Car dealership majorly screwing me over -- help!
January 14, 2015 11:28 PM   Subscribe

MeFites, I'm 26/f and know squat about car repairs, except to know that I'm too broke to keep paying for the same problem to be fixed multiple times. Dealerships are evil. Let's discuss.

I'm really struggling here. I just got over $1500 worth of repairs done on my car at the dealership (2010 VW Beetle.). One of the major issues I had with it was that the passenger side headlight kept going out. Dealership said that the problem was with a faulty/shaky "bucket" holding the bulb. I don't know much about cars, frankly, but this sounded alright to me. They charged me (about $224) to fix the mount.

About 2 days after this, I noticed that the right headlight has gone out again. I returned to the dealership and was told that, for some reason, the mechanic had fixed the driver side mount (I did not know this beforehand), but that apparently something had happened between in the 2 days I was gone that required the passenger side mount to be fixed as well. This was obvious bullshit, and I was furious, but thinking I had no other option, I paid $95 (they only charged me for the part, not labor, after I made a fuss) with the intention of never returning to them for service again.

I got my car back from that repair last night. Tonight....THE RIGHT HEADLIGHT WENT OUT. AGAIN.
I have no idea what to do. I've been charged twice now to fix the problem, and now I'm convinced they had no idea what was causing the issue in the first place. I really need my headlight repaired, but the two times I've gone to a so-called non-dealership VW-certified mechanic, the build of my car was so confusing to them that they couldn't even figure out how to unscrew the headlight bulb!

Should I go back to the dealership and demand they fix the problem once and for all with no charge? I fear that I'll be wasting time and that they STILL won't be able to repair the problem correctly. Or -- should I just try to find a mechanic who can repair it and eat the financial loss?
Any thoughts would be appreciated. I'm planning on calling the dealership tomorrow but would like to have a strategy in place first.

If it helps, I'm in Southern California (Los Angeles, to be exact.)
posted by themaskedwonder to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ah. I've had similar annoying issues with my Jeep recently, in LA, to be honest. Like, 12 months of that bullshit.

Do you have AAA? While the AAA CERTIFIED mechanic we dealt with multiple times was hella expensive, we prolly shoulda stuck with him after the first repairs were botched because the work was insured by AAA and it would have been cheaper in the long run instead of bouncing around between FIVE different mechanics out of fear and loathing and need.

I'm going to Memail you our current mechanics info, plus reviews of everyone we have used and friends recommend. With some confidence and $20 to $40 for a second opinion, you rightfully should get the dealership to fix BOTH headlights for free - you've already paid for it.

Caveat - what dealership are you going to?

My good friend had a 2012 a VW convertible he bought that was a lemon. In the shop continually, unable to be fixed by the dealership - he forced them to buy out his contract and returned the car. I think VW is not the quality they used to be, and/or you might be in business with the same inept dealership.

Let's take this to Memail.
posted by jbenben at 12:11 AM on January 15, 2015

You've paid $300 for this to be fixed, it better damn well be fixed. Take it back, demand they fix it correctly this time.

If they don't, I'd take them to small claims honestly.
posted by DriftingLotus at 12:13 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have no idea what to do.

Keep on pestering them until it becomes clear to them that it will cost them less to fix your headlight properly than to deal with your future phone calls.

After they have fixed your headlight, stop dealing with them.
posted by flabdablet at 12:22 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

Go back with the attitude that you paid for it to be fixed and it's not fixed, therefore you are not paying. Don't make a fuss at all, be pleasant, polite and absolutely firm.
posted by deadwax at 1:29 AM on January 15, 2015 [19 favorites]

And bring a friend for moral support.
posted by mareli at 3:38 AM on January 15, 2015

Definitely take it back, be assertive and get them to fix your problem without any extra charge. They can't go around charging people hundreds of dollars without even actually fixing the problem.

In the meantime, research mechanics and auto-electricians in your area who either know about all VWs or, more specifically, about newer VW Beetles. If you're going to have this car for a while, you will need somewhere reliable to get it serviced and repaired.

I drive a 1996 VW Golf, which used to be my brother's car. It's getting on a bit, so I'm expecting that things might really start to go wrong now. I had a big issue crop up recently. The battery kept dying, and my central locking started acting up and the doors wouldn't open even when they were supposed to be unlocked. Because my battery was dead and I couldn't manage to jump it myself, I took a chance on a local auto-technician/mechanic who looks after my nana's car, rather than try to get the car across the city to the mechanic that my brother recommended. The local place did an amazing job. They fixed the issues I was having and did a service and oil change for less than half what I expected I would have to pay, considering how tricky electrics can be. I did actually have to take it back to them a couple of days later because I had another problem with the doors, and the auto-technician worked out what the problem was and fixed it again. He didn't charge me anything for that, because it was expected that that had been fixed last time. That is the kind of service that you want!

If you have trouble finding a place that obviously services/repair VWs, another option is to try calling places that deal with Audis. I've noticed a bit of overlap. If they don't know about VWs, they might at least have a lead for you. Get quotes for services from a few different places, so you can get an idea of how cheap/expensive they are. For example, the mechanic that my brother recommended deals with VWs and Audis and quoted me $190 for a service and oil change. A mechanic that specialises in Audis but also services VWs, quoted me something like $400. The local place charged me $175 for the service and oil change. So, there's quite a bit of variation in what you'll end up paying, just make sure you don't end up paying something ridiculous because you didn't think to ring around.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:01 AM on January 15, 2015

The 76 on Hollywood blvd near vine. Ask for Milo. He kept my beater of a car running for 10 years, is super-honest, and does excellent work for a fair price. Also pick up a copy of auto repair for dummies...even if you never actually fix it yourself, you'll at least have a better understanding of what's going on in there.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:38 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

(But yeah have the dealership fix it for free this time and NEVER TAKE IT TO THEM AGAIN. Dealerships are ripoff joints when it comes to repairs. Ditto for any Aamco or maako or jiffylube or any of that shit that advertises on tv. They will break your car on purpose for the repeat business. For real real.)
posted by sexyrobot at 4:42 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not quite on-point, but perhaps helpful: there is an unbelievable amount of information out on the 'net about troubleshooting/repairing almost any make/model of car. I agree that dealerships are evil, etc, so it may be helpful for you to do a bit go googling and see if you can self-diagnose the problem. If nothing else, it might help to give you a stronger position if you go in and confront the dealer.

One last thing: at some dealerships, the person who "assists" you with your repairs gets evaluated by an after-the-fact survey. This person may be quite shameless about asking you to give them a good score. This can be a nice 'pressure point' for negotiation.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:21 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Usually, replacement parts have their own warranty period when installed. That's what I've been told when I've had work done on my Mercedes. So see if that's the case with your car/parts and maybe request that they be fixed under the parts' warranty? Assuming they put in VW parts and not after market.
posted by eatcake at 6:26 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got my car back from that repair last night. Tonight....THE RIGHT HEADLIGHT WENT OUT. AGAIN.

It's important to remember (and lots of people don't know or understand this - even in this thread already) that fixing cars is not an exact science. People seem to think that if you are a mechanic you can just read a manual or plug something in and the problem will reveal itself accurately. This is just not the case.

Intermittent faults are a COMPLETE NIGHTMARE for vehicle diagnostics. They are the epitome of Sod's Law as they will always refuse to show themselves the second the diagnostic equipment or qualified personnel is present, or they'll only happen when driving (when it's kind of hard to check if the lights are working, in this case). So it's really hard to diagnose a problem in a complex system like a modern car anyway, but when the fault isn't actually repeatable while you are trying to trouble shoot it, it becomes quite literally impossible. So often you have to change out what you think it might be, or the cheapest part that could contribute to it, or sometimes just to eliminate a possible cause.

The reason you go to dealers and/or experienced mechanics is that they have the equipment and experience to minimise this 'change it and see' approach to fixing stuff but it still is a very real part of car repair, especially with modern complicated systems that affect each other. So it is perfectly valid (although galling) that the dealer may genuinely believe and be convinced with all good intentions that the part they replaced is going to cure the issue. This may well be based on the symptoms matching several cars that have been fixed with that issue that they have seen, or a bulletin from the manufacturer that matched those symptoms with that fault.

Relevant example: My wife's Lexus RH headlight kept going out. I had the choice (after poking around and checking online in the forums) that it was either the bulb or the ballast (it's a High Intensity dealio). The bulb is a lot of money, consequently, but it is a simple job. The ballast is slightly less but several hours work, with high chance for screwing up and destroying the $450 headlight assembly. So I took a chance on the basis that it is a 6 year old car and it's likely the bulb. It wasn't working when I started the job, I tried the drivers side bulb in it and that one worked. Couldn't make it come on at all with the original bulb, even after fiddling with it a fair bit. So I changed the bulb for a new one and it worked perfectly for several times and after driving the car. AWESOME.

Two days later, it's out again and it is clear it was the ballast all along. I wasted a bunch of money. I'm pissed at myself, but... the fault didn't appear when I put the LHS bulb in just through chance, and I made the wrong conclusion as a result. It is just going to cost more than I thought and I replaced a perfectly good bulb. Everything I did while working on the car pointed at the bulb, but BLOODY INTERMITTENT FAULTS (Grrrr*a lot) screwed me. Maybe at a dealership I'd have been able to test the ballast, but then they'd only replace the entire assembly (maybe a $700+ job) because it is more money in labour to strip and rebuild the headlight. So if it had worked, I'd have saved $500 or so. But I had no way of knowing so had to take a gamble and it is going to cost me more money and time.

Anyway (I'm so mad about wasting the money on that expensive bulb!): Dealerships often (and more often with modern cars) have this same problem. If you can't replicate a problem you cannot accurately diagnose it, so you sometimes have to go with what it appears most likely to be. Especially in a dealer situation, they can't dick with it for hours (because that also costs you money) but they do the established problem solving and make their best guess based on experience and (through the manufacturer) the combined experience of the dealer network.

Consequently: Go back with the attitude that you paid for it to be fixed and it's not fixed, therefore you are not paying. is not necessarily valid nor fair. I'm all for screwing dealerships into the ground when they screw up but there are genuine and justifiable reasons where they replace stuff with good intentions that doesn't fix the issue. So bear that in mind before adopting I PAID SO YOU FIX IT when they may have been faced with the following: "Problem seems to be X. X is often fixed by component A ($95 and a common fault) or component B ($350 but rarer). We are unable to diagnose it through lack of information/repeatability of the issue between the two components so lets replace component A and hope for the best to try and save the customer money as the most likely fix."

Now, admittedly, if this was the scenario they should have had this conversation with you and involved you in it so that the issue being not fixed was not such a surprise to you, but it's a perfectly valid approach to the issue and (if it is the case) they're actually trying to be on your side as much as they can. But it's important that people understand this because misunderstanding this process and assuming that if a problem isn't immediately fixed first time it is through some conspiracy or incompetence on the dealer's part. It.. just isn't. It can just be part of the process and lack of education of the customer would be the fault in this case. Not incompetent workmanship.

(However. I'm not convinced they didn't screw up and replace the wrong side initially, by the way. That may just have been something as the parts department ordering the wrong part, the mechanic gets a LH and the job sheet says RH, both lights are working so he just assumes the job sheet is a type or the customer mispoke so he changes the part he has - miscommunication, rather than incompetence, exacerbated by the intermittent fault because if both lights are working and continue to work while the guy has the car, then he can't isolate which side it is so just changes the part he has in his hand assuming the parts guy got it right).

SO. Getting back to the point - go back to the dealership. Ask them why they replaced the housing and what led them to believe it was the fault when it clearly wasn't. Try and understand it - if it sounds like they're spinning you a line (or trying to make out it's a different fault now) then you can bring the "Ok, you already screwed up once by changing the wrong side and I was reasonable and paid the part cost, despite it being your screw up, but you need to work with me on the next stage of the repair process" and see where that gets you.
posted by Brockles at 6:38 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

And bring a friend for moral support.

Bring a MALE friend for moral support.

I'm a female too and I hate to sound so sexist... but seriously, take a guy along with you.
(God, I hate even writing that, it makes me so mad, but it's so true in many of these kinds of situations)
posted by JenThePro at 7:06 AM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

Should I go back to the dealership and demand they fix the problem once and for all with no charge?

Yes, but I came in to suggest exactly what JenThePro suggested -- if you can, have a male friend or relative take your car into the shop instead of or in addition to you.

Your sitch has happened to me several times (take broken car in, pay for requested repairs, wrong or no repairs are done, take it back in, am asked to pay again, etc.) and in each case, the problems were only ever solved once and for all when I asked a man to take my car in for me. I actually know a fair amount about car repair, enough to have and use my own Chilton manual, but I'm also a tiny, squeaky-voiced woman, and the majority of car repair shops don't even listen to me when I bring my keys to the counter and tell them what's wrong. Or they try to convince me that something else needs fixing instead, something materially inconsequential that just so happens to be significantly more expensive than repairing the thing that's actually broken. That just doesn't happen when I have a guy with me.

So while it drives me absolutely bonkers to have to live in a world where this is true, I have to admit that having a dude take the car in is a probably good tactic to use at this stage in the game.
posted by divined by radio at 7:55 AM on January 15, 2015

Intermittent faults are a COMPLETE NIGHTMARE for vehicle diagnostics.

Those are tough to diagnose in just about any system. Some programmers call them Heisenbugs.

That said, they shouldn't be charging you for additional fixes if they screwed up the first time. If you told them which headlight mount to fix, and they fixed the wrong one (seriously, WTF?), that's their fault. They should eat the cost of that.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:03 AM on January 15, 2015

If you told them which headlight mount to fix, and they fixed the wrong one (seriously, WTF?), that's their fault.

In terms of fixing the wrong side, I agree (and said so). The dealership probably saw it as meeting in the middle by only charging for parts ("Well, you DID get a new part out of it") when they really should have eaten the parts cost too. Assuming, of course, that the miscommunication was entirely on the dealer's side.
posted by Brockles at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2015

Don't try to take it to another mechanic. What if they poke around and replace something, and it still isn't fixed? If you take it back to the dealer, they'll say, Well, it was working fine when it left here, the other mechanic must've screwed something up, and blame you for taking it someplace else. Don't add that complication into the mix.

Go back to the dealer and demand that they fix it right. They should not charge you any additional money to fix it, unless it's a more-complicated issue, and if it is, they should apply what you've already paid to that repair, given the repair you paid for was unnecessary due to their faulty diagnosis. Don't let them give you any nonsense, and yes, if you have a male friend who knows something about cars that you can take with you, all the better.

I really need my headlight repaired, but the two times I've gone to a so-called non-dealership VW-certified mechanic, the build of my car was so confusing to them that they couldn't even figure out how to unscrew the headlight bulb!

I don't understand how this is even possible. Any mechanic who can't figure out how to replace a headlight bulb, especially on a brand that he supposedly specializes in, is incompetent. Check Yelp or the Car Talk site for a recommended mechanic nearby.
posted by Leatherstocking at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2015

I had to do this with rear brakes on a Mazda. I walked in with the documentation showing that they tried 2x to fix and it was still an issue and told them I expected them to fix it for good this time at no cost to me.

They complied.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:12 AM on January 15, 2015

As usual, Brockles is right, and furthermore it is also possible for more than one thing to be wrong at the same time, and even more likely for one faulty part to take others with it. Alternators and batteries are the classic one that just about everyone has dealt with at some point.

And the problem being intermittent makes it even more likely that you may be seeing cascading faults. As one part starts going bad and behaving outside of tolerances it makes other parts work 'harder' to make up for the fault and this shortens their life. For instance, lets say the mount really was bad and it shook the bulb so that it broke. Well for a while it just shook the bulb and that caused voltage spikes in the ballast and/or relays. This then made those parts work more to deal with the unexpected voltages and they weren't designed for that and so they go bad faster. At the same time the original fault then makes the performance degrade in the original part so now maybe it only needs .8 of an input to kinda work, instead of 1 input (arbitrary numbers because I don't know the voltage/amperage of your car for the headlights). You now put the new, shiny part in and it needs that 1 input, but the downstream relay is kind worn out and it can't supply that and then it fails and so on (this is simplified and in some cases and systems not really how it works but I am trying to illustrate a larger system principle).

Complicated systems are VERY prone to cascade failure modes and it might be that you are dealing with.
posted by bartonlong at 12:03 PM on January 16, 2015

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