Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lessons For Young Women: Cars

Alright fellow young ladies! We are all going to learn from a huge mistake that I recently made involving my car.

As sad as it is, mechanics will try to screw you over. I always hoped these stories were misunderstandings or exaggerations- they aren't. Especially for women and young women. You will be treated like you are dumb, like you know nothing about cars (whether its true or not), you will be talked down to, and you will be dealt with unfairly. I hate for this to be so negative and I hope to live to see the day when this is no longer true. I only hope that you all encounter some honest mechanics as well.

My friend and I were stranded at the grocery store when my car wouldn't start. I called AAA who arranged for a tow truck to tow my car to a shop within four miles (so towing was free, yay). Tow truck guy shows up and asks, "What's wrong with the car?"
"Well, it won't start, but it's not the battery," I say. I've had battery issues before but I knew this wasn't the problem.
He asks, "What sound is it making?"
"The engine is trying to turn over, but it can't quite make it. And there is a clicking noise under the dash."
"It's the battery," he says.
"No, it's not the battery."
He gets in and tries to start it and gets back out. "It's not the battery."
"I know." And I'm thinking "Did I stutter?!"

So my car is towed and the guys at the shop check it out. Turns out two sensors in my engine were failing. This had caused my car model to be recalled ten years ago (I know this because I looked it up myself), but the recall expired so Nissan provided a slightly cheaper kit to fix the problems. Nothing to do about that.

The mechanic also says, "You need to replace your spark plugs." I gave him the go-ahead. I'm thinking, "Well, spark plugs, those shouldn't be too expensive, least of my worries." So he replaced them.

Did you know you have as many spark plugs as you have engine cylinders? I didn't. So I have a four cylinder engine and four spark plugs (apparently all four needed to be replaced which the mechanic did not mention so I hope they all actually needed replacing.)

Later, the sensors are in but not sending correct signals to and from the computer. 100 more dollars to look into that problem. And then I needed to replace the battery. This is finally where I started to feel like I was being tugged along.

I had just replaced the battery about four years ago. He told me batteries usually last 3-5 years. The battery the car came with lasted at least 6, which struck me as odd. My car is not high-end at all and usually the initial things like that are not necessarily good quality. Mechanic tells me he has a battery that's usually 149 but he can give it to me at 108. When I replaced my battery last time I felt like I paid about 110 with labor so I asked if there were cheaper batteries available. He "checked his system" (we were on the phone so I don't really know what he was checking) and said that he had batteries from 135-175. There were cheaper ones but, and I quote, they "aren't worth putting in [my] car." Whatever that means. He wouldn't even offer me anything else so of course I had to take the 108 one. Plus more labor. Let me tell you: there are cheaper batteries out there, but this one better last me at least five years or I am going to be severely upset.

Come to find out around this time that the spark plugs he put in my car were platinum. Another red flag popped up in my head. Is that standard? My ten-year-old car that is not top of the line to begin with needs platinum spark plugs? I did research (later) and found that most spark plugs range from about 5-8 dollars. Platinum? 20 dollars. Each. I could have paid about 20 for all four and paid 80 instead. This is the part that made me the most mad. And damned if those things aren't going to out-last my poor little car. When I trade it in, I'm going to have to ask for them back!

One: I will not be returning to this auto shop ever unless they messed something up.

Two: ALWAYS ask exactly what is wrong, what needs to be replaced and what they are planning to replace it with. And then do your own research. Online, call a friend, heck, call another auto shop for a second opinion. Check auto part stores to see what they have available. Then call they back and tell them yes or no.

Three: Be assertive and involved. I am not assertive and I feel that that came around and bit me in the butt. I do think I surprised the mechanic when I asked about the recall on my car model. He hadn't even mentioned it (probably because the recall expired, but still).

I suppose at some point I could have gotten a man involved, and I had friends and fathers of friends offer. The thing is: it's my car. If I don't know enough about it, I should figure out enough to make things work. This is why I didn't bring a man in to help me deal with all of this. However, I provided a copy of all of their work and parts to a friend who knows more about cars and she gave it to her dad, who was upset. He knows a lot about cars and does a lot of work with them so if he says they were messing with me, I believe him. And as he is not making money off my car and his daughter is one of my best friends, he has no reason to lie to me. It is always good to have a couple of knowledgeable people around you whom you can consult. I still recommend dealing with the mechanics yourself. If we don't, we will never get anywhere.

I hope some of you can learn something from this. I know I did. Always, always check. Mechanics can give you parts and product numbers for everything and you can use that to take to another mechanic or to do your own research.

Good luck! And may you all be blessed with good, honest mechanics.

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