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No, Your Mechanic Is Not Ripping You Off. . .Probably

August 13, 2020

We all dread it, right? Your car has a problem. It isn’t going away. The Check Engine Light has been on for, well, longer than you can actually remember.

So, you finally decide to take your car to the mechanic. How do you know that he will be honest? How do you know that he won’t rip you off? You don’t.

My daughter recently complained that her car “wouldn’t go faster than 45 MPH.” She took it to a local mechanic. He tested it. When he called her back he had some bad news.

First, the car would no longer run. He claimed that while he was testing compression in one of the cylinders, the timing belt broke. And because she had an interference engine it most likely bent the valves.

Okay, that didn’t make a lot of sense. But, sounds good, right?

He then removed the valve cover. Followed by the cylinder head from the block. Of course, he also had to drain the antifreeze, disconnect the alternator, the power steering pump, and the air filter. I mean, of course, he had to, right?

He also removed the cam shafts and the lifters. Who woudln’t? Finally, he took the head to a machine shop so they could check out the damage. Ten bent valves and 6 cracked guides.

Wait, wait, wait. Does this sound suspicious to you at all?

She took her car in because it it wasn’t going above 45 MPH. And now, not only will her car not run, but the mechanic is telling her she’s needs half an engine rebuild.

This is exactly what you feared, right? You go in for a simple repair and the mechanic takes advantage. The next thing you know you are looking at a $2000 repair bill.

In this case, he wasn’t ripping off my daughter. Everything step he took was justified and necessary. Oh, and he’s not going to charge her $2000. He’s only going to charge her for parts, and the machine shop work, about $800.

I know all of this because that mechanic is me.

Everything happened exactly as I said. Her car wouldn’t go above 45 MPH. There could be several reasons for that: bad fuel filter, fouled spark plugs, blown head gasket, oh and a bad timing belt.

I started with the easy ones. A compression test is pretty simple. You remove the spark plug, attach the sensor and crank the engine a couple seconds. Oh, after you remove the fuel pump fuse. Otherwise, the engine starts.

And that’s what I did. The first cylinder checked out okay. As I was testing the second, I suddenly lost all compression. I didn’t know it yet, but it was at that moment that the timing belt broke.

An interference engine means there is not enough room for the piston in the cylinder if the valves are open. Since the piston has more power, it’s typically the valves that go. It left little half-moon impressions on the cylinder heads.

There are some things a backyard mechanic can do. Machining heads and replacing valves isn’t one of them.

Generally when a timing belt breaks on an interference engine, the car is shot. The only reason it’s worth it for my daughter to get her car fixed is because I’m doing the labor for free.

So, the next time you go to a mechanic for a “simple” problem, and he quotes you a repair that costs hundreds of dollars, he’s probably not trying to rip you off. You just have to believe him.

At least I’m pretty sure my daughter believes me.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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