Broken Bumpers, Sneaky Mechanics, and Screaming

This is never a good way to start a date:

I’m driving down the street in Los Angeles when I hear a large cracking sound and a scraping noise…

Read the story after the jump. What should Karmen have done at this mechanic’s shop instead of paying five times what she thought the job should have cost?

For starters, junk that lame boyfriend whose idea of helping is to explain to the mechanic, “how irrational women can be.”

No points in his corner, either, for signing the overpriced estimate in the first place. What’s a man good for if not playing swords with other men? Not saying that you can’t, Karmen, it’s just funny to watch…

    “Dear Ben,

    I’m driving down the street in Los Angeles when I hear a large cracking sound and a scraping noise. I pull over and low and behold, my bumper has fallen off. After a kind man stopped and helped me load the bumper into the front seat of my car, and I headed off to dinner (the valet driver was a bit surprised to find the bumper in the front seat….but I digress). A few weeks later, my boyfriend drove around to a couple mechanic shops in my area to price the job. He received a $300 estimate from a shop and, not knowing anything about car repairs, it sounded like a reasonable price to me. My boyfriend signed the estimate, authorizing the repairs to be done in the amount of $300.

    When I dropped my car off the next morning, I asked the mechanic when he expected my car to be done, and told him that I would appreciate it if he could fix it as quickly as possible since I needed to get to work. He said it would be finished in an hour and sure enough, when I returned an hour later, my bumper was reattached and someone was kindly washing the outside of my car. Wonderful service I thought. But here’s the kicker. I saw the mechanic’s rates, $40/hr, which was posted on a large sign. Lets do the math: $40 (one hour of labor) + $20 (parts consisting of a few wires) = $60.

    When I asked the mechanic why I should pay $300 when he only spent one hour on the job, he told me that when I signed the estimate, I agreed to pay that amount. Bullshit. When you sign an estimate, you authorize work up to that amount. The custom is that if the work is going to cost in excess of the estimate, the mechanic should call you to get authorization for the additional work or risk having you dispute the bill. I explained this to the mechanic but he continued to insist that I agreed to pay $300 when I signed the estimate. He then told me that he had two mechanics working on the car and that it was a rush job. I pointed out to him that two mechanics at $40/hr plus parts would total $100. He then had the audacity to say that no mechanic would have agreed to take the job for this amount of money because it wasn’t worth their time. Mind you, this was a small rinky dink place and there were no other customers the entire time I was there. There were, however, several guys sitting around cooling their heals. I pointed out to him that it’s not like my small job kept them from taking other jobs more lucrative jobs (although frankly, if $40/hr is their rate, I’m not sure how another job could be more lucrative unless they make money off selling large parts or something).

    I get my boyfriend on the phone and start screaming into the phone telling him the situation (he was the one that signed the estimate after all). I’m hoping that the irate female tactic will do the trick. My boyfriend talks to the mechanic, and from what I can tell, my boyfriend explains to the mechanic about how irrational women can be, tells him not to worry about it, and then tell me to pay the $300!! God that pissed me off (he is now an ex-boyfriend I might add….but I digress again). Anyway, just wanting to leave and get to work, shamefully, I paid the fricking bill. Not one of my finer consumer moments. I did tell the mechanic that his books better be clean because I may report him to the IRS for tax evasion (he only accepted cash which I thought was suspicious). The fear in his eyes was at least some payback.

    Love your blog.



Edit Your Comment

  1. Falconfire says:

    Maybe its me and Im a sucker, but around here the esitmate is what you actually pay. I have never had a mechanic charge me less than what he estimated me. I have had a number try to charge me more, but thats a different story.

    IF it only took one hour to do though, I have to wonder how you couldnt have done it yourself. 1 hour sounds like someone needed to buy a few bolts or retaining clips and climb under the car to me, not a costly repair that needed to go to the mechanic. In which case I have no sympathy for not knowing basic mechanical knowhow.

    As for only accepting cash, a ton of them only do. Checks bounce, and they get charged a lot for accepting credit cards. Only really big places really accept credit.

  2. Elvisisdead says:

    The whole thing sounds sketchy. To preface, I’m pretty experienced in auto repair. I’ve rebuilt two vehicles myself (a ’73 Volvo and a ’91 Grand Wagoneer), and have owned around a dozen vehicles in between – none of them bought new.

    #1 – Always read what you’re signing. There’s no standard for estimates. Some may state that it’s only an estimate and that you’re authorizing the repair, no matter the cost. Legally, it’s your (ex)boyfriend that authorized the repair, so he’s the one responsible.

    #2 – Go to and purchase the labor rate book for your year/model vehicle (around $11 per year). Yoiu may also be able to get similar info from the library. No matter how long it takes them to repair it, they’ll charge you the time estimate from alldata. Alldata also includes rates for master mecahnics and less skilled ones. Master mechanics have a higher hourly rate.

    #3 – watch out for automatic “shop supplies” charges that are usually added as a percentage, and not based on material cost of what was used. This is meant to cover things like shop towels, hand cleaner, etc. I don’t pay for that, as it’s a cost of doing business and should be factored into the labor rate as overhead.

    #4 – Don’t be scared to call the dealer and ask what the repair should cost. Treat that as your high-water mark. Sometimes they’ll tell you “I can’t give an estimate until I see it”. Just tell them your situation and let them know you consider their best guess to be non-binding.

    #5 – Always ask for a call and for a final estimate before work begins. At that point, if you feel it’s too much, you can negotiate or walk. The cost of a tow to another location is cheaper than getting taken for hundreds of dollars over what you should pay.

    In general, I’ve always found that if you mention alldata, etc., then they’ll come straight with you once they realize that you know what you’re doing.

  3. sanloublues says:

    When you go to a mechanic, for normal work, there are standard amounts of time that each different kind of job should take. So, an oil change is billed at something like 45 minutes regardless of how long the guy takes. This is then multiplied by the mechanic’s hourly rate, and if they work faster than that it’s good for them. Ask if they were charging a book rate or a straight hourly rate.

    Beyond that, I got nothing other than make sure you have your keys and car safely away from the mechanic before making threats.

  4. Kos says:

    If the boyfriend was smarter he would have told Karmen, “Sweetie, I think you’re wonderful and rational, but we need to role play here so I’m going to describe you as irrational so I can try to get on this bastard’s good side.”

    I’ve never heard of a crooked mechnic though. They exist?

  5. tinfoil says:

    Most of the time, if you sign the estimate and the jorb costs less, you’re boned. Unless you find a mechanic with some morals. While rare, they do exist. I’ve found one and have been using his services for some three years now.

  6. Kornkob says:

    Here’s how repairs are generally billed for:

    The time for the repair is looked up (all data is one fine example of where this industry standard information coems from). They multiply their mechainic’s rate agaisnt the number of hours listed. Add parts and any other service fees. There’s yoru total. The estimate is generally what the repair will cost. When you sign the estimate you are saying ‘yes– I understand that this is what the repair will cost’.

    Now, if the mechanic gets under the hood and realizes that the the problem issomething OTHER than what the estimate was written for, the customer shoudl be contacted again to be given a revised estimate. This can swing the price EITHER WAY. However, if the repair is exactly what they said it was and they complete it, then the estimated price is valid for the repair cited.

    The mechanic may have overcharged her (which we can’t tell based on her loose description of the problem and the estimate) but when that estimate was signed that was a commitment to that price point for the repair described in the estimate and no amount of screaming or flawed logic will change that.

    BTW– since the repair was done to her car, even though her boyfriend signed the estimate, the mechanic would secure a lien on the car’s title if the woman refused to pay and took her car from the garage. It’s probably more trouble than it is worth for her to fight it on the shakey grounds that her boyfriend signed the estimate.

  7. matto says:

    Analyzing past ” low and behold, my bumper has fallen off” is a waste of time. There’s no way that could happen if the car was even remotely safe to drive.

    Too dumb to notice you’ve driven into a post; too dumb to bother reading what you’ve signed- you and your boyfriend seem to be a match made in heaven! Both with the reptilian-level awareness that means you can barely manage to talk on a cellphone or purchase lattes.

  8. Nottma says:

    Im suprised the boyfriend couldn’t do it himself.

    The way to work around an estimate is to examine the area of repair and tell the mechanic your not satisfied with the repair. Either it being they didn’t use stainless steel bolts to it looking uneven. If you want to you could make mechanics earn that $300.