One of my least favorite things to do in life is deal with my car.
Not because of the car itself.
Because of the people I have to deal with when it comes to buying or repairing cars.
Car salesmen and mechanics are two of the least trusted professions. I just have a hard time placing my full trust in them. It’s also possible that I have an unreasonable understanding of what it should cost to maintain a car past 100,000 miles.
So when our car’s maintenance light came on the other day, I prayed that it would just be an oil change needed.
My Recent Auto Service Experience
We have a 2002 Honda Accord. Love this car. I don’t really have a particular auto service center that I’m in love with though, so I decided to bring it to the dealership service center.
They have a reasonable price on oil changes and have a great area for me to work for the afternoon (free wifi, etc.). You see where my priorities are. 😉
I drive up, hand the keys to the service guy and ask him to give it an oil change and the ole’ 18 point inspection as well. I sit down for a nice afternoon of work and hope for the best with the car.
An hour later the service guy wants to talk. I see a fairly sizable list of things scribbled on his paperwork. “Oh no”, I think. Turns out the car need more than just the oil change. He reads off a list of expensive repairs. Here’s my abbreviated version:
- Timing belt replacement – $815
- Lower ball joint replacement – $350
- Motor mount gasket crack – $180
So I tell the dealer service guy to give me a moment to think about it. I quickly hit up Google for the average cost of timing belt replacement in a Honda Accord. Yahoo! Answers has plenty of discussions (albeit most discussions are 3 or 4 years old) on this topic and prices range from $400 to $800.
Confused still, I call my brother-in-law who is a mechanic. He says that $815 is a bit high and he suggests going to another shop in town which happens to be the one shop I’ve had a disappointing experience with previously.
Frustrated, I table the decision for later and tell the dealer service guy to bring my car around. I’ll be taking my car home today and making a decision on the bigger repairs in the next few weeks.
Angie’s List to the Rescue…Sort Of
About that same time I run across a blog post from Ben of Money Smart Life. Ben’s just started using Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com) to find good local service providers. I seize upon Ben’s offer for a discounted membership to Angie’s List and sign up.
Angie’s List is fairly easy to navigate. I do some searching for “auto service” in my local area and I get several decent looking shops to choose from. The dealership service center I had just left actually has grade A reviews.
I decide to call two other shops and get their quote on the work:
- Shop #1 tells me that they will call me back with a quote, but never do. They also tell me that you should never have to replace the lower ball joints on a Honda Accord.
- Shop #2 tells me that timing belt replacements usually run $750, but that they would need to do the water pump as well.
At the same time I text one of my friends who also has a Honda Accord. He says he’s had the timing belt replaced on his and it cost him around $900 (which he said included some other stuff). This threw me for a bit of a curve because this friend has “a guy” that he goes to do all of his car repairs. I assumed the cost would have been significantly cheaper than the dealer.
So now I’m actually feeling pretty good about going back to the dealership for the repair. Mrs. PT mentions she has a coupon from the dealership in the town 10 miles away for $100 off timing belt and water pump replacement. I call them up and they say that the normal cost of the replacement is $850 and that they will honor the coupon, making the cost $750.
I like the idea of going to this dealership instead because of the whole lower ball joint thing. I check Angie’s List and they have a positive rating as well.
So, that’s where I’m at today. I’m at the Honda dealership service center typing this post and crossing my fingers for a quick and painless repair. Actually, the guy just came to visit with me and he tacked on another $350 for camshaft seal replacement. I have no way of knowing if this is necessary. I said yes, and I feel like a sucker. This is why I don’t like dealing with cars.
Using Angie’s List in Combination with Other Services
Anyway, if you’re going to pay for a service like Angie’s List, consider it a way to weed out the bad apples. They are not designed to help you find the absolute very best service provider. They are designed to show you a list of the very best candidates for you to choose from.
Additionally, they won’t help you determine what a fair price is for service. That’s a different decision and the best way to do that is to ask around (like I did with my friend) and consider using services like RepairPal and AutoMD (something I failed to do). By the way, the estimate for a timing belt and water pump replacement on RepairPal is $780. So it looks like I’m doing okay on price and I’m getting the quality that comes from a mechanic who works on these Accords everyday.
What about you? How do you find the best service and price for your auto repairs?