It pays to shop around

The Boston Crazy Driving field research vehicle (my car) is a 5-year-old Japanese-make sedan. It's a typical compact (not subcompact like a Corolla) with a 4-cylinder engine. It has largely been problem-free its entire life. It ticked over 75,000 miles recently, and the normal wear and tear of everyday driving has started to catch up with it. We put on new tires a year ago and new brakes and drive belts this summer.

Then just after the new year, the car started idling very rough. I would get to a stop light and the tachometer would look like a seismograph needle in a 7.5 Richter earthquake. I'm no mechanic, but I knew this wasn't normal. I tried replacing the battery, thinking it wasn't getting a charge anymore and wasn't able to keep the car running at idle. That wasn't it.

As a high school kid, I had a beat up 1982 Toyota Corolla that I did some of my own work on. Once I took the carburetor off in the dark and in the rain, and managed to reconnect the thing perfectly a couple days later. I took the carb off because the Corolla was doing something similar to today's field research vehicle. It ended up being the spark plug wires causing a firing problem. I figured this might be my cause. Nope, according to a mechanic I asked, but he wanted $82 to tell me what was wrong. I wasn't too interested in that, especially since he didn't roll it into the labor cost if I decided to have the car fixed there.

Out of options, I took it to the dealer. I figured since they sell these cars, they must be able to know what's wrong with them. I was right, but it cost me $89 to find out. It was the lower air intake manifold gasket. In short, there was a leak and it was bringing too much air into the engine. It was maybe a $15 part, if that. I can't imagine a rubber seal is more than that. Yet, the quote I got from the dealer was $750 for the work. Yikes!

The reason the bill was so high was that they basically had to take out a major portion of the engine to get to it (naturally) and that's a lot of labor. Well, I didn't have that kind of pocket change, so I decided to shop it around. I knew I could keep the car running by keeping my foot on the brake and gas at the same time. It's a major no-no in my book, but the circumstances called for drastic measures.

I called another mechanic (recommended by my mom, actually), and over the phone he quoted me $450. Wow! That's music to my ears. I booked an appointment and dropped the car off at Jim's Automotive in Norwood a couple days later. Norwood wasn't really convenient to work, or home, but well worth it. The car runs great, and I'm even getting better mileage than before. Jim, by the way, is a real nice guy, running a good business. My car was left clean, and my seat was in the same place as I had left it (these are almost as important to me as a good price and quality work).

I had always known the dealer was typically 30 percent higher than an independent garage, but my last mechanic retired and I didn't have a need for one since my car wasn't a repair problem. Now that I found one, though, I'm glad to recommend him. He's at 291 Lenox Street in Norwood (781.762.9547) in a nondescript blue building with sheet metal siding. We liked his prices so much, we put Mrs. Boston Crazy Driving's field vehicle in for four-wheel brakes. The car only needed rear brakes, and he did them for about $180. Beat that, Midas!


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