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'POSTREPAIR' CHARGE A RIPOFF

Click and Clack talk cars - By Tom and Ray Magliozzi

'Postrepair' charge a ripoff

Q: We recently took our 2001 VW Jetta to the dealer because the "check engine" light was on. After guessing at the solution (something about the code was vague), they charged us $280 for diagnostics and to replace the air filter and spark plugs. They also wanted $65 to run a "postrepair diagnostic check"; I refused, as it seems to me this should be part of any repair. They prominently noted my refusal on the repair bill. We picked up the car after the repair shop had closed. The "check engine" light was still on, and the car ran worse than before. The next morning, they wanted to charge us $118 for another diagnostic. I would have ranted and raved, but my saintly wife used guile to get them to back off. So my question is, should I ever pay for a "post-repair diagnostic," or is this just a pure ripoff? Craig

Ray: Our customers do our post-repair diagnostics for us, Craig. They drive out of the garage, and if we see a wheel fall off, then we know we didn't fix it.

Tom: You did the same thing. And I'd have to agree with you, that determining whether you fixed the problem is part of the repair process. So that's not a reasonable charge.

Ray: My guess is that they scanned the car's computer and got a vague code, like "engine misfire." That doesn't always tell you exactly what's wrong. It gives you a good clue about where to look, but often you have to take it from there.

Tom: So they took a reasonable guess with the spark plugs (not sure about the air filter), but the spark plugs didn't fix it. What they should have done next is take out the spark plugs (unless you clearly needed new ones anyway), take them off your bill and start trying some other things, like coils, plug wires or a crank angle sensor.

Ray: If we had been working on your car, that's what we would have done. And if we eventually fixed the car, we would have charged you for 100 percent of the diagnostic time, because that was time we spent making educated guesses, installing and removing parts, and trying to solve your problem. That's only fair.

Tom: But we would have charged you only for the actual parts that fixed the car. The rest would have gone back on the shelf.

Ray: If you want to put this in the best possible light, Craig, maybe these guys were heading in that same direction. Maybe they're just guilty of having an awful presentation.

Tom: I doubt it. I think they were trying to overcharge him. They didn't solve the problem, and they needed to do more diagnostic work. But they should have just said that, and offered to take back any unnecessary parts. They need to learn that honesty is always the best policy.

Practice stops won't do harm

Q: With all the news about uncontrolled acceleration, my wife has decided that she wants to be prepared in case it ever happens to her. We know the proper thing to do is shift the automatic transmission into neutral. To get practice in this maneuver, she has been slipping the car into neutral while she's driving. She'll put it in neutral while at traveling speed, and then let the car slow down a bit, then pop it back into gear and keep going. I know this is a good thing for her to know, but it's starting to drive me nuts. Is it okay for the transmission? It's coming close to an argument for us. Can you tell me if what she's doing is okay? Mike

Tom: Is she doing it five times during every trip to the convenience store? That may be grounds for a domestic dispute.

Ray: But if she's doing it only occasionally, just forget about it. It's not going to do any damage to the transmission.

Tom: If it is a very frequent occurrence, then you need to appeal to her on both humanitarian and safety grounds.

Ray: On the safety side, you don't want her to be so focused on unintended acceleration that someday she'll be practicing her coasting in neutral when she suddenly needs to accelerate to get out of the way of another vehicle.

Tom: Right. You never know what kind of accident you may be involved in, so you don't want to be so obsessed with one kind that you inadvertently increase the likelihood of another.

Ray: And on humanitarian grounds, you'll just have to tell her that it's driving you ape-dung. Suggest to her that perhaps her "shift to neutral" practice could safely be reduced to, say, once a month. Like a fire drill, you want to do it often enough that you know how to respond in an actual emergency, but not so often that you're spending half your life outside, shivering in your pajamas.

King Features Syndicate

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