Do we need all this work? And is this a good quote?
March 5, 2013 5:10 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I have a 1999 Lexus ES 300 with low miles (ca. 80K). We use it mostly on the weekend for errands. The car is in more or less good driving condition, but parking on the streets and Boston winters are taking their toll cosmetically. Dealership recommended $5100 in repairs on its recent checkup--nearly the value of the car--and we're wondering which repairs are worthwhile, which are overpriced and should be done elsewhere, and which can be skipped.

We want the car to last a few more years--at least until we move to a place with a driveway or garage--but sinking $5100 in repairs on a car Kelley Blue Book says might be worth $6200 doesn't make sense.

Here's what the dealer proposed:
Automatic Transmission Fluid Change: $372.30
Power Steering Flush: $193.90
A/C Belt: $137.61
Power Steering Belt: $83.46
Timing Belt Replacement (with w/p along with cam and crank seals) $1307.00
Spark Plugs (6 cyl): $415.08
Valve Cover Gasket Replacement: $799.04*
PCV Valve Replacement: $46.78
Sway Brushings (rear): $338.36*
Brakes (Front pads/rotors): $651.54*
Trans Pan Gasket: $445.10

The ones noted with an asterisk are the ones the shop strongly recommended.

Obviously, safety is a prime concern, so we'd surely do the brakes (though is that a good price for front brakes?). But if all that work really needs to be done, and that's a good price, we would probably think about trading in the car for something else.

Neither of us have any experience with this--thanks for your help!
posted by Calamity Jen to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dealership recommended

The dealer's prices are going to be way out of line. Find an independent mechanic who will quote you more reasonable prices, and you can re-evaluate from there (in the Boston area, I recommend ABJ).
posted by deanc at 5:18 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never worked on a Lexus, but on any of the cars I have owned or worked on, I'd consider some of those repairs to be optional and all of them to be hideously overpriced. I have also seen dealers nudge people towards a new car purchase by concocting silly repair lists. I think it's time you see a good independent mechanic.
posted by jon1270 at 5:19 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Those prices seem generally quite high. For example, the front pad and rotor replacement should be $100-$150 for parts and a couple hours of labour at the most.

High prices are normal at the dealer. Take your car to an independent mechanic and tell them what you wrote here - a good mechanic can tell you what you really need to do and what you don't.
posted by ssg at 5:20 AM on March 5, 2013

Two quick points:
* That price for front pads and rotors is ridic.

* With a 14 year old car, there is an alternative to timing belt replacement called "crossing your fingers" which I would personally go with.
posted by ftm at 5:21 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, $415 for spark plugs is quite out of line.
posted by ssg at 5:24 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Find a reputable independent mechanic and ask them to give the car a once-over. Don't tell them what the dealership wanted to do. Just ask them to give the car a check-up to see if there's anything that definitely needs to be done (say you're going on a long trip.)

That price list from the dealership reads like a "How many boat payments can I get out of these guys?" list.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:32 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agreeing that those quotes are ridiculous. Go with an indie shop - ask around for recommendations, and compare quotes.
posted by Anima Mundi at 5:36 AM on March 5, 2013

Those are all things I'd do to my car (and did at my 85,000 mile check-up) but the prices are WAY out of line.

I got all that stuff AND a new set of tires for $3800

One thing I did was I hondled with the service advisor. "What's my price if I do everything all at once?" They knocked $500 off.

I did this on my 2004, 85k Honda Accord V6. I had the work done at my dealer. I'm 100% positive I was taken, but I'm good with it.

For sure, find a shop that specializes in Toyotas and get a second opinion.

Then get everything done, your care will be good for another 80k miles!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on March 5, 2013

If you're looking for a second opinion, I can recommend a great place in Waltham: Ultima LTD on Clematis Ave. I've had them work on VWs and BMWs, and they do a great job at a reasonable price.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:18 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Spark plugs cost between $3 and $10 per. The spark plug assembly isn't much more in cost. It appears that the dealership is attempting to charge you about $300 for thirty minutes of work.

If you think $600.00/hour is the going rate for mechanics in your area, that's great, but in my part of town, that's a ten-fold ripoff and you should get a new mechanic.

I'm not going to suggest a second opinion because fuck these guys, you need a first one.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:19 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

The prices may be out of line, but I don't know where you are and I don't know what labor is involved on that model for the things mentioned. For example, even $600 is not unreasonable for "simple" spark plug changes on some cars because it takes 6-8 hours to rotate the engine forward and get to them.

I agree to get a second opinion, but that is always how it should work.

However, cars are very expensive to maintain, especially a Lexus, and maintenance often can exceed the value of the car as old as a '99. Mileage doesn't mean anything these days, either: things rot away before the mileage gets to them. Your car with 80k miles or 210k miles would likely be in the same boat. Sorry.

If you want to keep that car for a few more YEARS, then a lot of it is "cross your fingers and hope it doesn't break in the meantime" as others have suggested. Fluid changes can be serious or a waste for the next two years, for example; same with belt replacements.

So, without any of us being able to actually SEE the car to evaluate it, all you can really do is get a few more opinions from other shops in your area.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:13 AM on March 5, 2013

Nthing that those prices are ludicrous and some of the work is questionable. I'm really tired so this may be a bit scattershot.

I'm among lotsa people who've had valve cover gaskets that leak a little for a loooooooong time, like 2x the miles on your car, with zero problems. I assume oil isn't pouring out.......

Is the transmission leaking a lot, presumably from the pan gasket if so? If not, a little dripping here and there is pretty normal.

Looking down the list, belts and brakes probably need doing, though not at the price for the timing belt, seals, pump.

I never changed the power steering fluid on cars that have gone to 160k and beyond, got a transmission fluid change at a Ford dealer a few years ago for $105--and it took a lotta fluid.

Sway brushings (bushings?) sound odd, too. Never replaced them or similar in cars approaching 180k miles......

Couldn't agree more w. the suggestions to find a reputable independent shop.

It can be handy to check prices for various parts on Amazon or another site that aren't factory Lexus, but are made by reputable companies and last.
posted by ambient2 at 8:34 AM on March 5, 2013

* With a 14 year old car, there is an alternative to timing belt replacement called "crossing your fingers" which I would personally go with.

That depends. If your motor has an "interference" design, this is a bad, bad, bad idea, because if the belt breaks, your valves and pistons will "interfere" with each other (i.e., collide) and the engine will be trashed. If it has a "clearance" design, there is positive clearance between the pistons and valves regardless of timing, so when the belt breaks the car just stalls and can't be restarted until the belt is replaced.

I'm not sure about your car, but Asian motors tend to have interference designs.

The other benefit of getting the timing belt done on most cars, is that it is virtually the same labor to also change out the water pump, so for the cost of the pump part and a coolant replacement added to the timing belt replacement cost, you get peace of mind for both systems, failure of either of which can kill your car.

Also, for things like power steering fluid changes and other stuff that you wonder if it's a real thing or just a dealer add-on, check the maintenance schedules in your owners manual. If a maintenance item isn't required to keep the car's warranty intact, it's not required now.
posted by Doohickie at 9:09 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Power Steering Flush: $193.90

I was just at my independent no-BS mechanic yesterday for much worse problems than you're facing.

We were making small talk at the counter waiting for one of his guys to double check everything and bring my car around, and I casually mentioned that at a recent oil change at some Quick-E-Lube type place, they had recommended that I flush my brake fluid. He went apoplectic and proceeded to give me a full rundown on all the fluids in my car and the conditions upon which they should be flushed.

He told me that under no conditions should I EVER EVER EVER let anyone flush my power steering fluid, that it's a scam, and that no car ever needs that, period. (I also got an earful about the brake fluid thing, he said that transmission fluid does need to be replaced under certain conditions but I already forgot what they are, and coolant only needs to be flushed if it gets rusty.)

Also, my independent no-BS mechanic charged me a grand total of $80 to spend two days doing exploratory surgery on my car's electrical system to diagnose and repair a pretty serious issue that rendered the car undriveable, even undriveable off his property to a different mechanic. I was the definition of a captive audience, and he charged me $80. So your price list looks a little crazy to me.
posted by Sara C. at 9:13 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Independent mechanic. As to how to find them, go to Car Talk, and read the reviews. That's the best way I've found, if you don't have personal recommendations.
posted by China Grover at 9:21 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Something that wasnt mentioned here yet, that I'd hope an independent mechanic would mention to you(and whom you should be visiting) is that some of these are kinda tied in to eachother.

IE: if you're going to change the transmission oil pan gasket, then you're going to have to replace the fluid anyways... Since you have to drain it to get the pan off.

The comment about not flushing fluids above is spot on, but it didn't take that in to consideration.

And honestly, besides the power steering fluid change this all seems like good stuff to do, just not at those prices. Replacing the seals and and the timing belt especially seems worthwhile. This is all pretty much maintenance stuff to keep it in a+ shape. You could probably just do a couple things and keep going, but then leaks are slowly getting worse and etc.

Basically, this is a decent list of stuff, but that price is ridiculous. I feel like if it was in the 3 grand neighborhood it would be a no brainer, but who knows what it'll end up being without actually looking at the car, and the labor estimates for that model(it could very well be one of those asinine cars when you take the entire front end off to change the timing belt, or unbolt and move the engine to change the spark plugs).

This is a lot of stuff at once, but the main thing id ask is what else will be due soon? You might go another 60, 75, or 100k miles without needing to do much of anything, or at least not a big pile of stuff at once.

My Toyota had one last major maintaince around that many miles, and never needed anything else. I put another 50-60k on it before I moved on without doing anything but oil changes and a set of tires. And I'm pretty sure someone is still driving it somewhere with not much else done to it.
posted by emptythought at 10:37 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing seeking opinion of local independent repair shop. Consider prioritizing items in context of safety, or (as in case of timing belt) something that left undone can cause BIG problems and presents a twofer (w/water pump) at time or replacement.

Once you've settled on a place, you can save a little more by ordering original parts at great prices at
posted by John Borrowman at 12:41 PM on March 5, 2013

These prices are absurd, even for a dealership. Get an outside opinion from a reputable mechanic.
posted by stenseng at 1:27 PM on March 5, 2013

They think you're a fool. Posting here proves you're not. Find a small shop nearby that friends reccommend.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:40 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! Really appreciate your advice.
posted by Calamity Jen at 4:59 AM on March 6, 2013

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