When Trying To Save Money On Car Repairs Is A Bad Idea

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Ok, before I get into this story, everyone needs to know a few things

  1. I am not blaming the tech working on the car
  2. I am not blaming the customer completely
  3. I am not commenting on DIY vs Paying someone
  4. I am only telling the story of what happened.

A few weeks ago, a customer brings in their 1999 VW Cabrio. They had a long list of concerns with the car. As you would expect with a car 13 years old.

  • Issues with the door locks
  • Noise while driving
  • vibration when braking
  • Car will not start, like the battery is dead
  • Air conditioning is not working

The tech working on the car is a pretty good tech. I know he is not a fan of the Cabrio, but he still knows what he is doing. He diagnosed the customers concerns, and ordered some parts. The initial repair was about $2800. The a/c compressor was bad, the pump for the door locks was bad, it needed brakes, a wheel bearing, and a battery.  The customer made all the repairs, but decided that they could get a battery cheaper so they declined replacing it.

The car sat for a few days before the customer came to get it. When they did, we had to jump start the car so they could leave. As far as we knew, everything was good. Two days later, the Cabrio got towed into the dealer. The customer concern was the car would not start. The customer said they replaced the battery, but the car would not start. We found it odd that the car started, but it just required a jump.

We did some basic tests and found that we could power the starter and get the car to run. This left us pretty confused about the whole situation. Having a bad feeling, I had the advisor call the customer to ask them if they had any issues installing the battery. My gut feeling was they had hooked it up backwards. Sure enough that is EXACTLY what happened.

The customer hooked the battery up backwards and attempted to start the car. You don’t need to be an expert to know that is a bad thing. We are still working on finding all the things wrong with the car. So far we know that

  1. The generator is fried
  2. the alarm module is bad
  3. the instrument cluster is bad
  4. Several fuses were blown

With knowing all those things are wrong, the car still does not start. I think it has to do with a part number change in the module that controls the alarm. We are waiting on VW parts line to verify. Dealing in a car that is 13 years old can be tricky when it comes to modules.

It put the story into a simple perspective

  • Customer paid $2800 for repairs
  • Customer declined replacing battery at the dealer
  • Customer installed battery wrong
  • Car was towed in
  • Car needs $1800 more work to replace damaged parts.
  • The customer saved ~$50 by replacing the battery themselves
  • Car is worth $3500 at best

Now the customer is over $5000 in on a car that is worth much less. I am not really blaming the customer, but I think that they made a really poor choice. Trying to save $50 will cost them over $2000. Plus all the time not having the car. I will be sure to keep everyone posted when we find all the rest of the issues.

I really hate having to tell stories like this. It is lose lose. The customer is losing for obvious reasons. The dealer is losing because it looks bad for us. The tech is also losing big time. So far all the extra checking and work have been free. He got paid to replace the generator, but that is about is. I would guess he had about 6 hours more in the car, that he is not getting paid for. Bad news no matter how you slice it.

Tomorrow I will try and get a full “Luv a Dub” update. Things have been slow going on it. I have been super busy, so that leaves little time for the project..

11 replies
  1. Joe Frederick
    Joe Frederick says:

    First off I don’t understand that apparently the battery didn’t start to smoke within a few seconds, indicating to the owner that something was wrong… That’s weird. I seen a neighbor hook a battery up backwards when I was a teen and within 5 seconds it was smoking. Luckily I seen it and told him so he disconnected it right away.
    Also the fact the owner had time to try starting the car without the battery exploding or catching fire is amazing.
    Now this thing about the tech not getting paid! That’s BS! If the dealer wants to eat the labor fine but they should pay the tech! And they should pay him for the amount of time it takes diagnose the car. It not everyday that a car comes into any shop with electrical problems because someone connected the battery up backwards and tried to start the thing. At least that’s my oppinion…

  2. Garrett craven
    Garrett craven says:

    This in my opinion is a simple case of someone trying to be cost effective (which is fine) but doesn’t know SQUAT about cars obviously! I’m all for DIY but you have to know your limits! If you don’t know…ask or find out! But something as simple as this tells me….this person is NOT smart enough to figure out 2+2 (+ an +, – an -, or even red to + an black to -) I see no fault on the tech…I just see a real dumb mistake on the owners part lol

  3. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    I don’t see how it is the techs fault. The owner didn’t want to replace the battery. The owner came back because he messed up, not the tech. I don’t think the tech should loose out on 2/3 if a days pay. That is not fair at all. He didn’t like the Cabrio to begin with and now he will really hate it.

  4. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    My question as a fellow Cabby owner is why the “tech is not a fan of the Cabrio”? General mk3 issues or crazy part numbers that vary between the two mk3 chassis models? Just curious on the why… 🙂

  5. Charles
    Charles says:

    Crazy right, I LOVE working on a Cabrio! Oh except replacing window regulators. VW convertibles are the toughest to work on. Most techs in my shop don’t care for working on them. On top of that, many of them have spent little time working on MK3 cars. Now many of the parts for those cars are not available from VW. I think I want to spend some more time talking about working on old cars vs new cars…. interesting 🙂

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      Oh, the good ol window regulators… I’ve replaced many of those in my day. Haha my next project is to get the power top to work once more. :/ crazy Cabrio, but I love it!

        • Jessica
          Jessica says:

          It was not working when I bought it. The hydro pump is actually switched off so I can manually operate it. Once I begin the top replacement (changing vinyl to fabric) I’ll have to troubleshoot. I hope it’s an easy fix. My previous Cabrio top worked flawlessly but was much better kept than this one was. The lady who had this one before me let the trans fluid drain out and it sat for years etc etc… I’m hoping it just needs hydro fluid and isn’t much more. Poor abused little Volkswagens… 🙁 she’ll be all fixed and pretty by H2Oi though!

  6. Charles
    Charles says:

    As for the tech not getting paid. YES it sucks. What are the other options? The customer will be held accountable for some of the time, but not all of it.

    We(as a dealer) can not ask the customer to write a black check to figure out their car. That would make us look like crooks. Most dealers are not willing to give a tech a black check to diagnose a car. Techs will take advantage of that. There is no easy answer.

    BTW, as of right now, this customer is in for about $6000 of total repairs on a car worth $3500. BAD NEWS

  7. Muffler Man
    Muffler Man says:

    Some customers think only about the cost of the car maintenance. Numerous parts in automobile are complicated and require an professional technician to repair it. To save money some customers gothrough cheap preventive maintenance. Perfect regular maintenance helps to avoid road accidents.


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