When I take either one of my cars to a shop, I’m trusting the mechanics at that shop to be honest with me, provide excellent customer service, not rip me off because of my gender, and not pull me along for more than a week because I cannot get the information I need to get the job done.
A couple of months ago, I took my 1967 Plymouth VIP to a shop since its rear brakes were practically non-existent. There were grinding noises and times when I was worried if I would be able to stop at intersections. It was a scary drive. I didn’t want to do the work myself on an inclined driveway, and since the car was new to me, I didn’t really know what shape the underside, especially the lift points, was in.
The previous owner had already purchased some parts for it — wheel cylinders, hardware kits, shoes. So, when I dropped the car off, I listed that the necessary parts were in the trunk. The following morning, the shop called me, informing me that the wheel cylinders were incorrect (that the bleeder valve needs to be in the central position) and that new drums were needed. The shop didn’t measure the drums to let me know what size I had to get. That same day, I found some wheel cylinders and purchased what I thought were the correct size (11-inch) drums.
And so it began.
They called me the day after I dropped off the parts. The drums I purchased “fit over the ones on there now,” and apparently I needed 10-inch drums. While I found a source for some, I asked around a bit. Pretty much everyone I had talked to about it said that all of the Furys of that era should have 11-inch drums in the back. I called the shop back, asking them to measure the drums to ensure I was getting the right ones. The response? In a slightly irritated tone: “We’re too busy. Just get the 10s and keep guessing.” Keep guessing?!
So, regretfully, I bought the 10-inch drums. A day and a half after dropping them off, I received another call, but it wasn’t the one I was anticipating. “These drums are too small. You need some that are 11 inches.” Wait, what?
At this point, I decided to have my car towed on a flatbed to another shop. The tow truck driver asked me questions and was baffled when I told him what was going on, and when I got to the new shop, they were a bit confused, too. Within three days, my car was done. The mechanics had machined the drums after being unsuccessful at finding new ones, fashioned and replaced a piece of brake line that was leaking, and installed parking brake hardware that apparently had disappeared at some point — all for about the same price as the “big name” shop.
A lot of this catastrophe could have been avoided had the first shop simply measured the drums for me in the first place. One would think that since they machine drums there that they would have micrometers or tape measures available. But their negligence created headaches and wasted time.
Mechanics and Female Customers
It’s been found that many automotive repair shops charge female customers more for services, or they will even charge for services that were not even completed since there was no need for them in the first place. In 2012, a group of researchers at AutoMD gathered quotes from more than 4,600 shops for a new radiator for a Toyota Camry. There were three conditions for the study: one where customers had done some research, one where customers hadn’t a clue how much the replacement should cost, and finally where the customers were anticipating a much higher cost.
The study found that those who did their research and those who had no idea what the repair would cost were both quoted around market value, while those expecting the higher cost were quoted higher costs.
However, the researchers also broke down the data by gender and found that mechanics had quoted female customers a higher average price than men (about $20 more). In the study’s report, one of the authors states that “repair shops probably do not inherently dislike women or take pleasure in ripping them off. Instead, the data are more consistent with statistical discrimination. Shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote.”
So, when women will go into a repair shop needing only an oil change, they sometimes end up leaving the shop hundreds of dollars poorer because the technicians discovered more work needed to be done. But sometimes they don’t even do that work, and the customer will still be charged for the labor. In a 2015 article in the Washington Post, Patrice Banks, founder of Girls Auto Clinic, mentions a 2013 survey that discovered 77 percent of respondents thought that mechanics were more likely to sell female customers unnecessary repairs.
It’s not uncommon for auto technicians to state that you need more services done, but many of them are unnecessary. I can go to a quick oil change place and end up listening to 20 sales pitches. While I’m only going there for an oil change with conventional oil, they try to sell me their maximum life synthetic, a new air filter (that will cost three times as much as the filter actually costs), a transmission fluid change, a new serpentine belt … the list goes on. But many female customers will believe they need these services simply because they have no clue. One of my friends once changed the wiper blades on her car a week prior to going to one of these shops, and then they tried to sell her new wiper blades. No, thanks.
So, fellow women, I sincerely hope that if you cannot work on your car yourself, please do some research first and go to an honest shop. Tell them exactly what you’re experiencing — vibrations, weird smells, leaking fluids — and try not to fall for the upsells. And if the shop cannot help you find the right parts and neglects to do one of the most fundamental steps of a brake job, find a new shop as soon as you can.