Am I being ripped off on car repair?
April 8, 2006 8:17 AM   Subscribe

My car needs to be repaired. It is a 2000 Chevy Malibu with 95,000 miles on it and needs new spark plugs, new spark plug wires and the carbon deposits cleaned out of the intake manifold. The repair shop is charging $450 for this. Am I being ripped off?
posted by stockaholic to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
A 4 cylinder tune up should run about $100.00 at most with an injector or manifold cleaning. With the extra stuff like an oil and air filter change and maybe a tire rotation you should be under $200.00
posted by Gungho at 8:27 AM on April 8, 2006

First of all malobu's have 5 cylinders.

also i would say it is possible for it to cost that much, although it does sounds high. Spark plugs arent cheap...make sure they arent using thos ultra high density special ones with like 14 thousand electrodes for a "stronger" spark.

that said, have them clean the manifold and change the plugs and wires yourself...its about the easiest thing you can do on a car.

if you dont want to do that get a second opinion fist from one of the bug name people...mineke, sears etc...they will always charge a set price for something like that and not try to rip you off.
posted by I_am_jesus at 8:37 AM on April 8, 2006

*6 cylinders
posted by I_am_jesus at 8:38 AM on April 8, 2006

Autoblog article on changing your own plugs, if you choose to DIY.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2006

Plugs are about $2.00 ea $12.00
A set of wires probably $24 to $30
new EGR valve $15.00
new air cleaner $10.00
labor $70.00
so that leaves the cleaning
A cleaning with Texron or something similar/ Well here's the thing a bottle will cost you $10.00 and you can try and DIY. a professional 'cleaning' may cost you upwards of a couple of hundred bucks if they take apart the thing.

Like Jesus said...I'd go to a pep boys or sears and get it priced
posted by Gungho at 8:48 AM on April 8, 2006

posted by caddis at 8:55 AM on April 8, 2006

Get the Chilton's, the parts, and DIY. I replaced all sparkplugs, wires, and ignition coils in an 89 Regal this way. It was annoying, but not difficult.
posted by pieoverdone at 8:59 AM on April 8, 2006

Carbon deposits in the intake manifold?
posted by knave at 9:21 AM on April 8, 2006

Yes, you are being ripped off. Avoid places like Sears, Pep Boys, Meineke and the like. Ask you neighbors, co-workers or family for the name of a reputable mechanic.
posted by fixedgear at 9:36 AM on April 8, 2006

I'm sure its in schoolgirl report's link, but MAKE SURE YOU LABEL WHICH WIRE GOES WHERE before removing any of them. Otherwise you'd end up feeling really stupid. I, uh, mean I imagine you would if that ever happened...
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 AM on April 8, 2006

You can find a mechanic in your area suggested by other people by using the Mechanics (nee Mechan-X) Files on I've used it in the past, and it has found excellent mechanics for me.

I don't recommend that you change the plugs yourself, if this is the first time they've been changed. There's a very good chance that they're pretty much welded in there by now. If a mechanic snaps one in half, he knows how to get it out, and you don't.

The "carbon deposits on the intake manifold" thing sounds like BS. Please check your owners manual to see if this kind of thing is actually part of the scheduled maintenance for your car. If it's not, then ask the mechanic what exact problem it's trying to solve.
posted by popechunk at 9:45 AM on April 8, 2006

It's possible that your shop is also including replacement of the serpentine and or v-belts, which is pretty standard for this mileage and age, and something you definitely want to do with summer coming up. That could be another $40 to $70 in parts and another hour of labor. Check to be sure, and it will make a difference whether you have the 4 or 6 cylinder Malibu engine. A tune up at this mileage will also usually include replacement of the fuel filter (usually back at the fuel tank) for another $50 to $90 and 1/2 hour of labor, in addition to the list gungho has given above. And be aware that a shop is marking up parts over parts store or jobber prices, to cover costs of ordering, shop supplies, time taken to match parts recieved, etc. A shop can't stay in business if it doesn't make a profit, and you aren't being "ripped off" if you are getting fair value for money, and quality work done by experienced technicians. Look for ASE certifications for technicians working at the shop doing your work.

The injector & intake manifold cleaning service is somewhat optional, depending on the condition of your throttle body, intake manifold, and injectors. If you use cheap gas, you may have some varnish build up in the injectors, and your engine will continue to run rough until the varnish is removed. If you've been running high quality, high detergent fuel [warning: large PDF file linked] exclusively, you may not have a significant build up problem, but at 95,000 miles of normal stop and go driving, its likely your vehicle has enough gum to be noticeable in drivability, hard starts, roughness, and lower mileage. You can try several tanks of high detergent high test gas like Shell VPower and various add-to-your-tank cleaners and additives, but the machines, tools and procedures that repair shops have to do this are far more effective, if you really have heavy deposits.
posted by paulsc at 11:03 AM on April 8, 2006

I'd recommend you ask the shop which plugs and wires they're planning on using - some OEM plug wire sets can cost the shop almost $100, then they've got some markup. If they're using the OEM plugs, it can get ridiculous - the proper Bosch plus on my truck are about eight bucks apiece. See if they can use a cheaper alternative - I've had good luck with Carquest parts.

I'm not sure about the motor on that Malibu, but sometimes plug replacement is an absolute bitch - you have to remove a lot of engine-prettifying bits to get the plugs clear. This takes time, times the shop rate, well, you get the pic.

As for the manifold cleaning, it can make a hella lot of difference on some cars and on others not so much. Again, it takes time.

In short, what others above have said. There may be more to it than just plugs and wires.
posted by notsnot at 3:09 PM on April 8, 2006

Plugs and wires are an easy DIY, and a bottle or two of Techron (Make sure you get actual Techron, not Pro-gard, and none of the other crap) is cheap.

If the dealer wants a lot of $$ for the wires, I suggest picking them up from NAPA, which seems to be the only chain of parts places that actually sells good parts anymore.

Remember, of course, never to have more than one plug wire disconnected at a time, or you'll have a hell of a problem.

So, it's just an opinion, but you can probably do the whole thing yourself with good parts for about $70. If you're cheap and/or interested in learning about your car, why not?
posted by Kwantsar at 8:59 PM on April 8, 2006

Definitely get a second opinion. That's a decent amount of money (particularly for a not very old car) and I am personally always skeptical of claims of degumming, de-carbonizing, whatever. Engines burn things, it's their job. If you compare one to your kitchen it's gonna seem gross (or at least I hope so for the sake of your diet) but that doesn't mean there's any problem that needs corrective action.

It may be that I am being unfair in this, however a few bad apples have queered the whole industry here - unnecessary cleanings are rampant and a big moneymaker for businesses that have the equipment; they did the big outlay for the gear and every one they sell now is almost all profit.

If you're of a mind to do your own plugs, note what notsnot said. Some engines are cake. I have a Miata which is an inline 4 and changing its plugs is easier than changing a tire. I have an old Bronco that was designed by Satan himself on one of ol' Scratch's more accomplished days. Only one of 6 plugs is accessible without some combinations of contortions, bloodletting and painful stretching.

Quite honestly, plugs, wires AND a demi-glasse or whatever they call it sounds extreme. You don't define why it "needs to be repaired" but if this is in response to a noticed problem I'd do plugs first and see how that helps, then wires, then this voodoo cleaning. If it's just because someone said "WOAH OLD" then maybe you don't need anything.

Oh, another thing if you do your own plugs - spend the extra $1 per plug and get the platinums that don't need to be gapped. It's a small cost to avoid a task that's a pain (and needs a tool!) if you have never done it before.
posted by phearlez at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2006

I appreciate phearlez's skepticism, but I encourage him to continue said skepticism WRT evaluating spark plugs. According to the independent Porsche mechanics I know, coppers last just as long as platinums, and are less likely to foul.

Just about all plugs come pre-gapped nowadays, BTW.

posted by Kwantsar at 7:51 PM on April 10, 2006

Kwanstar - oh absolutely, I think they're a total waste of money... except for the hassle and time savings of not gapping them, particularly for an inexperienced mechanic. I hadn't heard anything about them being more likely to foul though - that's interesting.
posted by phearlez at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2006

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