Wait... what?
November 2, 2013 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm struggling to parse something that just happened between my car mechanic and I. What the hell happened? Is this a red flag? Am I being lied to or not told something, here?

Last night I was on my way home from work when my car started doing something weird. At stoplights, I would hit the gas normally to accelerate, and the engine would rev really loudly but accelerate much more slowly than usual. I had a lot of trouble getting it from stop up to normal city street speeds (25-40 mph). Then my check engine light came on, so I pulled over and called AAA to be towed the rest of the way home. To be honest, I was really afraid the transmission was failing, though google told me that any number of things could be the culprit.

I called my trusted (and previously very honest, fair, polite, non-condescending, etc) mechanic this morning, and Lino, the shop manager, told me it was OK to drive in. So I did. I left it with him for the whole morning and into the afternoon. He didn't look at it in my presence and didn't call to tell me what was up. Previously they had done at least one of those things anytime I brought it in. This time, Lino just told me I could come get it at a certain time.

It should be mentioned that these folks recently did some major engine work related to my last question about car repair, and that I've already brought it back in to have the timing tweaked because it was running unusually hot after the engine work they did.

At the appointed time, I went back and was told to drive it around the block, and if it felt good, to drive it home. They did not charge me anything. Nor did Lino tell me ANYTHING about what they had done to the car or what was going on with it. (They've always explained the work they've done before, even if they didn't charge me.) Luckily, the car felt fine and I ran some errands around town on surface streets before driving home.

But... what just happened? My big fear is that they made a mistake in the big recent engine work, and that they're not fessing up to something. Is this kind of behavior normal, in situations where everything is above board? Is it normal to have residual problems after major repair work, or to have to return to the shop multiple times after a big repair? Should I worry? Should I call back on Monday and try to get a post-mortem on what was wrong and what they did? Should I find a new mechanic?
posted by Sara C. to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe it was something reasonably tiny and they're fixing it for free because you just gave them a bunch of work, and maybe they're not communicating because they're really busy.

I don't know if that's true or not, but I wouldn't assume that they're screwing you. I would call and ask on Monday, yes. If after that, it still seems weird I'd go to another mechanic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:07 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nor did Lino tell me ANYTHING about what they had done to the car

Did you ask? It sounds to me like you're making a big deal out of a single incident where you have no evidence they actually did anything wrong. Unless you have other reasons to switch mechanics, I think the appropriate response is to simply call them and ask, "hey, by the way, what did you do to my car? Thanks for fixing it quickly and for free!".

Sure, it's a bit odd, but I can think of numerous reasons this happened the way it did - perhaps they were busy, perhaps they thought you didn't care what was wrong, perhaps the shop manager thought someone else talked to you.
posted by saeculorum at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used to work in a car garage, hilariously (since I know nothing about cars), and this could've happened for any number of reasons-- lack of communication between workers that day, being super busy, and yeah, thinking you probably don't care. They might have been fixing something related to your last repair and it was so routine to them that they didn't really think to fill you in, since they knew they'd tweak it for free and get your car back to you. I'd call and ask, all the mechanics I worked with would've been glad to explain.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:16 PM on November 2, 2013

Best answer: Even if they goofed something the first time around, they fixed it for no charge. I've had a mechanic goof something once, and although I didn't make it off the lot before I turned around, he immediately fixed it and was like, "yeah, let me handle it."

So sure, call them to ask what's up. Say you're trying to track your maintenance issues, what was the deal, is it anything to watch out for or was it something related to the work you just had done?
posted by samthemander at 3:18 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: They're not screwing you. They probably just hooked up an OBD-II reader, saw some error code in your ECU that translated to something like "Exhaust gas oxygen level low" and checking the O2 sensor, found a loose wire, and reconnected it, fixing the problem, for free. If it were a 5 minute repair like that, the shop manager might never have even got the details about it from the mechanic who fixed it. They gave you the fix for free as a customer loyalty thing, and to avoid the hassle of writing it up on a shop ticket, and charging you.

You can call to ask about it Monday, and just tell them you are curious, and trying to learn more about your ride, and they may remember it, and be able to tell you what happened. Or maybe they won't even remember it.

But it's surely no reason to quit that shop! They made it right, and it cost you nothing but a little time. Recommend that shop to others.
posted by paulsc at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This has happened a few times with my mechanic in Hollywood. I pay them to fix something on my truck and they fix it. Then something (perhaps?) related goes ping-ping-ping within the week and I take it back and they call me a few hours or a day later and say to come pick it up. I've noticed that they keep a running annual tally of how much I've spent there, so I imagine that once I break some magic barrier they're happy to keep working on my truck for parts cost.

I think these minor tweaks (which is what they must be, adjusting gas/air mixture, the timing, a blown gasket, or other such small mishaps that surround a major repair) get fixed for free both to account for adjustments that need to be done afterwards, and also to build goodwill. Establishing goodwill with your clientele is incredibly important to a mechanic shop, especially here in SoCal where they're a dozen on a block.
posted by carsonb at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2013

Best answer: In other words, I don't think you should feel overly suspicious, but I do think you're within your rights to get the lowdown on what went wrong and how they fixed it.
posted by carsonb at 3:49 PM on November 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!

And, yeah, my thought is that they did some minor adjustment, and that's fine, and if they explained it in detail I would probably hear "blah blah blah we tweaked your blah", and while I care, I mostly just wanted to hear "We Tried The Medicine Drug And It Cured The Patient". More just for peace of mind than anything else.

Of course I am grateful that they fixed whatever it was quickly and for free. I'm especially grateful that they turned it around same-day and I wasn't stuck carless until Tuesday because they were busy doing smog checks. They are pretty damn great mechanics, and my main concern was that maybe I'm wrong about what great mechanics they are.
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

To avoid in the future, just ask: "So, what was the problem?" when you pick it up. I'm shy and always get tongue-tied in commerce situations, but it's a good skill to to build the confidence to slow things down and make sure you get the info/help you need.
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:25 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to add that they don't know how ignorant you are about cars yourself, and might have figured you already knew what you wanted them to fine-tune when you brought the car into the shop. In that case, it wouldn't have made sense for them to re-explain your own request to you.

I've run into that issue when I've brought my car in for "problems" that seemed major to me, but had embarrassingly stupid sources (like me pushing a button on the dash and not realizing it). A couple mechanics have acted like they think I'm being a diva and just want them to fix problems I could easily have fixed myself...until I've started asking questions that exposed me as just a run of the mill dumbass. By the way, in LA, that has actually caused mechanics to be nicer to me and actually charge me less, so I wouldn't worry too much about them using your ignorance against you.

If you want to get a second opinion on your car, I do know a fantastic shop in North Hollywood on the Van Nuys border (loved them, am sad to be way too far to go to them now). But your shop sound great.
posted by rue72 at 4:56 PM on November 2, 2013

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I definitely asked what the problem was. I was told "Give me a call Monday morning and I'll explain." Which was why I felt uneasy about the whole thing.

I'm actually pretty comfortable talking tech with my mechanic and making sure I understand what's up with my car. This is also the first time that all my advance googling was to no avail and I seriously had no idea what the hell was up with my car (and still don't, though the free-ness of the work points me in a few directions). That's why it felt so weird this time when I got the "here's your car, now please go away" treatment.

After being reassured, I'm sure it's just that they were busy and did a minor tweak that involved no parts and minimal labor.
posted by Sara C. at 6:10 PM on November 2, 2013

Sounds like a fuel filter problem which happens after work on an engine but....we will wait to see on Monday right?
posted by OhSusannah at 6:27 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a compression thing. Could have been that they left your oil cap off, or you lost your oil cap. It would be super-simple to fix (Put on new oil cap.) But if the shop was busy, your guy may have wanted to just get you going, and he didn't want to explain the whole, "Engine is a closed system, the oil cap was missing. Yadda-yadda," thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:20 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's Saturday. Your mechanic wanted to be the fuck home. Call him Monday and he'll explain.
posted by notsnot at 7:31 PM on November 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

The O2 sensor explanation makes sense to me.
posted by spitbull at 9:27 PM on November 2, 2013

Or the mechanic's supervisor would have been annoyed to hear s/he spent as much time on the job and didn't charge you, so s/he didn't want to detail the gig in hir presence.
posted by phearlez at 2:05 PM on November 3, 2013

I'm sure they'll tell you but it sounds a lot like what happened when I had a spark plug come loose. Lost power, slow to accelerate, etc. I happened to be right next to a garage so I rolled in, they told me to pop the hood, mechanic put the spark plug back in and told me I was good to go.
posted by mikepop at 6:40 AM on November 4, 2013

Response by poster: Soooo.... really unfortunate update.

The problem came back on Tuesday night on my way home from work, somewhere around 8:30 PM. Because the shop was so cavalier about the whole thing, I figured it was fine to limp the rest of the way home and then call them in the morning.

Which I did, and which conversation I started by asking what they did to it on Saturday.

It turns out that what they did when I brought it in was to top up the transmission fluid, which looked a bit low. Without in any way looking into the root causes, or even bringing up potential transmission problems with me when I asked what work they'd done on the car, on Saturday.

So I called this morning, told them the problem was back, and asked whether I needed to come in right away or whether it could wait till the weekend. Was told it could wait till the weekend.

Five miles down the road, my transmission was officially dead.

Needless to say, I'm not happy with my mechanic and am not sure I'll be taking the new car I'll be buying over the weekend to them in the future.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 PM on November 6, 2013

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