Just the latter is a twice a year occurrence if you've got separate winter and summer tires. All these things get together to wear studs out and it isn't uncommon for the nuts to cold weld themselves to the studs. The worst is indeed if someone in the past has went crazy with the torque and actually stretched the stud(s). Usually when that happens you can work them loose with manual tools, patients, and some kind of lube/rust spray. But considering a stud that has had a nut seize on it is marginal at best it's often cheaper to just snap the stud off and then replace it with a new one considering the stud really should be replaced anyways.

What is slightly shady sounding is a) the $50 to change a stud (I've done eight $5 studs on the front of my 1 ton in less than an hour by hand) and b) the non availability of the stud (assuming you aren't driving something exotic).
posted by Mitheral at 9:33 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back off on the garage abuse here.

There are many reasons that studs can fail. And many reasons why multiple studs should fail. There's also a very good reason why they have chosen to break the studs rather than get them out; labour. It's going to cost you less in the long run to replace the studs than it is to pay the garage's hourly rate for someone to heat, hammer, spray, wriggle, bang, twist the studs out.

They even had the good manners to call you to let you know what was going on.

You dont sound totally green; "I've used De-Locker compound, propane torch, hammer, etc. to get a lug unstuck in the past and I've never broken one.", so talk to them. Even if you arent an expert, you'll soon smell shit if you scratch the surface.

Ask them why they didn't try to get the studs out.
Ask them why multiple studs have failed. This could be a serious issue with your car.
Ask them what's unusual about your studs that they had to go to the dealer.

Your concerns are entirely reasonable; if they are trying to rip you off then they wont have good answers and, hopefully, it'll be clear to all that they arent going to pull the wool over your eyes. You will either get a reasonable bill, or have reasonable grounds for defaming them.

Alternatively they could just be trying to do a decent job, and you might have to thank them for sorting out an unexpected & unwanted problem.
posted by BadMiker at 1:47 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Back off on the garage abuse here.

Seriously. Having a wheel stud break does not automatically equal incompetence by any means. It is pretty hard to 'incompetently' take a wheel nut off. They are designed to be taken off with an air gun! There is absolutely no way of knowing how much abuse a wheel stud has had through its life and often overtightening causes problems down the road, not necessarily the next time the wheel is taken off.

Wheel studs break off. It just... happens. If you have alloy wheels you can't use too much heat on them as you can damage the wheels (heat treating them, essentially) especially if the wheel nuts are inset. Steel wheels are slightly more resistant to heat, but that is labour and that also has a cost (which is harder to pass on to the customer, admittedly). Also, if you try and fail to get a lug nut off in a way that rounds the nut off, it becomes multitudes harder to get it out. Sometimes the brute force method is best because if the wheel stud breaks, at least the wheel is off and you can get to it to repair it. If you round the nut off, the wheel is still attached and you risk damaging the wheel to get the thing off. It's a nightmare and a LOT more labour than $50.

The garage can't really be held responsible for the stuck nut, possibly even if they were the only person EVER to touch your wheels. Sometimes they just stick. Replacing them is just one of those things that will happen. A nicer garage that is trying to retain your custom may give you a break (did they on the first one) but one that is most likely being wedged into zero profit on a promotional Groupon deal can't really afford to be too generous, I'd suspect.

RE: the cost. Not all wheel studs can be replaced easily. Some require a bit of disassembly to get to them out and new ones back in. $50 sounds a lot for the easy type, not all that much to 'top of normal' for the hard style, especially if they've had to get the stud from the dealer.

Ask them why it was so much. Get an idea for what they have had to do and buy to get this. Say that seems a lot for the wheel stud, but bear in mind it may be a fair price and they cut you a deal on the first one already (if I am reading this correctly).

It was 7:30am, I really had no other choice so said whatever, do it.

It was a courtesy call. I think it's pretty good customer service of them to say "Hey, things aren't going as normal and it looks like theres a chance this will be more expensive than we thought". Something breaking on a customer car is a nightmare for garages because a lot of customers assume that anything beyond the ordinary is a direct result of incompetence, which means any cost to the customer MUST be incompetence on the garage, which is dumb and wrong.
posted by Brockles at 6:48 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

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