Sometimes the dealer isn’t the best place for repairs: How I finally got a new starter for my car

My 2005 Hyundai Accent has been having trouble starting for a while now.  Back when I had to get the last big set of repairs, the dealer quoted a new starter at $800, and we forwent that.

So, DH left for a multiple day business trip.  While running late to get DC1 to hir violin lesson because it took longer than expected to get DC2 out of daycamp and into the car, I tried to start the car.  And I tried again.  And again.  Usually at the third again the engine turns over and all is well.  This time it wasn’t.  After several more false starts, a couple in a tow truck came by and offered to jump it for me, though I didn’t think that was the problem.  Then they grabbed a guy from a repair shop (he noted the shop was already closed for the day, but he was being helpful anyway).  That guy said that it was probably the starter (I agreed, since I’ve known it’s been a problem) and if I waited until the sun went down and the car cooled down I could probably get it to start again.  He said that replacing a starter on my kind of car usually runs around $400.  The tow people offered to tow me for free over to his shop, so I let them.   The kids then had cupcakes for dinner in the airconditioned cupcake place on the other side of the daycamp while we waited for an uber.  (Our town doesn’t usually have uber/lyft drivers in the summer when the university is out and cab drivers you usually have to book at least 24 hours in advance, but I got lucky.)

When DH got back from his trip, we went to pick up my car.  Total cost:  $369.  Waaaay less than what the dealer was going to charge.  And no nasty comments about how old my car was.  Since this repair shop was technically in the lower SES town next to ours, most of the cars on the lot were older than mine.  My car starts beautifully on the first try now no matter how hot the engine is.  It’s pretty amazing.

While DH was out and my car was in the shop, I did get to spend quite a bit of time driving his Clarity.  It is a really nice car.  Extremely smooth drive, easy acceleration, nice bells and whistles (I could get used to not having to even press a button to open the car door).  I see why he likes it so much.  But I’m not yet ready to trade in my Accent for a Prius Prime, so there we are.

And hopefully we have a new mechanic!  The reason we’d been taking my car to the dealer in the first place was because our previous mechanic screwed up an oil change (and then recently screwed one up again when DH decided to give them another chance).

Where do you take your car for repairs (if you have a car)?  How did you choose the mechanic?

22 Responses to “Sometimes the dealer isn’t the best place for repairs: How I finally got a new starter for my car”

  1. Zenmoo Says:

    I take my to the auto shop/mechanics at the end of my street. The convenience factor of being able to walk the 800m home after dropping the car off is worth a LOT. I think they’d have to be terrible to overcome the convenience factor – and they’re not terrible.

  2. Becca Says:

    I have lived in many places and I’m always looking for a good mechanic. I randomly stumbled on one in a small independent shop who understood my Chevy Prizm oil issue (and talked to me about mechanical issues as though I were bright but ignorant, which is what I need and very difficult to find). I also once had a quick change oil place that I picked because it was close to my work but it turned out they didn’t up sell harmful crap and had female mechanics that I loved. Otherwise I have found dozens of “meh” to “will never return” places. OH! I once picked a mechanic because it was next to daycare and I could wait while they worked on my car and that was a pretty great place, but we moved so I never went back.

  3. rose Says:

    It is tough to find one. I carefully present as slightly ditzy old lady for quite a while and listen to what they tell me and how they treat me when they think I know nothing. Then I decide if they are truth telling me, because by having had cars for over 50 years years I actually do know a lot. IF you have a car under dealer warranty having them do warranty work is sensible. Some dealers have good service departments…and some don’t.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    PiC picked our local one, and then one of his best friends took on another dealership that’s not close by, so we have two options. They’re both pricey, unfortunately, but the local one does mostly good work and the not-local one does great work not just because they’re a friend but also because they are quite neurotic about quality of work and so would be very careful to take great care of our vehicles anyway.

    Still, I really don’t enjoy the amount of money we’ve had to blow on maintenance in the past couple of years! It’s not nearly equal to a new car but it’s substantial. And my car still needs more maintenance.

  5. CG Says:

    I use Yelp. I think we have competent mechanics. We use the dealership for warranty-related stuff and go to independent shops for everything else. I feel conflicted about the one we take our Honda, to, though, because once when I went in there the owner was wearing a MAGA hat. This is a shop that just does Japanese cars. Also, to show you how complicated people are, the last time I was there I had to wait a while. The guy at the counter (not the owner, a younger guy) made a borderline racist joke (racist to Asians), then apologized in a sorry not sorry way when I frowned at him. Then an actual Asian person came in and told the guy that the Toyota dealership had told him he needed a new rack and pinion for $2000. The shop guy priced it out for him, much lower, but then told him he really just needed to keep his steering fluid up and proceeded to take him outside and show him how to do that, for free. So, he doesn’t have a problem with a racist joke here and there, but also treated this guy very respectfully and fairly. Ugh. I hate people.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was just reading an interesting literature review rom 1966 about what we now call social desirability bias, but back then didn’t have a name. What was interesting was that most of these were studies (back before we had IRBs that would frown on this kind of thing) where researchers would call up people and ask them if they would do something racist, and the people on the phone were like, Hell no, we don’t serve black/asian/etc. here, but when black/asian/etc. people showed up, they were served and treated relatively normally, with only a couple of super racist exceptions. Talk and actions just don’t match, and the direction can go either way.

      Still, I would find a new shop. My money doesn’t go to people who advertise they’re Trump supporters if I can help it. I have to drive out of my way around here to find a gas station that isn’t sporting evil Republican political signs. :(

      • CG Says:

        That’s really interesting about the social desirability study. This situation is particularly weird because we live in a super liberal town where very few people would support his politics.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        here’s a summary of the paper in question
        I had to get the actual paper from my university library.

        Wicker A W. Attitudes versus actions: the relationship of verbal and overt behavioral responses to attitude objects. J. Soc. Issues 25:41-78, 1969.

        It was seriously fascinating, even though (or perhaps because?) the methodology used in those early studies was questionable. I guess 1969, not 1966.

      • CG Says:

        I love that the guy admits he mailed out “several hundred” copies of the paper to increase citations!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It is not a terrible strategy!

  6. Leigh Says:

    The last place we took it for repairs (after our minor accident last fall) we picked because it was the closest one to us that worked with the insurance company. It also turned out to be directly on a bus route that took us less than 20 minutes to get back there to pick up the car, which was super helpful. I’ve still been taking it to a dealership for oil changes and regular check-ups. The dealership I bought my car from is 30-60 minutes away depending on traffic. I took it there until they closed their service department on Saturdays. Then I took it to one close to work which had a shuttle to take me to work. Now we take it to one “in the city” but it’s still 30 minutes away. We’ll probably swap out the windshield wipers ourselves this year, buying them on Amazon. We don’t put a lot of miles on it, so maintenance has been low so far. I assume that will change soon since it’s 8 years old now and this year is the 30,000 mile checkup.

  7. Lisa Says:

    The title of this post strikes me as funny because I was always taught that the dealer was the WORST place to go for car repairs. We mix it up quite a bit these days because we live in a good sized city with many options and have too many cars, each with their own unique repair/service needs. We even take our Toyota to the dealer quite often because they are helpful and reasonable (instead of overpriced, which is why I was always told not to use the dealer).

    When we were starving students we had a mechanic that we loved – he helped us keep our older car in good shape, was always upfront about things and explained the options, scolded us for driving to his shop with a strong gas smell (leak in the fuel line – we deserved to be scolded!) instead of having it towed. A really great mechanic is a treasure, too bad they’re so hard to find!

  8. Sandy L Says:

    Our dealer is a crook. He tried charging my husband for an engine product recall repair and he was like….I thought this was covered as part of a product recall and then the guy was like….oh yeah you’re right and then backed off on trying to charge him. If you think about it….that’s something they can double count if they don’t get caught so why not try to get people to pay. It was all very fishy. Needless to say we only go to the dealer if it’s a recall now. We had more than one incident there to chalk it up to an honest mistake.

    I have a company car so I go where the fleet people send me. It’s usually a dealer or big chain place like sears. The sears in my area closed though so my options are limited. Our current favorite place is Monroe muffler. They are cheaper than jiffy lube for an oil change and have a good team at our location. I am sure it varies widely depending on the staff. Our fleet authorizers sound like ex mechanics so they know what to approve or deny and can smell BS.

    Good mechanics have a special soft place in my heart. The few that have been good have been wonderful.

    I also hate how many think I am stupid because I am female. It just shows their ignorance. I’ve seen less of that lately as not a lot of people (men or women) work on their cars anymore so it’s leveled the playing field somewhat. Everyone is equally clueless in general.

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Today’s another good day to call your elected officials so they know you’re not forgetting…

  10. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    I’m usually motivated by convenience when finding an auto shop. I had the same experience with our local car dealer once – they wanted to charge me almost $200 to replace the gas cap. Seriously. My car wasn’t even worth $200 at that point, and they didn’t even bat an eye when they quoted me. I found a great little local shop close to work after that, and they were great. They handled warranty issues for a couple of bad car batteries that the company didn’t want to cover, which was awesome for a broke grad student. Once or twice they requested a few extra *hours* so they could comparison shop for a part that I needed, but they were prompt, courteous, and waaaay less expensive than the dealership. They closed about a year ago because the landlord wanted to triple their rent (and they have another location far from me), so I tried out a place close to New Job that was recommended by a few coworkers. When I went in to drop it off for an oil change, I was thinking to myself that the mechanic looked familiar – turned out that was mutual! Same guy from the old place!!!

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Today’s call. Call no matter what your state. We cannot afford for a single democrat to waiver and Republicans need to be pressured so much that this doesn’t even go up for a vote.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

  12. EB Says:

    Dealership for anything where, if you go elsewhere, you will risk invalidating the warranty. Local shop for everything else. It’s amazing how much cheaper, and also quicker if it’s a shop where you are a regular customer. Plus you get better information. Plus, walking home in 5 minutes. And I found this shop by asking my neighbor who happens to be a mechanic for a dealership!!!

  13. Leah Says:

    We have a local shop recommended by a friend. Our mechanic has been awesome. He owns the shop all by himself, so he does all the work. He never upsells us (and is just such a Minnesota nice, understated kind of guy). I actually have to ask directly “what other work do you recommend?” because he doesn’t like to push. We’ve been going to him for almost a decade.

    We go to the dealer for warranty repairs. They’ve been fine recently, but they often try to upsell us on things. Replacing the serpentine belt is their favorite. I always just say “oh, my husband would be so upset with me if we didn’t go to our local mechanic. Sorry!” We were once away from home and had a car issue, so we went to the dealer. They didn’t tighten our brake line properly! We found out in Teton Pass. Thankfully limped into Lander. The rest of the way home, we just had to keep adding brake fluid because we got there on a weekend. Another good reason, in my mind, to go to our local guy who knows us and cares about us versus the dealer.

  14. Matthew Healy Says:

    Two years ago we moved 45 miles, and I wasn’t impressed with the dealer in New Town so when I went used car shopping last summer I went to a dealer with a good reputation in Old Town. Since then I’ve been getting routine maintenance done by that dealer; it was kind of nice having an excuse to spend a Saturday in Old Town a few times a year revisiting former haunts (we’d lived in Old Town for 24 years). Now we’re on the road from New Town to Newer Town 1000 miles away, so we’ll have to ask colleagues at Newer Job whom they recommend to maintain a 2013 Corolla.

  15. RBOC | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] car just starts now when I try to start it.  It’s […]

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