Took my car in to get it repaired, but the repair did not fix the issue
July 27, 2018 7:33 AM   Subscribe

So... now what? I have no idea what to do about this situation and I am feeling overwhelmed. My Nissan Altima has been having difficulty starting lately. I took it in to get it repaired, I was quoted $1400 for a new steering lock to correct the problem. The car still wouldn't start for me when I went to pick it up from the dealership. So... I honestly don't know what I paid for or what to do.

The dealership gave me a loaner, which is good I guess?

I am quite ignorant when it comes to cars, I can do the very, very, very basic shit on my own, but beyond that nothing. I always feel very manipulated when I visit a mechanic, which might be incorrect of me to feel. I guess I've just been taught that mechanics are going to take advantage of anyone who doesn't know enough about their cars to fix it themselves. I was crying on my way home from the dealer, just thinking about how STUPID I was for paying $1400 for something that probably didn't need to be repaired. My car is still there and I just want to puke. I am so worried they are going to charge me some sort of exorbitant amount for whatever is wrong with my car.

What am I supposed to do? I assume that I can't ask for a refund for the $1400 repair and expect to get it, like... they know more about cars than me, so I have no idea how to advocate for myself in this situation. My car really isn't worth that much, it's just a 2007 Nissan Altima. I feel like a complete idiot for even paying $1400 in the first place. How am I even supposed to engage with the dealership when they call back?

I have to agree to whatever repairs they recommend, it seems like... regardless of the cost. I mean, they even did their little diagnosis and it diagnosed a problem and solved one, that didn't do anything! Am I better off just buying a new car at this point? I feel like a fucking idiot.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't feel stupid. Cars are tough. And expensive.

I'd work on finding a local mechanic that you can trust for the future. Ask in your neighborhood social media groups and look for repeat answers. Ask for Nissan specific recs. It took me a few years to find someone good but now that I have, I'm so happy. A good mechanic won't treat you like an idiot or make you feel bad.

As I understand it, the dealership mechanic is a bad idea except if you're under warranty and required to go there.

But for this particular incident, what happened? I suspect something went wrong, you called the dealer, you brought it in, they did some diagnostics, called you and said, we suspect it is the X, and gave you a quote for how much it would be to fix.

At this point, there is a bit of a calculation. You figure out how much the car is worth on Kelly Blue Book (about $6000) and how much longer it is likely to last (seems like a decade is pretty typical, but what's the mileage?). Then you determine if the quoted price is worth it. At a trusted mechanic, you can have this discussion with them. This all needs to happen before you approve the work to be done.

Any mechanic is not supposed to do any work until you approve the quote. Did you approve the $1400 fix?

So they did the fix and it still doesn't work. At this point you have a conversation with them about why that is. Was there not a problem with what they said was the problem? It is totally possible that two things were wrong. Or that they were wrong. But you need to figure out what happened.

At this point it is probably worthwhile to let the dealership keep working on it because they've already started in on it.

As for buying a new car, that's up to you and your budget and your lifestyle. If this $2000 fix buys you 3 more years in the car, that would be worth it for me. I'm a "drive the car into the ground" kind of person though.
I assume that the car is totally paid off. Can you afford a car payment on a newer car?
posted by k8t at 8:00 AM on July 27, 2018

If you asked the dealer to diagnose the problem, and they're suggested $1,400.00 fix did not fix anything, you are perfectly free to push them on this, regardless of what car knowledge you do or do not have. And if you decide to buy a new car, don't buy it from that dealer. It's not beyond a sleazy dealer to soak people for a bogus repair and then let them talk themselves into buying a new car. I've had it tried on me. (Hello Toyota on Western!)

In the future, one thing to always keep track of, is to ask the dealer will use a non-OEM part. They probably won't, but if you can find a good independent mechanic, non-OEM will probably be their default choice. Dealers are often locked into using OEM parts, or will claim that they are because of the huge profit margins. OEM parts can sometimes be many times the cost of a perfectly good third-party non-OEM part.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:28 AM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Agree: don't feel stupid about this at all. You weren't wrong; THEY were. Their repair was incorrect and didn't work. They shouldn't charge you any more, and they should repair whatever the actual problem is. The loaner should be free since it's their mistake. Auto repairs just suck like this. You didn't do anything wrong.

There should be a service manager, as in a person who actually has responsibility for the auto shop, not the writer who does intake of vehicles. You need to talk to this person, but you can start with the service advisor who quoted the repair, or you can start with the foreman. Work the chain of command, basically. If all that fails (and it probably won't; the service manager will likely get it resolved for you), there is a general manager for the dealership, and also an owner. They're all people you can talk to.

Can you pay by credit card so you at least have the option of contesting the charge in the worst case?

Here is some more advice. Gather your thoughts; outline the issues, and k8t's advice on evaluating repairs going forward is great. I am also a drive it until it strands you by the side of the road type of person. You might find a good mechanic here, or ask around.

If this ends up being something much easier, like an alternator or solanoid or something, negotiate the price because it's their fault they misdiagnosed the original problem, not yours. They're the experts. Maybe you get free oil changes or something at least, maybe they write off half the bill.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:31 AM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

This won't help for this time, but for the next: Go to a AAA approved shop. They are more trustworthy because they have been vetted. You also have someone else to complain to if things go bad, because AAA's reputation is at risk if their recommended shops do wrong.

Also, I have to totally disagree with this: "As I understand it, the dealership mechanic is a bad idea except if you're under warranty and required to go there. "

The dealership mechanic at least genuinely knows your type of car. I have a Honda CRV, and have literally always been unhappy when I've had it serviced at places other than the dealership shop. An alternator replacement was done elsewhere (where I broke down) and, long story short, improperly because they didn't understand Hondas.

Another example: while driving back and forth across the country, I necessarily had to get some repair work done at other shops. They did some things terribly, for example I kept having to get my headlight bulb replaced. It was extremely irritating. After getting it done back home (again!) the dealership mechanic explained to me what they had done wrong. It's been several years and I haven't had to have one replaced since.

I've also found that when you frequent one place, they will be more helpful and do some things for free. For example, a while back, I couldn't get my replacement lightbulb into the spot above the license plate. I finally gave up and drove to my dealership mechanic who put it in quickly and for free, and again explained the trick to it for the future.

I guess dealership mechanics are supposed to have the reputation as being more expensive, but that's not always true, either. For major repairs (that can wait a few days, where the car is still driveable) you should call around and get quotes from reputable shops.
posted by nirblegee at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2018

To defend my anti-dealership stance, I did recommend a mechanic that specializes in that type of car, if possible. Nissans are possibly not that common that there are exclusive places, but certainly a Japanese car specialist exists. Where I live, I go to a Subaru specialist.
posted by k8t at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just one more data point to add - Nissan, although a fairly reliable brand, have OUTRAGEOUSLY priced parts. Three independent mechanics confirmed that when we last owned a Nissan. And sometimes, for some things, the OEM is the only thing that will work reliably.
Never again - I'm sticking with Honda and Subaru (both very popular where I live).
posted by dbmcd at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I recently had an issue like this where the original repair did not fix an a/c problem on my Nissan. When the shop I went to quoted me a pretty high price for the next repair, I asked if they would reduce the labor fees under the circumstances. They actually just charged me for the parts in the end. It still cost me way more than I anticipated, but significantly less than what I was quoted. It can’t hurt to ask. Good luck!
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2018

I strongly disagree that “AAA certified” is any sort of promise or guarantee of predictor of quality, for good reasons I won’t go into here.

What you want is advice from a local friend who takes care of their car and really likes their mechanic. Yelp and the like are not particularly reliable for this purpose, but at least a start.

As for your repair, your dealer absolutely owes you an explanation of why their expensive repair didn’t fix your problem. (I also have a hard time understanding why the steering wheel interlock was even on their short list of fixes; there are about a dozen more likely sources of difficulty starting on an aging Altima. How’s your battery, have you ever changed it?)

I have seen both dealers and independent mechanics suggest and do unnecessary work while not solving the initial issue that brought the car to them many times, with multiple friends and relatives. It’s common and intentional and a profit center for them. If you read the Yelp or Google reviews of many shops you will see horror stories. It is a common practice.

Of the three worst experiences I’ve observed with this, one was a AAA certified independent shop (where an elder relative was forced to get a repair after a AAA tow, $1000 ripoff); a major northeastern Honda dealer’s service department ($1400 bogus repair recommendation, certified by two independent mechanics as pure D bullshit); and a Pep Boys (a national parts/repair chain) where the customer was told their car wasn’t safe to drive without $1800 in suspension work. And it was actually completely fine as per a manufacturer certified dealer master mechanic.

If you do not understand cars at a fairly granular level (and they’ve gotten a good deal more complex — and reliable — in recent years), you need to trust your mechanic as much as you trust a doctor. Their ability to rip you off is extraordinary. And alas “dealer,” “organization certified,” and “national chain” are not guarantees you aren’t dealing with liars and con artists. Trust is crucial. It is developed by repeat business for minor maintenance. Once you find that shop, they get your oil changes and tire swaps.

If you choose to drive an older car this is as important as having a good vet lined up before your pet ever gets sick. Old cars break.

Great shops are out there. You gotta find one if you keep an older car.
posted by spitbull at 4:56 AM on July 28, 2018

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