I took my 1997 Buick (Kelly blue book around $2000) to Paul's Automotive on 11/12/13 for a state inspection, oil change, and to look for a fuel leak. **** calls me later that day and says there is no fuel leak, but it needs a part replaced to pass inspection. He did not mention the price of the part, and I did not think much of it (something minor I assumed). The next day the car is ready, and I go to pick it up. There I am presented with a $558.82 bill! This included a $25 off coupon I had. I was in shock. I paid all the money I had, $350, leaving me flat broke for the rest of the month. They said I could pay the rest later. To add insult to injury in this story, my mother tells me the part ***** replaced was not necessary to pass state inspection. She knows because this had been my grandmother's car for years; my grandmother passed last year leaving the vehicle to me. My mother was with her the last year my grandmother had the car inspected, and the mechanic then told her the part was a sensory device to see if air was in the gas tank, not a safety issue. The mechanic flipped a switch, and fixed it, is what my mother recently told me.
Account_Number: INVOICE ****
I believe that I should only have to paid for the services I asked for...a state inspection, oil change, and whatever one charges to look for a fuel leak (although looking over this very confusing bill, I can't tell how much that is). The slogan for Paul's Automotive is " A REAL Mechanic You Can Trust"... I believe a REAL mechanic one can trust is NOT one who is willing to charge over 1/4 of a vehicle's total value on an unnecessary part, without even mentioning the cost to the customer first!
I'm surprised to hear customer was not satisfied with the repair. He never questioned the repairs or indicated to us in any way that he felt we did something unnecessary or never indicated he was not satisfied. He only indicated that he did not realize the bill was going to be that much, at which time we informed him he could delay some of the payment (not common business practice of ours), but the customer is a valued long time customer that we have worked with on many occasions and this is why we are surprised by this complaint. It was totally his choice to pay $350 at this time(we simply told him he could pay what he could now and the rest later).
Customer dropped vehicle off without appointment stating what he needed (oil change & inspection), & indicated he needed to get this vehicle on the road since his other vehicle had been totaled & that he would be out of town and not be able to be reached.
According to NC State Inspection Regs, a 1997 vehicle is required to have an OBD inspection that includes both emissions & safety and a vehicle according to Law cannot pass inspection with the check engine light on. Since the check engine light was on when we initially started the car, I proceeded to diagnose the cause for the check engine light. I scanned for codes and found po341, po440, and p1675 codes,indicating a bad Cam Sensor, and an Evap malfunction. The cas was showing 6 computer monitors on at this time. I proceeded with the intent to do only what the vehicle needed in order for it to pass inspection. By Law a 1997 vehicle is only allowed to have 2 monitors as incomplete in order to pass inspection. The following is a description of what I did to get the vehicle minimally repaired and down to just 2 monitors as incomplete so it could pass inspection:
1. Cleared the computer codes and attempted to drive car to see if light came back on. Only got 200 yards before light came back on.
2. Scanned for codes again-indicated Cam sensor malfunction--replaced Cam sensor and cleared codes again.
3. Drove car again-got only 1 1/2 miles before light came back on.
4. Extracted codes --showed evap system malfunction
5. Put car on rack, check hoses and found a hose behind engine loose from sensor--Corrected this problem and cleared codes again and drove car again, getting about 3 miles this time before light came back on.
6. Extracted codes still again--still indicated evap system malfunction--Smoked the system (standard test for this issue), hooked up the scanner so I could activate & initiate solenoid and purge valves. This test indicated the purge valve at the gas tank was leaking.
7. Replaced the Purge valve, cleared computer and drove again for about 1 hour to get the vehicle through the drive cycle as required before it could be inspected--at this time only two monitors were still showing. (By Law this is the maximum number of monitors that can be incomplete to PASS Inspection. UNNECESSARY repairs at this time would have been to continue driving the vehicle until all monitors reset--taking a chance that the check engine light would come back on and more repairs would be required to get the car to pass inspection.
8. I stopped at this point and Inspected the vehicle. It PASSED and I called customer to inform him that car was ready and explained what I had done and reasons why.
At that time customer did not question anything, but asked that we check for a fuel leak. I informed him that the car had very little gas in it and I would need to fill the tank with gas in order to adequately check for a leak. I filled the tank, put car on lift, checked hoses and saw 2 hoses that looked like they may have some minor residue on them, but no obvious leak. I tightened the hoses and called customer to let him know car was ready. (The purge valve that I had just repaired could have been the culprit for what the customer thought might be a fuel leak)
When customer came to pick up car, I once again explained what we did and why and told him the check engine light might come back on--would be no way of knowing until he drove the vehicle far enough to complete the drive cycle for the remaining 2 monitors, and if it di come back on and he wanted to pursue it any farther to come back to the shop and we would look at it--but that the car did Pass inspection and that was the goal.
In response to customer comment in complaint about the last inspection with his mother: We have no knowledge of this situation, but there is definitely not a switch that can just be flipped. Monitors can be reset and a sensor is not a safety issue (but an emissions issue which the state has specific rules about. And yes on rare occasions the monitors can be cleared (ie if gas cap was not tightened and set off a code)then vehicle driven thru cycle and if light does not come back on the vehicle can be inspected and would Pass inspection. Maybe at the time there was only 1 issue which would have been allowed. This however was a year ago, and lots can happen mechanically to a car in a year whether it is driven much or not. At the time we received this car there were definitely MULTIPLE emission issues and the OBD rules and regulations were followed.
In response to value of car vs cost of repair: We do not check Kelly Blue Book values on vehicles that come in for repairs. One person's trash is another person's treasure. This 97 vehicle appeared to be a good solid car worth investing this minor amount in and di not raise any concerns. However, just to make a point--this customer has a documented history of spending more money on repairs than the vehicle is worth.. i.e. in past has spent 4 times the value of one of his previous vehicles over a 7 month period on repairs.
I feel that everything we did was to try and help our valued customer out. by 1. repairing the vehicle quickly so he would have a vehicle to dirve (since his other car had been totaled), 2. Only doing the repairs necessary for it to pass inspection. 3. Spending several hours on diagnosing the vehicle and spending time driving the vehicle through the drive cycle for an hour just to be assured that I got the vehicle down to just 2 monitors incomplete. $o charge for this extra time and dianostics. I could have legitimately charged an additional $165 for all of this, but was trying to give our good customer a break.
Invoice indicates a $0 charge for checking fuel leak, $0 charge for repairing the vacuum line, $35.36 charge for gas I put in his car(actual cost of fuel-which is still in his tank), 32.85 for oil change and a 27 point inspection where we look the car over good to see if we spot any issues customer needs to be aware of, $30 for the State Inspection, $88 for smoking evap system, $70.94 labor for replacing purge valve, $106 labor charge for replacing the cam sensor, and the cost of the cam sensor and purge valve. The invoice does not even include or charge for the additional diagnostics and drive time included in this repair. For good will I also honored a $25 off coupon that I had previously extended the expiration so customer could utilize it and customer was not able to present coupon even though coupon states that it is to be presented. Again trying to help customer.
It is my position that the charges were more than fair (less than they should have been) and that we went the extra mile to try to help out this customer. I regret that this customer who we thought we had established a good relationship with over the years does not value our services and that he did not feel like he could have come to us with his concerns without going through this lengthy process. I am willing at this point, just for the sake of good will, to accept the amount the customer has already paid and write off the addition amount he owes--calling his bill paid in full. We hope that the customer will find this offer more than satisfactory.