Just got a dealership mechanic quote: how do I know what's legitimate?
August 23, 2018 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm at my local Honda dealership, getting some recall work done on my 2010 Civic. Along with this "free" fix, they've just emailed me a list of ~$500 worth of work they'd love to do. Can you look at the list of items they've listed and help me understand a) how I know which ones need immediate attention, and b) how unreasonable or reasonable these prices seem? This is in Eugene, OR (mechanic recommendations are welcome, too!).

This is for a 2010 Honda Civic with about 44,000 miles on it. My preference would be to get the car in to a non-dealership mechanic when I have time, but starting next week I will be driving ~75 miles round-trip every day for 4 weeks - this is for a school requirement that would be very difficult to get time away from, so once I get started I pretty much won't be able to take my car in for servicing until late September. The list of items, along with their criticality rating and quoted prices, are as follows:

1. Transmission: Drain and Refill. Red/Critical/Requires immediate attention. $99
2. Power Steering Fluid Exchange: Yellow/May Require future attention. $112
3. Rear Brake Pad Replacement (left & right, both currently at "5"): Yellow: $200
4. Bulb: headlight restoration: Yellow. $70

There's also another ~$100 listed for something utterly unclear to me, but that seemingly has to do with the exterior trim - I'm not super worried about that one, but these other ones (especially the first 3) are concerning. Our car has been driving fine and no warning lights have come on, so I'm especially skeptical of that "critical" rating for the transmission fluid - but again, I don't know how to tell, or if I'm risking significant damage if I plan on getting this taken care of at a non-dealership a month from now. Can anybody help me understand how I can tell what, if anything, I should get done now?
posted by DingoMutt to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check the maintenance schedules in your owner's manual.

If you live someplace that uses the "normal" schedule, you shouldn't need to replace your transmission fluid for a while yet unless it's detectably gone bad. If the "severe" schedule is right for your area, you're overdue for transmission fluid.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2018

All of those items can wait until after that period of driving you mention. I don't think the Trans needs to be flushed urgently, but presumably it is a 40k service item (or 5 or 7 years?) and is 'red' because it is over that mileage/period. I think you will be fine being 5k over and so get it done (with decent fluid) at, say, 45k. This gives you time to get the car to a non-dealership location but I'd try and get it done before the winter.

The headlight bulb is interesting to me - 'restoration'? Does that mean the bulb is not working? Or it is showing as yellow, in which case it is a safety issue? Either way it's an easy enough job to do yourself, or not that much more expensive to have them do it (bulbs are expensive these days).

So, in short, deal with the bulb, ignore the rest of the stuff for a month.
posted by Brockles at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2018

The issue with the headlight is that the casing is fogged - it's not terrible yet but it's definitely something I've been thinking about addressing for a while now. On my last car, I spent about $80 to have the casing polished and it looked great ... for maybe a couple of months. Because of that I'm thinking of just getting one of those polishing kits I've seen on Amazon so I can do it myself, but I've been hemming and hawing over whether that would work well or not.

Thanks for the input so far!
posted by DingoMutt at 11:08 AM on August 23, 2018

It has been my experience that dealer mechanics will find something to try to charge you for when doing warranty/recall work. That seems to me to be the case here. You mileage may very, as it were.
posted by 4ster at 11:30 AM on August 23, 2018

+1 that none of this stuff is that urgent that it can't wait a month or two unless there are extenuating driving circumstances.
posted by substars at 11:30 AM on August 23, 2018

You can also polish UV-damaged headlights with toothpaste and the effect isn't super long lasting but it does work decently okay. Get the pads done if your brakes are making noise, otherwise all of that can wait.
posted by jessamyn at 11:31 AM on August 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Get the pads done if your brakes are making noise, otherwise all of that can wait.

While I agree with this, I assumed the rear brakes were measured as 5mm but that may be worth clarifying. Replacement level is 3mm, from what I can find, and rear brakes wear extremely slowly (those are likely the original rear pads).

I'm thinking of just getting one of those polishing kits I've seen on Amazon so I can do it myself, but I've been hemming and hawing over whether that would work well or not.

They work fine if you do them properly. Not permanent as a solution, but that's basically what the dealer is billing you to do. It's the same stuff they're doing, pretty much.
posted by Brockles at 11:35 AM on August 23, 2018

You have an automatic transmission I assume? I don't think the fluid would need to be changed in a standard (manual) transmission at this point though I could imagine an unscrupulous recommendation for such (and doing so did help the shifting in my 6 speed manual Civic Si, but the transmission on that thing was lousy).
posted by exogenous at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2018

I agree with the commenters above that none of this is urgent and can wait a few months for you to find a local, non-dealer mechanic that you like.
posted by quince at 12:14 PM on August 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

The transmission fluid drain and replace might be urgent. It's not clear if your car has a CVT transmission, which was an option for the 8th gen Civics. If your car has a CVT then it NEEDS the fluid to be drained and replaced regularly, with special Honda fluid. 100$ is only slightly more than an independent shop would charge, and you get the added assurance it is done with the right fluid.

The car is 9 years old - if it's never had the trans fluid changed out then even if it's an auto or a manual you'll likely want to get that service done eventually, and as others noted is not particularly pressing as long as you understand that there is a very slight chance of transmission failure.

The power steering system just gets old and the fluid gets contaminated/ruined - which will wear that system out more quickly and result in parts like the pump or rack (v. expensive) to break. Also not particularly dire but should be part of your plan to keep the car going. This can be done at an independent shop, but once again you might not find particularly significant savings - pep boys*/jiffy lube might do it for ~70$, but in the city they might cost 125.

As others have noted, the brakes are designed to make horrible noises before they don't work, so you will know when that time comes. Here an independent shop will save you real money.

Finally those plastic covers can be polished up for the price of a cheap kit, just follow the instructions carefully.

*owned by garbage person so avoid
posted by zenon at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2018

Re the headlight polishing... my experience is that the polishing kits only work for a certain amount of time, and that time seems to decrease every time you do it. That could be sample bias (I've only done it a maximum of 3 times to the same car) but I have decided to try and not do it too frequently.

You can definitely do it yourself, it's not hard. But be sure you get a kit that has some sort of UV sealant in it, if you park the car outside. Otherwise it'll start to fog again pretty quickly if it's acrylic plastic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:46 PM on August 23, 2018

The headlamp polishing doesn’t last because the polishing process introduces microscopic scratches to the surface of the plastic lens. Those scratches catch contaminants over time and your headlamp fogs over once again. The only permanent solution is to replace the headlamp assembly with units that have glass lenses.

I’ve polished lenses on a couple of cars and they look great at first. Some kits come with a UV-cured coating you wipe on after the polishing process. Those lenses seemed to stay clear a lot longer than others that did not come with the coating.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:40 PM on August 23, 2018

Headlight polishing: Don't laugh, but I had pretty good results with OFF bug spray (in the aerosol can, not the pump spray). Clean the headlight with glass cleaner; let dry; then spray on the OFF (not in the heat of direct sun) and buff with a rag. It's ridiculously easy and lasted for months on my 2007 Equinox.
posted by annieb at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

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