Car Repair Investigation


MASON CITY, IA – It’s one of the biggest expenses in our lives: our car. But when you take it in for repairs, how do you know you are getting an honest opinion?

It’s a tough call because the general public is supposed to trust mechanics as experts and we often don’t challenge their opinions.

While there are more honest car mechanics than not, our Facebook viewers have made it clear that they many have left the repair shop feeling taken advantage of.

And it’s not a new dilemma, it happened to Mike Lester, a Clear Lake industrial technology instructor on a cross country road trip. He shares his experience with us.

“They pulled in and diagnosed it told me that number eight cylinder was out of it and when you have a cylinder out it pretty much means the whole engine has to be rebuilt which in that case I’m just estimating right now a new block crate motor what cost about 1,300 bucks plus labor to do that so that would have to be anywhere from two grand above to just replace the motor. So I just bought four fuel filters from him because I was guessing there was rust in it so I put a new fuel filter in, fired up, and that’s all it was,” he says.

Lester was glad to have knowledge on cars or he might have been out thousands of dollars.
If this were you, would you have known better or spent the money?

For your wallets protection, we took on this issue and did a little investigating ourselves.

We took one car to five local shops asking for estimates about an air conditioner problem. While there, we asked for them to take a complete look over the vehicle for any other potential issues.

What we found might surprise you.

Gene Malek is passionate about cars. He’s been tinkering, tweaking and troubleshooting all makes and models for 35 years.  Here at KIMT, we have trusted him with our cars for over fourteen years.

And what’s kept him in business all this time? Gene believes it’s his character.

“The personal relationship I’ve had with my customers, they trust me and I try to be honest with them and they keep coming back because of that,” he says.

But you have to wonder if every mechanic shares that same philosophy. Gene’s reputation is why he’s our trusted guy.

We’re turning to him for all of our automotive answers for this investigation.

We’ve got one car and five shops. We’ve got a significant problem with a Ford Escape.

The plan? Get estimates from local mechanics and find out what it will really cost us to fix it.

The air conditioner only works on high speed. All mechanics consistently offered up a quick diagnosis and inexpensive fix. They believe it’s the blower motor resistor and that’s going to cost $35 to $40 to fix. But that’s where the similarities between mechanics end.

When we asked for a precautionary inspection, that’s where the bills started rising. As additional issues are discovered that’s potentially where a lot of consumers could find themselves shelling out the cash.

For instance, three of the five mechanics recommended we replace our sparkplugs. Gene calls that preventative maintenance, not a necessity.

It’s recommended at 100,000 miles, but our car is at 91,000 miles.

“Either take a good look at it or assume that if they’ve never been changed it’s most likely time,” Gene says.

Prices are consistent across the board, roughly $50 to replace them.

Two of our five mechanics are suggesting our sway bar needs work. That’s what keeps your vehicle stable on the roadways.

But again Gene says it’s not necessary. And the price? Just between two shops, it varied $40 to $80.

All five shops noticed an oil leak but gene noted an additional three, for a total of four.

“If someone like you told me to inspect the car, i’m going to tell them that it’s leaking,” Gene comments.

Depending on where you go-fixing various leaks can cost you anywhere $14, according to our quotes, all the way up to $100 per leak.

Our receipt estimates totaled anywhere from $335 to nearly $820. Granted, these were recommendations that we were to choose to fix or not.

In fact, the $800 estimate includes recommended brake work. But gene says they’re fine. Excluding the brakes, he’d charge us $450 to get the Escape back to tip top shape.

So what does this mean for you? Awareness and a little bit of car knowledge can go a long way to save you money. For instance:

“The number one thing, if they have a garage and the cement floor is clean if they start seeing spots on the floor, there’s a problem,” says Gene.

There are other evident concerns you can catch as well,

“If it pulls one way or the other, possibility of some steering leakage could be worn or your tires or tire pressure is low, something like that,” Gene adds.

If you have the least bit of doubt about what one shop is telling you, do what we did and get a second opinion.

“If someone tells you that you need tires or something and you know you really don’t think you do drive to the next shop and ask them. That way you know,” advises Gene.

One surefire way to keep yourself from spending thousands versus just dollars-remember to change your car’s oil every 3,000 miles, or if you don’t drive much, twice a year. And always remember to check your owner’s manual,

“The number one thing is check your maintenance book, you know for your car because manufacturers have different mileage settings for different things and so that’s kind of a gauge to go by of what you need,” says Gene.

This prevents you from driving your car into an expensive dead end.

These tips should help you to feel more confident the next time you walk into a new repair shop. Another good tip is to do some research on your own before you even walk in the door.


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