I had a little car emergency last week. Young Son and I were headed out on our regular weekday morning business when Old Green, my '97 Camry, decided it wasn't going to start. Fueled by sheer hysteria, I kept cranking, and after a couple of curse-laced moments the engine graced me by starting. Too terrified to turn it engine off, I dropped off Young Son and drove straight to The Dealership.
I must confess: I hate The Dealership. They are the only Toyota dealer in town. I know they overcharge and oversell, but since I don't speak the magic language of automobile repair, I've lacked the confidence to strike out into the wilderness of independent shops. Call me whatever, but I do believe my congenital lack of a Y chromosome does still, even in 2008, put me at a disadvantage in that culture. So even though The Dealership repelled me, I reasoned that they would not risk losing me as a potential future car buyer by totally screwing me over.
Hey, I didn't say it was sound reasoning.
En route I had a phonecon with Mr. B, who grew up in an old-timey service station way back when they used to milk the dinosaurs to get the gas for the pumps. He suggested it could be a problem with the starter. I relayed that info to the service rep at The Dealership, trying hard to act like I understood what was coming out of my mouth. The rep opened my tab for the day with the $100 diagnostic charge, hooked me up with a ride to work, and sent me on my way.
Didn't take too long to get The Call. As predicted, there were contacts in the starter that needed to be replaced. Yes, they could do it that day. Of course there was a list of other 'recommended' maintenance items long enough to make my eyes glaze over and costly enough to make my bowels move. Somehow I mustered enough spine to decline.
I picked up the car after work and was greeted with a $400 total and a detailed explanation of the other recommended items. The rep said it looked like the water pump had been leaking and should be replaced soon, and if you do the water pump of course you should do the timing belt, which was about due anyway. The total for that plus a coolant flush (which I knew I needed) was $830. And, BTW, that oil leak I had mentioned to him was coming from the valve cover gasket, which could be fixed for the low, low price of $170. Compared to the $830, that didn't seem too bad. And it brought the total to a nice round $1000 -- gak! Pale and shaking, I paid The Dealership its $400 and got the hell out of there.
The water pump thing kind of freaked me out -- I felt I had to get it taken care of pronto but shitting a grand was an issue. Then there were the large steaming wads of contempt I feel for The Dealership and their brand-new fancy super-facility with coffee bar and marble floors and Scion showroom and luxurious waiting area. I really really didn't want to reward them and their predatory practices with another chunk of cash. It was time to face my fears and look at going out on the town.
Mr B, knowledgeable in the ways of things automotive-ish, suggested cartalk.com, where you can read customer reviews of local garages. It didn't take long to find a shop nearby with recent (glowing) reviews and a certified Toyota Guy. I called on Tuesday; they had an appointment open today. We dropped off the car last night and and I can't express how heartened I was by the sight of a humble red building that looked like a real garage, with nary a coffee bar or marble floor in sight. Even Mr. B gave it the nod of approval, and he should know.I slipped the envelope with my key through the old-school mail slot in the front door, and smiled. I slept well.
I just got The Call. And guess what? My water pump isn't leaking. I can get another 10K miles out of my timing belt. Yeah, my coolant looks like coffee, but it'll only cost $60 to flush-and-fill, less than half of what the dealership quoted me. The valve cover gasket? They can fix it for $85, compared to $165 at the dealership.
So instead of $1000, my bill today will be less than $200 all told. Around the end of the year, when it comes time to deal with the timing belt and water pump, I'll be dropping Old Green at the shabby yet tidy red building. And even if they charge the same price as The Dealership, I will write that check with a big fat smile on my face and a song in my heart.
Here's a hearty 'fuck you and the marble floors you sit on', Dealership!